Top bike rides around Minnesota

Minnesota’s thriving bike culture has helped build a healthy, local  bike industry and put the Twin Cities regularly atop lists of best places for bicyclists. Duluth is on its way to becoming a mountain biking destination and trails like the Root River and Lake Wobegon crisscross the state.

Given all the choices, we asked a few bike experts and bicyclists in MPR’s Public Insight Network to share their top rides with us. Here are their picks:

Bill Lindeke on his bike. (Photo courtesy of Bill Lindeke)

Bill Lindeke, sidewalk blogger and Ph.D. candidate researching bikes and cities:
1. Minnesota & Mississippi Rivers from 494 to downtown St Paul

My favorite Twin Cities’ bike ride begins at the Big Rivers regional trail across the Minnesota River from Bloomington. This gorgeous wide river bluff trail is unbeatable, running through the quirky old town of Mendota, dropping down into the river flats of old Lilydale alongside the river’s haunted caves, and popping out at Harriet Island, right next to downtown St. Paul.

2. Practically any city street late at night

People who haven’t ridden bikes in the city don’t understand that late-night riding is one of its greatest joys. Apart from a few main drags (e.g. Lake Street), after about 10 pm bicyclists pretty much have the streets to themselves. Bicycling late at night is blissfully quiet: you’re alone in a big city with only the moon, the wind in the trees, and occasional lights shining from a house as you pass by.

3. The Gateway Trail

The Gateway Trail, running northeast out of an industrial area in St. Paul’s North End, is gloriously beautiful. The trail runs through the East Side’s urban woods, curves through forests alongside a horse track, and even cuts through patches of oak savanna. For a destination, you can choose between the quaint city of Stillwater or Square Lake, one of the metro’s most perfect swimming spots.

4. Nicollet Mall

I love biking down Nicollet Mall. Sure, you have to ride slowly, stopping often and watching out for buses and cabs. But to cruise through the heart of the city surrounded by people shopping and strolling and chatting, to hear street musicians and smell sidewalk cafés, to know that there are a million things to do. This is what makes Minneapolis a great city.

5. East River Road

It’s hard to choose between the East and West River Roads, but if pressed, I’ll take the East side. My favorite part is the southernmost stretch winding around Highland Park where the path undulates high atop the river bluff. You feel like you’re bicycling on the edge of a mountain. The road continues North past the rocky outcrops along Summit Avenue all the way to Southeast Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. (For an extra thrill, drop down to the riverside path cantilevered over the Mississippi underneath the Franklin Avenue bridge.)

Casey Pavek after a cold January ride. (Photo courtesy of Casey Pavek)

Casey Pavek, manager of Venture North Bike Walk and Coffee Shop in North Minneapolis:

1. Cedar lake Trail Westbound to Theo Wirth Parkway at 2 a.m. in the mist

I love the sensation of riding away from the city into the natural environment around Cedar Lake. I’ve ridden with a family of deer crossing over 394 on Wirth Parkway, meandering off into the woods of the Eloise Butler Rose Garden for a late night snack.

2. The Luce Line on a sunny day

The trees hang over the trail creating a tunnel effect that engulfs and shades the rider from the sun. The trail takes you all the way from the city to the other side of Lake Minnetonka and beyond.

3. The freshly paved nice and wide bike lanes on Park and Portland in South Minneapolis

These bike lanes are 5 feet wide with 3 foot shoulders on each side that allow for you to ride side by side comfortably with a friend. Even in the winter the bike lane is so wonderfully wide that the snow banks don’t take over the bike lane, making for a safe winter commute.

4. Lebanon Hills Mountain Bike Trails

This is as good as it get when it comes to single-track dirt bike close to Minneapolis. Out in Eagan, it’s got miles of skinny technical single track riding and banked berms that let you ride sideways at breakneck speeds. With rewarding ascents and lots of technical rock gardens to navigate, “Leb” is a great place to grow your trail skills. They’ve got a new pavilion with grills for a great day of bikes and brats.

5. Smith Avenue High Bridge

This is the place to test the top speed of your road bike. A big climb to the top of the bridge and you’re flying down it at 40+ mph, actually breaking the speed limit. In no other place in the city can you be 160 feet over the Mississippi and flying on your bike.

Jim Trouten at Adventure Cycle and Ski in Winona. (MPR Photo/Molly Bloom)

Jim Trouten, who works at Adventure Cycle and Ski in Winona:

1. Holzinger Lodge mountain bike trails in Winona’s Bluffside Park

It’s a favorite because of the challenging climbs and flowing trails on top of the bluffs. The trails are maintained by the Winona Area Mountain Bikers (WAMB) and the Winona Park and Rec Department.

2. The Root River Trail from Lanesboro through Rushford to Houston

I like the trails because they’re accessible to everybody and you can ride any kind of bike on them.

Click on the slideshow for favorite rides from bicyclists in the Public Insight Network.

What’s your favorite ride? Share it in the comments.

  • mason

    Sadly the trails in the southwest metro are in danger of being being ripped up for rail development by shortsighted MetCouncil planners.

  • HS English Teacher in MN

    Totally disappointed in the headline for this article — it doesn’t really match the content — were you intending to write about the best rides in Minnesota or best rides in the METRO (with a nod to Winona)?

    The Paul Bunyan Trail from Brainerd to Bemidji is a 100 miles of shade-tree lined wandering old railroad bed. Meaning it passes through all sorts of little towns that welcome and cater to cyclists with bike shops, fantastic little cafes/coffee shops and bike friendly lodging/accomodations. The stretch from Brainerd to Pequot is a well-loved and used , and the winding hills and curves from Hackensack to Walker are fantastic.

    The Cuyuna range out of Ironton and Crosby has developed some of the best mountain-biking trails in the state. They have a yearly festival, and it’s a popular destination for folks traveling out of the metro as well.

    The 49-mile Heartland trail from Park Rapids to Walker and Cass Lake includes little towns at just the right distances for rest stops and includes a visit at one of the best Paul Bunyans up north (Akeley, where you can pose for pictures sitting in Paul’s oversized big hand.).

    If your first bike expert focussed on just the metro, you should have looked to find cyclists from around the state. No doubt you could have turned to some of the many cycling groups all over the state!

  • Barton

    The Mesabi Trail. It’s wide & well paved, great vistas, friendly towns (and frequent enough for necessity stops), and not completely flat (some serious steep “climbs” and rapid descents to keep it fun). AND it’s of a distance that you could make a whole vacation out if – not just start/stop constantly. Would love to see it extend from western border to eastern border of the state.

    As a daily commuter around The Cities, I love the views on West River Road trails (but the pavement is awful and potentially dangerous), the Midtown Greenway is a constant joy, and I love the the Cedar Lake Trail as well!

  • Matt

    The “Old Scenic Byway” from Carver to Henderson.

  • JoyousMN

    I have to second the Big Rivers Regional Trail and the Root River Trail. The Cannon Falls to Red Wing bike trail is very nice too. Thanks for the lists.

  • blindeke

    I forgot to add, any ride that takes you into Swede Hollow;

    also, the real #1 is any ride that bring you to Wisconsin. (Sorry MPR!)

    • mason

      That will be coming soon when the Stillwater lift bridge is converted to a bike bridge!

  • Badjuggler

    Dakota Rail Trail from Wayzata to Mayer and back is tough to beat. Scenic, relatively flat, lots of water.