Biking’s never been so good! Minnesota has more miles of paved bike trail than any other state. This means miles of smooth, easygoing riding through scenic corridors. Each year brings new miles, this year in particular. Here’s this year’s bike trail news. So climb on your bike (or rent one) and explore a terrific new trail this year.
Mad About Mountain Biking?
Rough riders who prefer to do their biking far from the refinement of paved trails will find fat-tire paradise in Minnesota. The beautiful Chippewa and Superior national forests stretching across north central and northeast Minnesota have hundreds of miles of trail available. Both forests have identified routes suitable for mountain biking. These include gravel roads for casual outings, old logging roads for more challenging treks, or the adventure of winding, bumpy off-road trails.
Some of Minnesota’s biggest ski areas turn into mountain bike playgrounds when the snow goes away. Lutsen Mountains Bike Park has over 35 miles of marked trails, from easy to extreme, and you can even ride the ski lift to mountaintop trailheads. At Giants Ridge near Biwabik there are 50 miles of trails, with shuttle service to the top of the mountain. The trails range from single-track to wide, mowed paths. Afton Alps east of St. Paul and Mount Kato in Mankato each offer about eight miles for mountain biking.
For more information on these mountain biking destinations, ask for Minnesota Biking brochure from the Minnesota Office of Tourism.
Mesabi Trail Adding Links Across the Iron Range
Each year, this big new trail gets even bigger, with several paved links spreading across the Iron Range. There’s a big fistful of things that make the Mesabi Trail a great biking destination.
First, it takes you by some of the very interesting and unusual terrain of the Iron Range. Several old mining pits have filled with water to become lakes, and trees and shrubs are reclaiming the ruddy landscape of rock and dirt that mining produced. The backdrop to these Iron Range scenes is the beautiful north woods. The overlooks at the Hull Rust Mine in Hibbing and the Rouchleau Mine in Virginia offer dramatic views of these mini-canyons.
Second, the trail provides easy access to several attractions, including the International Wolf Center, Soudan Underground Mine tours, Giants Ridge recreation area, with golf and mountain biking, and the Ironworld Discovery Center, where you can learn about the people who came to work the mines, their rich ethnic heritage, and how they lived and worked.
Third, though much of this trail is constructed on former railroad bed like most other bike trails, parts of it were developed over more hilly terrain. For cyclists who want more then the level, easygoing biking of most trails, these sections offer some rollercoaster fun. If hills are your thrills, try the section between Grand Rapids and Taconite, or Hibbing and Leetonia.
Fourth, there are good services available for cyclists. Three businesses rent bikes, and a shuttle service makes one-way rides easy. Lodge-to-lodge trips with stays at motels and B&Bs can be arranged through Boundary Country Trekking.
Fifth, it’s on its way to becoming the longest trail in the state, and possibly in the country (maybe even in the world, who keeps track of these things?). Some day, it will run for about 130 miles across the Iron Range, between Grand Rapids and Ely, linking over 20 communities. This spring, there are five paved sections ready to ride: Grand Rapids-Taconite, 13 miles; Nashwauk-Kinney, 30 miles; Mt. Iron-Gilbert, 9 miles, plus a 4-mile spur to Eveleth; and 3 miles each near Biwabik and Tower-Soudan. But two key links will be paved early this summer, so by July, look for 55 continuous miles of paved trail between Nashwauk and McKinley.
And if all of that isn’t enough, the Mesabi Trail takes you past a variety of scenery--lakes, creeks, ponds, and woods of aspen, birch and pine. Some sections pass through rock cuts.
A two-day Wheel Pass is $3 for those 18 and over; kids ride free. It’s widely available in towns along the trails. There’s also a detailed map available in print or online, provided by the Regional Railroad Authority, a cooperative venture of three counties.
For more info:
Heartland Trail Reaches North
Paul Bunyan Gets Bigger
Two trails through the lakes and woods country in the heart of Minnesota have added paved miles heading north. In fact, the Heartland and Paul Bunyan trails will eventually cross each other at Walker, making this area a terrific hub for miles of cycling.
The 28-mile stretch of the Heartland has long been popular with visitors to this resort area. This scenic corridor is lined with maple, birch and other hardwoods, and passes lakes and wetlands. It links several small towns, including teeny Dorset. This one-block town of fewer than 20 residents bills itself as the "restaurant capital of the world," and many bikers would confirm that title. A long trestle bridge near Akeley, the "world’s largest tiger muskie" at Nevis, and swimming beaches in both towns are other favorites along the trail.
Now, Heartland fans have even more miles. Last fall, 20 additional miles were paved from Walker to Cass Lake. The scenery is a mix of wetlands, lakes, rolling hills and forest, with the forest changing from hardwoods to pines as you head north. One highlight is an old trestle bridge at Steamboat Lake, seven miles south of Cass Lake. Originally, this bridge turned to allow steamboats to pass through.
The Paul Bunyan Trail is also adding miles. At the end of fall, there were 57 paved miles from Baxter (just next to Brainerd) to north of Hackensack. Part of this route passes through woods and near lakes and wetlands, and the cafes and ice cream shops in the towns along the way feed hungry bikers. Bike rentals and shuttle service are available.
By July, there will be 66 miles in place, reaching to Hwy. 34 at the north end. These newest miles are very scenic, winding through Chippewa National Forest, crossing streams. They aren’t on former railroad bed, so there are hills along the way, making this section very different from most bike trails.
From Hwy. 34, cyclists can follow a gravel road for one mile and connect to the Heartland Trail, a few miles east of Akeley. Eventually, a new arm of the Paul Bunyan will be developed from Walker to Bemidji. But already, there are over 100 miles of beautiful biking on the Paul Bunyan and Heartland trails.
More Trail News:
Shooting Star: This new state trail has 9 paved miles between LeRoy and Taopi, near the state’s southern border southeast of Austin. It explores this rural countryside, serene Lake Louise State Park, and an area of prairie at Taopi. It’s named for a prairie flower.
Gitchi Gami: This trail is being developed over several years along the North Shore of Lake Superior. No long segments are in place yet, but by summer, there should be a paved 8-mile section through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Plans call for the trail to run for 85 miles between Two Harbors and Grand Marais, but completion is at least eight years away.
Lake Wobegon: Traveling the rural landscape for 28 miles between Avon and Sauk Centre, this trail is growing. A 9-mile spur from Albany to Holdingford should be paved sometime this summer; in the meantime, it has a crushed rock surface that’s bikeable. Also, another 9 miles of trail will be constructed over the summer on the southern end, from Avon to St. Joseph.
For More Info on Minnesota Biking:
The Minnesota Biking brochure describes 16 paved trails around the state, state park bike trails, and Minnesota’s best mountain biking destinations.
Minnesota Bike Maps, published by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, is a set of two maps, one for the western half of the state and one for the east, which rate Minnesota roads for their suitability for biking. The maps color code roadways based on traffic volumes and note whether they have paved shoulders. Great resource for planning road trips by bike (though they don’t show where the long hills are!).
Contact the Minnesota Office of Tourism to ask for a copy:
651-296-5029 (from the Twin Cities)