The Grand Rounds: Minneapolis, Minnesota


The Grand Rounds is the nation's only urban-based National Scenic Byway. It is part of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's 6,400 acres of trails, lakes, parks, and recreation facilities. The parkways and paths are divided into seven segments and together form a nearly complete loop through Minneapolis as they connect 14 natural lakes, three creeks, two waterfalls, and the Mississippi River. Because of careful planning and strategic land acquisitions, all waterfront and rights-of-way around the lakes, creeks and river segments are in public ownership.

Designated Area

The Grand Rounds parkway and path system is divided into seven segments involving Minneapolis's Chain of Lakes as well as the East River, West River, Minnehaha, Wirth, Victory Memorial, and St. Anthony parkways.

The Grand Rounds trails are maintained year-round, allowing for use even during the winter. Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Planning Excellence

Articulating a vision of a system of parks and parkways around the city's lakes, streams and river during the later half of the 19th century was landscape architect Horace Cleveland. Charles Loring, the Park Board's first president, and the first two park superintendents, Captain William Morse Berry (1885-1905) and Theodore Wirth (1906-1935), led efforts to acquire and develop much of the land used for the byway system.

It is one of the most elaborate park systems in the nation, the outgrowth of over 125 years of planning and plan implementation.

Lake Harriet is just one of 14 lakes connected by The Grand Rounds running and biking trails. Photo courtesy of David Larson.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Visionary Planning and Plan Implementation

  • First park superintendent, Captain William Morse Berry (1885-1905), began initial land acquisition to implement Horace Cleveland's vision; Park Board purchased land for Chain of Lakes, Minnehaha Falls, Saratoga Springs-Glenwood, Powderhorn, Minnehaha Parkway, Columbia, East River Bank, and The Parade
  • Second park superintendent, Theodore Wirth (1906-1935), continued work of Berry; during Wirth's 30-year tenure portions of Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles were dredged; Wirth Parkway paved, creating more than 16 continuous miles of paved trails from East Hennepin Avenue to William Berry Park; park buildings, golf courses and concession stands opened
  • In 2007, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board adopted a new comprehensive plan that details the vision for the park system to 2020; recommended major initiative to construct the Missing Link — a three-mile-long segment that will complete Cleveland's plan and make The Grand Rounds a completely connected, continuous loop around the city

Connected to City Streets, Neighborhoods

  • Connects all four major quadrants of Minneapolis — north, east, south and west; connects residential areas with neighborhood commercial areas and city's downtown business district
  • Divided into seven segments: Downtown Riverfront; Mississippi River; Minnehaha; Chain of Lakes (Lakes Harriet, Calhoun, Isles, Cedar and Brownie); Theodore Wirth; Victory Memorial; Northeast
  • Linear and connective design makes it close and easily accessible throughout the city and ensures all residents and visitors can use the system; no user fees 
  • Separated tier system accommodates multiple users: pedestrian paths are located nearest to the river, lake, creek, or woodland to allow pedestrians to enjoy the spectacle without vehicular interruption; bicycle paths are located adjacent to pedestrian paths; parkways for motorists are located furthest away

Separate paths and roadways for pedestrians, bikes, and automobiles accommodate multiple users in the safest of ways. Signage helps users navigate the 50-mile system. Photo courtesy of David Larson.

Passive and Active Uses

  • System connects 14 natural lakes in city — Sweeney, Twin, Wirth, Brownie, Cedar, Diamond, Taft, Mother, and Grass lakes, and Lake of the Isles, Lakes Calhoun, Harriet, Nokomis, and Hiawatha; other water bodies along The Grand Rounds include Minnehaha Creek, the Mississippi River and  several lagoons or ponds
  • Scenic views throughout the paths and parkway system of city lakes, Mississippi River gorge, Minnehaha Falls, St. Anthony Falls and Minneapolis skyline
  • Opportunities for recreational activities along system abound: playing fields; basketball volley ball, and tennis courts; golf courses, swimming beaches; trails for bike-riding, roller-blading, jogging, and walking; lakes for sailing, wind surfing, and fishing; cross-country ski trails
  • The annual Minneapolis Bike Tour showcases quality bike routes in the Grand Rounds with two routes that are closed to motorized traffic; event draws nearly 3,800 riders in 2009