This State Has the Longest Paved Rail Trail in the Country
When you think of bike-friendly cities, places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen likely come to mind. And while no one is denying that those European cities have plenty of routes and infrastructure that make exploring by bike easy and fun, you don't have to travel across the pond to experience a place that puts bikers first.
The great state of Minnesota has made huge strides in its effort to become a world-renowned bike destination. The state is home to over 4,000 miles of paved biking trails — plus plenty more that are quite literally off the beaten path. Minnesota is home to two official United States Bicycle Routes (USBR). USBR 45, a.k.a. the Mississippi River Trail, runs along the river from Itasca State Park toward the state's southern border, covering more than 800 miles. Similarly, the USBR 41, a.k.a. the North Star Route, runs from St. Paul to the Canadian border. Over the course of the North Star Route's 315 miles, you'll pass through nine state parks and two national parks.
Perhaps one of Minnesota's most standout trails is the 115-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail, which is the longest continuously paved rail trail in the country. The route starts in Brainerd and ends up north in Bemidji, which just so happens to be the home of the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues. The first half of the trail passes through a handful of Minnesota towns, while the northern portion of the route is more secluded. Over the course of the 115 stunning miles, you pedal past woods, wetlands, farmlands, and plenty of Minnesota's renowned lakes — the perfect place for a mid- or end-of-ride dip.
Travelers to the southern part of the state have access to the 42-mile Root River State Trail, which starts in the city of Fountain and passes through the historic town of Lanesboro on its way to Houston. When paired with the Harmony-Preston State Trail, which shoots south toward the Norwegian-inspired town of Preston, the route stretches a full 60 miles. Meanwhile, cyclists who find themselves in Minneapolis can hop on the Chain of Lakes pathway, which connects five lakes: Bde Maka Ska, Harriet, Cedar, Brownie, and Lake of the Isles.
And if cruising on pavement is a little too mellow for your taste, make your way to the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area or the new Redhead Mountain Bike Park on Minnesota's Iron Range. Both mountain bike trail systems have miles and miles of well-maintained, single-track trail for bikers of any skill level.