Who knew you could organize a bike excursion complete with caves, car races and a little vino sipping in between? Spring Valley, Minn., can get overshadowed by the other towns along the Root River State Trail, but this town holds its own. So follow the trail down to where the prairie meets the bluffs.
Spring Valley is a quiet town nestled in southeastern Minnesota’s agricultural heartland. It lies in Fillmore County along the Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway.
While road construction is in full bloom this spring, it’s still easy to get to on two major highways, 63 and 18, about 30 minutes from Rochester (1-507-346-7367; www.springvalley.govoffice.com).
What to do
If you’re looking to hit some bike trails for the weekend, this is the place: Trails will not disappoint anywhere in this little biker paradise. Spring Valley hosts one of the first self-supported gravel road races in the country, the Almanzo bike race, in which roughly 1,000 cyclists take part.
This Bluff Country region boasts more than 60 miles of paved rail-to-trail multipurpose paths.
The Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley Trails run along the Root River, and riders enjoy scenes from 300-foot bluffs to farms to postcard-worthy bridges, and of course, anglers fishing for trout in the Root River (www.rootrivertrail.org).
If you want a good warm-up for the Root River Trail, there are walking/biking trails right in the town of Spring Valley, where historic houses line the quiet streets.
If you like the action a little louder, head right outside town to the Deer Creek Speedway. On race night, it’s easy to find: Just follow all the car lights to the track, located in farm country on 60 acres (1-507-754-6107; www.deercreekspeedway.com).
If hiking is more your gig, head to Forestville State Park. It has a little bit of everything, with trails that climb about 200 feet from valley floors to ridge tops, and horse trails that are a local favorite.
There’s also a little town right in the park, “Historic Forestville” (1-507-765-2785; tinyurl.com/kcdwwod). The Minnesota Historical Society restored a portion of the old town of Forestville, where costumed interpreters portray Forestville residents and visitors can participate in special events, such as a hike up to Zumbro Hill Cemetery.
And don’t skip Mystery Cave, Minnesota’s longest known cave, stretching for 13 miles underground. Guided tours are available every day from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. (1-507-937-3251; tinyurl.com/2rze6).
History is important to the Spring Valley area, and visitors can get a taste at the museum at Spring Valley Methodist Church, built in 1876 with the help of the James and Angeline Wilder family.
Their son Almanzo married Laura Ingalls, who went on to write the “Little House” books. Several sites are open for tours (1-507-346-7659; www.springvalleymnmuseum.org).
Where to stay
The Glad Gatherings B&B in Spring Valley is a powder blue Victorian creation that offers weekend package deals for groups, geared to scrapbookers. It has a full craft studio in-house (1-507-346-2023; http://gladgatherings.com). Another option is the Spring Valley Inn & Suites, which sits right on the main drag (1-507-346-7788; www.springvalleyinnsuites.com).
Camping is also an excellent choice in this area, and Forestville State Park itself offers numerous opportunities (tinyurl.com/m64h7us).
Where to eat
You might think you have to travel to nearby river towns for a wine and dinner experience, but you can head just outside town on Hwy. 16 to Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery for a meal steeped in charm and elegance. The name explains its origins: Parents on the farm started a vineyard to entice their daughters to move back home and help with the wine business. Mission accomplished — and then some.
There’s a wonderful variety of wines, including local favorite Big Boy Blend Red, and the servers (usually family members) know how to pair them with food. As you sip away, you might see the father of the Four Daughters working in the farm fields that surround the grapevines.
The superb food includes fare to nibble with wine, such as artisan cheese boards and olive boards, and roasted green beans and smoked pork belly croutons. Dinner favorites include French onion dumplings (filled with braised onions and Parmesan cheese) and sizzling shrimp, which came doused with a roasted garlic spicy broth, and andouille sausage.
Each week, the chefs create a “Thursday Night Dinner,” a fun, multicourse meal paired with the wines (1-507-346-7300; www.fourdaughtersvineyard.com).
If you hanker for a cold root beer and onion rings, stop in at the A&W Drive-In, family-owned and -operated since 1956, with full service that includes jukebox and carhops. The chili dogs might be a nostalgic favorite, but the restaurant also offers Greek salad and some gluten-free options (1-507-346-7486; www.awesomeawdrivein.com).