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Hike, bike, spelunk and hunt your way across southeastern Minnesota

Rochester is more than just a hunting and fishing destination.

By Tim Lesmeister
Turkey hunters in Minnesota consider the southeastern part of the state the Promised Land. Trout anglers drool harder than Pavlov’s dog a week before the stream trout opener as they consider their options around Rochester. River rats go year-round jigging the rip-rap or rigging the backwaters of the Mississippi, even chipping ice at the boat landings in the cold-weather months. Hunting and fishing around Rochester is considered by many to be some of the finest in the state, yet there is so much more for the active outdoor person when it comes to the resources in the southeast.
Do you like to bicycle? In the city of Rochester there are 85 miles of paved trails with some beautiful scenery along the way. For a map check out www.ci.rochester.mn.us/departments/park/trails/index.asp. The Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley Trails are a great ride. This 60-mile paved trail network meanders along the Root River amid 300-foot bluffs, attracting thousands of outdoor enthusiasts each season. A map of that trail is available at www.rootrivertrail.org/map.php.
Hikers beware. You can wander for days in this river bluff country and never get the urge to head back into civilization. From short trails like the three-and-a-half mile path through the Dorer Forest to a 77-mile trek through Amish country, you can wear out a pair of hiking shoes traversing the bluffs around Rochester. A good trail map Web site is www.trails.com.
With the exception of the nearby Mississippi River the moving water around Rochester is best navigated with a canoe. A favorite of many is the 18-mile stretch from Preston to Whalen on the Root River. The Root River has fairly easy rapids even when the water is high. As the river winds through the countryside it cuts through deep wooded valleys and dense forests of hardwood and limestone cliffs. Figure on an entire day to get from Point A to Point B because of the great trout fishing on this waterway.
Spelunking anyone? At the Forestville Mystery Cave State Park, located about 30 miles southeast of Rochester, you can check out the longest public access cave in Minnesota. There are 12 miles of passages, loads of stalagmites, and stalactites and park naturalists offer tours of the cave throughout the summer. While at the park visit the historic village of Forestville, the restored pioneer town operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. Located about 50 miles southeast of Rochester, Niagara Cave is one of the Midwest’s largest limestone caverns. The cave was carved out by underground streams, its ceiling stands over 100 feet in height, with deep canyons below. During the one-hour guided tour visitors encounter fossils that have been dated to more than 400 million years old, a 60-foot waterfall, massive stalactites, calcite flowstone and much more.
Southeastern Minnesota is not one of those well-kept secrets. With so much to do there, this region of the state is more often the topic of conversation.
Tim Lesmeister chairs the Local Committee for OWAA’s 2010 conference in Rochester, Minn., June 10-13, 2010. Lesmeister is a full-time freelance outdoor communicator and photographer. Contact him at tim@lesmonster.com.
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