mountain bike trails in minnesota

18 Beginner Mountain Bike Trails in Minnesota

mountain bike trails in minnesota

There is a wide variety of mountain bike trails in Minnesota which are perfect for new riders. Some are as short as 1.3 miles and others are longer, up to 34 miles, most are in between. There are loop trails and straight out and back trails. Some go by the Minnesota River. But what they all have in common is aerobically and technically they are for beginners. Have fun.

1. Mendota Trail

The Mendota Trail is great for beginners because the first 0.4 miles of your ride will start on pavement. This makes for a good warm up. Then the rest of the trail, riders will be on a wide gravel path, which is pretty flat.

The only thing you need to be careful of is some loose gravel in some places. The ride should take you between 25 to 45 minutes. The total mileage is 8.7 miles as you go out and back.

You will find this to be a relaxing ride. The trail takes you through thick woodlands. During the summer season it can be jungle-like. Pay attention when you get to the valley, because there are always lots of nettles. If you touch a leaf of them, you will have a burning feeling all day long.

As you ride you can see an old European-American area of limestone houses from the 1800’s. You will go under a railroad trestle and eventually come to the Minnesota River. After you will enter into thick wooded flats. This consists of large cottonwoods, elms, maples, and ash trees.

2. Bass Ponds Loop

Bass Ponds Loop is perfect for new riders who have not developed a lot of endurance yet, and or don’t have much time for various reasons. You will be able to finish this trail rather quickly as it is only a 3 mile loop. The total time to complete will be around 15 to 25 minutes.

The whole loop is on a flat gravel trail which is medium to wide in width. The only thing to be on the look out for is loose gravel in some places. The other thing is slick goose droppings. Overall, you will have an enjoyable ride traveling near a river, and experience a wildlife rich area. There are no hills, and the trail is wide and smooth.

You will be able to see a variety of bird species. Plus you will go by many ponds and near Long Meadow Lake. At this lake you can find, ducks, herons, and muskrats there during the summer.

It is better to go during the weekdays if you can. On Saturdays and Sundays there are many hikers. You will also come across many birdwatchers. Be sure not to go too fast near them.

3. LRT Trail South

New mountain bikers will find the LRT Trail South easy. Your whole ride will be on solid-packed limestone. Limestone is simple to ride over, so you can get more practice going fast.

You will have plenty of time on this trail as it is 9 miles long going out and back. At an average pace, riders should be able to go through the trail in 45 to 60 minutes.

This path will give you a nice ride on an old rail line. The river valley can be seen very easily. There is a slight descent on the way down. This is a good introduction to downhill riding. The only thing to pay attention to is when you are crossing any roads along the way. Overall, this trail is straight, flat, long, and there is no traffic. After your start you’ll ride by the Minnesota River and go by the edge of the bluffs.

As you go along the crushed limestone trail, you will not find any obstacles on your path. There are also no hills to tire you out, so it is up to you how fast you go. You can use this trail to train and improve your speed since there are no obstacles and the trail is flat.

4. Minnesota Valley State Trail

The Minnesota Valley State Trail might be too easy for mountain bikers even if you are a beginner. This is because this trail is a paved bike trail. For mountain bikers this trail is good if you have not biked for a long time and are beginning again. Also, this type of trail is good to use as a recovery ride if you have been training on a dirt trail.

This trail is 9.4 miles long, going out and back. There is no loop. It should take you between 40 to 60 minutes to complete if you are riding 10mph or faster. You will be able to go fast pretty easily on pavement. The terrain is very easy, and you’ll go along a river trail. If you like wildlife this is the perfect trail to see it.

What you need to watch out for is, two sharp turns because there may be oncoming riders which you might crash in to. Pay attention to the weather as well because the trail does flood after heavy rains. So I would wait at least a day or two after a heavy rain before going to this trail.

Soon after starting on this trail you will go through an RV campground. You will go through lower river flats, and then have a nice view of the valley as you ride up to higher ground.

5. Cannon Valley Trail

Cannon Valley Trail is perfect for new riders who want to improve their endurance. The whole trail is paved. But it is very long. The total distance when you ride out and back is 20 miles.

