5 Picture-Perfect Long Weekend Bike Trips

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Ride the winding and beautiful Gitchi-Gami State Trail along the North Shore of Lake Superior / Waqar Ahmad
Biking // Article

5 Picture-Perfect Long Weekend Bike Trips

By Brian Fanelli

Planning the perfect long weekend bike trip is a delicate thing. If your destination is too far away, you’ll spend the whole trip just getting there; if it’s not far enough from home, it barely even feels like a vacation.

To make planning your trip a little easier, we put together this list of fun, three- to four-day bike trips in Minnesota. They’re perfect for your next long holiday weekend (or even just your next “sick day”).

Mesabi Bike Trail near Hibbing

Bike alongside former and current iron ore mines on the Mesabi Trail in northeast Minnesota

Tour in Comfort With a Lodge-To-Lodge Getaway on the Mesabi Trail

Spend a long weekend exploring northern Minnesota’s scenic Iron Range with a lodge-to-lodge tour on the Mesabi Trail. Built through the heart of the Iron Range, the 120-mile trail is defined by its scenic views of excavated earth and the manmade mountains you’ll cycle across.

Speaking of mountains, the Mesabi Trail is a dream come true for cyclists who are inclined toward inclines. The trail is full of short, rolling hills that climb and descend the steep ridges of the region’s iconic mining pits, delivering incredible Iron Range vistas at the top of every climb.

"This is one of the most beautiful trails we have ever ridden."

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. The longest section of continuous trail is from Grand Rapids to Virginia—about 68 miles. "The trail winds over a river, through beautiful wooded areas, and around a couple of lakes," says Ed S. in his TripAdvisor review of the Mesabi Trail. "This is one of the most beautiful trails we have ever ridden."

Maximize your long weekend getaway by having the Mesabi Trail design a lodge-to-lodge tour to suit your style. They’ll help you plan lodging, luggage shuttles, deliver lunches along the trail, and can shuttle you and your bikes back to your vehicle when you’re done. Hosted rides, group rides for up to 25 people, and sag-wagon supported rides are available, too.

Amtrak 8 Maple Springs train

The eastbound Empire Builder as it hugs the Mississippi River near Wabasha / "<a href="" target="_blank">Amtrak 8, Maple Springs</a>" by <a href="" target="_blank">Jerry Huddleston</a>, shared under <a href="" target="_blank">CC BY 2.0</a>

Go Further With a Train-And-Trail Bike Tour of the Mississippi River Trail

There's nothing quite like stepping off a train, throwing a leg over your bike and pedaling off toward your next adventure. For many years that experience was just a distant dream for Amtrak riders in Minnesota, but in 2016 everything changed.  

Now featuring roll-on bicycle service, bringing your bike on the Empire Builder Amtrak train has never been easier. No more cardboard boxes, no more tools – just ride to the station, load your bike into the luggage car and let the train whisk you and your bike off to your next destination.

Fall scenes along Great River Road Winona

Winona is one of Minnesota's most scenic river towns, and boasts a charming downtown with lots to see and do

The Empire Builder has stations in four Mississippi River Trail (MRT) towns in Minnesota, but only the St. Paul and Winona stations offer bike service to passengers. We recommend boarding at the St. Paul station and riding the train south to Winona. By starting your ride at the southernmost station, your bike trip back north will be entirely next to the river!

The morning train to Winona leaves bright and early, departing at 8 a.m. from Union Depot in St. Paul every day. Just a short, two-hour journey, you'll arrive in Winona in time for a late breakfast at one of the many cafes and restaurants in town: perfect bike fuel for the Mississippi River's rolling hills.

The southern section of Minnesota’s MRT is defined by soaring river bluffs, exhilarating descents and spectacular riverfront scenery. There are numerous campsites, B&Bs, hotels and other places to stay along the route, so campers and glampers alike should feel at home.

Plan a Family-Friendly Bike Camping Trip on the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail

Your kids will love this quick-and-easy three-day bike camping trip on the flat and shaded 39-mile Sakatah Singing Hills Trail in southern Minnesota. Each day contains just 25-30 miles of riding, with lots of time off the bike to explore in town and relax at the campsite.

