Monday, May 31, 2010

Bike trip destinations: Rapidan Dam Park

Distance from downtown Mankato: Roughly 9 miles.

Route I took: Here is a link to the route map (courtesy of, awesome website). This is probably the easiest route of any trip I'll take this summer. Essentially, you get on the Red Jacket Trail at the YMCA, follow it all the way to the end, take a right onto 552nd Street/Center Street into the town of Rapidan, then take a right onto County Road 9 and follow it all the way to the dam.

General ease/challenge of ride:
As far as bike trips go, it doesn't get much easier than this. The majority of the trip is on a nicely-paved bike trail with little traffic to worry about (aside from other trail users, of course) and no serious hills to contend with. The country roads near Rapidan are well-paved and generally low in traffic volume as well. It's also a very achieveable day trip for even the most recreational of cyclists, with the roundtrip total checking in at less than 20 miles.

That's not to say the route is a complete cake walk. From the Le Seuer River to the end of the Red Jacket Trail (roughly a two mile stretch), the ride is predominantly uphill. But the uphill grade is gradual enough to be barely noticeable. The return trip from the park also offers a challenge, as the first 1/4 mile or so is a steep uphill climb out of the Blue Earth River valley. Nothing a quick downshift can't neutralize.

Safety of the ride: As stated earlier, the route is almost entirely on bike trails and low-traffic country roads. Unless you're on an exercise bike at the YMCA, the ride doesn't get much safer than this.

Appeal of the destination: To put it bluntly, it's a dam good spot to venture to.

For starters, it has all the bells and whistles of a county park (rest area, playground, hiking trails) and has the added bonus of being on a river next to a regionally historical dam. The Rapidan Dam is actually celebrating it's 100th birthday this year as a major hydroelectric source in the region.

The park also has ample area for camping, kayaking classes in the summer, and a pleasant river walk area complete with sandy beaches and rocky shoreline. It's also regarded as a quality fishing hole. The locals I spoke to said it was good for catching everything from catfish to Northern Pike. Granted, they were telling me this between cans of Keystone Light, but that's beside the point.

If that wasn't enough, the park also has it's own local food staple in the Dam Store. Located at the entryway of the park, the Dam Store has a diverse spread of menu items ranging from the 1/2 pound "Damburger" to chicken and fish sandwiches and shrimp. For side dishes, they have hash browns, fries and salad to choose from. They also have old-fashioned milkshakes and a whole slew of "Dam Pie" flavor varieties for desert.

Their prices are very reasonable (you'd have to be pretty hungry to burn through $10 in one sitting) and their food is generally held in high regard by visitors. Since I was planning on running 10 miles later that day, I skipped out on heavier fare and opted for a slice of banana cream pie (pictured right).

Other notes: If you're looking for a specific day to bike out to the park, August 14 might be a good one to circle on your calendar. The dam is celebrating its 100th birthday that day with live music, canoe rides, a crafts sale, a hog roast dinner, and horseshoe and fishing tournaments. As expected, they will also have ample amounts of Dam Pie on hand.

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