You will need at least 1 hour and 25 minutes to 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete the trail. So be sure that you bring enough food and water. Bring some power bars or a peanut butter sandwich.

As you ride you will go through high river bluffs, and see beautifully colored leaves if you go in the fall. The only thing to look out for is it gets very crowded during the weekends.

The Cannon Valley Trail is one of the most beautiful to ride along. Even if you are a hard-core mountain biker, use this trail as a recovery ride. You will be able to see rock outcroppings on one side of the trail and a lazy river on the other.

There is a $2 daily fee or $10 for the year. There are a few cool wooden bridges to ride over. Plus you will pass by pasture land, consisting of ponds, streams, and even cows. On your way back you will go up a very small incline. You can hardly call it uphill.

6. New Bridge Trail

The New Bridge Trail is aerobically an easy trail. So if you are very new and don’t have a lot of conditioning under your belt this trail is good for training or even for warming up.

You can just warm up with the trail because it is very short. It is only 2.2 miles long as you ride out and back. It should only take you around 10 to 15 minutes to finish the trail. You could ride out and back a few times.

It is rated at level 1 through 2 in terms of technical difficulty. You will be riding on a combination of gravel and dirt. Plus it is a singletrack trail which makes it a bit more challenging technically.

This trail is easy to enter as you will go through wooded river flats. Pay attention to any loose sand on the trail as well as a deer crossing your path. Deer is always nice to see.

From a parking lot you’ll ride on a wide gravel trail at first. You’ll be able to ride under the Ferry Bridge, and then continue along the Minnesota River. After you’ll then ride on solid-packed dirt and enter wooded river flats. When you get to an open field turn around and go back. The open field is private property.

7. St. Lawrence Unit (Dry Side)

The Saint Lawrence Unit trail is physically pretty easy to ride through. The first part of the trail is 0.4 miles long and is a gravel road. The rest of the trail is 0.9 miles long and consists of a rolling grassy trail.

The total distance of this trail is just 1.3 miles long. This trail is a loop, so even though it is only 1.3 miles long you can go through it again and again. You could even time yourself and see if you can improve on your speed for each loop. It should generally take you 10 to 20 minutes to ride through.

Even though the ride is short it will be fun as you go through its special river valley ecosystem. This consists of mature oak trees, and dense sumac groves. The only thing to be aware of is, there may be a deep bump or two, which makes it level 1 to 2 technically.

This trail is call the dry side because it is farther away from the Minnesota River. The other St. Lawrence Unit trail is the wet side because it is close to the river. This trail is in better condition than the wet side. There are not as many insects to bother you. The most beautiful time to go is during the fall season.

8. Elm Creek Park Reserve

If you are a little bit of an experienced new mountain biker, then Elm Creek Park Reserve will give you some nice challenges. Aerobically the trail is easy there is one decline and one incline. Technically the trail is rated 1 through 2.

The first part of the trail is around 1 mile long and it is paved. The remaining part of the trail is a combination of dirt and grass. The size of the trail is singletrack and doubletrack. There aren’t any real hazards to watch out for except for some bumpy areas.

The total distance of this trail is 4.4 miles, and it is a loop. Riders should be able to finish the trail in 15 to 30 minutes. As you ride on this trail you will see it is a beautiful park. You’ll ride through woods, and near and around Mud Lake. Riding you will probably spot herons, ducks, geese, and deer.

When you go through the north part of the park you’ll come across a bumpy section which is in taller grass. Within the first mile you will go downhill, and get a good view of Mud Lake, and then go uphill after.

Once you cross a paved bike path continue on the dirt trail. After 2 miles, the path will be mostly grass. This is the part where it can get bumpy. Keep riding through the clockwise loop to finish.

9. Lonesome Lake Trail

If you like to mountain bike alone then the name of this trail tells you everything you need to know. Physically this trail is easy to fair because you’ll ride on some small hills. Technically the trail is a little higher than level 1 because it is a singletrack.

