It's not surprising that the birthplace of inline skating should also have the nicest places to do it. I have listed several trails in the Twin Cities area that are good places to skate. This includes directions to the sites and my own (biased) opinions of these trails. Most of these trails are fairly long, mainly because I find anything less than 5 miles to be a "snack-sized" trip.
The book "Let's Skate Minnesota!" by Barbara Shotwell is a good printed resource (although it's not in HTML, so that's why I wrote this.) You can find it at good book stores or sporting goods stores. It contains a lot of useful information, although the cartoons are kind of corny.
Disclaimer: Use of this information is at your own risk. These are my opinions -- your experience may differ. Wear protective gear when you're out skating -- injuries are expensive and definitely not very fun.
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Trails are located as follows:
Getting there: (Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and Cedar Lake) Take Hennepin Avenue south out of downtown, then turn right (west) onto Lagoon Ave., which parallels Lake Street. Continue three blocks to Lake Calhoun Parkway. Turn left to go to Lake Calhoun or right for Lake of the Isles. Or, continue on Lake Street to Dean Parkway, then turn right and follow it to Cedar Lake.
Lake Harriet: Follow the directions to Lake Calhoun, and follow Calhoun Parkway south around the lake. At the south end of the lake, you will come to a four-way intersection. Turn left onto William Berry Drive, and follow it until you get to Lake Harriet.
Lake Nokomis: Take Highway 62 to Cedar Avenue, then follow Cedar Avenue north about 3/4 mile. Turn right when you get to Lake Nokomis Parkway.
Pluses: Nice scenery, centrally located, and the lakes are all interconnected so you can determine how far you want to skate. The trails around Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet, and Lake of the Isles are smooth and well-maintained. Cedar Lake and Lake Nokomis are a little rougher but still in good condition.
Minuses: Often crowded, especially on weekends. You'll occasionally find pedestrians on the trail or other obstacles. The Park Board recently started charging $1.00 to park at most of the parking lots, although you can get around this by parking on the (crowded) parkways or on the (crowded) streets.
Getting there: The western end of the trail is at 23rd Street and Highway 100 in St. Louis Park. There isn't a parking lot anywhere near there, though. You can also get onto the trail at Ewing Ave. (by Cedar Lake Road where it crosses the tracks), Dunwoody Institute, or downtown by 12th Street and Glenwood Ave.
Pluses: Very nicely planned out -- most bike/skate sections of this trail are 10 feet wide in EACH direction, with a separate walking path off to the side. You'll probably never collide with anyone on this trail unless you just aren't looking. All trails should be planned out this way.
Minuses: There isn't really a good place to park near this trail. The eastern mile going into downtown isn't very scenic, unless freeway bridges, heaps of demolished concrete, and a collection of 40,000 garbage carts are your idea of scenery.
Getting there: From downtown Minneapolis, take Washington Avenue south to Portland Avenue and turn left. Follow the signs that say "Stone Arch Bridge - Bicycle Route" and park where it's convenient. The lot right next to the bridge has parking meters, but there are free spots along the parkway.
Pluses: Nice view of St. Anthony Falls and the river below. This is a historic area, because the flour mills (the big growth industry in Minneapolis in the 1800's) got their power from the falls. There are some signs that explain what the area used to look like.
Minuses: Watch out for pedestrians. The parkway and the bridge have separate bike/skate and pedestrian lanes, but some people ignore them.
Getting there: Take Lake Street east from Hiawatha Avenue about 2 1/2 miles. Turn right onto West River Parkway just before you get to the bridge over the Mississippi. There are parking lots along the parkway (with the same $1.00 charge mentioned above). The trail extends north and south from these parking lots, so this is kind of a mid-point access.
Pluses: Nice views of the river and of the University of Minnesota. (Although I'd like someone to tell me why the art museum at the east end of the Washington Ave. bridge had to be designed like it was. It looks like an explosion at an aluminum can recycling factory.)
Minuses: There is a long downhill stretch under the Franklin Ave. bridge. North of the bridge, the trail is a few feet above the river; south of it, the trail is high on the river bluffs. The hill isn't steep, but it requires extra energy to climb.
Getting there: Take Highway 35E north of downtown St. Paul and exit at the Maryland Ave. exit. Go east on Maryland one block, then turn left (north) onto Westminster St. Drive north 1/2 mile to Arlington Ave., then turn left. The parking lot and trailhead are one block to the left. Another access point is at Highway 36 and Hadley Ave. about 1/2 mile west of highway 694.
Pluses: Flat, mostly straight, and smooth.
Minuses: There are a few wooden bridges over some of the busier streets. There aren't many places to stop for water or refreshments, except for some restaurants in North St. Paul.
