Planning that Minnesota Summer Biking Vacation: The Iron Range


The Iron Range region of northeastern Minnesota should be on your list of biking destinations this Summer.  It boasts one of the state's premier trails, the Mesabi Trail, that has been named the Best Rural Bike Trail in StarTribune's 2013 Best of Minnesota.  If mountain biking is more your style, there are miles of trails that include dirt singletrack, old logging roads, abandoned railroad grades, cross country ski trails and natural surface snowmobile trails.  There is something here for everyone from the beginner to advanced mountain biker, the long distance road cyclist and those looking for a fun, family bike outing.  Head to the Iron Range this Summer or catch the changing colors this Fall and experience all of the biking opportunities this area has to offer.   

The Iron Range Tourism Bureau has made it easy to plan your trip with a wealth of information on its Ironrange.org website.  Plan your trip two ways, order free travel guides or online with My Trip by creating a My Trip account.  The site will help you explore area towns, places to stay and things to do including a section on where to bike.  

Trail Highlights

The Mesabi Trail

The Mesabi Trail stretches 115 paved miles from Grand Rapids to just past Giants Ridge in Biwabik.  When completed it will span 132 miles from Grand Rapids to Ely connecting 28 communities along the way making it one of the longest paved trails in the US. 

Image Credit:  Iron Range Tourism Bureau

The 10' wide paved surface was partially built on old railroad beds, logging and mining roads that will take you on a scenic tour of the Iron Range.  A Wheel Pass is required for riders over 18 and can be purchased at businesses along the trail, at self-pay boxes at entry point kiosks (Grand Rapids, Bovey, Calumet, Keewatin, Hibbing, Chisholm, Buhl, Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth, Giants Ridge near Biwabik) and online.  A Wheel Pass is a great deal at $5 for a 3-day pass or $15 for a season pass and revenue raised supports the Mesabi Trail.

Image Credit:  Iron Range Tourism Bureau

Shuttle service is available May 1st through October 15th from Grand Rapids to Aurora (and all point in between) and can accommodate up to 12 bikes and passengers per trip.  The Mesabi Trail Shuttle Service also has a Lodge to Lodge program that can help you plan lodging, luggage shuttle, box lunches and recommend sites to see and places to eat along the trail, returning you and your bike to your vehicle when your are done.

Iron Range Tourism Bureau
Paper maps can be ordered online or download a PDF copy.  The Mesabi Trail website also has an interactive map that has locations of trail amenities such as lodging, dining, attractions, shopping and bicycle services.  It will also show you where to find wheel pass vendors and trail entry points.  To see more photos of the Mesabi Trail visit the Photo Gallery page of the Mesabi Trail website. 

Giants Ridge

Giants Ridge in Biwabik has over 24 miles of beginner to advanced singletrack, cross country ski trails, snowmobile trails and abandoned logging roads to ride May through October.  Mountain biking here is a great deal, only $5 for the day or $50 for the season.  Mountain bike rentals are also available at the Summer Rental Shop.  Trail Map 

John Filander talks about mountain biking at Giants Ridge

McCarthy Beach State Park

Image Credit:  Minnesotaseasons.com

McCarthy Beach State park is located near Hibbing, MN and contains 17 miles of park trails and low maintenance roads ideal for mountain biking.  These trails meander their way through the heavily wooded hills and around the lakes of the state park.  The Taconite State Trail that passes through the boundary of the park can also be explored.  McCarthy Beach State Park map     Taconite State Trail map

Superior National Forest

Image Credit:  Evergreenmagazine.com

Superior National Forest is prime for the mountain biking enthusiast.  It's trails may not be as technical as designed trails, but they have a lot to offer the off-road adventurer.  There are miles of trails to ride that include old logging roads, forest roads, county roads, old railroad grades, grassy cross country ski trails and natural surface trails.  You will definitely want to bring your GPS unit along to keep from getting lost.  See my post Great Mountain Biking Awaits You In Superior National Forest for more information.

Big Aspen Recreation Area

The Big Aspen Recreation Area in Superior National Forest, located 11 miles north of Virginia, is a multi-use trail system that allows mountain bikers, ATV's, hikers and horses.  These looping trails travel through pine and hardwood forests on old logging roads and abandoned railroad grades providing trail uses with several scenic vistas.  Trail Map

Taconite State Trail

Image Credit:  Johnny Eloranta

The Taconite State Trail is a 165 mile trail that starts in Grand Rapids and goes all the way to Ely through aspen, birch and pine forests, State Forests and three State Parks (Bear Head Lake, Soudan Underground Mine and McCarthy Beach).  The trail is paved for first 6 miles leading out of Grand Rapids after which it becomes natural treadway.  Some areas along the trail may have standing water in summer, but others are suitable for mountain biking and hiking.  Trail Map

