Today "the 3" and I attempted to do some mountain biking in the Minnesota Valley Recreation Area. We were seeking interesting novice trails that would suit my #3. It didn't go well.
After studying the trail maps I picked the Louisville Swamp USFWS (US Fish & Wildlife Service) parking area near the Renaissance Festival. This was a pain to get to because of Festival related traffic redirection, and when we got there the trail names and signs didn't match what I expected. It seemed that none of the trails allowed mountain biking, despite what I'd read on the trail map.
Frustrated and peeved with the DNR I ended up biking with the kids on an apparently abandoned Mazomani hiking trail. I weighted that crime against their stranding me with 3 unhappy kids in the middle of a maze.
I wouldn't recommend Mazonmani as a hiking trail. It's a mixture of broad mowed lanes and think overgrown paths through high vegetation. It looked largely abandoned, except for illicit mountain bikers. The trail almost disappears, just before a weirdly broad and robust bridge over Sand(?) Creek. I have a hunch the trail gets nicer at that point, but we were trying to get to a legal mountain biking area. So we gave up.
Now that I study the maps again I think I've deciphered the code. The trails that say "horse permit required" are in fact the multi-use trails. They don't say anyone else can use them, but on the DNR map they're labeled "Hosreback/Hike/Mt. Bike/Snowmobile".
But perhaps not everyone agrees with that translation. A US Fish & Wildlife Service map I found only at the site (not online) said bikes could go on "State/Middle Road (ONLY)". I wonder how old that map is, and if the USFWS and DNR are on the same page.
Ugh. Whatever you do, don't use the USFWS lot. Instead follow the advice of MN Bike Trail Navigator: Exploring the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area by Mountain Bike - park at the Gifford Lake and State Trail Access (HWY 169 to HWY 41, turn North toward Chaska. Gifford Lake access is on the West side of HWY 41).
Note if you head west on this trail along the Minnesota River you can cross on the 41 bridge and go to Tommy's Malt Shop on the West side of 41 in Chaska. Recommended! From Chaska Google shows a variety of paved and dirt bike trails, including a grassy trail that takes off where the West end of W 1st Street meets the entrance to Athletic field. It didn't look terribly interesting though.
However, don't be confused (as I was) by the Chaska side of the river, Some of the trails Google shows do overlap with the MN Valley trails, but the MN Valley trails are all south of the Minnesota river and don't appear on Google bicycle maps.
Instead follow the MN Bike Navigator Directions. (But don't try to cross 41! Do take the paved trail and follow it under 41 then back up. Apparently this trail does stay close the river - even though it's not shown on the #$# USFWS map (which I'm thinking is 20 years old?).
If you're doing this with kids I'd start here, travel about 45 minutes west, turn around and visit Tommy's Malt shop. Alternatively, one could park in Chaska near Tommy's, bicycle across 41 bicycle trail (east side), pick up the trail that goes under 41, do the loop, then return to the vehicle and stop at Tommy's.