Getting there: Take Lexington Avenue north from Highway 94. Go over one railroad bridge and under another. It'll be obvious when you're in the park. The pavilion is about 1/2 mile into the park on the right.
Pluses: Centrally located. Lots of options for after skating (or if you have friends who don't skate).
Minuses: Can be fairly crowded on weekends -- you may have to hunt for a place to park. The trail around the lake is fairly short.
Getting there: Follow Interstate 35E north out of downtown St. Paul. Exit at the Wheelock Parkway exit and go east past Arcade Street. There are parking lots on the left.
Pluses: A longer loop than Lake Como (about 3 miles for this one, versus 1 1/2 miles for Lake Como). Not as heavily used and not as crowded.
Minuses: I think there's only one water fountain, which is at one of the pavilions on the west side of the lake. A few sections of the trail are shared with pedestrians.
Getting there: Take West 7th Street from downtown St. Paul or Highway 5 east from Bloomington. Exit at Shepard Road and go north about a block. The park entrance is on your left.
Pluses: You feel like you're not in the city, when you're really in the second largest city in Minnesota. Nice river scenery. Not to mention sentence fragments.
Minuses: Some sections of Crosby Park can get rather wet after a rain, and there's at least one muddy section to bypass if this is the case.
Getting there: Take Highway 100 south past 494, when it becomes Normandale Blvd. Turn right at the first light (84th St.) and go west for 3/4 mile. The road turns into East Bush Lake Road and turns south. Continue about 3 miles and look for the signs that say "Hyland Lake Park Reserve - Recreation Area/Creative Play Area." (Don't go into the Nature Center entrance -- the trails don't go by there.)
Pluses: Plenty of wildlife and a nice prairie setting. It's like getting out into the country, even though it's within 15 miles of downtown Minneapolis. (In fact, almost all of the Hennepin County Park Reserves are like this.) Good, well-paved trail surface.
Minuses: The southern loop has a few hills to contend with. Watch out for a sharp right turn on the northern loop where it goes into a grove of trees.
Note: The bridge over the Minnesota River just east of Chaska was torn down last fall because it was unsafe. (I think a steamboat hit it, or something.) I believe the rest of the trail is still open, but you will not be able to get all the way from Shakopee to Chaska.
Getting there: Take Highway 169/212 southwest out of Eden Prairie and follow 169 into Shakopee. After you cross the river, turn right. You will see a parking lot on the right -- turn right onto Fuller St. and another right onto Levee Drive.
Pluses: You'll get a nice view of the Minnesota River valley, as well as the old brewery.
Minuses: There is more than an average amount of dust and dirt on the trail. If there's been any amount of rain recently, watch out for mud and slick surfaces. The 1.5 mile section going east of the parking lot seems to be more prone to this; the 4 mile section west of the parking lot is better.
Getting there: Take Highway 5 west out of Eden Prairie and continue about 10 miles west to the town of Victoria. Turn right on Park Drive and drive until you can park.
Pluses: You'll see plenty of nature, such as deer and some small furry animals. There seems to be a lake around every corner, as well.
Minuses: It's out in the sticks, so you may feel you're beyond civilization.
Getting there: Take Highway 35W south to County Road 42 in Burnsville, then follow 42 west about 4 miles to County Road 27. Turn left (south) and continue another 3.5 miles to the park, which is in Credit River Township by Prior Lake.
Pluses: The trail is smooth, wide, and uncrowded. This is probably a good beginner route.
Minuses: It's kind of a long distance to drive for most people.
Getting there: Take Highway 55 south over the Mendota Bridge.
Stay on 55 and turn right onto Highway 13, then turn right at Mendota Heights
Road. The trailhead is at the junction of Highway 13 and Sibley Memorial
Highway (old Highway 13).
The trailhead ends at Lilydale Road near the Union Pacific Railroad bridge. DO NOT PARK IN THE PARKING LOT OF THE LILYDALE YACHT CLUB. They will get upset and call the police, even if you park near the woods or whatever. They will be especially upset if you try to park there during peak times and/or you have a group. Apparently, people with old money can't handle full parking lots.
Pluses: Good views of the rivers (and planes landing at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport). There are several interesting historical plaques that explain the geology of the area, Native American settlers, and railroads in the area.
Minuses: Somewhat short (about 3 1/2 or 4 miles).
Getting there: Take Highway 394 west out of Minneapolis. It turns into Highway 12 and is no longer a divided highway after Wayzata. Continue on Highway 12 until you get to the town of Maple Plain (which has its own Web site -- http://www.mapleplain.com), then turn north on County Road 29 and follow the signs to the park reserve.