Arrowhead State Trail

Image Credit:  Sevenminutemiles.com

The Arrowhead State Trail is a 135 mile trail that intersects the Taconite State Trail near Tower and stretches northward just short of International Falls.  This natural surface trail is mostly used in winter by snowmobilers but about 69 miles of the trail are suitable for mountain biking and hiking in summer months.  Most of the trail travels through the heavily wooded Kabetogama State Forest and may contain wet areas in summer.  Trail Map


The Tour de Togo is a three day fundraiser tour for the Flaming Pine Youth Camp that takes place July 12, 13 & 14.  The routes take riders along quiet scenic country roads and portions of the Mesabi Trail.

The MS TRAM is a fundraiser tour for the National MS Society July 14th through the 19th that follows a route from the Canadian border, through the Iron Range and down Lake Superior's North Shore. 

The Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour takes place August 3rd in support of recreational trails and AMPERS-"Diverse Radio for Minnesota Communities".  There are four routes to choose from this year including a metric century (62 miles), and three shorter ones of 48, 26 and 13 miles all leading to Alcott Park in Virginia.  Transportation for riders and their bikes from the finish to the chosen starting point before the ride will be provided.  At the end of the day there will be a picnic and concert.


Iron Range Tourism Bureau
Twitter:  @IronRangeMN
Facebook:  Iron Range Tourism Bureau

The Mesabi Trail
Facebook:  Mesabi Trail

Great River Energy-Mesabi Trail Tour
Twitter:  @MesabiTrailTour
Facebook:  Great River Energy - Mesabi Trail Tour


The Filthy 50 Gravel Race Makes its Debut This October

The inaugural running of The Filthy 50 will take place on Sunday, October 13 starting and finishing in Stewartville, MN.  This completely free and unsupported race is one of the last Minnesota gravel grinders of the season.  Are you ready to take on 50 miles of some of the best gravel roads the Olmstead and Filmore county area of southeastern Minnesota has to offer, with some pretty spectacular scenery to boot?  Well then, get yourself signed up online before September 30th or the 250 rider cap is reached, which ever comes first.  Don't delay, according to race organizer Trenton Raygor "We haven't hit rider capacity yet, however, through the incredible support of our gravel grinding community, we hit triple digits after only having our website online for 24 hours!  We couldn't be more excited about that.  Sign up.  It will only take you about 30 seconds.  However, riding The Filthy 50 might take you a little bit longer than that…and you'll love every filthy minute of it."

Image Credit:  Trenton Raygor

The Details
  • Registration is online so no postcard entry is required.  Visit The Filthy 50 Registration page and fill out the waiver before the registration deadline or rider cap is reached.  Registration is free and first come first served.  
  • This race is completely unsupported, you are responsible for you.  Individuals must bring EVERYTHING that they need for the ride as absolutely NOTHING will be provided for them on race day.  There is no sag.  There are no service tents.
  • A GPX file will be made available for download to all riders on the roster.  Use this file with your Garmin GPS or smartphone cycling app for navigation along the race course. 
  • Elevation profiles of the race course will be provided in one form or another to those on this year's roster as well as to the general public through The Filthy 50 website.
  • The race begins and ends on the north end of Stewartville, MN.  The start will take place at 10:00 am and riders will have until 4:00 pm to officially finish.  
  • Days before the ride, those on the roster will be sent race day logistics as well as a printable set of cue sheets that they should print out and carry with them to direct them through The Filthy 50 course.

The Rules
  • You are 100% on your own.  There is no support for this ride.
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Do not litter.
  • Have fun.
  • Obey traffic laws.
  • If you must urinate, please do not do it in front of the locals or other competitors.
  • Ride safely and use good judgement.
  • This ride is unsupported.  Bring EVERYTHING with you that you will need.
  • You must REGISTER to ride.
  • You are responsible for you. 

"Why unsupported? Why so bare bones?  We have participated in many supported rides over the years.  Many of those rides were difficult prior to even getting onto our bikes.  In the end, we all just want to enjoy ourselves in our own way. Right?  We don't want to fill out a pile of paperwork.  That gets to be a little too much like a day at the office.  If you like the sound of this and want to be on the 2013 roster, visit http://thefilthy50.tumblr.com/registration and sign up to ride.  Riders who are looking to race a super fun gravel course are going to be pleased with the gravel, terrain, and potential top speeds.  Riders who are looking to crush a colorful fall gravel course are going to be super pleased as well.  Personally, we enjoy doing both." - The Filthy 50 Race organizer Trenton Raygor.

