According to Dakota legends, a sleeping giant rests beneath the ridges of what is now known as the Mesabi Iron Range—its many hills and valleys created by the contours of the giant’s body. Another giant beneath the Iron Range is the Laurentian Continental Divide. Both giants lend further intrigue into the lore that Mesabi is Magic.
One of the best ways to discover the magic in the fall is bicycling the Mesabi Trail. Located in northeastern Minnesota, the trail opened in 2005 and traverses a combination of formerly-abandoned railways and old mining and logging roads. The scenic paved trail winds through some of the state's most picturesque regions between Grand Rapids and Biwabik. When completed, the well-mapped and maintained trail will reach Ely, cover more than 155 miles, and connect 28 communities—making it one of the longest bicycle trails in the United States.
But exploring the Mesabi Trail is more than just biking; it’s like touring an outdoor, open-air museum of mining, blended with rich history and European-inspired foods and cultures that are still vibrant today. One part spice and two parts soul.
Here are a few highlights to enjoy when you hit the Mesabi Trail on your fall bicycling adventure.
Step into Mining History
Just outside of Hibbing, take in the jaw-dropping views of the “Grand Canyon of the North”—the Hull Rust Mine Overlook. This eight-mile-long, man-made mine pit is one of the biggest operating open pit iron ore mines in the world. You’ll be amazed at the massive, two-story high trucks and giant electric shovels.
Mining history also comes to life at the 660-acre Minnesota Discovery Center museum on the edge of the Glen Mine. The Discovery Center is the largest museum in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities. There you can explore the exhibits and interactive displays, ride a vintage trolley to an early mining town or even play mini-golf on a mining-themed course.
When you reach Eveleth, pause at the top of the Leonidas Overlook to admire miles of sweeping vistas and fall colors. The largest manmade site in the area, the Leonidas Overlook is one more example of Mesabi’s mining history on display.
Another stronghold of Mesabi culture is found in its tributes to hockey. Eveleth is home to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum, dedicated in 1973. The displays and exhibits are a must-see for hockey fans. And before you hit the trail, don’t leave without taking a selfie downtown at Eveleth’s Hockey Plaza, where you’ll find America’s largest hockey stick and rubber puck. The stick weighs more than three tons and measures 107 feet long.
In addition to its mining and hockey history, the Mesabi Iron Range is also home to an eclectic variety of legends and lore. Perhaps most famously, Hibbing was the childhood home of Bob Dylan! The private childhood home on Bob Dylan Drive (formerly 7th Avenue) is not open to the public, but you can take a selfie on the street and then cycle to the nearby Hibbing Public Library, which has an extensive exhibit of Dylan memorabilia.
Another unexpected treasure is Hibbing High School, built in the 1920s for $4 million, which would cost more than $50 million if it were built today. Its exquisite architectural details include a grand exterior staircase, hand-molded ceilings, and imported Belgian, cut-glass crystal chandeliers. The auditorium is also home to a Barton pipe organ with more than 1,900 pipes. (Seat J-47 in the auditorium is even rumored to be haunted!) The school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is available for self-guided and group tours.
Giants Ridge recreation area, named after Mesabi’s legendary sleeping giant, rolls out the fun all year long. Enjoy fall golfing with several challenging courses strategically laid out amid clear lakes and forests decked out with autumn color. You’ll also find disc golf, cycling and hiking, fishing and more.
Any good Mesabi Trail bicycle adventure means working up an appetite, and the Iron Range’s famously hearty cuisine will satisfy even the hungriest riders. Many establishments have family members carrying on their food traditions down through the generations. Hibbing’s 100-year-old Italian Sunrise Bakery still uses its original recipes for baked goods, and their pasties (a mouth-watering meat pie stuffed with potatoes and root vegetables in a pastry crust) and potica (a nut roll pastry) are as authentic as they come.
For a little trailside carbo-loading, check out the pasta at Valentini’s Supper Club in Chisholm—an Italian family restaurant established in 1934. In Biwabik, Vi’s Pizza has been using their original family recipe for generations, starting in 1959 when Viola Urick began selling pizzas out the back door of their family home. These days Vi’s Pizza continues with its fourth generation of Uricks, and a location in a historic Biwabik building on Main Street.
Don’t miss Canelake’s Candies in Virginia. Since 1905, these artisan candy-makers have used the same original recipes for their individually hand-dipped candies. Or skip the sugar with some organic fare at Natural Harvest Food Coop, between picturesque Silver and Bailey lakes in Virginia. And just up the trail in Gilbert, discover authentic Jamaican food at the colorful Whistling Bird Restaurant.
For further info on the trail, including shuttle service, lodge-to lodge trips, maps and more, visit mesabitrail.com or call 218-744-1388; or ironrange.org for info on the area as well as a full-color map and itinerary for the Mesabi Trail.