Monday, July 4, 2011

Learning the Loops: St. Clair/Eagle Lake

Note: This is Part 1 of a four-part series on the bike loops listed in the Greater Mankato Visitors Bureau's biking/hiking trails map

Directions: I began the loop near MSU campus and simply rode it counter-clockwise from there. After crossing County Road 90 on Monks, continue straight (the road turns into Jersey Road and later Jasmine Road) for roughly 3-4 miles until you come across County Road 177 (also known as 170th Street). Take a left onto that, follow it across Highway 22 for about 4 miles until you come to a T in the road. Take a left, followed by a right at the first intersection (County Road 15) and follow that into St. Clair.

Once in St. Clair, take a left onto County Road 28, a right onto Main Street, and a left onto 607th Street (also called County Road 28). That will lead you north out of town toward Eagle Lake. Ride on that road for about 4 miles until you come to a T in the road. Take a left, then take a right at the next T (County Road 27). That will lead you into Eagle Lake.

Once in Eagle Lake, hang a left onto Parkway Ave (the town's main thru road) and follow that east until you come across a stop sign about a mile out of town. Take a right on that road (594th Ave), follow that across Highway 14 and take a left onto Victory Drive.

Notes on the route: Aside from the dip into the Le Sueur River valley outside of Mankato on Monks Ave, riders need not worry about any strenuous inclines to climb. The loop also does a wonderful job avoiding most of the major roadways of the area. You'll have to cross County Road 90, Highway 14 and Highway 22 at some points, but beyond that, the traffic is pretty modest. As far as road maintenance is concerned, all the roads well-paved and didn't require much in terms of pothole-dodging techniques.

There isn't much wind cover for most of the ride, but that's the beauty of loops: Brutal head wind on one half the ride means glorious tail wind on the other half.

Places to eat along the route: If you're looking to carb up at the beginning of the ride, Jake's Stadium Pizza and all its thin crust glory is on Monks Ave near MSU. For a mid-ride snack in St. Clair, there's Uptown Tavern, located off of Main Street. I didn't stop at the tavern during my ride (I was looking to keep expenses to a minimum), but from what I heard from a few locals, they have great burgers and all the normal drink and food selections you'd expect to find at a small-town bar.

If your appetite is really feeling ambitious a few miles down the road, you can try your hand at the 3-pound Duke Burger, which can be found at the Eagles Nest in Eagle Lake. As mentioned in a previous post, the Duke is not to be taken lightly. You'll likely need to bring friends along to help you finish it.

For the last few miles of the loop, if you're looking for something beyond the typical chain restaurants, I recommend Pho Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant located off of Victory Drive in Mankato. Pretty reasonable prices, a sizable amount of menu options and the food has some real zing to it.

Things to see/do along the route: The drop off into the Le Sueur River valley occurs a few miles south of Mankato on Monks Ave. This normally wouldn't be much of a sight for cyclists (more an indicator of a hill they'll have to climb in the future), but the bluffs rising up out of the river valley are a pretty scenic view to take in. There's also a canoe landing site near the bridge crossing the river. So if you need to cool off from the ride, that wouldn't be a bad spot to do so.

Between St. Clair and Eagle Lake is the major attraction of this loop: Wildwood Park. Prior to the bike trails map being released, I had no idea of the park's existence. I'm guessing a lot of people haven't. It's considerably smaller than some of the state parks in the area and it lacks the campgrounds and other amenities that other parks have, like picnic tables and bathroom facilities.

However, that doesn't mean Wildwood isn't worth the trip. Quite the contrary, I found the park to be pretty cool.

Nestled on a quiet spot of the Le Sueur River (after riding this loop, I'm convinced the Le Sueur would be a fun river to canoe or kayak on), the park has a surprising amount of good hiking trails for its relatively small size.

It also features a 140-foot-long swinging foot bridge across the river (pictured right). The bridge will definitely wobble a bit as you're crossing, but not to worry, it's built sturdy. To my knowledge, it's the only bridge of its kind in this area.

As with the river valley spot outside of Mankato, Wildwood is also a good place to cool down in the river if the summer heat is wearing down your biking buzz. If you're able to pack a fishing rod, there's supposedly a few good spots in the park to cast for walleye, catfish and bullheads as well.

Possible ways to expand the loop: If you're in the mood for some ice cream and feel like biking a few more miles, you can keep heading east on County Road 15 out of St. Clair and hang a left onto County Road 3. That will take you into Janesville, where the town's Dairy Queen is located just off the town's Main Street. For all the lake lovers out there, if you head north on County Road 27 out of Eagle Lake, you're only a few short miles of pedaling away from Lake Washington, one of the premier fishing and boating lakes in the area.


  1. How many miles total for this loop. Could this be made into an overnighter...would their be enough to do?

  2. Apologies for not including the distance. It's 28.5 miles total. I will definitely be including that on future posts of this series. As for making it an overnighter, I'd imagine camping at Wildwood wouldn't be too much trouble, but there aren't really too many other camp areas on this loop. I don't know if I'd recommend making this a 2-day affair; aside from a few restaurants and Wildwood Park (which is a pretty small area compared to Minneopa), there really isn't much else to do. Loops involving the Sakatah Trail and some of the major campgrounds in the area have a lot more going on.