Five2Ride: 5 of the Best MTB Trails in Minnesota

photo: Mark Larson.

In billing itself as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Minnesota is actually selling itself short. It turns out this very watery north country has surveyed well over 11,000 lakes of 10 acres or more, 21,000+ if we drop the threshhold to 2.5 acres.

For years, riders have also sold the state short in singletrack appreciation, but that is changing. With some trails getting nationwide recognition, and many more stellar rides on the menu for locals in the know, Minnesota is ascending as a great place to pedal the tight and twisty. Here are five must-rides for those who have the gumption to travel to the upper reaches of our map:

Brewer Park/Piedmont (Duluth)

If Minnesota is having a mountain biking renaissance, Duluth is at its core. This rough-hewn port city at the point of massive Lake Superior is fast becoming an outdoor mecca, and that push includes mountain biking. A massive ridge sitting above the city is home to a series of great mountain biking networks, the two best of which, Brewer Park and Piedmont, are easily connected into an epic ride with fantastic variety. Piedmont is truly old school, with rugged, rocky trails designed not for flow, but including plenty of challenge interspersed with fast sections. Brewer Park, on the other hand, is a more recent add to the area and specifically incorporated natural features for the most entertaining technical bike flow around. Easily joined by a nonmotorized underpass under the highway that splits them, together, they give any rider a ton o’ fun.

“Flowy with some techy thrown in. Optional lines for more fun. Lots of challenges and tons of huge rocks and patches of slickrock, but fun for anyone from the beginner to the pro.” – Mark Larson

Cuyuna Lakes (Ironton)

The Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, home to the Cuyuna Lakes Trails, is a brilliant example of industrial land reclamation. This former strip mine area is now home to miles of narrow singletrack making use of the are between and around abandoned mining pits which have filled with water and added to Minnesota’s already impressive lake count. The hills may be limited in size by Midwestern topography, but the downhills have been built for maximum entertainment value and, once at the bottom, it’s a quick climb back up for another lap. An active local club provides excellent maintenance so the trails are always in superb riding shape, and they are always exploring opportunities to expand the system and make it better.

“Sweet, sweet riding. I love the size of the hills, steep exposures. The rock has a different quality from being dug out of the ground. It’s all sharp. Well maintained, beautiful views. So much more to do in Ironton, like fishing.” – Bubblehead10mm

Elm Creek Park (Maple Grove)

Elm Creek offers multiple lines for a variety of riders (photo:stumpyfsr)

On the northwest end of Twin Cities suburbia sits Elm Creek Park, a highly-accessible, yet delightful bike playground where riders of differing abilities can enjoy a singletrack spin together. This network of roughly 13 miles of tight and twisty offers multiple lines to entice the novice and entertain the more advanced rider.

“A great green trail for anyone starting out. The intermediate and advanced trails are where it really shines. The intermediate is more fast and flowy than the advanced but also has fewer technical sections. The technical sections are well marked. Some are just small loops off the main trail, but oh so worth it. The tech sections include elevated skinnies, elevated log skinnies (with banked turns!), log piles, rock drops, pump-able rollers, ladder bridges, and a small “half-pipe-ish” gully. Another must-ride trail in the Twin Cities. Oh, and hikers have to yield to bikers!” – Jared13

Lebanon Hills (Eagan)

Lebanon Hills sits opposite the Twin Cities from Elm Creek Park, but provides an equally-accessible and even more popular riding venue for mountain bikers. Some may grouse about how busy it can get, but there’s no arguing with the quantity and quality of riding for a suburban trail system. Lebanon Hills also offers progressive opportunities for developing riders to improve their skills.

“Lebanon is simply as good as singletrack gets. The smile on your face is all the evidence needed. MORC transcended their already impossible standard when they created this gem. Not convinced how exceptional it is? Take a quick inventory of the perma-full parking lots and the many out-of-state license plates. It is fast, flowy, challenging, exhilarating, and memorable by any standards. It is undeniably busy, but if you can keep an average pace you will not realize it.” – singletrekker

Spirit Mountain (Duluth)

To wrap up our tour de Minnesota, we return to Duluth, this time for the state’s best lift-served riding. At Spirit Mountain, you can rail huge berms, clear huge gaps, drop natural rock features… or just ride rollable downhill on the not-so-scary Candyland trail. Whether you’re just looking to break into downhill, or ready to really send it, Spirit Mountain is the place to go.

“The flow in the trails is great! Lots of jumps and berms. The chairlift is an awesome part of this place. It makes you feel like you’re out west!” – Jaden-Howe

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