Why Gravel Bike Rides Are the Way to Go

If you’re looking for an open road bike ride, then a gravel route is what you need. The expansive sky and freedom are unmatched. Keep reading for tips on planning your own route or use the route we’ve mapped below (Watonwan Bike Route.)

Gear Two People

  • 2 Bikes
  • 2 Water bottles
  • Map
  • Wildlife check list

Printable Map of the Watonwan Gravel Bike Ride

Wildlife Viewing Checklist

Gravel Bike Ride Tips

If you’re looking for a safe and fun adventure, I suggest a gravel bike ride!

Gravel bike rides are extremely safe because there’s rarely traffic or other people, so you’re free to roam care-free. Gravel roads are also rich in plant and wildlife, which creates a beautiful backdrop for your ride.

For instance, ditches are filled with milkweed, the plants that monarchs use to lay their eggs. Milkweed is a tall plant with large, purple flowers. In July and August, the eggs hatch and monarch larvae eat the milkweed leaves. And as you know, this leads to cocoons and beautiful butterflies that we know and love.

I do have to warn you, gravel bike rides make a more challenging bike ride than pavement. The loose gravel and softer ground causes a slower ride, but since the roads are mostly yours and the sky is open and gorgeous, it’s worth a few extra sweat bullets to experience.

Know that the more ground-down parts with less gravel are easier road. And since the roads are so straight, if your kids (or spouse) insists on biking ahead of you (like mine does) then you’ll still be able to see them!

Wild blue phlox picture captured at Watonwan Stop before gravel bike ride.
Wild blue phlox growing at Watonwan Stop in June.

If you’re looking to plan a gravel bike ride on your own, it’s really easy! To start, pull up Google Maps and switch to Satellite view. Then, look at nearby gravel roads for a route. Personally, I hate back tracking, so I plan the best loop that’s within my ability level. With the route in my mind, I load up my bike and go on an afternoon jaunt through the country!

Try to include a Waterfowl Production Area or Wildlife Management Area for a neat break spot. WPAs and WMAs are set aside areas of land for habitat and recreation. Check out our post on WPAs for links and maps to find land nearest to you.

The Watonwan Gravel Bike Ride Route

If you live in the Mankato area, feel free to use my bike route for your first gravel bike ride!

Start by driving to the Watonwan Stop. This is a convenient place to park your car along the Watonwan River. Use Google Maps to get to 16411 Deerwood Road (AKA Highway 20,) Garden City, MN. 

Then, hop on your bike and ride south on Highway 20. Take a right (west) onto Highway 135. This gravel road is full of beautiful, expansive views and has many places to stop for pictures.

Quick side note, as someone that didn’t grow up on gravel I must warn others to be careful not to accidentally take someone’s driveway… Trust me, I’ve been there. One clue, if you see a mailbox or blue sign marker, that’s a driveway! 

154th Street to Highway 32

In time, you’ll reach 154th Street and veer to the right (west.) At the end of Highway 135/ 154th Street, turn right onto paved Highway 32

Paved highway 32, a sight for sore eyes after a long gravel bike ride.
Pavement, a nice break from the gravel bike ride!

Generally, once I transition from gravel to pavement I feel immediately invincible! When planning your own gravel bike rides, it’s nice to include a stretch of pavement to give yourself a bit of a break.

164th Street and the Lincoln WPA

Eventually, you’ll turn right onto 164th Street/ Highway 128. On this gravel road, there’s a nice Waterfowl Production Area to stop for a rest.

Gravel road that leads to the Lincoln WPA for a quick break from a gravel bike ride.
Road to the Lincoln WPA for a quick break from the action!

After a quick water break, you’ll continue your gravel bike ride east on 164th Street/ Highway 128 until veering north on 505th Avenue, heading towards a garage donning a massive star decoration. At this point, turn right onto 166th Street and travel until the Garden City Rod and Gun Club. Although this building may be out of commission, back in the day I’m sure they hosted a mean Pot Luck!

Finally, this trip closes with a well-deserved, paved decline back to the Watonwan Stop. You’re able to let the breeze cool some sweat before reaching your car and returning home. 

Great Ride!

Ultimately, whether you go on this specific gravel bike route or not, I hope you’re able to see how fun a gravel bike ride can be! The privacy and scenery are wonderful and the roads are open to anyone!


Load up your bikes and drive to the Watonwan Stop.

Bike south on Highway 20.

Head west on Highway 31/158th St., follow curves south.

Bike west on Highway 135/154th St.

Turn right and bike north on Highway 32/494th Ave.

Right at the Lincoln WPA/164th St.

Left and bike north on 505th Ave.

Rurn right and bike east on 166th St.

Head south on Highway 20 towards the Watonwan Stop.

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This post was written by Annie Schmitz, July 2020.

Annie holding a box of chicks.

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