If you have never done a gravel grinder before or are looking add one more race this season, here is your chance.  To quote The Filthy 50 website, "Race it and set a record.  Ride it and take in the beauty.  Either way, get filthy."

I would encourage gravel enthusiasts and registered riders to follow @thefilthy50 on Twitter as the race organizer will be posting updates in the coming months.  For any and all questions regarding The Filthy 50, drop an email to thefilthy50@gmail.com


4th of July Cycling Events

Are you looking to do a ride or race this 4th of July?  There are several to choose from for 2013.  Get the bike ready and head to one of these yearly events.

The Twin Cities Bicycling Club will hold the 32nd Annual Watermelon Ride starting at Battle Creek Regional Park in Maplewood, MN.  It consists of 15, 25 and 50 mile routes and will conclude with a 4th of July picnic.  This ride has full support for the 15 and 25 mile routes, but the 50 mile route is unsupported so be prepared for flats and minor repairs.  Online pre-registration ends June 30th.  Same day registration is available by filling out the registration form and bringing it to the registration table before the ride start with a check made out to the Twin Cities Bicycling Club.  Ride is rain or shine and 100% of net proceeds benefit Cycles For Change.

The Hiawatha Bicycling Club is sponsoring its 14th Annual Tour D'Amico Bicycle Tour.  This year's tour includes three new routes to choose from, 29.7, 44 and a metric century-62 mile, all with full SAG support.  After your ride refuel with a lunch buffet from D'Amico & Sons.  Online registration is available and ride packet pick up is at D'Amico & Sons at 7804 Olson Memorial Hwy in Golden Valley from 8:00 to 10:30 am the morning of the ride. 

Milltown Cycles will be holding their 14th Annual 4th of July Northfield Criterium in Downtown Northfield.  This Minnesota Cycling Federation Rider of the Year race event draws some great amateur road racers from all over Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.  Even if you are not participating, it's a great time and very exciting  to watch.  Registration opens at 8 am the day of the event.


This year's 4th of July Ride contains three routes to choose from, 38, 48 and 76 miles.  These routes will challenge riders as they travel through river valleys and bluffs in the Driftless Region of Southern Minnesota near La Crescent.  For more information go to the events page of the Bicycle LaCrosse website or call 800-658-9424.

Image Credit:  www.bicyclelacrosse.com


Open Streets Minneapolis-Lyndale Ave. S. is First of Four This Summer

Open Streets MPLS kicks off the beginning of Summer with the first of four Open Streets events on Lyndale Ave. S. Sunday, June 23rd.  Open Streets MPLS is an initiative of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and is based on the weekly Ciclovía of Bogotá, Colombia where city streets are closed to automobile traffic in favor of cyclists, pedestrians, skaters and any other form of non-motorized transportation.  This is a free event that will have a variety of activities for the whole family including Zumba, yoga, games, music and shopping at local businesses.  After two successful Open Streets on Lyndale Ave. S, this year is sure to be bigger and better than ever.

Open Streets MPLS-Lyndale Ave. S. Map

View Open Streets - Lyndale Ave S in a larger map

Get out the bikes and bring the whole family for a day of fun free from automobile traffic.  The festivities start at 10:00 am and last until 4:00 pm on Lyndale Ave. S. from 22nd St. W. to 42nd St. W. near Uptown in Minneapolis.  To download a printable map of all of the activities for this year's event, click here.

Mayor Rybak putting a foot down in the Nice Ride slow races
The Brompton US Championship at Calhoun Cycle
Morning yoga
No automobile traffic!

If you would like to help make this event a success and volunteer your time, visit the Open Streets Volunteering-Lyndale Ave. S. page and sign up.  Any additional questions can be answered by contacting the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition at 612-868-8743.

Keep up-to-date on Open Streets Minneapolis by following on Twitter @OpenStreetsMPLS and on Facebook.

Other Open Streets Minneapolis Dates
  • Central Avenue Northeast-Sunday, July 28, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., approximately 27th Ave NE to 18 ½ Ave NE
  • Minnehaha Avenue-Sunday, August 11, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., approximately E Lake Street to Godfrey Parkway  
  • Lowry Avenue North-Saturday, September 21, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., approximately Washburn Ave N to Lyndale Ave N


Take a Scenic & Challenging Ride on Cannon River Valley Gravel

If you're looking to get off the beaten path and challenge yourself while taking in some great scenery, then the quiet country gravel roads near Welch, MN fit the bill.  These low traffic roads meander their way up some steep climbs, down fast descents, through deep ravines and the forest floodplains that make up the Cannon River Valley.  The views are amazing and the wildlife is abundant in this area.  On occasion you'll have a group of deer cross the road in front of you, come across a wild turkey or two wandering through the woods or see the eagles riding the thermals above the bluffs.

