Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (1998)
- Intrinsic QualitiesRecreation
- Length50 miles
The country's longest continuous system of public urban parkways, this has been the preeminent urban parkway system for more than a century. Lovely parks, trails, lakes, and parkways surround the city of Minneapolis. Enjoy the Chain of Lakes, Lake Nokomis, Lake Hiawatha, Minnehaha Falls, and much more.
Story of the Byway
The Grand Rounds Scenic drive offers a little bit of everything: great scenery, historic sites, modern and contemporary art, outdoor recreation, and great shopping and dining, all within the heart of Minneapolis. Paved walking and biking paths follow tree-lined roadways and parks, circle the Chain of Lakes (Nokomis, Harriet, Maka Ska and Lake of the Isles), pass Minnehaha Creek, and follow the downtown riverfront along the Mississippi.
The Grand Rounds is one of the country’s longest continuous systems of public urban parkways and has been the preeminent urban parkway system for more than a century. It is also an excellent bike ride.
The Grand Rounds encompasses natural features, including lakes, creeks, woodlands, riverbanks, and wetlands, as well as constructed features, like canals, lagoons, greenways and parks, playgrounds, parkways, trails, golf courses, athletic fields, picnic grounds, gardens, and bridges.
Originally conceived by Horace W. S. Cleveland and other visionaries in the early days of the Minneapolis Park System, the Grand Rounds is a unique example of a connected park system created for the benefit of the citizens and visitors of Minneapolis.
Highlights include a wildflower garden at Theodore Wirth Park, a large rose garden at Lake Harriet and a beautiful waterfall at Minnehaha Park. The byway brings you close to Orchestra Hall, Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and Guthrie Theater, one of many excellent theater companies in town. Learn about the city's history at the Mill City Museum, along the historic riverfront downtown, near the 1883 Stone Arch Bridge.
The route contains seven distinct segments: Downtown Riverfront; Chain of Lakes; Minnehaha; Mississippi River; Northeast; Victory Memorial: and Theodore Wirth.
The downtown Minneapolis riverfront is defined by contrasts. It's simultaneously home to the city's oldest structures—some still standing, others artfully preserved at the Mill Ruins Park—and some of its most striking, modern buildings like the Guthrie Theatre. To drive the full Grand Rounds route, start your trip at the intersection of West River Road and Plymouth Avenue and head south along the trail. Within minutes, you'll be driving by some of Minneapolis's most popular attractions, including the Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Falls, the Mill City Museum and Gold Medal Park.
You'll know you've left the downtown segment of the Grand Rounds when you pass beneath the white I-35 bridge and start going downhill. From its relative peak in downtown Minneapolis, the elevation falls, rises and falls again as you head south. As you ride along the Mississippi River's western bank, look out across the river to see the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum gleaming above the water.
As you arrive at Minnehaha Falls, the Grand Rounds leaves behind the grandeur of the Mississippi River for the intimate charms of Minnehaha Creek. This section of trail bobs and weaves through dense woods and takes you west to the Chain of Lakes. If you're not in a rush, stop for photos at Minnehaha Falls and Lake Nokomis along the way. And if you're really not in a rush, lock up at the falls, jump in the line at Sea Salt Eatery and enjoy a meal on their patio.
The southwest segment of the Grand Rounds winds around Minneapolis’s Chain of Lakes: Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet. For the most direct route, make your way around Lake Harriet, head north to Bde Maka Ska and continue north along the western shores of Cedar Lake. Optional extensions include full loops of those three lakes, plus a spur around Lake of the Isles. Although less direct, taking a loop around Lake of the Isles presents riders with some of the most beautiful sights in all of Minneapolis.
Heading north from the Chain of Lakes, the Theodore Wirth section of the byway takes visitors into a lush, hilly urban forest. Although you're still only a few miles from downtown, this section of the trail feels worlds away from the city. Adjacent to the paved trail, mountain bikers get rad on the extensive singletrack system at Theodore Wirth Park, the largest park in Minneapolis, which also boasts ample hiking trails, golf and disc golf courses, a bird sanctuary and many other activities.
As you continue onward, the natural forest of Theo Wirth gives way to the composed uniformity of Victory Memorial Parkway. Unique among all the Grand Rounds segments, Victory Memorial is both a tree-lined bike trail and the largest war memorial in the entire Twin Cities. Along the arrow-straight trail, 568 perfectly spaced bronze markers commemorate the Hennepin County residents killed in the line of duty during World War I.
