Bike-cation in Northfield

Bikeyface could have been in Northfield!

Bikeyface could have been in Northfield!

Bikeyface took a bike-cation somewhere near Boston, but could have been visiting Northfield instead.  Doesn’t that look like MN Trunk Highway 3 through downtown Northfield?

What would a bike-cation in Northfield look like? There’s a surprising amount to do on a bicycle in Northfield, but navigating through the center of town on a bicycle to reach some of the best bikable bits does look a lot like Bikeyface’s drawing.



Bike-cation in Northfield, Plan A

How to get to bike trails

How to get to bike trails

Stay downtown at the Archer House River Inn.  Riding south on Division Street, you can enjoy the shops, restaurants with an easy connection through Riverside Park under the highway to the Peggy Prowe Pedestrian Bridge (Peggy Prowe is Northfield’s tireless trail advocate).

mapMillTownsOnce there, you can ride on the Mill Towns Trail through Sechler Park toward Dundas. In the future, the plan is to connect the Mill Towns Trail to the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail toward Faribault and Mankato and to the Cannon Valley Trail to Red Wing. In the nearer future, after reaching Dundas on the west side of the Cannon River you could return to Northfield on the trail under construction on the east side of the river. Babcock Park could soon see a canoe/kayak launch and other improvements to diversify your active vacation.

Carleton Water tower

Carleton’s water tower and Lyman Lakes

Reaching Carleton College is a short (uphill) ride from downtown with connections to rural roads (paved and gravel).  Visiting St Olaf College (or the Ole Store Cafe) requires something like the Bikeyface crossing experience at Highway 3 (but Northfield does have beg buttons and, at Second Street, a bike sensor) and a longer uphill climb (but returning to downtown is a breeze!).

You could come to Northfield for bike related events, too.  The annual Defeat of Jesse James Days Bike Tour is the longest running and largest one, but the Tour De Save and MN Gravel Championships are based here.

Bike-cation Plan B

Northfield's Country InnStay across MN3 at the Country Inn (only .25 miles from the Archer House). You’re not interested in the historic inn experience, but prefer the amenities at a more contemporary hotel (like the indoor pool, for example) along with the convenient parking for your car (with its bike carrier).

How to get to bike trails

How to get to bike trails

Unfortunately, this hotel is stranded at the corner of two state highways, so while it is very accessible by car, all the bicycle activities noted under Plan A take some additional work. The bike and pedestrian bridge which connects to the east river trail or under Highway 3 to downtown still requires crossing MN19.  Reaching downtown (which you could see from your hotel room window) means crossing MN3. The Country Inn is,however, better situated for reaching El Triunfo.

So close

As Bikeyface noted:

Yep, it was so close to being a brilliant vacation. Small towns need safe streets and infrastructure that takes bikes seriously too. It’s good for recreation, transportation, and my vacations tourism. Even if driving is sometimes necessary, it’s always nice to drive less.

Northfield, too, is so close to being a brilliant bike-cation destination.  Pieces of brilliance like the work developing the Mill Towns Trail, building the pedestrian bridge, and working to get the bike sensor installed do add up, but sparkling brilliance requires repairing the border vacuum created by MN3 (and to a lesser extent MN19).

There are jurisdictional challenges, certainly, since building and connecting bicycling facilities requires thinking about trails (DNR and the City of Northfield’s parks department), on-street bike facilities (MnDOT, Rice County, and the City of Northfield’s parks and streets departments), economic development (Economic Development Authority, Northfield Downtown Development Corporation, City of Northfield, Chamber of Commerce), streets (MnDOT, Rice and Dakota Counties, City of Northfield).

Plus, there are funding challenges since the different agencies and departments which deal with bicycle improvements also bring different funding streams and decision-making processes. The DNR often works through grant-making, MnDOT funds improvements to state roads and MSA-funding. Rice County funds some kinds of improvements in the City, but not others (like sidewalks). The City of Northfield might pay for improvements as special projects, through the CIP. Private groups could raise money for particular projects, and even the federal government can get involved.

There are many local stakeholders, too. Northfield has trail supporters, off-road cyclists, bike clubs, BikeNorthfield, as well as youth advocates, healthy community campaigners and more. Leadership from these groups along with city elected officials are needed to coordinate support over the time needed to plan and build better ways to crossing the highway. Visitors who bring their bicycles and their dollars can also help.

None of the recent accolades for livability or retirement mention the stroad through the middle of town, and it is still an impediment to walking and cycling.  Northfield is already a good place to ride a bike and could be a great bike-cation destination (and even better place to live or retire) in the not too distant future if we could connect the dots.

