MMM’s fifth in a series of Rides and RoutesHTR87

The Great River Road
Where: Anoka to Grand Rapids
Length: 240 miles
Duration: 6 hours minimum

by Victor Wanchena

Minnesota is blessed with one of the all time great roads. The Great River Road (GRR) Begins in northern Minnesota at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca, and follows the river all the way to delta in Louisiana. Winding through 10 states, the GRR is one of America’s oldest byways and the trip along it is worth the effort.

The GRR pass right through the heart of the metro area. You probably have been on it at some point and not even realized it. The southern portion of the GRR in Minnesota is very familiar to motorcyclists. It sticks to Hwy 61 and is a popular ride for motorcyclists. But most people haven’t ridden the northern half.

One of the great benefits of the GRR is that most of the county roads it uses are lightly traveled. These often parallel larger highways, so they are used mainly by local residents. The off-the-beaten-path aspect of the GRR makes for a leisurely pace. In places you are right next to the river, in others it is distant, but the way the river shaped the land is always obvious. The route is marked with a green and white signs making it easy to follow.

Our ride begins in Anoka, MN. Here the GRR leaves the city behind and slips into rural Minnesota. Starting at the intersection of Hwy 169 and CR 12, you follow county roads from Anoka to St. Cloud. The road leads into the heart of St. Cloud’s downtown river district. Once you clear the city, you are back into the heart of rural Minnesota.

North of St. Cloud, the GRR leads you the back way into Little Falls, MN, the boyhood home of Charles Lindbergh, Jr., the famed aviator. The state park there has a museum and other amenities. From there, you continue north past the Camp Ripley military base and into the Brainerd area. The GRR is not marked well through Brainerd so simply follow Hwy 371 to Hwy 210.

North of Brainerd the GRR plunges into the great forests of northern Minnesota. The road begins to really wind here. The river is smaller and meanders through the forests. The next town you come to is Crosby, MN, and then to Aitkin, MN. North of Aitkin the road gets even more fun. Around mile 176 on our route, the GRR turns to gravel. It was in fair shape and was to difficult even on my big touring bike.

The GRR continues toward Palisade, MN; the surface alternating between asphalt and gravel. After Palisade you are on CR 10, my favorite road of the ride. This little back road is literally a road to nowhere. There are no towns along it and it is flanked on either side by major highways. A good portion of it runs next to the river, so narrow at this point you could throw a rock across. In 40 or so miles on CR 10 I saw only one other vehicle.

You finally are deposited in Grand Rapids, MN and have a choice. You can continue on for another 100 miles following the GRR to Lake Itasca State Park, or you could head straight back to the metro area on Hwy 169, or even ride the 80 miles to Duluth, MN and head back on the Interstate.

Give yourself a full day for this trip into northern Minnesota and enjoy one of America’s greatest byways.

Ride along with our driving directions — it’s easy! The appx. odometer reading is printed before the written direction. Have fun! Start at the intersection of Hwy 169 and CR 12 in Anoka, MN.

• 0.0 Start Hwy 169 & CR 12
• 10.3 Right Hwy 101
• 11.6 Left CR 39
• 21.5 Right CR 75
• 50.5 Right Clearwater Rd
• 53.5 Bear right on 9th Ave
• 56.2 Left Benton Drive
• 59.0 Left CR 29
• 59.4 Left CR 78 / 1
• 59.5 Left CR 1
• 70.2 Left CR 1
• 77.0 Right CR 25
• 90.8 Right Hwy 27
• 90.9 Left CR 213
• 93.7 Right CR 213
• 98.8 Right Hwy 115
• 100.9 Left HWY 371
• 122.6 Right Hwy 210
• 126.1 Left CR 3
• 135.0 Right CR 3
• 137.1 Right CR 14
• 145.9 Right CR 19
• 146.2 Right CR 11
• 150.7 Right Hwy 6
• 155.7 Left Hwy 210 / 6
• 160.2 Left Hwy 210
• 170.8 Left CR 1
• 174.4 Right CR 1
• 176.1 Right CR 21
• 183.0 Left Hwy 169
• 184.4 Right CR 10
• 240.4 Finish Grand Rapids, MN


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