A couple goes mountain biking in Cuyuna during the fall

5 Bike Trips For a Long Weekend in Minnesota

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Mountain biking in Cuyuna during the fall / Roy Son

5 Bike Trips For a Long Weekend in Minnesota

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. Here's a list to help make planning your next bike-led escape a little easier.

  1. Mesabi Trail
    Mesabi Bike Trail fall landscape

    Mesabi Bike Trail fall landscape

    Mesabi Trail

    Built through the heart of the Iron Range, the 120-mile Mesabi 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.

    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.

    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.

  2. Mississippi River Trail
    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

    Mississippi River Trail

    There's nothing quite like stepping off a train and pedaling toward your next adventure. Bringing your bike on the Empire Builder Amtrak 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.

    The Empire Builder has stations in four Mississippi River Trail towns in Minnesota, but only the St. Paul and Winona stops offer bike service to passengers. We recommend boarding in St. Paul 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 departs from Union Depot every day. Two hours later, you'll arrive in Winona in time for a late breakfast at one of the many cafes and restaurants in town — 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.

  3. Sakatah Singing Hills Trail
    Sakatah Bike Trail

    Sakatah Bike Trail

    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 left to explore 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 toasting marshmallows.

    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 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, and tour the "Yellowstone"-approved Faribault Mill. 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, itl 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.

  4. Superior National Forest
    Superior National Forest bikepacking

    Superior National Forest bikepacking / Tom Thulen

    Superior National Forest

    Bikepacking the Superior National Forest is a decidedly off-the-beaten-path experience — just you, the wilderness, and more than 2,000 miles of backcountry logging trails and forest roads. For riders with the right level of experience (and tires), it’s the ultimate long weekend: a perfect mixture of unparalleled beauty and uninhibited exploration.

    Not sure what “bikepacking” means? Think backpacking, just with your bike. And instead of a more traditional rack-and-pannier setup, bikepackers opt for frame bags, saddle bags and handlebar bags for the lighter weight and lower profile needed on off-road trails.

    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 need to know how to fix your bike, carry enough food and water for the entire trip, wear a helmet, and bring your camping supplies.

    Select a 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.

  5. Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area
    Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area fall edit

    Two bicyclists soak up Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area / Micah Kvidt

    Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area

    Cuyuna's red, cratered landscape was forged from 70 years of iron ore mining, but it sat dormant for more than three decades after the mines closed. In the years since, nature has reclaimed the area’s Mars-like topography; water has filled the pits, and trees have once again taken root.

    Perfect conditions for mountain biking, in other words. 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. 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. 

Brian Fanelli

Brian Fanelli is a Minneapolis-based writer. You can reliably find him browsing the sci-fi shelves in a local bookstore or biking one of Minnesota's spectacular trails.