The distance of this trail is 3.6 miles going out and back. Riders should be able to complete the path in 30 to 45 minutes. The trail consists of a gravel forest road and singletrack. You’ll be able to ride through thick woods.

Don’t be afraid because you will most likely be alone. The trail is relatively secluded allowing you to commune with nature.
As you ride you’ll begin on a well maintained path. Then you will go up and down some small hills and then enter and ride through dense woods. Riders will see large red and white pines, plus maple and aspen trees.

When you hit the singletrack you’ll know you are coming close to a quiet lake. The lake has no name. You could name it for yourself. If you ride down to the lake early in the morning you may be able to see a moose.

10. Hogback Lake Trail

If you like lakes then you will love the Hogback Lake Trail. Not only will you go past Hogback Lake but you will also ride by four other lakes along the way.

Aerobically this trail is easy to fair. You will only ride up and down easily on some small hills. Technically it is also easy to fair. You will only find some loose gravel or rocks on the path.

This trail going out and back is very long, a lengthy 26 miles. You may only want to go one way which is 13 miles. One way will take you 1 hour and a half, so going out and back, you will need 3 hours.

Mountain bikers will be riding on a smooth gravel forest road. The scenery is great, as you will pass by Hogback Lake, Homestead Lake, Katydid Lake, and Divide Lake. The first lake is on the left side, then the next two are on the right side, and Divide Lake has one lake on both sides of the trail.

As you keep riding you will get to the Laurentian Divide. This is near the 13 mile mark, which is a good place to rest. You will find some interesting geological information here. Now you can either call it a day or return back.

11. Fort Snelling State Park

Aerobically Fort Snelling State Park is easy to fair. There aren’t any real hills of any kind. It is pretty flat but the trail does become muddy which is more tiring to go through. Technically difficulty is 1 through 2. This is because you will encounter both singletrack and doubletrack.

Riders will pedal on a combination of wide gravel and dirt singletrack as well as on mud paths. The full distance is 6 miles long out and back. This trail should be completed in around 15 to 30 minutes.

You will be riding along the Minnesota River and go through dense woods and marshland. What you need to watch out for is some roots and rocks. This is a good chance to improve your bike handling skills.

Start your ride by going on a dirt trail through trees. Then you will continue on to a wider, gravel trail. After a quarter of a mile you will cross a cool wooden bridge and go over a small stream. Then the trail becomes narrower and changes to a hard-packed dirt singletrack.

You will enter a thick wooded area containing silver, maple, ash, and elm trees. After it rains this area gets soft, sticky, and muddy. At the 1 mile mark you will cross another wooden bridge. In this area you may see deer, bald eagles, and herons.

Now at almost 2 miles you will cross a third and final wooden bridge. After another mile the trail goes back to being a wide gravel path. For the rest of the way it is nice and flat and straight until you need to turn around and head back.

12. Minnesota Valley Wilkie Trail

The Minnesota Valley Wilkie Trail physically is rated easy to fair. The trail is flat but can be softer as you will ride near the Minnesota River and near two lakes, Fisher Lake and Blue Lake.

Technically it is rated levels 1 to 2. Riders will pedal on a mix of doubletrack and singletrack. You will need to watch out for many bumps which are found on the grassy parts of the trail. There are also hidden ruts which could through you forward over your handlebars. This trail is 5.2 miles long going out and back. You should be able to complete this trail in 20 to 25 minutes.

As you ride along, the terrain is flat. In the beginning riders will go on a gravel doubletrack. After almost a mile you will get to the riverbank. At this point the trail becomes grassy and bumpy. When you come to a point where you can turn left and go into the woods, this is where you should turn around. Otherwise, if you continue the trail disappears.

13. St. Croix State Park

The St. Croix State Park trail is physically easy to fair because you are not going to climb any hills. But you will ride on some grass which takes a little more effort. Technically it is rated as level 1 through 2 because you will be riding on a combination of dirt and grass doubletrack.

You will ride through beautiful old hardwood forest. There is a lot of wildlife such as whitetail deer, bald eagle, and black bears. What you need to watch out for is some loose gravel. Plus there is no way around it but you will ride over a lot of horse tracks making for a bumpy ride.

