Looking for a harder ride than our intermediate trip? Last year, we brought you to Carver Park Reserve for our expert trip. This year, we're taking you 30 miles out of Minneapolis to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival for live jousting, giant turkey legs, and more corsets and wizard cloaks than you may be able to handle in one day.
And while there are plenty of games, live performances, and toy swords to keep the kiddies entertained, we suggest you do not bring them along on this trip. In fact, because of the heavy downpours of rain last month, many of the trails on this route have been closed due to dangerous conditions, and some portions of the ride are on the shoulders of highways with speed limits of 50 miles per hour. (This is the expert trip, after all.)
For this trip, we also highly recommend using a smart phone or other navigational device in case certain routes are closed and you need to reroute.
Expert trip: Renaissance Festival
Path: Midtown Greenway, Cedar Lake, Kenilworth Trail, and Minnesota River Bluffs Trail, plus various roads and highways
Distance: 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis (one way)
Estimated Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
How to prepare:
It's August, so it's hot and it's humid. As always, be sure to hydrate incredibly well before this trip. Also, bring a full water bottle, and consider even bringing a backup. This trip is long enough that you may want to consider taking a break halfway, so bring a few snacks and a couple beers to consume as you relax on the side of the path. There are plenty of scenic views of the many lakes you'll pass where you can stop and take in the summer beauty.
Be sure your bike is prepared to handle the long trip. Make sure you have good wheels, greased moving parts, and working brakes. If you're unsure if your bike can handle the trip, ask someone at a local bike shop. Some of the trails are packed limestone gravel, so don't ride a dry bike.
Definitely bring a spare tube, a patch kit, and a working bike pump on this trip in case you get a flat. With all the different paths, roads, and highways on this trek, getting a flat can be a serious hindrance. Many bike shops sell small, handheld bike pumps that will easily fit in your bag. But often these pumps can only get your tire partially filled, and are meant to get you to the nearest bike shop. If you want to be completely independent in fixing your flat, we suggest buying a carbon-dioxide cartridge, available at many shops.
How to get there:
Depending on where in Minneapolis you're coming from, you can hop on the Cedar Lake Trail/Kenilworth Trail or the Midtown Greenway since the two paths eventually merge just past Lake Calhoun and Cedar Lake. Continue down the Midtown Greenway for about three more miles until you see Jackson Avenue North in Hopkins. Shortly after, the path will let you turn left across Excelsior Boulevard to the Minnesota River Bluffs Regional Trail.
Here, feel free to stop in the Depot Coffee House, refill your water bottles, grab a coffee, or use the bathroom. They welcome bikers with open arms, so don't be shy.
The Minnesota River Bluffs Trail breaks up in several locations and is closed at one point due to mudslides, so pay attention to the details below.
When you're ready, continue southwest down the River Bluffs Trail for another four miles until you reach West 62nd Street, where the River Bluffs trail is broken up because of the highway. Take a left here, and follow the sidewalk. On your left will be the entrance back onto the River Bluffs trail, which will take you underneath the highway.
Once back on, take the trail for another four or five miles until you reach Eden Prairie Road. The path breaks up again here, and you must cross Eden Prairie Road, turn left, and enter the trail again on the other side. Eventually the path winds around and hits a T-intersection.
Take a right here, go down the hill path to cross Scenic Heights Road, and continue straight onto Candlewood Parkway. You can reach the River Bluffs Trail just a ways down Candlewood. The entrance will be on your right, and will be marked with a sign. Hop back on.
Back on the River Bluffs trail, you'll trek for another two miles until you reach a sign telling you the path is closed ahead. Mudslides from the heavy rain last month destroyed large portions of the trail and the city put up chain link fencing, so getting through isn't possible. Take a right up the hill that goes up to Pioneer Trail. At the top of the hill, continue onto the bike path that follows the road on your left.
Take the path for a bit until you reach Foxford Road. Here, you'll need to hop onto the shoulder of Pioneer Trail on your left. The shoulders are wide and allow plenty of space for biking, but proceed with caution.
Stay on Pioneer Trail until you reach Audubon Road, and take a left. This intersection is large and fast, so use the crosswalks to cross Audubon safely. Once across, hop on the sidewalk path that follows Audubon and continue.
You'll stay on this path for a while and cross several roads. Eventually, it spits you out on Chaska Boulevard. You'll know you're there because an Arby's will be on your right, and the cross street is called Yellow Brick Road. Take a right onto Chaska Boulevard, take it to Chestnut Street, and take a left. Chestnut is also a pretty fast road, so use sidewalks and shoulders as much as you can.
Stay on Chestnut Street heading south, cross the Minnesota River, and continue for a couple more miles until you see signs for the Renaissance Festival on your right. Follow the signs for handicap parking to the King's Gate. This is the gate with bike parking.
What to do there:
Just like any other festival, there is a multitude of different games, food, craft vendors, and rides to keep you occupied all day.
Grab a giant turkey leg or head to the craft brew pub. The portions are a bit small and overpriced, but that goes hand in hand with any festival. Some other festival favorites are the flavored mead, the Scotch eggs, the meat pies, and for vegetarians there's the battered fried veggie platter.
Head to the games and test your luck at the tomato throwing booth, the knife throwing booth, or the archery and crossbow ranges. Or climb the castle walls and take in a show. There's also the "Throne of Swords," a (rather poor) replica of the the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, where you can sit and take photos to impress your nerdy friends online.
But the best part of the festival is easily the live jousting matches. They hold them at 1 p.m and 4 p.m., when three to four knights battle one another in live combat. Each knight represents one of the audience sections, and spectators are encouraged to cheer on their knight while insulting the others. While the jousting is real, much of the fighting is choreographed. But overall, the event is very entertaining.
The festival is open every weekend through September 28 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. General admission tickets cost $19.95 plus tax, and season passes cost $50.95. There are also special events on certain weekends, including pub crawls and special dinners. Check out their website for more information. We also have some tips on how to do the Ren Fest for cheap.