Southern Minnesota: 3 great motorcycle rides

Published 9:08 am Monday, September 22, 2008

Editor’s note: The following story appears in the Fall 2008 edition of Southern Minnesota, a regional magazine.

Looking for places to ride your Harley-Davidson in Southern Minnesota on the weekends? Don’t worry. We know the best routes for autumn. Here are three rides that we love:

The Four-State Loop

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This 344-mile ride mainly highlights Wisconsin but it also veers through Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. It is a two-day ride.

Start in La Crescent and cross the Mississippi River to La Crosse, Wis. Go downtown and you’ll find one of the stars of this ride — Wisconsin Highway 33, an old route that crosses the state. It heads east from La Crosse and goes through St. Joseph, Middle Ridge, Portland, Cashton, Ontario and Hillsboro. Turn south on state Highway 80, which dances with Buck Creek to Richland Center. Take U.S. Highway 14 east to Spring Green and scenic state Highway 23. It’s the curvy road that passes the famous House on the Rock. Follow it south through historic Dodgeville and make double sure you cruise through downtown Mineral Point. After Darlington and Avon, the route ends. Cut east on Highway 11 to Gratiot, then south on state Highway 78 into Warren, Ill. In Stockton, you hit U.S. Highway 20. Take it through scenic Galena on your way to Dubuque, Iowa. After crossing the Mississippi, look for U.S. Highway 52 heading north. Stay on it through several small towns, turning north in Luxemburg. You part with Highway 52 north of Guttenberg. Follow County Road X56 north to twin cities McGregor and Marquette. You probably figured out by now that this is the Great River Road. Follow those signs on Iowa Highway 76, then take County Road X52 and Iowa Highway 26. You’ll hit Harper’s Ferry, Lansing and New Albin. Highway 26 rolls along the river and will take you back to La Crescent. Make sure you visit Brownsville along the way.

Mankato to Minneapolis

Everyone needs to go to the Twin Cities at some point. Why not take the best-looking route, rather than the fastest one? This is a 67-mile ride through nature.

Take your chopper north out of Mankato on Third Avenue, which becomes County Road 5. You’ll cross the tracks, then turn right onto Lime Valley Road, then immediately turn left on Jayhawk Road. It will lead you to Minnesota Highway 22. Head north and go past Kasota and across the Minnesota River into St. Peter. Follow U.S. Highway 169 north out of town, and near Le Sueur you’ll branch off on state Highway 93 until you reach Henderson, a popular place to spot bald eagles. The road naturally becomes County Road 6 — as it becomes the best part of this ride along the Minnesota River — and just north of Belle Plaine it is County Road 40, which leads to East Union and Carver. This is where you hit the metropolis.

County 40 intersects with state Highway 41, which takes you to U.S. Highway 212 into Eden Prairie and beyond to Minneapolis via freeways.

The Bar & Grill Ride

There are these roads that many lone bikers take. It is a way that slices through the northern portions of Faribault, Freeborn and Mower counties. We’ll describe it from Winnebago to Stewartville. It doesn’t have all the famous scenery that the other two routes have, but it does have that rural, low-traffic appeal. You will see other bikers riding on it but usually one at a time. It’s more of one’s own way, not a big draw, and it has plenty of small towns with little restaurants and taverns, making it the Bar & Grill Ride.

From Winnebago, head east through Delavan and Easton to Wells. Take Faribault County Road 32 east from Wells and about two miles out follow the curves. It becomes Freeborn County Road 29 after crossing the line. You’ll head to Freeborn, where you can soak up a view of Freeborn Lake. The road curves along the lake heading east on County 29. When you reach Minnesota Highway 13, go south one mile to Manchester. There, turn east on County 25, then turn north on County 45, which leads into Clarks Grove. Cross I-35, then County 45 resumes, heading north. It offers views of Geneva Lake before entering Geneva. Then, turn east on County 35, going through the remains of Newry and into Mower County, where it becomes County Road 1. (Why can’t they match up their numbers?) The road takes you over U.S. Highway 218 and eventually you meet Mower County Road 25. Head south on County 25 to visit Lansing Corners. Follow County 2 east from Lansing Corners, and you’ll meet Brownsdale and Dexter. Enter Dexter and find Minnesota Highway 16 going east from the other end of the city crossing I-90 and stay on it until you visit Grand Meadow. There, turn north on County Road 8 and follow it north as it aligns I-90 into Olmsted County. (Whoa! It keeps the same number as it crosses the line.) County 8 meets Olmsted County Road 6. Go east and that leads you into Stewartville.

Now, only tell your good friends about the Bar & Grill Ride.