Top Cycling Trails in Minnesota

By MNR News posted 05-17-2022 14:04

Ever since the first bicycle-like contraption rolled into the state in 1869*, Minnesotans have been seeking out the best roads, lanes, paths, and dirt tracks for recreation and fun. Today, the state is home to thousands of miles of paved, gravel, and dirt trails offering rides to accommodate every level of fitness, skill, and interest. From bicycle highways winding into the heart of Minneapolis to rugged trails skirting the shores of Cuyuna Lakes, the North Country is a cycling paradise. Small wonder that Minnesota is recognized as one of the American League of Bicyclists Top 5 destinations. To help you plan your most fulfilling year of riding yet, we’ve assembled a list of prime spots for road and mountain riding. It’s by no means exhaustive, but we guarantee it will exhaust your need to get on your bike and move.

*J.C. Slorah, a druggist in Winona, became the first Minnesotan to own a bike when he imported a velocipede from France. These early bikes were so stiff and uncomfortable they were called “bone shakers.”

The top trails in our state, by region:
  • Arrowhead State Trail—Winding its way through the majestic Superior National Forest, this is one of Minnesota’s northernmost bike trails. Best for mountain biking or wintertime fat-bike riding, this remote trail takes you past both Lake Vermillion and Kabetogama Lake. Rugged and remote, this one is best suited for experienced riders. 
  • Gitchi Gami State Trail—While still a work in progress, this trail will eventually offer 88 miles of paved path that hugs the famous North Shore of Lake Superior. When finished, it will connect Two Harbors to Grand Marais, and take riders through five state parks along the way.  
  • Duluth Traverse—With over 100 miles of singletrack, avid mountain bikers can ride through forests, meadows, and unique Duluth neighborhoods on this trail. With sections good for both beginners and more experienced riders, the Duluth Traverse trail has something for everyone. 
  • Mesabi Trail—Minnesota’s Iron Range is famed for its history and industrial output, and cyclists can explore it on two wheels thanks to the Mesabi Trail. With over 120 miles of trail to explore, you can tour the Mesabi trail over several days. If exploring excavated earth is your thing, this is the trail for you. 
  • Paul Bunyan State Trail—Fancy a ride on the longest continuously paved rail trail in the country? Then hop on the Paul Bunyan State Trail and ride for a whopping 115 miles (maybe not all at once). You’ll pass many lakes and wind your way through beautiful verdant pine forest, and given that this is a fully-paved trail, it’s good for all levels of cyclists. 
  • Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail—Ask any serious Minnesota mountain biker and they’ll tell you about the glories of Cuyuna. Aside from its other-worldly beauty, Cuyuna offers over 30 miles of singletrack trail—some parts suitable for beginners while others cater to advanced riders. Surrounded by pristine lakes, you can finish a ride and take a refreshing swim to help recover. 
  • Central Lakes State Trail—With 55 paved miles stretching from Osakis to Fergus Falls, this trail is built along former railroad lines and offers flat, easy riding. 
  • Root River State Trail—All 42-paved miles of this trail will not disappoint. This railroad track-turned-bike-path takes you along Minnesota’s southern border with Iowa and boasts some stunning scenery: from limestone cliffs and huge bluffs, to rolling pastures and views of the Root River. You’ll want to check this one out. 
  • Mississippi River Trail—Hop on in Red Wing and follow this beautiful trail for 85 miles down to Great River Bluff State Park. A word to the wise: unlike much of Minnesota, this trail has several climbs sure to test your fitness.  
Twin Cities: 
  • Midtown Greenway—While only about six miles long, the Midtown Greenway is famed for its utility. It’s a well-used trail that helps commuters avoid road traffic on their way to work, enables families to ride safely to their favorite South Minneapolis restaurant, and connects serious cyclists to various routes across the Twin Cities. The Midtown Greenway is but one reason Minneapolis is consistently named among the most bike-friendly cities in the country. 
  • Gateway State Trail—A true east metro gem, riders can hop on the Gateway State Trail just north of downtown St. Paul and ride all the way to Stillwater. Its 18 miles will take you through quaint neighborhoods as you head east towards Wisconsin. Many people stop in Stillwater for a bite to eat before heading west again. 
  • Theodore Wirth Park—Just outside the heart of downtown Minneapolis, Theodore Wirth is a busy place at all times of the year. Several miles of mountain and road biking trails with views of the Minneapolis skyline are hard to beat! 
  • Minnesota River Bottoms—A network of unofficial trails that begin in Shakopee and follow the Minnesota River all the way to Fort Snelling, the river bottoms are known for being rugged and natural. Be sure to check the conditions before you head out, as rainfall can quickly turn these into a muddy, sandy slog-fest! 
  • Cedar Lake Regional Trails—Both the main Cedar Lake Regional Trail and the North Cedar Lake Regional Trail offer great riding between Hopkins and Downtown Minneapolis. Heavily used by bicycle commuters and for other forms of exercise and recreation, these trails offer a safe way to ride in the city. 
  • Luce Line State Trail—This trail stretches from Plymouth in the West Metro all the way to the small town of Cosmos in West Central MN—63 miles in total. As with many we’ve already noted, this trail runs along a former railway line, and is used by many West Metro cyclists.