The Minnesota Valley State Trail follows the Minnesota River banks for nearly 50 miles. It begins as a 6-mile paved path in Shakopee, but becomes a combination of sand, dirt, and rocks as it meanders to Belle Plaine. Near the trail's end is the Lawrence Unit. It was once the site of St. Lawrence, MN, but a solitary building is all that remains. Now restored, the Samuel Strait house serves as a small museum dedicated to the failed community's story. It is also the starting point for this 10-mile hike.
Park at the Strait House (Minnesota State Parks permit required) and pass through the gates to begin the hike. The wide and flat trail wanders across a small prairie en route to the Minnesota River, our guide for the first stretch of the hike. Swing right at the junction. Ahead is the Minnesota Valley State Trail. Go straight into the woods and towards the river. The trail is prone to the moods of the river so expect some mud and water (or flood closures) at any time of the year.
The trail turns left and follows the river for the next four miles. Cross a small stream and the first view of the river is ahead. The route meanders as much as the river and views come and go as the path weaves along the river's edge. Keep one eye in the sky as you walk. Bald eagles and other birds of prey patrol the river.
Two miles in, Beason Lake is on the left. When you reach the junction, ignore the trail center sign and swing right to stay on the state trail. The path continues flat, but the surrounding terrain starts rolling a bit and a small stream adds ambiance to the hike. The trail meets another crossroads. Turn right, cross the old bridge and point your boots back toward the river.
Stay straight at the next junction. The trail makes a big left curve. Through the trees to the left is Brown's Lake. The hike here is mostly forested and the trail is tucked between the lake and the river. Past the end of the lake, the trail splits again. Ease right to the edge of Horseshoe Lake. Follow the trail straight through another junction and onto the prairie. The prairie is small and the trail quickly darts back into the woods. At the "T" junction, turn left. This spur trail loops back to Horseshoe Lake and marks the return trip. The spur brings you closer to Horseshoe Lake then returns to the state trail. From the state trail take the next two right turns. This next spur trail runs closer to Brown's Lake than before. Upon passing Brown's Lake, yet another right turn places you back on the state trail. Cross the old bridge again and retrace your steps to the trail center junction. This time, leave the river behind and head to the trail center.
The trail center has a map, pit toilets and (usually) water. Turn left past the building and the route reappears. Follow the trail across the road and into the woods. The final 2.5-miles wind aimlessly by a bit of everything: Wetlands, prairie, forest, and a cattail marsh. Keep right at each junction along the way. Just before crossing the road, you will find the small headstone marking where Samuel Strait's wife is buried. Cross the road for the home stretch. Take the first right and follow the prairie trail back to the parking lot.
For more information:
Here is a map of the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area and surrounding public lands.