I am a child of western Hennepin County — rural hobby farm country, not the Lake Minnetonka swell set. So even though I have loved living in Minneapolis for 36 years, I can barely wait to get out of town on a sunny summer Saturday morning. Here is what a perfect Saturday might look like.
Sometimes I will pack food and water, hit the Grand Rounds bike trail near my house and head west toward the Midtown Greenway. An hour in, I’m wheeling through Hopkins and take a break at the Depot Coffee Shop at Excelsior Boulevard and Hwy. 169. A sports drink, a bite and a sit on the patio gives me the energy to pick up the LRT trail toward Excelsior. A few more twists and turns gets you to Wayzata and one of my favorite rides, the Dakota Rail Regional Trail. When I get to Spring Park, I stop at Minnetonka Drive-In (4658 Shoreline Dr., Spring Park) for a cold root beer. It’s right off the trail and if I’m lucky, my old school buddy Dave Bennyhoff (the owner) will be around.
Another great bike opportunity — best spent with a sweetheart — is to load your bikes and drive out to Baker Park (2309 Baker Park Rd., Maple Plain), tour the trails and stop at Half Moon Lake campground for a picnic lunch. Baker is so beautiful and rural, the lakes are small and picturesque, the trails perfectly challenging with the right mix of hill and dale. If you’re parched and peckish by late afternoon, ride the trail up to the town of Loretto and stop at the Choo Choo Restaurant and Bar (160 W. Railway St.), which started when I was a boy as a railroad car parked next to Mark’s Bar. Today, it’s a great little bistro in the part of Loretto that still feels like it’s a farm town.
If it’s a scorching hot day (and the hotter the better, I say), I will naturally head for Little Long Lake (1450 Game Farm Rd. N., Mound). I’d rather keep this little country pond to myself and the local denizens, but it will charm canoe enthusiasts, swimmers and floaters. Pull out that air mattress, paddle out to the middle of the lake and let your mind slip away. Dry off and head up County Rd. 26 to the Ox Yoke Inn (261 County Rd. 92, Maple Plain), a little roadhouse with huge burgers, fries, chicken, drinks and even a decent salad.
When I want to get lost, I will head out to Gale Woods Farm (7210 County Rd. 110 W., Minnetrista), just outside of St. Bonifacius (local tip: call it St. Boni or risk being labeled a city slicker). Gale Woods was once a 410-acre working farm and the Park District still keeps animals and harvests crops. But there are also miles of hiking trails through the woods, along Whaletail Lake and through the fields. Come fall, it is bursting with color and begs you to pack a lunch and find a log on which to sit and listen to the breeze.
I invariably feel so satisfied wheeling back into town on the twilight of a Saturday evening after a day in the country. Ask my wife how often I walk into the house and simply proclaim, “What a day. What a day.”