Southern Minnesota is an outdoor paradise. From its majestic lakes and rivers to its rugged, rolling hills, there is something for everyone to explore. And it’s no surprise that the best way to explore this beautiful landscape is by bike. Whether you’re a mountain biker, an in-line skater, or just a casual rider, Southern Minnesota has an incredible selection of trails to suit your skill level. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the best bike paths and trails in Southern Minnesota, from state parks to the Twin Cities and beyond. So grab your helmet and let’s hit the trails
Introduction to Southern Minnesota’s Bike Trails
Southern Minnesota is home to some of the best bike trails in the country. From the winding paths of Itasca State Park to the flat, open roads of the Mississippi River Trail, there’s something for everyone. But the best part about biking in Southern Minnesota is that you don’t have to just stick to the trails. There are plenty of roads and paths that you can take off the beaten path and explore the landscape in a unique way. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful ride or an adrenaline-filled adventure, Southern Minnesota has the perfect trail for you.
Southern Minnesota’s Bike Trails by Types
When it comes to Southern Minnesota’s bike trails, you will find something for every kind of trail lover. If you are the type who likes to speed along on a road bike, you’ll enjoy the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Mankato, which is a 10-foot-wide concrete path that has almost no turns.
And if you are looking for a little more excitement, check out three of Southern Minnesota’s most popular mountain biking trails: the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area in Jackson County, near Red Wing; the Stumphouse Mountain Bike Park in Blue Earth County near Miesville; and Faribault’s Maple Island Preserve.
If you are looking for a family-friendly biking trail, check out the Gateway State Trail in St. Paul or the Elmer H. Nehr State Park and Gull Lake, where you can enjoy a picnic at one of their many scenic overlooks. Or try one of Southern Minnesota’s state parks with paved hiking/biking trails—these include Giant City State Park and Matthiessen State Park in East Central Illinois and Tega Cay State Park near Mankato.
Best Bike Trails for Mountain Bikers
Mountain bikers love trails that require more maneuvering and climbing, and state parks are a great resource for these. For example, the Mesabi Trail in Aitkin State Forest traverses the area’s scenic ridges, hilly terrain, and boreal forest. The trail is easily accessible from the park entrance on Highway 27 and features 3.2 miles of single-track with a huge variety of terrain. MnDOT has designated several state highways as bike routes, including sections of Highways 61, 55, and 210 in southern Minnesota.
These include paved shoulder lanes for cycling and are great for family rides since they pass through many small towns and cities. The Gateway State Trail is also a MnDOT bike route that stretches from St. Paul to Cottage Grove along an abandoned railroad corridor. For a more urban biking experience, check out the Minneapolis Grand Rounds Scenic Byway that encircles Minneapolis along its parks and waterways. You can access it at several locations, including Theodore Wirth Park where the North Side Connector Trail runs through the scenic parklands.
Best Bike Trails for Road Bikers
When it comes to pure road biking, the Cedar Lake Regional Trail—which was named “Best Bike Trail” in 2017 by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal—is a real winner. About 12 miles long, the Cedar Lake Regional Trail follows an abandoned railroad corridor from St. Paul to New Brighton, just south of Mounds View. This paved trail is flat and straight and features beautiful views of the Mississippi River’s backwaters.
There are several access points along the way, including at Cedar Lake itself, where you can stop for a swim or a picnic before heading back out onto the bike trail. There are also plenty of places to pull over and check out the scenery if you want to take photos or just pedal along and enjoy the ride. As with all trails, wear bright colors and use lights at night so that drivers can see you. If you don’t have a bike of your own, you can rent one at one of several bike shops that line the trail as well as at some local bike clubs; check with them for their schedules and locations for riding on the trail.
Best Bike Trails for Families
The Blue Hills Trail in Duluth can accommodate all types of bikers and is a great place to go with family and friends, as it’s short enough to do in one outing. The trail system is made up of three sections: the paved Lakewalk, which follows the shoreline; the Blue Hills Trail, which heads away from Lake Superior; and the North Shore Recreation Trail, which is a crushed limestone trail that runs along the river
. Each section offers a different type of experience, so you can pick and choose depending on the type of riding you want. Although the whole trail system is only about 3 miles long, it can be combined with other activities in Duluth to make for a fun day out. After biking, head to Canal Park for a hike or walk along the waterfront boardwalk and then stop for a bite at one of many restaurants along Superior Street. Or you might want to visit some of Duluth’s neighborhood parks, where you can take your bikes off the trail and let kids play.