Be prepared to do some climbing, the rolling hills and ravines of this area will give you a workout.  But wherever there is a hill to climb, there is a fast descent to follow that will have you going upwards of 30+ mph.  These roads tend to be pretty packed and fast most of the time without too much washboard effect.  Occasional grading by the Highway Dept. can slow things down a bit loosening up the gravel.

I have put together some routes that include my two favorite gravel rides through the area.  Reference the maps or download the gpx files for use with your Garmin Edge or favorite cycling smartphone app.  Keep in mind that this area has spotty cell phone data coverage, so an app that lets you download your map instead of using data for the map information will work best.

Welch-South Loop 

This route is a 16 mile, mostly gravel loop that will give you about 900 feet of climbing and take you along the Cannon River as it follows Sunset Trail to Wild Turkey Road and back to County 7 Blvd.

GPX file download


Welch-North Loop

This route is about 16 miles, almost all gravel and will give you over a 1,000 feet of climbing.  It takes you on the Welch Trail, the very scenic Orlando Trail, through the Miesville Ravine Regional Park, along the Miesville Trail (bridge out, be prepared to ford the creek) and a fast descent down 265th St. back to the Welch Trail.

GPX file download 

Cannon Valley Trail/Welch Gravel Loops

This is a 46 mile route that starts out at the Cannon Valley Trailhead in Cannon Falls and implements a variation of the Welch-South Loop, the entire Welch North Loop and will provide about 2,300 feet of climbing.  A Wheel Pass is required to ride on the Cannon Valley Trail and can be acquired at the grocery store across from the Cannon Falls Trailhead or at a station at the start of the trail.

GPX file download     

On these routes you may encounter aggressive farm dogs, so be prepared.  I carry a can of Halt dog repellent just in case.  I ride these routes frequently and have improved my speed, climbing ability and the scenery makes it worth going back time after time.  Get out there and crush some gravel.


Lebanon Hills Skills Park: A Place to Practice Before Hitting the Trails

The Skills/Terrain Park at Lebanon Hills new West Trailhead in Eagan was constructed by mountain bike trail building legend Tim Wegner, owner of Trail Source and opened in August 2012.   It provides an opportunity for mountain bikers of all experience levels to practice and improve their skills before encountering those features on the large network of trails within the park.

The Skills/Terrain Park features varying levels of  skinnies, rollers & jumps, berms and rock sections to practice on improving your technical aptitude.  Each segment of the Skills Park as well as all of the mountain bike trails are marked using the IMBA Trail Difficulty Ratings System to inform riders of technical difficulty.


Rollers & Jumps

Image Credit:  Mountainbikegeezer.com

Rock Sections

After a warm up at the Skills Park it's time to hit the trails.  There are plenty of signs throughout that are marked with next intersection numbering and trail rating to help with navigation and keep you on trails that fit your riding ability.

Technical trail features of all level of difficulty are abundant throughout the park, so a little practice at the Skills Park and on the trails will help with confidence and execution to improve your riding ability.

Watch the video below for a longer look at some mountain bikers ripping it up at the Skills Park.

Mountain bike advocate Griff Wigley a.k.a. the Mountain Bike Geezer has posted more photos of the Skills Park in his Picasa Web Album "Lebanon Hills Skills Park" and on his blog.


Twin Cities to host 5 Open Streets Events This Summer

After successful Open Streets events in 2011 & 2012 in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities will see five of them in 2013.  These events are based on the weekly Ciclovía of Bogotá, Colombia where city streets are closed to automobile traffic in favor of cyclists, pedestrians, skaters and any other form of non-motorized transportation.  This year Minneapolis will host four Open Streets and St. Paul will host its first Open Streets.  These are free events open to the public that will also have a variety of activities for the whole family including Zumba, yoga, games, music and shopping at local businesses.

Open Streets Minneapolis Dates
  • Central Avenue Northeast-Sunday, July 28, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., approximately 27th Ave NE to 18 ½ Ave NE
  • Minnehaha Avenue-Sunday, August 11, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., approximately E Lake Street to Godfrey Parkway  
  • Lowry Avenue North-Saturday, September 21, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., approximately Washburn Ave N to Lyndale Ave N
Image Credit:  Open Streets MPLS

St. Paul Open Streets Date
  • University Avenue-Sunday, September 15, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Hamline Avenue to Marion Street

Volunteers are still needed for these events.  If you would like to put in some time to help make them a success visit the Volunteer page of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition website or the Get Involved section of the Open Streets St. Paul website.

Keep up-to-date on Open Streets Minneapolis by following on Twitter @OpenStreetsMPLS and on Facebook or St. Paul Open Streets on Twitter @STPLOpenStreets and on Facebook.
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