Heading east on Victory Memorial, take the 42nd Street Bridge across the Mississippi River and into trendy Northeast Minneapolis. Although Northeast is best known for its arts district and red-hot bar and restaurant scene, the parkway foregoes the trendiest parts of Northeast in favor of a scenic off-street route along the city's northern border. To explore those aspects of the neighborhood, head south on either Marshall or Central. Otherwise, follow St. Anthony Parkway until it connects with the Diagonal Trail and go south until you reach Hennepin Avenue, where a connector route of surface streets brings you back to the downtown riverfront or wherever else you'd like to explore.
This circular byway travels around downtown Minneapolis, along the Mississippi Riverfront, and around several lakes. Leaving I35W on the south side of Minneapolis, the route goes east or west on the East and West Minnehaha Parkways, before turning on to a series of other Parkways- West Lake Harriet Parkway, east Lake Calhoun Parkway, Victory Memorial Parkway, St Anthony Parkway, and West River Parkway. Ridgway Parkway takes the traveler back to I35W on the northeast side of Minneapolis.
Points of Interest
Theodore Wirth Park
The largest park in Minneapolis. Has two golf courses, cross-country skiing trails, mountain biking trails, snow tubing hills, and other amenities.
Biking and walking paths.
169 acres with 51 ft deep lake and trails. Part of Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes.
Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun)
401-acre lake, 87 feet deep with walking and biking trails.
Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park
Chain of Lakes is comprised of 5 lakes- Lake Harriet, Brownie Lake, Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun), Cedar Lake, and Lake of the Ilse. Water access, trails, bandshell, equipment rentals, and more amenities.
Former marsh, transformed into a lake by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Department.
Minnehaha Regional Park
Within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service. It was designed in 1883 by Horace W.S. Cleveland and contains a waterfall.
Boom Island Park
Connected to Nicollett Island Park by a pedestrian bridge.
Contains a park on the 194,000-metre island in the Mississippi River. Has a promenade with a view of the first dam built in 1858 and the elegant Nicollett Pavilion.
Mill City Museum
Near the 1883 Stone Arch Bridge. Museum focusing on the founding and growth of Minneapolis, especially flour milling and other industries that used hydropower from Saint Anthony Falls.
11-acre park near the Walker Art Center. Most famous sculpture is the “Cherry on a Spoon.”
Kenwood Water Tower
110 -ft tall brick and stone water tower built in 1910 and still in use.
Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary
Created in 1907 as the first wildflower garden in the United States.
Making the Rounds Around Minneapolis
You may start at any location on the loop around downtown Minneapolis. If you begin at Minnehaha Falls Regional Park in the SE section of the loop, go west on Minnehaha Parkway to Nokomis Lake. The Byway loops around the lake and then heads to Lake Harriet where it does the same as Lake Harriet Blvd. It continues around Lake Calhoun as Lake Calhoun Parkway. The Lake Calhoun has been renamed Bde Maka Ska. Continue to Cedar Lake and the Cedar Lake Parkway which then turns in to Theodore Wirth Parkway. If you brought fishing poles, a boat, or a picnic lunch stop along the way and test a few of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. At the intersection of Highway 40, turn east to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Returning to the Parkway, head north where the road turns into Victory Memorial Parkway and eventually turns east where it picks up the name Webber Parkway. Crossing the Mississippi River at 42nd Ave N, pick up Saint Anthony Parkway as it curves around to the east. Take Stinson Blvd south to Ridgway Parkway where this section of the byway ends near I35W. There are many hotels, pubs, and restaurants to choose from in the Minneapolis area.
Starting near 42nd St where you crossed the Mississippi River the day before, take Marshall St NE to the south (The Great River Road -All-American Road) that follows the Mississippi River. At 8th Ave NE, stop at Boom Island Park before crossing the Mississippi River on Plymouth Ave N, taking the W River Parkway to the south. Stop and enjoy Nicollet Island and any of trails along the way. At Nicollet Island, take Hennepin Ave to the west/southwest to stop at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Loring Park. Return to River Parkway. If you want, take a slight detour on 3rd Ave S. and take S 2nd St south to the Mill City Museum. (Note that many of the streets in downtown are one way.) Then return to River Parkway along the Mississippi and continue to follow it, enjoying the sights and sounds of the Mississippi River, the boats, and the wildlife. You will return to Minnehaha Park and Falls where Day 1 began.
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