'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. 

Sure, parts of the state are flat—no denying that—but that hasn't stopped Minnesota from developing one of the nation's best collections of mountain biking trail systems. So the next time you're looking for a little ride inspiration, look no further than...

Duluth

Winter Bike_Hansi JohnsonIf you ride a mountain bike, you've probably already heard of Duluth. From the lift-accessed downhill trails at Spirit Mountain, to the flowing lines at Lester, to the awe-inspiring 100 mile Duluth Traverse that dives and climbs across town to unify the city's trail heads into one massive system, 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

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

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 mountain bike paradise. But make no mistake, the Twin Cities is brimming with opportunities to get rad on your mountain bike.

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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 more compact trail systems in Cuyuna and Duluth, 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!