Once covered with mountains and a shallow sea, the stretch of Northeast Minnesota known as the Iron Range evolved to serve up mining riches around the year 1890. Miners built the towns of Biwabik, Chisholm, Eveleth, Hibbing, Mountain Iron, Virginia and more, while the region’s deep iron ore deposits fed American industry’s hunger for steel and earned business attention from icons named Rockefeller and Carnegie. While mining interests remain, the red earth of the Iron Range keeps evolving — most recently into a playground for outdoor adventures.
What to See
In addition to posing for selfies with the world’s largest free-standing hockey stick and puck, fans who visit the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum in Eveleth will see the triumphs of the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and other national hockey stars — many of whom grew up playing on the Iron Range.
At the Greyhound Museum in Hibbing, hop aboard vintage buses from the company credited with launching America’s bus industry. It began humbly in the early 1900s as a Hupmobile touring car that transported residents between mining towns before becoming an essential part of the nation’s transportation by World War II.
Hibbing is the birthplace of Bob Dylan and visitors can see his childhood home, Dylan Drive, an exhibit on his autobiography at the Hibbing Public Library, and see other places around town that were significant to the icon.
For an overview of the Iron Range and the immigrants who kept the industry humming, hop aboard a trolley to a former pit mine, tour outdoor exhibits that include an early homestead and Norwegian stabbur, and study exhibits on the region’s geological resources at the Minnesota Discovery Center.
With 36 miles of roads, visitors rev up their truck, ATV and Jeep engines at the Iron Range Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area in Gilbert, a high-octane outdoor playground where riders rumble across rocky terrain, splash through mud holes and grind up the hill climb. Camp and cool off along the shores of Lake Ore-be-gone, an open pit now filled with natural spring water. Summer ATV and winter snowmobiling trails can be found throughout the region.
Cyclists shouldn’t miss the 130-mile, paved Mesabi Trail that spools from Grand Rapids to Ely, passing open-pit mines, forests, lakes and historic sites.
Redhead Mountain Bike Park at the Minnesota Discovery Center has 25 miles of trails and has become a world-class mountain bike park for all skill-levels. Once an iron mine, the peaks and valleys carved into the earth by miners have created naturally dynamic landscapes and the ore pits have been flooded to create beautiful clear lakes.
At Giants Ridge in Biwabik — named for an Ojibwe legend about a sleeping giant — hills up to 500 feet high are open for mountain biking or skiing, snowboarding and fat biking in the winter. Find 35 runs for skiing and snowboarding, plus 60 km of trails for Nordic skiers. If hitting the slopes isn’t your thing, try snow tubing for some thrilling family-friendly fun.
When the snow melts, golfers hit the links at two of Minnesota’s top-ranked golf courses, The Legend and The Quarry, which stretch across a former sand and gravel mining operation and the Superior National Forest. According to our in-depth Adventure Golfers itinerary, the latter is "a demanding target layout that punishes errant shots. Better players will appreciate the risk-reward options on the Quarry’s terrific par 5s, and everyone will enjoy the lovely vistas from the elevated tees."
What to Eat & Drink
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, seek out local eateries such as Hibbing’s Sunrise Deli, Virginia’s Italian Bakery and Chisholm’s Valentini’s Supper Club for European and Nordic Iron Range specialties, including potica (“poh-TEE-sah”), a roll of fine pastry layered with walnuts; Italian pastas and porketta sandwiches; sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls); and pasties, the iconic meat pies miners took for lunch. An Iron Range icon, the Sawmill Saloon has been in business for more than 30 years.
Find burgers, subs, broasted chicken, ice cream treats, frosty root beer and more at the classic drive-in, The Stand in Chisholm. Car hops deliver your food to your car or dine outside at one of their many picnic tables.
Grab a beer at BoomTown in Hibbing or Eveleth where the beer is brewed in locally sourced steel tanks. Sip varieties like the Peanut Butter Porter, Orehouse IPA or the Hat Trick Honey Amber. In downtown Chisholm, the Black Bear Bakery offers coffee drinks, pastries, sandwiches and more.
For dessert, Canelake’s Candy has sweetened downtown Virginia for more than 100 years. Enjoy an old-fashioned soda fountain, handmade chocolate treats and fudge, hard candies, caramel apples and more.
Where to Stay
On the Iron Range you can find popular hotels like the Hampton Inn in Hibbing, the AmericInn or the Comfort Inn & Suites in Mountain Iron. Find charming vacation rental homes at Giants Ridge, including the Green Gate Guest Houses or find cozy up north vibes at the Lodge at Giants Ridge and camping is available at dozens of sites, including the Sherwood Forest Campground near the Iron Range Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area and Mesabi Trail.
Celebrate Minnesota’s Finnish culture at Laskiainen, a sliding festival in Palo in February. Celebrate the state’s longest paved cycling trail during the Mesabi Trail Tour in August with routes ranging from 16 miles to 60 miles.
Find family fun at Honktoberfest, an Oktoberfest-style event in Biwabik that celebrates the city mascot, Honk the Moose and find dachshund races, chainsaw carving, chairlift rides at Giant’s Ridge, a beer garden, log-rolling and more in September.
Get a taste of the Iron Range at the Pasty Fest, a celebration of miners’ favorite meal in October. A pasty is a handheld meat and root vegetable pie wrapped in a flaky crust. This food festival also features rutabaga bowling and potato-face carving.
Taste your way around the annual Food Truck Festival in downtown Virginia. Stop at local food trucks that offer everything from crepes, street tacos and tater creations to cheese curd-stuffed dates.
Glenn Hansen explores the bike paths and trails near his Stillwater home, and eagerly swaps out the two-wheeler for cross-country skis when the snow piles up. A writer and photographer, Glenn's published words and photos cover a range of topics from motorcycling to gardening to martial arts.
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