Compiled By Ellen Burkhardt
Spring is here, which means it’s time to get off your spin bike and put pedal to the pavement. Not sure where to start? Here are six of our favorite paved paths, all within a two-hour drive of the Twin Cities. Don’t forget your helmet.
1. The Gateway Trail
The Trip: St. Paul to Stillwater
Distance: 22 miles
The Scene: The Gateway Trail starts in urban St. Paul but quickly segues into a more rural setting, weaving its way through Phalen-Keller Regional Park, Maplewood, North St. Paul, Oakdale, and Washington County. The official trail ends in Pine Point Regional Park, but hop on Norrell Avenue and you’ll be to Stillwater in four short miles.
Parking: Street parking is available where the trail officially begins at Cayuga Street in St. Paul, east of Rice Street and north of University Avenue. The North St. Paul trailhead lot is located between First Street and Second Street just north of
2. Willard Munger State Trail
The Trip: Hinckley to Duluth
Distance: 70 miles
Difficulty: Intermediate to difficult
The Scene: State parks and historic towns make up the extensive Willard Munger State Trail, one of the longest paved bike paths in the state. The mostly level trail follows the old railroad route and is most difficult between Finlayson and Rutledge, where there are several small but steep hills. Once you reach Carlton, however, spectacular views of the St. Louis River and twin ports of Duluth and Superior more than make up for your earlier efforts.
Parking: The Hinckley trailhead is located just past the railroad tracks on the northwest side of Old Highway 61 and Highway 18.
3. Root River Trail
The Trip: Fountain to Houston
Distance: 42 miles
The scene: The Root River Trail encapsulates everything that makes Minnesota great. River bluffs and trees tower above the path, and every 10 or so miles another small town pops up. Be sure to set aside extra time for historic Lanesboro, the queen of the Root River Trail, with its many art galleries, cafés, and shops.
Parking: The Fountain trailhead is located one mile east of Highway 52 on County Road 8, near the city park/softball field.
4. Big Rivers Regional Trail
The Trip: Mendota Heights to downtown St. Paul
Distance: 8 miles
The Scene: Limestone bluffs, giant cottonwood trees, and historic ruins make this one of the most beautiful trails near the Twin Cities. The path follows the old railroad bed through Mendota Heights and Lilydale, eventually connecting to the Wabasha Street Bridge into downtown St. Paul.
Parking: The Mendota Heights trailhead lot is located at the intersection of Highway 13 and Mendota Heights Road.
5. Sakatah Singing Hills Trail
The Trip: Mankato to Faribault
Distance: 39 miles
The Scene: Straight and flat, the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail has a little bit of everything: thick woods and sunny fields, small towns and lots of lakes. There are rest stops and parks every few miles, plus an indoor bathroom at the halfway point.
Parking: The Mankato trailhead lot is located on Lime Valley Road, just north of where it splits with North Riverfront Drive.
6. The Dakota Rail Trail
The Trip: St. Bonifacius to Wayzata
Distance: 14 miles
The Scene: Get to know Lake Minnetonka’s many bays and border cities more intimately along this former train route. The trail winds through Minnetrista, Mound, Spring Park, Minnetonka Beach, and Orono, curving its way around water and willows until reaching Wayzata.
Parking: The St. Bonifacius trailhead lot is located at 4150 Bell Street.