The trails in Minnesota State Parks are open to anyone who wants to explore them, but they are especially great for families because they are free (park entry fees apply if you need to park your car). And while these trails aren’t as well known as others around the state, they offer an authentic outdoor experience right in your own backyard. Many have picnic areas and beaches along lakes that are perfect spots for a break or lunch.
Best Bike Trails for Nature Lovers
The Root River Trail in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and New Richland, Minnesota, is part of the larger Great River Road State Trail system. The 26-mile paved trail starts in New Richland and ends in La Crosse. It passes through a few small towns and runs along the Root River, which is known for its recreational fishing spots. The Mississippi River Trail officially begins in Onamia, Minnesota, but don’t let that discourage you if you are looking for a trail closer to home.
The Minnesota portion of the trail is only about 20 miles long, but it follows the Mississippi River almost the entire way and passes through interesting places such as the city of Red Wing, Red Wing Shores Park, and Winona’s Riverside Park. The Gateway State Trail consists of two separate trails: one that runs from Hastings to Northfield (a distance of 17 miles) and another from Northfield to Saint Paul (16 miles). The trail runs through farmland as well as urban areas. You can access it from several different towns along its route.
Best Bike Trails for Cyclists of All Levels
When it comes to trails for bikers of all levels, the crushed limestone trails found in state parks are a great option. The Rose Lake Trail in Itasca State Park is flat and 14 miles long, and the trail around Lake Hubert in the same park is just 2.5 miles long. Both trails offer plenty of scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities, plus picnic spots if you want to take a break.
In addition to these state parks, several regional parks also have great biking trails that cater to all skill levels. The 10-mile Cedar Creek Regional Trail runs alongside Cedar Creek in Plymouth, and features two ancient Indian mounds that are now preserved as archaeological sites. And the 11-mile Gateway State Trail offers an easy ride in a scenic setting—you can access this trail at either its southern or northern terminus, both of which are in St. Paul.
The Great River State Trail runs along the Mississippi River from Red Wing to Winona; although it’s only 13 miles long, it does include one steep hill that might slow down casual riders. And even though it’s not a dedicated bike trail, road bikers can explore the Gateway Park Distillery District along Washington Avenue in St. Paul—this area is geared toward pedestrian traffic but bikers can enjoy it too as long as they are careful and follow the rules of the road while riding here.
Southern Minnesota’s Favorite Bike Trails
Southern Minnesota’s bike trails provide a great way to enjoy the outdoors and discover more about the region. Here are some of the top choices for Southern Minnesota biking. Bicentennial State Park (Glenwood) offers a 5-mile paved trail that is open to hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. The trail runs along the Minnesota River and passes by sandbars, beaches, and a variety of wildlife. Bird watchers will especially love this trail, as it attracts many different species throughout the year.
Lake Pepin is one of the most scenic waterways in the Midwest, and there are several great ways to see it from a bike: The Lake Pepin Trail connects several communities along Lake Pepin. The most popular section is along the old Soo Line railroad grade, which follows the bluffs above Lake Pepin from Red Wing to Genoa along Highway 61. And the Lake Pepin Water Trail is still in development, but it will eventually be a circumnavigational water trail around Lake Pepin for both motorized and non-motorized boaters.
For a beautiful ride that combines natural beauty with some quirky history, try the Rock Island State Park Prairie Spirit Trail at Sardis in southern Minnesota (Lindstrom). This 15-mile crushed limestone trail along an abandoned rail corridor passes through beautiful rural countryside yet offers easy access from Minneapolis via I-94. Along the way you’ll pass by remnants of an historic trestle bridge and tunnel as well as other evidence of the Rock Island Railroad’s presence here.