Pluses: A nice long trail (6.25 miles) with a few rolling hills. Good bird-watching, if you're into that sort of thing, and plenty of prairies.
Minuses: There's only one water fountain, so bring some of your own. It's kind of a long drive for anyone who doesn't live in the western suburbs.
Getting there: Take Highway 94 north out of downtown Minneapolis and continue north on Highway 252 about 4 miles. When you get to the intersection for 93rd Ave., turn left (instead of following Highway 610 over the river), then turn right and continue north on County Road 12 about 1 1/2 miles. Look for the signs for Coon Rapids Dam. To get to Elm Creek Park Reserve, take Highway 94/694 west to County Road 81, then turn right (north) and continue about five miles passing Osseo. Turn right onto Territorial Road. Both of these parks require a Hennepin Parks permit or a daily parking fee.
Pluses: The North Hennepin trail is flat, straight, and nicely surfaced. Elm Creek offers nice views of the prairie and all of the open land around it.
Minuses: The North Hennepin trail doesn't have a lot of scenic interest, except for the dam on the east end and a bunch of farmland between the two parks. Elm Creek has rather advanced territory, particularly on the western loop.
Getting there: Cannon Falls is about an hour's drive southeast of the Twin Cities on Highway 52. Take 52 south to Highway 19, the Cannon Falls exit, and head east into town. There is a parking lot on the left. Red Wing also has a trail access off Highway 61, but I'm not sure where.
Pluses: Nice scenery (I'm starting to repeat myself, but I really mean it this time.) The trail should be good for inline skating, although I saw far more bicyclists than skaters.
Minuses: Bring water -- water is only available at Cannon Falls, Welch (the midway point), and Red Wing.
Getting there: Hinckley is about a 90 minute drive north of the Twin Cities on Interstate 35. Take the Highway 48 exit, turn left (west) onto 48 and continue into town. Take a right onto Old Highway 61 (the main street in town), then take a left onto Second Street. The parking lot will be on your right just past the tracks.
Pluses: This is a good long workout, if you're up to it -- the trail continues 37 miles from Hinckley to Barnum. (I'm not personally up to such a long workout, but I talked to two women who skated down from Willow River, about 25 miles north, and were planning to return that night. Yow.)
Minuses: Completely flat and straight -- it tends to get a little
boring after a while. Bring plenty of water, since you can only find it
at towns along the route.
This trail is an extension of the Southwest LRT Trail that already starts in Hopkins. The eastern segment (from Beltline Boulevard in St. Louis Park to 11th Avenue in Hopkins) has recently been paved, for a distance of about three miles. There's about a mile east of there that remains to be paved, which will then link it to the Kenilworth Trail and then to the Cedar Trail and Midtown Greenway. NOTE: There are several busy road crossings, and the crossing at Excelsior Boulevard has loose rocks and gravel in the middle.
Getting there: Take Highway 169 to Hopkins and exit at Excelsior Blvd. Go west to the third stoplight (8th Avenue) and turn south into the park and ride lot.
Pluses: This will make a nice connection to the Minneapolis trails and a nice long skate once it's completed. Even now, it's a worthwhile skate.
Minuses: There's no scenery on this trail at all -- it parallels
the Twin Cities and Western Railroad and goes through industrial areas.
Getting there: In downtown Minneapolis, take 4th Street east until you find the Dome. You can't miss it. Parking is free in the lot behind the Dome, even though the signs say it's for buses only. Remember, call 825-DOME to make sure they're open -- you won't be able to skate if the Vikings or the Twins are playing. (Although with the Twins' moribund performance this year, they might as well open it up for skating during games...)
Pluses: A nice winter workout if you miss skating when there are 8 feet of snow on the ground.
Minuses: Absolutely no scenery, and you may get kind of bored going around in circles after a while.
Skating the Infobahn is a comprehensive index to all sorts of inline skating info, including places to skate in other cities.
The Inline hOmpAj has information on the Fargo-Moorhead area and a colorful viewpoint.
Brett's Skate Page contains aggressive skating information for the Twin Cities area.
The John Rose Minnesota OVAL in Roseville is open for inline skating in the summer and ice speed skating in the winter.
Zephyr Inline Skate Tours is a local company offering inline skating tours. Their first is to the Netherlands. (No, they don't have wooden skates there.)
The Mining Company's Minneapolis site has all sorts of other information about the Twin Cities, and they featured my site (as well as the Minnesota Inline Skate Club) in a recent review. They mine the Net so you don't have to. (I just wonder where they dump all the taconite tailings.)