On day one, drive to Mankato and park at the Lime Valley trailhead just outside of town. Enjoy a few idyllic hours on the trail, heading east for 25 miles until you arrive at Sakatah Lake State Park. Grab lunch in Waterville, set up your campsite and explore the park until sunset, when your attention is rightfully directed toward perfectly charring a marshmallow over the fire.

Start day two with a hearty campfire breakfast, or grab a cold brew and a grilled breakfast sandwich at Cool Wave Coffee. If you're lucky, they may also have freshly baked cinnamon and caramel rolls that morning. From Sakatah Lake, it’s just a 15-mile ride to downtown Faribault, where you can saunter along charming Central Avenue, tour the world-famous Faribault Woolen Mill Co. and enjoy all manner of rustic things to do. When you’re ready to leave, ride the trail back to your campsite for another perfect evening under the southern Minnesota night sky.

After another slow-moving morning at camp, pack up your tent and wave goodbye to Sakatah Lake State Park before riding back to Mankato to pick up your car. If your legs still feel fresh after the 25-mile ride back to Mankato, be sure to explore the scenic Red Jacket Trail nearby. Heading south from Mankato, the Red Jacket Trail offers up 13 miles of hillside rural scenery before reaching the village of Rapidan, where you can bike to the Dam Store for a slice of their famous pie.

Superior National Forest bikepacking biking

Bikepacking in the Superior National Forest, one of Minnesota's most remote destinations / Tom Thulen

Get Off the Grid With a Bikepacking Trip in the Superior National Forest

Bikepacking the Superior National Forest is a decidedly off-the-beaten-path experience: It’s just you, the wilderness, and over 2,000 miles of backcountry logging trails and forest roads. This adventure isn’t for everyone, but for riders with the right attitudes (and tires), it’s the ultimate long weekend bike trip: a perfect mixture of unparalleled beauty and uninhibited exploration.

Not sure what “bikepacking” means? Think backpacking, just with your bike: overnight, self-supported bike touring out in the wilderness. Instead of the more traditional bike touring rack-and-pannier setup, bikepackers opt for frame bags, saddle bags and handlebar bags for the lighter weight and lower profile more suited to off-road trails.

Superior National Forest bikepacking

Superior National Forest bikepacking / Tom Thulen

Bikepacking the gravel and dirt backroads of the Superior National Forest is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the outdoors, but it’s not suitable for everyone. You’ll want to be fully self-sufficient before diving into this isolated, backcountry adventure: know how to fix your bike, carry enough food and water for the entire trip, wear a helmet and bring your camping supplies.

Choose from more established routes or just pick a direction and start pedaling. It almost doesn’t matter where you’re going: Out here, the journey is the destination.

Mountain biking Cuyuna

Ride the iconic, red dirt trails at Cuyuna / Pinkbike

Establish Your Basecamp for Adventure at Cuyuna

The unmistakable, craterous and red Cuyuna landscape was forged from 70 years of iron ore mining, but after the mines closed, Cuyuna sat dormant for over three decades – abandoned like so many other former industrial sites. But in the years since, nature has worked to reclaim the area’s Mars-like topography: Water has filled the pits, and trees have once again rooted on the rugged landscape.

In other words, perfect conditions for mountain biking.

Couple relaxes in front of True North Basecamp

Relaxing outside of the cabins at True North Basecamp / Micah Kvidt

Rehabilitated as the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in 2011, the post-industrial landscape was transformed into a world-class adventure destination with more than 50 miles of purpose-built mountain bike trails ranging from moderate to extremely difficult. Ride the rocky terrain, circle mine pit lakes, and wind through woods and over steep hills.

For the ultimate in bike-friendly accommodations, reserve a spot at True North Basecamp: your comfortable, trail-connected basecamp for adventure. Bring a tent and camp under the stars, or book one of their famous "north woods industrial" cabins. Each of the six 275-square-foot cabins has one full- and three twin-sized beds, Wi-Fi access, integrated USB charging ports, and temperature control for year-round comfort. Like the trails themselves, True North offers that perfect blend of old and new, wilderness and Wi-Fi.

Long weekends will never be the same. Start planning your next biking vacation today!

Brian Fanelli

Brian Fanelli is a writer and editor for Explore Minnesota. When he isn't writing about life in The North, you'll find him browsing the sci-fi shelves in a local bookstore, biking one of Minnesota's spectacular trails or walking his Chihuahua around Minneapolis.