Monday, August 1, 2011

Bike trip destinations: Seven Mile Creek

Distance from downtown Mankato: Between 7 and 7 1/2 miles, depending on how much you want to use the bike trails in North Mankato.

Route I took: Pretty straightforward route. After crossing the Veterans Memorial Bridge into North Mankato, take a right onto the bike trail that runs along the Minnesota River. The trail will take you all the way to the Kiwanis Park at the north end of town, at which point you have to (gulp) hop on Highway 169 for the remaining four miles. The entrance to Seven Mile Creek will be on your left.

I've spent much time trying to map out a route that avoids Highway 169, but it's pretty unavoidable because the park's lone entrance is right on the highway and there aren't a lot of back roads leading to that area. Old River Bluff Road, which runs parallel to the highway, isn't paved in certain sections. The St. Peter Loop on the Greater Mankato Bike Map is an option, but that still requires you to use the highway in order to double back to the park's entrance.

General ease/challenge of ride: Difficulty-wise, this is probably one of the easier rides I've done. The distance is very mild, there aren't any difficult climbs and the river valley bluffs and trees provide good wind cover. If you're pedaling at a consistent clip (which you're likely to do, since nobody wants to bike on Highway 169 any longer than they have to), you'll easily get to the park in under an hour.

Safety of the ride: Since it involves having to bike on Highway 169, this isn't the safest ride I've ever done. However, compared to busy country roads with no shoulder, it's really not that bad. The shoulder on 169 is at least 6 feet wide and there's rumble strips separating from traffic lanes. Really, the biggest concern is broken beer bottles (there's a lot of 'em) and other debris that typically litters the sides of major highways. The in-town commuting is relatively safe, though I would advise riders to utilize the bike trail in North Mankato. It doesn't add that much distance to your trip and you won't have to worry about cars zipping past you.

Appeal of the destination: Fair warning to readers: Unlike many of the other bike trips I've written about, there is no restaurant at this destination. It also lacks the photogenic natural attraction to draw in visitors (think Minneopa Falls).

However, that shouldn't suggest that Seven Mile Creek doesn't have any appeal as a biking destination. Quite the opposite, actually. The park has some of the best hiking trails in the area (roughly 8 miles worth), and if you're game for hiking up steep inclines, there's some pretty cool river valley viewing spots. It's not strictly a summertime park either; it also makes for great snowshoeing in the wintertime.

Beyond hiking, the park has several other outdoor activities for visitors to indulge in. There's volleyball courts, playground areas and picnic areas near the park's main entrance and the stream running through the park is regularly stocked with brown trout (I can't be the only person that thinks of this movie when I think of trout fishing). Since the eating options at Seven Mile are non-existent, I recommend packing a lunch if you plan on doing any serious hiking.

Truth be told, Seven Mile Creek actually reminds me a lot of the parks my mom used to take my brothers and I to for day trips. Most of the parks had great hiking trails (check), cool playgrounds (check), water for us to go swimming in (check) a picnic area to have lunch at (check) and didn't charge any fees for admission or parking (check). Presumably, my mom took us to these parks for three reasons: cheap entertainment, good exercise and as a means to pry me away from the TV for a few hours. I thought about asking my mom if she ever took us to Seven Mile when we were kids; it really wouldn't have surprised me.

My most recent trip to Seven Mile Creek had the unfortunate luck of being right after a few days of heavy rainfall. Already reeling from the floods of last fall, a few hiking areas of the park were either underwater or nearly underwater (see photo on the right) and the park's usually-crystal clear stream was pretty murky thanks to area soil getting carried into the creek by flood waters.

The fresh rainfall also made the trails interesting, as the steep inclines and declines became mud-slicked and required some careful hiking to navigate. On one particularly steep gorge, I actually had to grip onto small trees and bushes in order to climb out of it.

It might not have been the best day to bike out to the park, but at least it made the hiking memorable.

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