This article is supported by members of the Minnesota Arrowhead Association.
By C.B. Bylander
Avid mountain bikers and those who prefer to pedal on paved trails will both find their niche in northeast Minnesota.The Duluth area’s rugged and hilly terrain is a “go-to” destination for mountain biking. Similarly the Mesabi Trail is an increasingly popular paved path for road bike enthusiasts. This trail stretches more than 120 miles across the Iron Range, and even more miles are in the making. The Willard Munger State Trail is yet another long paved trail. It links Duluth to welcoming communities to the south.
Families with young children have options, too. One is a short paved path along the the Lake Superior shoreline in downtown Duluth. This is a quick, easy and memorable urban experience. Another option is to hit the virtually unending trails that criss-cross the region’s vast state forest system. Unless posted otherwise, natural surface biking is allowed on the grassy state forest trails used by snowmobiles in winter.
Northeast biking is popular, in part, because this region is home to so many quintessential Minnesota experiences. It is where you go to see the raw beauty of Lake Superior, picturesque North Shore waterfalls and vast open pit iron mines whose ore was used to build a nation.
Opportunities for fun abound for bikers here. Duluth, for example, has high-end lodging, great dining, taprooms, and vibrant Canal Park shopping and sightseeing. The Mesabi Trail also offers a rewarding experience, weaving through a number of communities teeming with small-towm charm and big mining tales to tell. Travel farther up the North Shore to the Gunflint Trail and experience remote riding on Pincushion Mountain trails, which overlook Lake Superior and the harbor town of Grand Marais.
Mesabi Trail – The Mesabi Trail is hard to beat as a biking destination. The trail starts at Grand Rapids then angles northeast through Colleraine, Keewatin, Chisholm, Mountain Iron and other Iron Range cities before ending in the Hoyt Lakes area. When finished, the trail will travel more than 140 miles from Grand Rapids to Ely. The terrain is hilly in the west (though no more than an 8 percent grade) and flatter to the east. The longest section of continuous trail is from Grand Rapids to Virginia – about 68 miles
The trail is currently interrupted (until 2018) by a detour between Virginia and Gilbert due to the relocation of Hwy 53 and related bridge construction. Beyond Eveleth is another 25-plus miles of trail.
A $15 “Wheel Pass” is required of riders age 18 or older. An excellent interactive trail map is available online at www.mesabitrail.com.
Willard Munger State Trail - This is a collection of multi-use trails that connect Duluth to Hinckley some 70 miles to the south. Largely a rails-to-trails conversion, the Munger Trail follows the route of the railroad that saved many lives in the historic Hinckley and Cloquet wildfires in the 19th century.The trail passes through northern hardwood forests and stands of jack, red and white pine. The northernmost portion of the Munger Trail provides particularly scenic views of the St. Louis River and the port city of Duluth. This segment will be under construction in 2017.
The Munger Trail also includes the Alex Laveau Memorial Trail segment. The Laveau trail allows users to ride from Gary-New Duluth 16 miles through Wrenshall into Carlton. Six miles of off-road paved trail from Carlton to Highway 23 are open. The remaining miles are a combination of bike routes on paved highway shoulders and city streets.
Gitchi-Game State Trail – Thirty miles long, this paved trail along the North Shore of Lake Superior is comprised of five segments. The longest is a 15-mile stretch from Gooseberry Falls State Park to the community of Beaver Bay. The trail offers some great views of the lake as its runs parallel to Highway 61 and through hilly state park terrain. The trail includes a spur to Split Rock Lighthouse. It also takes riders through Temperance River State Park, where visitors can watch water rush through a deep gorge on its way to Lake Superior.
Mountain and Fat Tire Biking
Duluth area - Duluth is a world-class mountain biking destination. It has earned the rare distinction of Gold Level Ride Center from the International Mountain Biking Association. Only a handful of mountain biking destinations in the world have earned this honor.
This award stems, in part, from 30-plus miles of existing trails and a long-range vision to add 70 more as part of an effort called the Duluth Traverse. Current trails weave through forests, meadows and rocky outcroppings along the city skyline, with spurs that flow into neighborhoods and trailhead parking lots. Outside Magazine named Duluth the “Best Town of 2014" due, in part, to its top-notch biking opportunities.
Top riding destinations include Lester Park, whose 5 miles of intermediate trail are well suited to those new to mountain biking; Piedmont Trails, whose 9 rocky miles include major elevation changes; Pokegama Trail, whose 7 miles include tight twists, boardwalks and steep climbs; Mission Creek, whose 12 miles are perfect for beginner and intermediate bikers, plus provide great views of the St. Louis River Valley and Jay Cooke State Park; Spirit Mountain Bike Park, whose demanding terrain offers amazing vistas of Lake Superior; and Hartley Trails, whose short climbs are ideal for beginners.
Superior National Forest – Mountain biking is available on Pincushion Mountain trails west of Grand Marias, which offer 6 miles of single-track trail; Big Aspen Trails near Virginia, which include 21 miles of trail on former logging roads and abandoned railroad grade; and Lookout Mountain Trail near Virginia, which takes riders on 5 miles of single-track trail and 6-plus miles of ridable ski trail.
Minnesota State Parks – Jay Cooke and Split Rock Lighthouse state parks offer groomed fat biking trails in winter. Jay Cooke offers more than 5 miles of trail and Split Rock Lighthouse nearly 9 miles of trail. During non-snow seasons, various natural surface trails are open to biking in most state parks.
Giants Ridge – Located at Biwabik, this ski and golf resort offers 63 miles of biking trails. Mountain bikes and fat tire bikes are available for rent.