5 Best Mountain Bike Rides in Minnesota

minnesota mtb

The state of Minnesota, situated in America’s northern Midwest, is home to an abundance of fabulous mountain biking trails, each with its own set of obstacles, challenges and natural beauty.  From its western prairies to its deciduous forests to its sparsely populated North Woods, this “Land of 10,000 Lakes” offers a wide range of terrains and unique mountain biking challenges, all set against a breathtaking backdrop of natural northern beauty.

In the following article we will profile five of the most popular mountain biking trails in the state of Minnesota, including trails for every level of rider, ranging from beginner to advanced.

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Cuyuna Lakes Trail System

Located in the town of Ironton, Minnesota, the renowned Cuyuna Lakes mountain biking trail system features roughly 25 miles of network courses that range in rating from beginner to expert.  The trail system, which offers heart pumping climbs, fast descents and incredibly tight turns, first opened in 2011 and was built exclusively for the sport of mountain biking.

Cuyuna Lakes has over 30 purpose-built trails that are nicely enhanced by the deep red soil, turquoise mine lakes and the white bark of the aspen and birch trees that line almost every mile of the course.  After tackling the many trails that comprise the Cuyuna Lakes system, riders can sit back and enjoy the natural flora and fauna in a region where bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and beavers are regularly seen.

During the warmer months, camping is available in the park’s Portsmouth Campground, located on the northwest shore of Portsmouth Mine Lake. The campground offers much-needed shade, fire pits, barbecues and plenty of open green grass for games.  All campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Piedmont Trail

Are you an advanced to expert rider looking to test your skill and nerve on one of Minnesota’s most infamous mountain biking courses?  If so, you simply must pack your bike and head out to the Piedmont Mountain Biking Trail.

The 10-mile trail at the Piedmont Mountain Bike Park is an advanced course that includes a number of bridges and obstacles designed to test even the most experienced riders.  The course, which is located in the city of Duluth, Minnesota, is built on a type of terrain that is ideal for perfecting skilled mountain bike tricks, while significant elevation changes and massive rocky vistas make for some magnificent sightseeing and photo opportunities.

The Piedmont Trail is bursting with technical challenges and obstacles, including log jumps, rocky berms and sudden drop-offs that will leave riders weak in the knees.  The course, which is typically ridden as a loop, is highlighted by several tough uphill climbs, the apex of which offers a bit of repose among the aspen and birch trees that dominate the rolling landscape, as well as incredible views of the St. Louis River and the entire skyline of Duluth.

The Piedmont Trail is maintained by the International Mountain Bike Association and the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS).

Jay Cooke State Park

Situated in the northern Minnesota town of Carlton, Jay Cooke State Park offers nearly 19 miles of multi-use and well-maintained trails that wind through some of the most beautiful hardwood and evergreen forests on the planet.  The many courses at the park were intelligently designed with beginners and families in mind—courses that feature relatively flat and flowing terrain with only a few easily-navigable obstacles.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the Jay Cooke trail system is the gorgeous scenery that flanks the trails on both sides, giving riders a close-up view of all the beautiful landscapes and wildlife the state of Minnesota has to offer.

This particular region of Minnesota is home to beautiful red clay soils and the trails run extremely close to the coffee-colored St. Louis River.  As a result, riders can usually expect a fair share of water and puddles on the course, particularly during the spring when the snowpack is gradually melting away. 

Lebanon Hills

The intermediate trail system at Lebanon Hills is now being recognized as one of the best trails in the Minnesota metropolitan area.  Located in the town of Eagan, this 11-mile loop of a trail offers the perfect combination of pedal-pounding exercise and quick downhill thrills.  Featuring both double and single track, the trail includes a pair of semi-grueling uphill climbs, rapid descents and a fantastic collection of technical obstacles—impediments that include log jumps, tight twisty turns and hair raising switchbacks.  The course features a variety of different terrains to challenge riders, including the paved warm-up section that departs from the parking structure, the gravel double track and the slick red clay single track that often has riders fumbling for the brakes.

The Lebanon Hills trail system, which doubles as a cross-country ski course during the winter months, is the perfect route for those looking to improve their mountain biking skills without some of the risks that are normally associated with the more advanced and/or expert-rated courses.

Memorial Park

Located in the small town of Red Wing, Minnesota, Memorial Park is a paradise for off-road cyclists, one that offers a variety of different courses depending on the skill level and experience of each rider.  While some sections of the course are defined by mostly flat, flowing terrain amid the gorgeous Minnesota scenery, other sections, which were built and are maintained by the local mountain biking clubs, afford cyclists the unique opportunity to thoroughly test their bike-handling skills as they attempt to negotiate a series of hills, berms, and stomach-churning drops.  The Memorial Park trail system spans 10 miles in total distance and can be ridden one-way or as part of an exciting loop, the latter of which gives riders the chance to test their entire bag of mountain biking tricks.

Memorial Park is also a great place for taking in the local scenery—a place that affords breathtaking views of the Red Wing Community, the Mississippi River and bluffs overlooking both Minnesota and Wisconsin.  This is a great place for families, as the park offers picnic tables, charcoal grills and a 9-hole Frisbee golf course, in addition to its miles and miles of open trails.

image credit: TateRobinson

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