Minnesota: the land of ten thousand miles of bike trails (probably). Sounds like a biking aficionado’s dream come true, right? Right. But what about for us normal people? Us, we-love-biking-but-don’t-have-kids-named-Trek, people?
We have some of the most beautiful bike routes around, but they can be pretty intimidating—not to mention, poorly mapped. Who has time to find and master a perfect bike route in the few spare hours life tosses us? People who get paid to write about bike routes, that’s who. Here are five bike routes sure to capture the hearts of all true Minnesotans.
A route for every state park lover
Distance: 23 miles
Time: 2.5 hours
Here’s what I mean when I say our local bike routes are tricky and poorly mapped out: this isn’t even the route I was going to write about it. The route I was going to write about doesn’t exist—and it took me two days of biking to figure that out. But I’m glad I stumbled into this route, because it’s a pretty great day ride.
I started out on the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) in Lowertown across from the Saints stadium, but the great thing here is that you can hop on the MRT at any point from St. Paul to Mendota Heights.
Stick on the MRT until you hit 35E. This part is tricky (and where I screwed up on my first try). The trail will hook a left and take you away from the road; you’ll have two options from there—either go straight or take a right and ride through a tunnel. Now, a poorly placed sign indicates that the MRT goes through the tunnel, but it doesn’t. You need to stay straight.
You’ll ride across the pedestrian path on the 35E bridge over the Mississippi and into Mendota Heights, where a bike roundabout will bring you up to MN-13. Stay on the same side of MN-13, crossing the intersection to your right. When you hit Lilydale (if you’ve gone more than fifty feet, you’ve gone too far), take a right to swing back down the bluff and to the Mississippi. You’ll see signs for the MRT at the bottom. This part of the ride is pretty stunning.
You’ll be on the MRT for about two and a half miles before coming to the area where the MRT splits off from the Big Rivers Regional Trail. You’ll take a right and make a sharp horseshoe following the trail, which will lead you to the pedestrian bridge of Highway 55. Cross the Mendota Bridge* and you’ll be at Fort Snelling and the part of the ride I have endearingly named both the Hill of Utter Terror (on the way down) and the Hill of Complete Failure (on the way up).
You’ll take a left and continue on the MRT all the way into Fort Snelling State Park, which has picnic and grilling areas, hiking trails, a swimming beach, and canoe and kayak rentals. Seriously, throw on a swimsuit, pack a lunch and a towel, and hit this ride for an all-day adventure in the beautiful park. If you want to extend the adventure, bypass the Hill of Complete Failure on your way back, staying straight, and check out Minnehaha Falls for more glorious outdoor time. Otherwise, when you’re ready to hit it, pack up and head back the exact way you came.
*Correction: This trail crosses the Highway 55 bridge over the Mississippi River, not 494