Five Unforgettable Bicycling Experiences in Northeast Minnesota

By Brian Fanelli

Inevitably, conversations about bicycling in Minnesota will often circle back to stories about adventures in the Iron Range, or a tour up the North Shore—and for good reason. From the raw beauty of Lake Superior, to the bustling port city of Duluth, to the monumental open pit iron mines and the expansive boreal forests that cover the area, bicycling in northeast Minnesota is an experience unlike any other. It is a rare hodge-podge of beauty and grit, mines and mountains.

Across the region, these five unforgettable bicycling experiences are waiting for you.

Ride the Duluth Traverse from End to EndFour mountain bikers approach a wood feature on the Duluth Traverse

Many years in the making, the one-of-a-kind Duluth Traverse is now a reality. A combination of newly built singletrack and long-established trail centers, the Duluth Traverse gives mountain bikers in Duluth the chance to shred 100+ miles of world-class trails without ever leaving the Traverse (or the Duluth city limits). Spanning the entire 26-mile length of Duluth, the Traverse weaves through forests, meadows and city neighborhoods to connect trail centers like Spirit Mountain, Lester Park and Mission Creek. It’s one of the most ambitious urban trail systems in the country, and riding it is an experience you can only have in Minnesota.

Beginners and experts alike will find ways to enjoy the Duluth Traverse. Beginner and intermediate riders will love the flowing singletrack trails at Lester Park in East Duluth, while experts can head to the rocky Piedmont Trails for a more technical challenge. For downhill enthusiasts, Spirit Mountain Bike Park offers year-round lift service to mountain bikers looking for an adrenaline rush. You’re sure to enjoy the amazing vistas of Lake Superior from the top, but keep your eyes on the trail as you rocket downhill, because the only thing you can’t do while riding the Duluth Traverse is look away.

Start planning your own adventure, or let The Duluth Experience plan one for you.

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

A bicyclist rides along an open pit mine on the Mesabi Trail

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.

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

A woman rides her loaded fat bike in the Superior National Forest

Other than the Lake Superior shore, the Superior National Forest might be northeast Minnesota’s most recognizable natural wonder. And unlike the more popular shoreline trails, 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. So for riders with the right attitude (and tires), bikepacking the Superior National Forest offers the ultimate mixture of unparalleled beauty and uninhibited adventure.

What is bikepacking? Think backpacking, but 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. 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.

Ride Your Bike 230 Miles from Hinckley to Grand Portage

The waterfall at Grand Portage, photo by Eve Schrank

Traveling by bike is all about slowing down to explore the places between: the towns between highway ramps, the roadside attractions and the land itself. So slow down a bit and tour the northeast section of U.S. Bicycle Route 41, the North Star Route, Minnesota’s newest on-road designated bike route. Heading north from Hinckley, you’ll watch the scenery change from shaded rural countryside into rugged rock-cuts and panoramic views of the St. Louis River as you arrive in Duluth, and then transform once again into the majestic cliffs and shoreline of the North Shore as you continue up the shore. You’ll pass multiple state parks, countless restaurants and cultural attractions, and might even catch a glimpse of the northern lights!

The full northeast section spans 230 miles one-way from Hinckley to Grand Portage, easily making it a four- to five-day trip one way. To optimize your time, we recommend taking the northbound Superior Hiking Shuttle to your furthest destination up the shore and riding south back to Duluth. Doing it this way can turn an otherwise two-week roundtrip into a four- or five-day weekend! Of course, if you’ve got a few extra days, you won’t have a hard time finding more things to do with your time.

Unplug with a Picture-Perfect Afternoon on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail

A woman smiles while riding the Gitchi Gami trail

For riders without enough time to explore the entire North Star Route, the 30-mile loop between Gooseberry Falls State Park and Beaver Bay is a stunningly beautiful ride and only takes a few hours. Located about 40 miles up the shore from Duluth, the longest uninterrupted section of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail, the Gooseberry section, spans 15 miles along the spectacular Lake Superior shoreline.

Start at Gooseberry Falls State Park on the southern end of the trail, where you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views of the park’s multiple waterfalls and expansive Lake Superior shoreline. The cool breeze gusts off the lake and pushes you forward into the dense coniferous forest lining the shore. Rolling hills stretch for as long as the eye can see, punctuated at the top of each climb with a panoramic view of the lake to reward your tired legs. After 14 hilly miles to Beaver Bay, relax and refuel for the ride back with the ultra-thin crust pizza at Cove Point Crossings Bar & Grill. And if you’ve still got the legs for it once you’re back at Gooseberry, take a hike on the park’s 20 miles of trails past the falls and through the lush evergreen and birch forests.