When completed, years from now, this nearly 86-mile paved trail will connect Two Harbors and Grand Marais along Lake Superior’s North Shore. For now, cyclists, walkers, and skaters can surely content themselves with the scenic 14.6-mile stretch that connects Gooseberry Falls State Park and the tiny town of Beaver Bay. Leave plenty of time for lighthouse gawking and stopping at scenic overlooks.
If you’re in the mood for an expedition through lake country and the Great North Woods, Paul Bunyan is the way to go. Minnesota’s longest continually paved trail connects Brainerd and Bemidji for a whopping total of 112 miles. If you only have an afternoon, do the 6.2-mile stint between Pequot Lakes and Nisswa, which features optimal lake views plus a great place to refuel: Adirondack Coffee in Nisswa.
One of the state’s most popular cycling destinations, the Root River Trail has many virtues: It follows an old railroad track for 42 miles of flat, paved riding through Southern Minnesota’s bluff country, hugging the gurgling Root River as it winds past sleepy small towns and over many a cutesy wooden bridge. Cyclists familiar with the area have an important tradition: They stop in the teensy town of Whalan for a slice of pie at the amazing Aroma Pie Shop.
Another Minnesota classic, this 20-mile trail boasts a woodsy riverside setting and an extremely flat, family-friendly surface. For an ambitious day of riding, start in Cannon Falls, ride all the way to Red Wing for a sandwich at the Smokey Row Café, and then head back before dusk.
Head to extreme Southern Minnesota for the optimal prairie cycling experience. Amateur horticulturists love this 20-mile trail filled with diverse wildflowers and other vegetation. Look for black-eyed Susans and purple clovers, plus some endangered varieties of orchid. Tip: Start and end at Lake Louise State Park, where there’s a swimming beach and picnic area.
Brent Gale is a co-owner and designer at Twin Six, a Minneapolis-based agency that creates stylish graphics for jerseys and other cycling apparel. His fave trail right now is Cuyuna Lakes, a network of off-road mountain bike courses that opened on the Iron Range last year.
Why he recommends it: “The trails were built in an old iron quarry, with some really beautiful lakes up there. The guys who built it are cyclists. They did a really great job designing a technical singletrack trail, so there’s lots of twists and turns, lots of weaving in between rocks and trees.”
OK for beginners: “There are several trails, from lower-line right up to expert. I didn’t think anything was all that challenging.”
Tip: “The only problem with the trail is, it’s all iron up there. The ground is really red! So the tires on your bike will come back stained. I wouldn’t recommend wearing anything white. Red or black is probably a good idea.”
Flat and understated, just like Lake Wobegon itself, this 46-mile course is dotted by Central Minnesota’s “Keillor-esque” towns—Alexandria, Sauk Center, Fergus Falls. Pedaling along, a rider can expect to encounter subtle pleasures such as lakes, woodlands, wildflowers, and the occasional church steeple. Highlight: riding over Blanchard Dam, which spans the Mississippi in the tiny town of Royalton. Also, look for the covered wooden bridge near the town of Holdingford.
Bikers share the road with cars throughout most of Itasca State Park, with one important and gorgeous exception: the six-mile paved trail connecting historic Douglas Lodge with the headwaters of the Mississippi River, a heavily wooded route that peaks in the fall. You can rent wheels right inside the park, from Itasca Sports Rental. Be sure to enjoy a simple pre- or post-ride repast in the rustic dining room at Douglas Lodge.
The best-kept secret in the metro, this little-used trail serves up limestone cliff faces plus close-up views of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Bonus: It also makes for an easy and safe trek. The track is flat, just 5.1 miles long, and is perched along bluffs overlooking the river, far from the area’s considerable car traffic. Look for the trailhead in Mendota Heights for speedy access to the prettiest part (whatever you do, don’t park at the Pool & Yacht Club).
The best-kept secret of Duluth’s cycling community. Hartley Nature Center is veined with unpaved pathways and circuits for an easy, even beginner-friendly, mountain biking experience. Think wide paths covered with a flat assortment of gravel and dirt. Cyclists will also find thick forests, unblemished ponds and streams, glacial rock formations, and butterfly gardens—with Lake Superior always haunting the horizon. For more advanced cyclists, the park boasts some serious singletrack in one of its far corners. Stop by the main building (an awesome eco-friendly modern lodge) for an easy-to-use map of your cycling options. Don’t forget the binoculars: Hartley is known nationally for its prime bird watching.