Get Pumped for Bike Month: 5 Unforgettable Minnesota Bike Trips

By Brian Fanelli

Tour of Saints Ride 1200px

Every May, millions of people across the country celebrate National Bike Month by hopping on their bikes and going for a ride. Established in 1956 by the League of American Bicyclists, Bike Month has a simple premise: ride a bike more often during May, and encourage your friends to do the same.

The month's flagship events are National Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day, occurring respectively on the third week and third Friday of May. And in communities across Minnesota, bicycling advocacy groups are hosting encouragement events all month to get more people bike commuting.

But we all know that work isn’t everything. Often it's just the filler between bike rides.

So this Bike Month, once your legs have warmed up from biking to work, we think you deserve a rambling two-wheeled weekend (or week-long) adventure for good behavior! We hope you ride somewhere you’ve never been; that your family goes bike camping together; and that you climb some big hills and reward yourself with a post-ride beer afterwards.

To get you started, here are a few ideas for a Minnesota bike adventure this May.

Establish Your Basecamp for Adventure at Cuyuna​Cuyuna Mountain Biking Horizontal

The unmistakable, craterous and red Cuyuna landscape was forged from 70 years of iron ore mining, a long-time specialty here in northern Minnesota. But after the mines closed, Cuyuna sat dormant for over three decades – abandoned like so many other former industrial sites. 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.

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 25 miles of purpose-built mountain bike trails ranging from moderate to extremely difficult. Several loops of singletrack were carved into the rocky terrain, circling mine lakes, winding through woods and over steep hills. Elevated areas offer outstanding views of the landscape’s many mine lakes and natural lakes.

Cuyuna is also notable for its incredible bike-friendly lodging. Overlooking one of the park’s open pit lakes, True North Basecamp provides a 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 Basecamp offers that perfect blend of old and new, wilderness and Wi-Fi.

Take a Ride in Rochester

Rochester Nice Ride - Photo by Olive Juice Studios
Biking along the Zumbro river in Rochester / TJ Turner

Rochester is well known for the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, but bicycling in this scenic southern Minnesota city is anything but clinical. The city’s robust, 85-mile network of bike trails meanders along the winding banks of the Zumbro River, through Downtown, and past an assortment of unique, locally owned businesses. Along the way, you’ll discover a city full of world-class urban amenities without the complications, long lines and high costs of a bigger city.

While biking in Rochester, you might come across one of the city’s many trailside vistas of the downtown skyline, a quaint neighborhood coffee shop, or – if you ride long enough – perhaps you’ll stumble across the wild grasses, wetlands and oak savannas found at the most remote edges of the city.

Take a Lodge-to-Lodge Tour in the Iron Range

Mesabi Trail Fam Tour horizontal

The first thing you’ll notice about the Mesabi Trail is the mines. Built through the heart of the Minnesota Iron Range, this 120-mile trail is defined by its scenic views of excavated earth and the manmade mountains you’ll cycle across. Which brings us to the second thing you’ll notice: Some of these climbs are no joke. 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.

Riding the Mesabi Trail is a treat any day of the week, but for a truly unforgettable experience, let them design a lodge-to-lodge tour to suit your style. Whether that means planning a romantic B&B getaway, a family bike camping trip, a trip for two or a trip for 20, the Mesabi Trail Shuttle Service can make it happen. 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.

Begin Your Epic Mississippi River Trail Bike Tour

Mississippi Headwaters Bicyclist Itasca

Many great journeys begin humbly, and for people biking the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), the humble headwaters at Itasca State Park are no different: just a shallow stream, ankle-deep and barely moving at all. But as you cycle south along the Mississippi, the small river gradually becomes larger, picks up speed and grows into its awe-inspiring reputation. Although there are many places in Minnesota where you can ride the MRT, the river begins its long journey south at Itasca – and for people biking the river from end-to-end, it’s where your journey begins as well.

From the headwaters, you can choose between two routes: the “Explorer’s On-Road Route” east to Grand Rapids, or south along the Paul Bunyan Trail for the “Family Friendly State Trail Route.” The 200-mile “Explorer’s” route closely follows the river as it snakes through the ancient pine forests of the Mississippi north woods, consisting of predominantly asphalt roads and shoulders, with terrific views of the Mississippi River around every bend. On the flip side, the 100-mile “Family Friendly” route does not follow the river, instead focusing on connecting the many smaller river towns between Bemidji and Brainerd.

Whichever route you choose, road or trail, you’re sure to have an unforgettable time riding the MRT in northwest Minnesota.

Ride the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway in Minnesota's Largest City

Bicyclist on the Grand Rounds in downtown Minneapolis

It's no wonder Minneapolis is known as the Mill City.

Minneapolis has a lot of nicknames. Depending on who you ask it might be the Mini Apple, City of Lakes, Mill City or City by Nature. And although each nickname highlights a different feature of Minnesota’s largest city, they’re all quite fitting.

Compared to New York, Minneapolis can feel a bit like a Mini Apple – cosmopolitan, artsy and pumping with activity (though on a smaller scale). And with thirteen lakes, the nation’s #1 park system (St. Paul, the neighboring Twin City, came in #2) and countless flour mills within the city limits, it’s not hard to see how Minneapolis earned its City of Lakes, City by Nature and Mill City monikers.

Many identities, many histories; It’s a lot to absorb. But not to worry, because as per usual bicycles have the answer.

The Grand Rounds is a 55-mile urban bike loop within Minneapolis that showcases a chain of lakes, the Mississippi River, tree-lined neighborhoods and bustling downtown districts. If your legs are up to the challenge, riding the entire loop is more than just an incredible bike ride – it’s an intimate look at each one of the city's nicknames and identities. Along its route, the Grand Rounds showcases Minneapolis's many lakes, its incredible parks, its flour mills and cosmopolitan downtown core. The trail tells the tale.

If you’re visiting the Twin Cities, consider the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway a must-ride experience.