Money Magazine rated Northfield the #1 place to retire (with your bicycle)

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7 thoughts on “Bike-cation in Northfield

  1. Pingback: Bike-cation in Northfield | Betsey Buckheit

  2. Janne

    I did a bike-cation to Northfield a couple years ago. Bikes from Mpls south to Northfield (into a too-strong headwind on a much-too-hot day). It was nice… until Burnsville, got astoundingly unpleasant in Apple Valley, and then nicer once we cleared Farmington’s exurban areas and ended up on an OK but not for the faint-of-heart highway.

    Northfield was lovely, but for what you pointed out above. Highway 3 means I wouldn’t do it with anyone other than a totally hard-core riding partner.

    We stayed at a B&B, and then biked to Faribault and along the Sakatah trail to Mankato the next day. Getting to Henderson (which required a 2-mile stint along 169) was terrifying.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I did the opposite ride a number of times in college (Northfield to Minneapolis) and I had similar experience with the South of the River suburbs. It seemed really ironic that rural roads — like Highway 3 from Northfield to Farmington — were really not unpleasant to bike on, with wide, paved shoulders and good sight lines. So wouldn’t it seem ironic that when I hit my first areas of density (Lakeville/Farmington), the ride suddenly gets dramatically scarier and more unclear. Why is it that in an area where it’s more likely to be able to bike to your destination (than the countryside), it gets harder to bike.

      Oddly, going south to north, Bloomington feels like heaven upon arrival, with its only-35-mph stroads.

      In general, Northfield has a lot of beautiful country routes, but as you say, Janne, they’re not necessarily for the faint of heart. One of the most beautiful loops is Valley Grove Road, but it requires riding on South Division Street / TH 246 out of the south edge of town, with relatively narrow shoulders and high speeds. Valley Grove Road itself has no shoulders, but a low enough volume that that hopefully wouldn’t be a barrier for many. Highway 3 has decent shoulders to Faribault, but it’s noisy and unpleasant. Adjacent Cannon City Blvd is nice, but again, no shoulders. You need tourists either immune to noise or comfortable taking a (rural) lane.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    And as a matter of interest in the hotel comparison: it’s not just Country Inn that’s bad. In fact, it’s probably the least bad (after the Archer House) in town.

    My mom had a colleague once at St. Olaf who was staying at AmericInn and decided he was going to walk to Target. Hardly an unreasonable walk — less than a mile as the crow flies — and both were new developments with (rudimentary) pedestrian features. Yet with no safe way to get across Highway 3 without doubling back, and no sidewalk along either side, he ended up walking on the shoulder of the highway and cutting through some yards, confused and frightened by 50 mph traffic. Technically there are sidewalks from that site to downtown (and now a trail, too), but I think people would end up similarly uncomfortable and bewildered.

    Northfield has cultivated a careful charming small town image. So why our hotels — especially the downtown-located, not-that-old Country Inn — so out of touch?

    1. Nathanael

      The unwalkability of the hotels in Northfield was one of (several) deciding reasons why I ended up organizing a reunion for alumni of Carleton College club in Minneapolis, not at Carleton. We have disabled members.

      The Archer House and the Country Inn are the only two where you can sort-of-walk to Carleton. The Archer House isn’t wheelchair-accessible. The Country Inn is a fairly unmanagable distance particularly in the dark. Everything else is much worse. And we have enough people to overwhelm a single hotel, anyway.

      And if everyone brought cars and tried to drive from hotels to the college… we wouldn’t be able to find parking on campus. (Again, there are quite a lot of us.)

      So that means: hotels in Northfield are OUT. They don’t work for event organizing.

      Carleton was unable to come up with dorm space during the year (obviously), didn’t want to handle us during Reunion (due to overcrowding), and couldn’t come up with any suitable dorm space during the summer either (which I still think is just incompetence, but that’s what happened).

      So, we’re doing our event in Minneapolis.

      Northfield would be well-advised to get some wheelchair-accessible hotels located *conveniently* to Carleton. You just lost a lot of money-spending visitors because you don’t have ’em. Dollars out of Northfield, into Minneapolis. City Council should pay attention. (Probably won’t, though.)

      –Nathanael Nerode

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I’ve stayed at the Nofo Country Inn many times… and while it’s stranded from downtown by a stroady highway, at least it’s a stroady highway with such little traffic that it’s easy to jaywalk over to the good side.

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