Singletrack Alternatives to Continue Riding During Freeze/Thaw Periods

The unusually warm December weather we are experiencing has put us in a freeze/thaw cycle closing many of the singletrack trails around the state.  To keep the legs fresh and still get some miles in the saddle on a regular basis I have put together some places to ride until the snow comes offering us some groomed singletrack.


If it's one thing Minnesota has plenty of it's gravel.  With an ever growing list of gravel rides and races throughout the year, you're sure to have plenty of route options following one of these courses. If you're new to gravel, Gravelmap.com will help you find roads to ride.  I have also posted some of my favorite gravel rides on MN Bike Trail Navigator complete with maps, cue sheets, gpx file download links and Strava route links.  Gravel never closes and is a great way to get in some miles with varied terrain and climbing.

Aggregate Trails

Minnesota has several aggregate trails that are similar to riding gravel.  Most are built on former railway beds so there won't be much elevation change but they will allow you to get in some miles, none the less.  Some of these include the Luce Line State Trail, Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail, Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail.

State Trails

Several of Minnesota's State Trails have a natural surface treadway suitable for horseback riding or mtb/fatbike use.  If sharing the trail with horseback riders please use proper trail etiquette.  These trails include:

River Bottoms Bushwacking

River bottoms floodplains have some great riding opportunities.  Two of the areas I have done some "bushwacking" are the Vermillion River Bottoms and the Minnesota River Bottoms.  Bushwacking is riding through areas where there is no trail and river bottoms floodplains are a great place to do this.  Fall and early Winter are great times to ride these areas of flat wooded expanses.

The Mississippi National River & Recreation Area near Ravenna TWP southeast of Hastings along the Vermillion River is definitely worth exploring.  The Minnesota River Bottoms is also a good place to roll through floodplain forests and fields.  Respect the area you ride and remember to leave no trace.

Forest Service/Logging Roads
Image Credit: Joe Sacco

The Chippewa National Forest and Superior National Forest have plenty of Forest Service roads, logging roads and unpaved trails with some beautiful scenery to be explored.  Some of these areas are remote so make sure you have everything you need to get you out of a jam and back to where you started.

State Forests
Image Credit: Joe Sacco

Minnesota State Forests are also full of riding opportunities.  These opportunities include non-motorized trails, multi-use trails, State Forest roads, Minimum Maintenance Forest Roads and OHV/ATV trails.  Below are links to maps and more information on these State Forests.

Southern MN State Forests

Central MN State Forests

Northern MN State Forests
Pillsbury State Forest     Map       

The Minnesota DNR reminds you, when biking in State Forests:
  • Mountain biking is permitted on all state forest roads and trails unless posted closed with the exception of Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State forest, where mountain bikes are permitted only on designated trails.
  • State forest roads can range from asphalt to gravel, maintained to minimal maintenance road surfaces.
  • Forest roads are used by cars, logging trucks, and other forest users (hikers, hunters, horseback riders, ATVs, and off-highway motorcycles).
  • All laws for public road use must be followed on state forest roads.
  • Watch out for logging trucks and heavy equipment in a state forest.
  • Check the state forest maps and Web site for road and trail closures.
  • Share the trail with others.
  • Stay on designated trails.
  • Keep right so others can pass.
  • Keep all pets on leash.
  • Obey traffic signs and rules.
  • Pack out all garbage and litter.
  • Respect adjoining landowners’ rights and privacy.
  • Warn other trail users when passing by giving an audible signal.
  • Let horses know you are passing. Some may be spooked by quiet bikers or inline skaters.
  • Overnight camping and campfires are permitted only on designated campsites.
  • Do not leave campfires unattended.
  • Enjoy the beauty of wild plants and animals, but leave them undisturbed for all to enjoy.
For more information on mountain biking in Minnesota State Forests, see my post, Explore Minnesota's State Forests by Mountain Bike With Resources From the MN DNR.

To order a State Forest map, contact the Minnesota DNR Information Center.

Phone:  651-296-6157 or 888-646-6367
Email:   info.dnr@state.mn.us
Address:  500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4040

Paved Trails

Paved trails are always open and many of them in Minnesota have some great scenery.  For a list of trails throughout the state of Minnesota with links to more information and maps visit the appropriate MN Bike Trail Navigator trail links page for your area.

MN Fatbike Enthusiast Recommendations 

I received several recommendations from MN Fatbike Enthusiasts Facebook Group members when posed with this question "...places to ride for mountain bikers/fat bikers during this freeze/thaw period that we are in. With the trails closed, where are you guys riding to get miles in?

"7 mile creek park in Nicollet county...located off Hwy 169 between Mankato and St. Peter. Their multi-use trails have gravel and are always open." - Clay Haglund

"Road bike on the trackstand, and fat-bike at Wayside Prairie and Dalbo Memorial Forest County Parks. Both dry off quickly after rain do to heavy pine cover." - Hans Erdman

"The MRT trails in St. Paul along the river. I've been doing lots of 'urban exploring'. I've also ridden some gravel out towards Rosemount." - Tony Lema

"All early morning rides...... Forest road/woods/mining areas, frozen gravel. Paved trails..... anywhere but established sweat earned single track goodness.... that will come next week!!" - Joe Sacco

"Gateway Trail heading towards Pine Point park (don't ride in Pine Point). Lots of horse trail and singletrack there . All sand and good water wicking dirt and back." - Papito Gregorio

"Soo Line Recreation Trails in Central MN. (Approxiately 50 miles one way of trail). Lots of minimum maintenence roads that connect to these trails. Several county parks, forests, and some state trails. Check out Stearns County Recreational Trails for a list of fat bike friendly locations. I would suggest get a hold of your local bike shops, trail advocates, and bike clubs for a complete list of fat bike friendly routes. Then there is lots and lots of gravel roads winding through the country side. Several turn into minimum maintenance roads. Get up to Central MN and "get your fat on"." - Theresa Gregory

Hopefully this post will give you some ideas of where to ride so you can keep getting miles of riding enjoyment in until the singletrack trails open once we get some snow and below freezing temperatures.

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