Touring the Root River State Trail, Part 2

In a previous post, I covered the section from Fountain to Lanesboro. This series concludes with the section from Lanesboro to Houston. Once again, although a composite of multiple trips, it’s presented as a single narrative. An expanded version of this article was previously published on my own web site, North Star Highways. All photos are by the author.

Getting There

If any readers want to plan their own ride, here are some of my thoughts on it. Although some might want to plan a full ride of the entire trail completed with camping or a hotel stay, or else take to vehicles and drop one on each end of the trail, I imagine most readers will want to make a day trip of it and only do a portion of the trail.

I recommend starting at the Poetry Lot on the western edge of Lanesboro on County Highway 8. Although only portable restrooms are available in the lot, during the day modern restrooms are available in the depot trail center a couple of blocks to the east in town. There’s normally adequate parking that’s off the street, and room to get your bicycles and gear unloaded and ready.

Poetry Lot, Lanesboro
Poetry Lot, Lanesboro

From there I recommend riding to Isinours, then turning around and going to Whalan and back. This is about an 18-mile round trip ride that includes the most scenic part of the trail, both of the large, impressive bridges, and of course the town of Lanesboro itself. Your car will be in the middle of your ride for storage of refreshments halfway through the ride. This route also avoids the boring, hilly eastern end of the trail as well as the huge, long hill between Fountain and Isinours.

The towns of Peterson, Rushford, and Houston are well worth exploring too, but are on the less desirable parts of the trail. So, unless you’re prepared to do the whole trail you can take the car over to those towns before or after your ride.

Lanesboro to Whalan

Part one left off at the Lanesboro Depot. We’ll start with a video of the Lanesboro area and then continue.

Looping through Lanesboro

Here’s the trail just east of Lanesboro:

The trail east of Lanesboro
The trail east of Lanesboro

About halfway to Whalan is the largest bridge on the trail. You’ll see tubers and boaters passing underneath. And some of those much braver than I will dive off the bridge into the water.

The Bridge
The bridge

Whalan is a pleasant stopping place. Although there is no off-street parking if you start and end your ride here, there is a general store, a gazebo, and an ice cream store.

Whalen Ice Cream Shop
Whalan ice cream shop

Here’s a time lapse video through Whalan:

Whalan time lapse video


The town of Peterson has an authentic depot, built in 1877. After passenger service ended, it was moved to the other end of the downtown area and today serves as the Peterson Museum. The town’s unofficial mascot is the garden gnome, and you can see statues around town.

A ride through Peterson:


In the town of Rushford the trail passes by some historic buildings.

Rushford Depot and Museum
Rushford Depot and Museum
Rushford Depot Museum and Trail Center
Rushford Depot Museum and Trail Center

Here’s an interesting 1899 building in Rushford:

Grace Place Ministries
Rushford building

And a time lapse video through Rushford:

Beyond Rushford is more typical scenery until Money Creek, where the preserved railroad bed runs out. The town of Money Creek is actually some distance away from the trail; all that is on the trail is a clearing and picnic table. Here, the trail then takes a sharp turn to the south, crosses the river, and then the rest of the way to Houston is part old railbed, part new alignment along the river, and part in the ditch of the state highway with steeper hills than normal.

Here are some flowers on the trail:

Root River trail Flowers
Flowers on the trail
Flowers on the trail
Even more flowers

A little closer to Houston:

Approaching Houston, MN
Approaching Houston

Although Houston is a cute town to explore with a nice park at the trailhead, this is a section of trail I’d skip unless you want to do the whole thing. Nevertheless, Houston has by far the nicest trailhead. It offers paved parking, modern restrooms, an interpretive center, a lot of bicycle themed folk art, and an adjacent park with a playground and campground. There are even showers. It’s well worth walking around even if you just drive over after your trip around Lanesboro.

Here’s a carved bench at the trailhead:
Owl bench at the trailhead.

At this point on the trail is a “human sundial”. Lacking another person to photograph to demonstrate it, I put my tripod and camera down in the center and took a picture with my phone to show how it works. You stand in the center on the month it is, and your shadow falls on the numbers indicating the time in Central Daylight Time. The term “analemmatic” refers to a sundial with a movable “gnomon” – the part that casts the shadow, in this case, you.

The Analemmatic Sundial
The analemmatic sundial
The Analemmatic Sundial
The analemmatic sundial, just after 5 O’clock

The trail snakes around the nature center, parking lot, and driveway, and then abruptly ends at Highway 76. I rode a few more blocks into and around town.

Trail's End, Houston Minnesota
Trail’s End, Houston

I then proceeded to explore the town of Houston. Here’s a view looking back with the trail starting on the lower left:

Highway 76 and the start of the trail, Houston
Coffee Shop in Hoston
Barista’s Coffee House, Houston
Houston, Mn Map
Map in Downtown Houston. The Root River Trail is in red towards the above left

Here’s East Cedar Street – the building on the right is the International Owl Center:

East Cedar Street. Houston, MN
East Cedar Street, Houston

The International Owl Center:

International Owl Center, Houston MN
International Owl Center, Houston

And finally, here’s a pocket park with an owl statue in front of the library:

Pocket park
Owl sculpture

In the long term, the plan is to extend the trail to the state border at La Crosse, WI. From there, the existing La Crosse River State Trail continues to Sparta, where the Elroy Sparta Trail starts. This was one of the first, and is one of the best rail trails, with three long tunnels to walk through (North Star Highways phototours part one and part two). From Elroy, the “400” State Trail continues on to Reedsburg. Someday a series of these off-road touring trails may go all the way from the Twin Cities to Chicago!

About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.