US Bike Routes in Minnesota: 1,000 Miles of Adventure

By Brian Fanelli

MRT Headwaters Bike
A bicyclist dips her back wheel into the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Minnesota features two official United States Bicycle Routes (USBR): USBR 41, the North Star Route (NSR), and USBR 45, the Mississippi River Trail (MRT). A combination of roads and paved trails, these routes connect some of our state’s most iconic parks, cities and natural wonders. Together they offer bike tourists in Minnesota more than 1,000 miles of easily navigated opportunities for cross-country travel, regional bicycle touring and commuting by bike. So whether you’re biking for an hour, participating in an organized ride or cycling the entire route, it’s easy to plan your next adventure.

USBR 45: Mississippi River Trail

Mississippi Great River Bluffs
The Mississippi River Bluffs in USBR 45's southern Minnesota section.

Like all great journeys, cycling the Mississippi River Trail begins quite humbly: At a shallow stream in Itasca State Park, the headwaters, 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. Along its winding path to the state’s southern border, the MRT contains more than 800 miles of roads and paved trails and passes through dozens of welcoming cities and towns. You’ll ride among Minnesota’s ancient pine woods, conquer soaring river bluffs, and find an abundance of natural and cultural highlights. But before all that, your epic MRT adventure will start humbly: One pedal stroke at a time.

USBR 41: North Star Route

Biking Fam Gitchi Gami Trail North Star
The North Shore portion of USBR 41 has many scenic overlooks of Lake Superior.

It takes less than three hours to drive from St. Paul to Duluth on the highway. That same trip could take anywhere from two to four days by bike–and that’s not a downside, it’s a plus. Traveling by bike is all about slowing down to explore the spaces between: The towns between highway ramps, the roadside attractions between towns. So slow down a bit and explore the North Star Route, Minnesota’s newest on-road designated bike route. Beginning at the state Capitol in St. Paul, you’ll head north for 315 miles until reaching the Minnesota/Canada border at Grand Portage State Park. In the space between those two far-flung destinations, the NSR passes through nine state parks and two national parks, the port of Duluth, and connects the Mississippi River, the world’s fourth longest, to Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Map Your Ride

USBR mapThe Minnesota State Bicycle Map, developed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, is a comprehensive resource of roads across the state that are suitable for biking. Roadways are color-coded to denote whether there is a paved shoulder and if traffic is light or heavy. The map also shows state and regional bike trails and outlines the Mississippi River Trail and North Star Routes, making it easier for bicyclists to plan long-distance trips. The newest edition of the map is available in both print and online.

Use the Pedal Minnesota interactive online bike map to find things to do, places to stay, grocery stores, bike shops and more along your route.