Let’s explore Southern Minnesota’s top 10 bike trails:
State Parks – Itasca State Park and Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail
If you’re looking for a peaceful ride, then look no further than Itasca State Park. This park is home to some of the most stunning views in Southern Minnesota. The trails here are winding, and you’ll often find yourself surrounded by lush forests, babbling brooks, and towering pines. The park also features a number of interesting attractions, such as the headwaters of the Mississippi River, the Northern Lights Tower, and the Historic Douglas Lodge.
For a more adventurous ride, check out the Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail. This trail is a winding path that runs through the towns of Harmony and Preston in Southern Minnesota. The trail is mostly flat and easy to ride, but it does have some more challenging sections with steep hills and tight turns. Along the way, you’ll also find some lovely views of the surrounding countryside.
Twin Cities Trails – Midtown Greenway and Theodore Wirth Park
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are home to some of the best bike trails in the country. The Midtown Greenway is a 5.5 mile long path that connects the two cities and is a popular destination for cyclists. The trail is mostly flat and easy to ride, but it does have some more challenging sections with tight turns and steep hills. Along the way, you’ll find some of the best views of the city skyline and the Mississippi River.
For a more challenging ride, check out the Theodore Wirth Park Trail. This 6-mile loop winds its way through the park, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by lush forests, babbling brooks, and towering pines. The trail is mostly flat and easy to ride, but there are some challenging sections with steep hills and tight turns.
Small Towns – Root River Trail and Mississippi River Trail
Southern Minnesota is home to a number of small towns that are perfect for exploring by bike. One of the best trails in the area is the Root River Trail. This trail runs through the towns of Rushford, Lanesboro, and Peterson and is a popular destination for cyclists. The trail is mostly flat and easy to ride, but there are some more challenging sections with steep hills and tight turns. Along the way, you’ll find some stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
For a longer ride, check out the Mississippi River Trail. This trail runs from St. Paul to the Gulf of Mexico and is the longest bike trail in the state. The trail is mostly flat and easy to ride, but there are some more challenging sections with steep hills and tight turns. Along the way, you’ll find some amazing views of the river and the surrounding landscape.
Regional Trails – Soo Line Trail and Lake Wobegon Trail
If you’re looking to explore more of Southern Minnesota, then check out the Soo Line Trail and Lake Wobegon Trail. The Soo Line Trail is a scenic path that runs through the Hennepin County area, and you’ll find some beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. The trail is mostly flat and easy to ride, but there are some more challenging sections with steep hills and tight turns.
The Lake Wobegon Trail is a winding path that runs through the Stearns County area. The trail is mostly flat and easy to ride, but there are some more challenging sections with steep hills and tight turns. Along the way, you’ll find some stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Southeast Minnesota – Chain of Lakes and Gulf of Mexico
For a more adventurous ride, check out the Chain of Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. This area is home to some of the most stunning views in Southern Minnesota. The trails here are mostly flat and easy to ride, but there are some more challenging sections with steep hills and tight turns. Along the way, you’ll find some of the best views of the surrounding countryside.
Best Places for Skill Levels – Mountain Bikers, In-Line Skaters and Multi-Use Trails
No matter your skill level, there’s a trail for you in Southern Minnesota. For mountain bikers, there are plenty of challenging trails with steep hills and tight turns. For in-line skaters, there are plenty of flat, open roads to explore. And for those looking for a multi-use trail, there are plenty of trails that are great for biking, hiking, and even horseback riding.
Pro Tip: Where to Find the Best Ice Cream Along the Way
No bike ride is complete without a stop for some delicious ice cream. And Southern Minnesota is home to some of the best ice cream shops in the country. Some of our favorite spots include the Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul, the Big Dipper in Minneapolis, and the Old School Ice Cream Parlor in Rochester.
Southern Minnesota is an amazing place to explore by bike. From its state parks to its small towns and Twin Cities, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a mountain biker, an in-line skater, or just a casual rider, Southern Minnesota has an incredible selection of trails to suit your skill level. So grab your helmet and hit the trails! With miles of trails, a great place to explore, and an incredible trail system, Southern Minnesota is the perfect place to explore by bike.