Exploring Medicine Lake Regional Trail

Explore the natural beauty of Maple Grove on the Medicine Lake Regional Trail.
A day on the trail.

When I turned 16 in Maple Grove, I turned up my nose at any kind of transportation but a car. Man, did this pretentious teen miss out.

I now know a bike is best, especially with the Medicine Lake Regional Trail cutting a scenic swath through the city from Elm Creek Park Reserve in the north to beyond Fish Lake Regional Park in the south.

The trail harks back to Bottineau­—as in Pierre Bottineau, the settler of Maple Grove, and highlights the natural beauty our city retains from the time he first arrived in 1852. Here’s one modern man’s travelogue on a summer Saturday, 160-plus years after Bottineau:

A Smooth Start

Before embarking from the Elm Creek trailhead, which crosses over County Road 81, a.k.a. Bottineau Boulevard, a fellow traveler shared what to expect along the 12-mile asphalt trail.

“It’s a comfortable ride,” said Gerald Loushin, a Minneapolis ophthalmologist who often returns to Maple Grove, his former home, to ride the trail. “There are not as many people, which is nice.”

My foot, shod in a gray tennis shoe, pushed the black pedal forward, and I was off. As I coasted on the south side of the bridge over County Road 81 and casually changed gears, my chain fell off. On the banks of Elm Creek, grease covered my hands as I reconfigured the chain. I did so in the shadow of Maple Grove High School, my alma mater, and couldn’t help but think about how I must have failed a lesson in preparedness. (In other words, don’t be like me: Get your bike tuned up—before the ride—at Maple Grove Cycling off Weaver Lake Road at 13950 Grove Drive.)

However, my Crimson biology teachers would have been proud of my next move. Instead of heading straight west on the trail toward Fernbrook Elementary School, I took a quick detour to Maple Grove Arboretum, where 100 varieties of trees are labeled. I also paid tribute to the Angel of Hope statue (hoping my bike chain would stay put all the way to Plymouth).

A Second Start

Back on the Medicine Lake Regional Trail, I could hear the faint ping of a metal baseball bat. The Maple Grove Legion team was playing a home game against Sioux Falls, South Dakota. From beyond the chain-link outfield fence of the varsity field, I could see the Crimson had just tied the game at two in the bottom of seventh. On this hot, sunny day, I stopped to watch an extra half-inning of America’s pastime.

Back on the bike, Bottineau might have recalled the view on the left side of the trail (30-foot birch trees), but not the one on the right (Maple Grove Hospital). Knowing the location of the new hospital might come in handy if my Diamondback bike does indeed break down and I need some medical attention for a barked shin or broken bone.

The trail then turns south into a tunnel under County Road 30. The tunnel separates bike traffic from vehicles, making for a stress-free ride for any parent shepherding children along the trail.

On the other side, a knoll—or maybe it’s a berm?—serves as separation between the trail and Interstate 94. The knoll diminished the din of cars, trucks and motorcycles rumbling by on the freeway, allowing this trail-goer the chance to see a rabbit hop across the trail and a snake slither in the grass.

The trail then leads to a panoramic view of Rice Lake, weaving around the shores, but you want to stay to the right to stay on the path. Helpful maps and signs—a constant along the route—guide you as neighborhood trails weave in and out. (Another reminder: After the Rice Lake fork, take the first tunnel under Interstate 94 to remain on the Medicine Lake Regional Trail.)

Switching to Glide

On the south side of the freeway, I note I’ve passed only seven others on the trail in 40 minutes. Loushin was right: There aren’t too many people, and the comfortable ride makes time fly.

The trail also welcomes all types of bikers. There are the spandex squads of diehard cyclists as well as casual bikers, like the teenager in a “Just Do It” T-shirt and the octogenarian in jeans and striped polo shirt, who offered an eager “Hello!”

The trail hugs marshes, ponds and wispy willows near Weaver Lake Elementary School. But the signature spot, in this rider’s opinion, is the nearly untouched groves of maples and other trees near the Nottingham neighborhood.

“It feels remote,” says Wayne Iseri of Three Rivers Park District. “There is a nice canopy of trees. It’s an escape within Maple Grove. It really is beautiful.”

Thomas Mercier sat in a folding chair along the trail. The Three Rivers Park District research and evaluation technician admits he “doesn’t have a bad gig.” On this hot summer day, he was tasked with tallying trail usage. He has counted seven other riders in the half-hour before me. Mercier put down his blue hardcover book to share info about those who use the trail.

“It’s not just a recreational trail,” said Mercier, who cited studies showing commuters are more comfortable on a regional trail than in a bike lane. “Off-road provides broader options to reach a broader variety of people,” he said, noting that children will ride to elementary school or even high school.

Mercier said the trail is widely used, and in the five minutes we chatted, we saw a few riders and a runner pass by. “You aren’t going to see those people when you are in the flow,” he adds.

Yet another frequent rider, Dan Varhol’s flow between work at Hartford Life Insurance in Maple Grove and his home in Buffalo takes him past the Medicine Lake Regional Trail on a nearly daily basis.

“I wanted to see where it went,” Varhol said. He and his wife, Pam, were interested in moving to Maple Grove and brought their bikes to see it from a different perspective.

“They keep it so well maintained and landscaped,” said Pam Varhol near the mowed margins and the wildflower fields near Donahue South Park.“I don’t think a lot of people know about it.”

Count this Maple Grove kid in that group. Man, I wish I would have been more like Bottineau and explored my hometown much, much sooner.//


Six Sidelines along the Medicine Lake Regional Trail 

>>Elm Creek Park Reserve
The park, at 12400 James Deane Parkway, provides a loop trail inside the reserve as well as entry to the Rush Creek Regional Trail to the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park over the Mississippi River.

>>Maple Grove Cycling
This bike shop, at 13950 Grove Drive, offers riders the chance to tune up the two-wheeler or buy a new one. Also, make sure you wear a helmet and have reflectors if you ride at night. 

>>Maple Grove Arboretum
The sanctuary, at 9400 Fernbrook Lane N., gives you a chance to learn about our native habitat in a gorgeous setting along Elm Creek.

>>View of Rice Lake
The panoramic view of the lake is a trail outlet away. From Interstate 94, take County Road 30 east one block to Upland Lane North. The outlet is on your right.

>>A grove of maples
The section of trail to the northwest of Bass Lake Road and West Fish Lake Road will show you the city’s name is rooted here.

>>Fish Lake Regional Park
It’s summer. It’s hot. So stop off at 14900 Bass Lake Road for a dip in the cool lake or a picnic in the shade.