By Lauren Kraus | Photo by Explore MN Tourism
Cruising along, breeze on face, sun on skin under a canopy of large trees next to a sheer rock-face covered in a mossy green blanket, yes, I was reminded that true trail beauty might sometimes include asphalt. The Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley State Trails in Southeastern Minnesota are a great, smooth, easy-flowing example of this. Hidden in forests, at the bottom of limestone bluffs, meandering through quaint communities, these two state trails are well worth the trip and not to be missed this summer or fall or winter! They are both multiple-use trails ready for walking, biking, running, in-line skating and groomed for cross country skiing in the winter. The Root River State Trail and most of the Harmony- Preston Valley State Trail were constructed on an abandoned railroad grade making the journey fairly level and wheelchair accessible. Few sections have hills. The Harmony-Preston trail is 18 miles long and connects Harmony and Preston with the Root River State Trail, which is 42 miles in total length from Fountain, Minnesota stretching to Houston, Minnesota.
Each trail is dotted with rest shelters, picnic tables and beautiful bridges crossing the Root River. In addition, the picturesque, rural communities along the route not only provide tasty restaurants (a notable pie shop in Whalan, MN), cool historical buildings and museums, but services for trail users too. Outfitters to supply kayaks and canoes for the river, several campgrounds along the way, bed and breakfast inns and fun shops make these state trails a great, new adventure. There is parking available in all of the towns the trails go through, so it is a matter of finding the closest one to you and hitting the pavement! Fountain, Preston and Harmony are all along Highway 52 and very accessible from wherever your starting point may be. Check out www.rootrivertrail.org for great information on the trails and the communities they go through, helpful maps of the trail including a mileage chart and other useful links to the area. Grab your bike and take some time to enjoy this beautiful area via paved, easy going asphalt trail – it’s something to take advantage of in the Driftless Region.
Lauren Kraus, Decorah enthusiast, knows the best way to get to know an area or become familiar with the land is to run on it, tromp through it, hike in it, bike around, just soak it in. Not in a vehicle. Hooray for the good weather of summer and fall.