Trail offers scenic lake views, small town charms, and plenty of history

Date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017
If you want a fun experience bicycling, walking or running in the fresh spring air, you won’t find much better than a trip along the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail.

Skirting the south shore of Lake Minnetonka, the 15-mile unpaved trail offers scenic views of the big lake and local wetlands – but plenty more as it wends through canopies of shade trees, open meadows and old neighborhoods.


Trail stretches 15 miles between Hopkins and Carver Park Reserve. The unpaved trail passes through the communities of Minnetonka, Deephaven, Greenwood, Excelsior, Shorewood, and Victoria.

Ambitious trail users may pack a tent and enjoy an evening under the stars while camping at Carver Park Reserve.

About 4.5 million visits are made to the regional trail system managed by Three Rivers Park District every year.

* Trails with LRT in their name denote the trail corridor is owned by the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority for possible future transit use.  Three Rivers Park District manages these trails on a lease.

If food or drink are part of your outing plans, Excelsior and Victoria offer plenty of places to stop as the trail passes through these small towns enroute to more rural spaces heading west.

The trail also has a great historical backstory about the key role the old railroad route played in developing Minneapolis into prominence as the flour-milling capital of the nation.

 “The thing I find most interesting is how this trail can carry you from the highly populated first tier suburbs of Minneapolis to the rural landscapes of Carver County, with small-town charm in between,” said Danny McCullough, Regional Trail System Manager for Three Rivers Park District, which manages the trail.

“It is a great trail to spend a day exploring because it offers great access to local small-town restaurants and shopping, scenic views of Lake Minnetonka, and a direct connection to Carver Park Reserve, which is 3,700 acres and offers swimming, hiking, camping and outdoor programing. No car required!”

Popularity of trail soaring, improvements due soon

Since it opened in 1994, public use of the trail has grown steadily. In summer 2009, the trail averaged about 1,050 users per day, according to Three Rivers Park District. By summer 2014, average daily use topped 1,700.

The vast majority of users are out for recreation or exercise, but the trail also attracts commuters for work or those accessing commercial districts.
Fred and Lois Parduhn of Excelsior enjoyed a view of Lake Minnetonka’s Excelsior Bay while walking on the Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail recently. The 15-mile-long trail traverses lakes, woods, meadows, neighborhoods and several towns south of the big lake.
McCullough said there are no plans to pave the trail. The land is owned by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority for possible future use as a transit corridor. Three Rivers manages the trail on a lease. Also, park managers have found that many runners and walkers prefer the softer, natural surface of a crushed limestone base.

Some changes are in the wind.

This summer, the City of Hopkins is building “The Artery” – an art-infused pedestrian and bicycle corridor along 8th Avenue. When this segment is complete, it will connect the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail to the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail, and the Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail giving users a safe, off-road connection between the three regional trails.

Flour magnates opened rail spur for shipping

The Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail sits atop the old Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway spur that connected Minneapolis flour mills with the expanding wheat fields in the Upper Midwest.

Bill Walker, Three Rivers’ cultural historian, said the line was opened in 1879 by the owners of Minneapolis’s giant flour mills – the Washburn, Crosby and Pillsbury empires – to undercut Chicago-based shipping companies that were bypassing Minneapolis business interests.

Visitors especially enjoy some of the more serene parts of the trail shown here near Smithtown Road in Shorewood. Estimates top 442,000 visits per year to the trail.“The rail spur through Excelsior was critically important and literally saved Minneapolis from obsolescence as a major business center and helped it become the nation’s leading flour capital for several decades around 1900,” Walker said.

“There is a lot of cool history to think about for bikers and runners on the Lake Minnetonka trail. Without that link at that time, Minneapolis would not be Minneapolis,” he said.

Walker said Three Rivers Park District is working with area partners to develop a series of interpretive waysides and signs along its trails to help visitors appreciate the area’s rich history.

An upcoming event focused on the area’s history

Biking Through History: Lake Minnetonka in the Gilded Age
Experience the story of Lake Minnetonka during its heyday as one of Minnesota’s premier tourist destinations. “Ride the Rails” along a former Great Northern Railway roadbed. Circle Crystal Bay where grand hotels once stood and visit the estate gardens at Noerenberg Memorial Park. Participants must bring their own bike and helmet and be able to ride an 11-mile loop at a leisurely pace. Reservations required by two days prior. $5. Ages: 13+.

  • June 8, Thursday, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
  • July 2, Friday 9:30 am –12:30 pm
  • August 9, Wednesday, 9:30 am–12:30 pm

Check the Three Rivers Park District website for registration information after May 2.

Plans call for 1,100 miles of regional trails by 2040

The Lake Minnetonka Regional LRT Trail is one of dozens that total more than 360 miles in the regional trail system. By 2040, the Council and its park agency partners plan to expand the system to 1,100 miles of trails. New regional trails are planned to link regional parks throughout the metro area.

Railroad history around Lake Minnetonka

Posted In: Communities, Parks

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