Expert Bike Recommendations for Minnesota Trails

Here are five state bike trail recommendations from the pros
Harmony-Preston Valley state Trail
Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail

Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota boasts thousands of miles of bike trails: paved and unpaved, urban and rural, super short and very long. It’s a great state to be a cyclist, but that abundance of choice can be overwhelming. Where do you even start pedaling? Luckily, Minnesota is also full of talented cyclists who spend as much time tearing up the trails as they do just about anything else, so we caught up with some of them to ask: What’s your favorite bike trail in the state? Some prefer to crush gravel, while others pound out miles on a paved path or hit a mountain biking trail. Here’s what they had to say about some of the state’s finest biking destinations.

Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail

Carly Ellefsen, communications manager of Our Streets Minneapolis, still remembers her first time riding the Harmony-Preston trail, which connects the communities of Harmony and Preston with the Root River State Trail. It was 2011, before she even lived in the Twin Cities, and it was the Indianapolis native’s first time biking more than 10 or so miles. To this day, she remembers the experience as “life changing.” 

“This trip was also my first experiencing the Driftless Area, a beautiful place untouched by glaciers during the Ice Age,” Ellefsen says. “Despite the struggle of riding an old Trek mountain bike on paved trail, I fell in love with the freedom of bicycling and the beauty of the bluffs and the river.”

The trail is great for first-time bikepackers and cyclists of all abilities, and for those who would rather get off the paved path, there are plenty of gravel roads nearby for added fun and difficulty. Also nearby? The town of Lanesboro, with a charming local arts scene, variety of lodging options, and vibrant downtown, has some great places to explore, including Pedal Pushers Cafe, Sylvan Brewing, and the divey Root River Saloon.

Luce Line State Trail
Luce Line State Trail

Courtesy of Three RIvers Park District

Luce Line State Trail

When Nick Elliott, buyer and brand ambassador for Angry Catfish Bicycle Shop, started cycling in Minneapolis, he’d go out with no phone, no music, and just explore—in awe of the miles of trails one could ride within city limits. It was on one such ride through
Theodore Wirth Regional Park that he found the Luce Line trail, a “real beaut” that runs from North Minneapolis to Plymouth on a combination of asphalt, limestone, and granite. 

“The real special thing about this trail is that it takes you from the central metropolis 80 miles west to a really small lake and campground without seeing a ton of people, and is certainly clear of all traffic,” Elliott says. “I have been riding this trail for years now as a transitway to get to other destinations. It’s a fantastic starter trail for those looking to accumulate big miles, as there is not a ton of elevation but plenty of woods, lakes,
re-supplies, and wildlife.”

Elliott says cyclists could practically spend a week exploring the Luce Line, camping and checking out fun stops along the way, including Luce Line Brewery, Ox Yoke Inn bar and grill in Maple Plain, and Crow River Winery in Hutchinson.

Minnesota River Bottoms

Running 11 miles along the shores of the Minnesota River between Bloomington and Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul, the River Bottoms trail feels worlds away from the city despite being a short ride away. “I just think that area is a gem,” says Risa Hustad, a longtime cyclist and bike racer who’s a founding member of Versus Race Team. “I think it’s really good land use for what that space is, where it floods a couple times a year so you can’t really make any permanent system.”

The River Bottoms area is (mostly) a year-round destination, with fat-bike riders cruising snow-packed trails each winter and folks on all kinds of bikes taking in the terrain during the spring and summer. The DNR still clears fallen trees, and volunteers build little bridges across the streams that develop, but the trails are never quite the same from year to year, and cyclists can explore new routes while taking in an array of microbiomes and animal habitats. 

“Every time I’m down there, I see somebody else doing something entirely different than what I’m doing, and we give each other a nod,” Hustad says. “There’s a really cool camaraderie. I just dig it.”

Midtown Greenway
Midtown Greenway

Courtesy of the Midtown Greenway Coalition

Midtown Greenway

In the Midtown Greenway’s early days, Louis Moore, president of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, was involved in a contest in which someone drove their car down Lake Street while he and a group of cyclists raced along the Greenway, which runs parallel. “And I don’t need to tell you who got their first: We did,” he chuckles.

In a state with so much cycling, it’s easy to take Minneapolis’ Midtown Greenway for granted—but what an exceptional, one-of-a-kind resource for commuters, athletes, and anyone who gets around by bike. “It really represents, for me, accessibility,” says Kennis Littleton, owner of Venture Bikes. “I know bicycles represent freedom and being able to have transportation, but having a nice, paved trail like the Greenway is just the cream of the crop.”

The 5.5-mile “bicycle highway” runs from the Mississippi River past the Chain of Lakes, meaning there’s lots of outdoor fun to be had for cyclists of all ages and experience levels. The on-ramps and exits give riders easy access to destinations like Eat Street and Uptown, and it is closed to cars, making it “an unencumbered, unhindered cycling experience,” Littleton says. “And the culture on the Greenway is fantastic. Whether it’s a $10,000 bike or it’s a $100 bike, you see it all.”

Hartley Park Trails

Cyclist Leah Gruhn rides hard for the Hartley Park Trails, which she has loved for nearly a dozen years now. Gruhn, who rode all 1,000 miles of the Iditarod Bike Race in 2023, has put in a lot of miles on these multiuse trails, which are nestled between a few Duluth neighborhoods. “They’re some of the oldest mountain bike trails in Duluth,” she says, “and a couple years ago, when they were creating the Duluth Traverse, there was a project to improve these trails.”

What were once, as Gruhn chuckles, “glorified deer trails” are now cyclist-friendly all year round: wider, better graded, and groomed during the winter for 9 miles of riding that are both fun and safe. Cyclists can head up to Rock Knob, an overlook with a view for miles—and for the extra-brave—some extra exhilarating riding after dark.

“When there’s moonlight on a bright, clear night, especially when there’s snow, I love taking pictures of the moon and shadows,” Gruhn says. “It’s just really cool—they end up
looking like daytime.”