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.
Iron Range miners built the towns of Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Virginia, Ely 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 like biking and ATVing.
Biking the Mesabi Trail
When I want to stretch my legs and get outdoors on the Iron Range, I grab my bike and head to the Mesabi Trail. Running more than 130 miles across The Range, the 68-mile stretch from Grand Rapids to Virginia is my favorite ride.
The Mesabi is not a flat-and-straight trail by any means. It’s 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.
Heading north out of Grand Rapids, the trail weaves through birch, aspen and hardwood forests. Many of the once-deep mines are now filled with water, forming pit lakes bordered by red rock walls 100 feet high.
As the trail rolls and winds its way from Hibbing to Chisholm, you’ll see some of the trail’s best mining views as you cycle beside the Hull-Rust Mahoning Mine—the largest operating open-pit iron mine in Minnesota.
Hibbing is also the hometown of two American icons: Bob Dylan and the Greyhound Bus. For a throwback experience and opportunity to rest your legs, tour the Greyhound Bus Museum before heading back onto the trail.
It’s about 20 more miles to Virginia, the midsection of the Mesabi Trail. I like to end my rides here with an overnight stay at the Lakeshor Motor Inn, which scores a hattrick for my lodging priorities: inexpensive, near downtown and on a lake.
As a bonus, it’s also near the state’s tallest bridge and arguably the best vista on the entire trail. From the hotel, crossing this span is an uphill pedal, but the view of the Rouchleau Mine Pit is worth the elevated heart rate. And after taking in the view, you can coast back into town.
The IROHV features 36 miles of off-road trails plus open riding areas. I like to start on the Sidewinder Trail; like most here, it carves an iron-red path through dense woods. Warmed up and feeling daring, I turn onto Tailpipe Lane, a “most difficult” trail with suspension-testing rocks and off-camber corners. Perfect for skilled off-roaders.
Bring your camera to Hercules Hills, or for a spin down the aptly named Hug The Bank trail. I like watching experienced 4x4 pilots crawl over rocks in The Gorge.
The IROHV park is built and maintained with trails for every skill level, and a purpose-built wash station lets you rinse away the iron-red dirt from you ride. But as you’ll soon learn, that famous Iron Range red dirt will stay in your heart forever.
Explore More of The Range
From award-winning golf to incredible restaurants and tours of an underground mine, find more to do on the Iron Range and plan your trip today.
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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