'But I Thought Minnesota Was Flat'

By Brian Fanelli

Cuyuna kids article image 423x270We know it's not Minnesotan to boast, but it's trueto ride a bike in Minnesota is an unparalleled experience in the United States.

From the gravel hills and river bluffs of southern Minnesota, to the protected bike lanes and Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, to Rochester's off-road commuter system and the 120-mile Paul Bunyan Trail in northern Minnesota, we've got pretty much every type of riding you could imagine.

Including mountain biking. Like, a lot of it.

"But I thought Minnesota was flat?"  

Well, sure, parts of the state are flat. No denying that. But that didn't stop the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) from recognizing three of Minnesota's trail systems as Ride Centers, "the best the sport has to offer."

In fact, the only state (or country) with more Ride Centers than us is Idahoand considering that the entire state of Idaho is a mountain, this is one time we're totally OK with taking second.

So the next time you're looking for a little ride inspiration, look no further than...

Duluth - Gold Level IMBA Ride Center

Winter Bike_Hansi JohnsonTo become a gold level ride center is no small feat; there are only four of them in the United States.

It's a distinction that says Duluth has some of the best mountain biking trails in the world, and we're inclined to agree. From the lift-accessed downhill trails at Spirit Mountain, to the flowing lines at Lester, to the Duluth Traverse, Duluth has world-class mountain bike trails for every style of rider.

And the IMBA isn't the only one that thinks Duluth is a world-class biking destination, either. In 2013, Outside Magazine ranked the city as the second best outdoor adventure hub in the world; then in 2014 their readers ranked Duluth as the Best Town in America, beating out dozens of other powerhouse outdoor destinations like Provo, Ashville and Anchorage.

Cuyuna - Silver Level IMBA Ride Center

Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails is the first Minnesota State Park purpose-built for mountain biking, so it's kind of a big deal. The park sits firmly in the Iron Range of Central Minnesota, about 20 miles northeast of Brainerd.

Cuyuna fat bike fallCuyuna offers 25 miles of mountain bike trails, open year round, with special trail grooming done for winter riders. The trails are suitable for every skill level, from first-timers to old-timers.

Plus they host all sorts of rad annual events like the Surly Red Dirt Fest, the 45NRTH Whiteout, and the Teravail Oremageddon.

Since the park opened in 2011, Cuyuna has been revitalizing the Iron Range to the tune of $2 million annually, estimates economist Andrew Hook. And once the master vision of trails is finished, Hook estimates an annual impact of $21 million. That's pretty incredible, and it's a great example of how bicycles can save small town America.

And, of course, they've got that iconic red dirt. That inside-of-your-shoes, all-over-your-body, how-did-it-get-there, red dirt.  

Twin Cities - Bronze Level IMBA Ride Center

These days, the Twin Cities (and Minneapolis in particular) are well known as some of the most bike-friendly cities on the planet. And because those accolades tend to focus on paved trails and on-road facilities, it may come as a surprise to see the Twin Cities featured as a Bronze Level IMBA Ride Center. But make no mistake, the Twin Cities is brimming with opportunities to get rad on your mountain bike.

Lebanon-Hills-mountain-biking.jpg

Head over to North Minneapolis and spend a few hours exploring the trails at Theodore Wirth Park, less than 3 miles from downtown (make sure to ride the Dingo/Skyline Trail for a scenic view of, you guessed it, the skyline). From there, head further north toward Elm Creek for their fast, flowing, and incredibly diverse trail system. In the south metro you can ride Lebanon Hills, which offers some of the more technical singletrack in the metro, and boasts all sorts of additional facilities like a fire pit, charcoal grills and heated bathrooms (!!).

Unlike the other Minnesota Ride Centers, the trails here are more spread around the metro, so you'll likely want to use motorized transportation to hit some of the trails. But they're all relatively close together, and each individual trail system is distinct and robust enough to offer hours (days?!) of excitement for even the most avid riders.

Check out over 85 miles of Twin Cities mountain bike trails on the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists website, and plan your next trip today!

Of course, this doesn't cover anything close to all of Minnesota's mountain bike trails. To read more about mountain biking in Minnesota, check out some of these articles.