The total distance is 10.8 miles straight out, then 10.8 miles if you come back the way you came. You should be able to finish this trail in less than 2 hours going one way.

You’ll begin by riding northeast and go through an area of deep gravel and all those horse tracks. Horses use this trail and it is not currently maintained for mountain biking offering you some challenges.

Keep going and you will get to 5-Corners Intersection. Here turn left and continue on the far left trail which becomes mostly grassy the rest of the way until the end at MN 48.

14. Paul Bunyan State Forest (South Unit)

The Paul Bunyan State Forest trail is pretty easy aerobically except for a few small hills. Technically the trail is rated at level 1 through 2. You will be riding on gravel which can be a little tricky and a solid-packed forest road.

You will have fun riding on this path because it is well maintained. It is a nice scenic ride through the north woods. There aren’t too many people on the trail. The only thing to watch out for is perhaps some loose gravel and maybe the occasional ATV.

This trail is a loop and is 10.6 miles long. Riders usually in 1 hour to 1 hour and a half. You’ll begin by riding east on a thin path which takes you over some small hills. Then you will go through a dense hardwood forest.

At 1.2 miles you’ll get to the Parkway Forest Road. Turn left and keep going, you’ll pass some spur trails you might want to try. Don’t get lost. Keep going until you get to the Kabekone Trail which you can try. There are red and white pine trees along with birch.

At 4 miles you’ll come to Lester Lake Trail, then after East Steamboat Forest Road. At 7.3 miles you’ll get to a little bit of a steep hill but not too tough. MN 64 is the finish.

15. Ninemile Lake Loop

If you are looking for some peace and quiet, then Ninemile Lake Loop is for you. Aerobically it is easy to fair with a few very small rolling hills. Technically it is rated as level 1 through 2 because you will be biking on a combination of loose and solid-packed gravel road.

This trail is isolated and quiet. The riding is easy as you’ll go through thick woods from two different forests. The only thing to pay attention to are some large gravel trucks which travel fast. Plus some loose gravel.

The total distance is 20.3 miles long, and the trail is a loop so you will get back to where you started. Riders will need at least 2 and a half to 3 and a half hours in order to complete the loop. Because it is very long be sure to bring enough water and food. You should also bring a first aid kit and a compass just in case.

You will start by going east toward Lake Superior. Be on the look out truck traffic sometimes. Once you pass the gravel pit which is soon, there are no more trucks. Keep going on County Road 1 and at 6.4 miles go left on Forest Road 342. Its a nice rolling ride.

11.6 miles at Forest Road 166 turn left, then another left at 13.6 miles at CR 7. As you bike you’ll pass Hare Lake first and then Ninemile Lake to your right. Keep going until you get to the end of the loop.

16. Grassy Lake Trail

New mountain bikers who are also happy to see wonderful fall colors will love the Grassy Lake Trail. There are maple, aspen, and sumac, plus pine trees along the path.

Physically the trail is easy to fair because there are a few small hills to roll over easily. The technical difficulty is levels 1 to 2 because the path is an old forest road.

This ride is pretty quiet, most of the action is happening at a near by canoe area and campground. This trail is great for beginners who want privacy to practice. You just need to watch out for some loose gravel and rocks on the trail. The distance of the trail is 8.7 miles long going out and back. Riders will finish the trail in around an hour and fifteen minutes.

Begin by going northeast on a wide gravel path FR 459. You will come across some large bumps and rocks on the path. There will be a few small hills as well. Turn right at 3.5 miles to go toward Grassy Lake. If you don’t turn you will enter the canoe area.

Once you get to 4.4 miles the Grassy Lake road ends. You can walk with your bike down a footpath to the lake. When you are finished you can head back the way you came.

17. Lake Elmo Park Reserve

Lake Elmo Park Reserve trails are for beginners mountain bikers who like to explore. There is not a main designated trail to follow. So you should have an adventurous spirit.

Aerobically the trail is easy to fair. What makes it a little more than easy are the bumps you will come across. Technically this is a level 2. You will ride on a combination of solid-packed singletrack and wide grassy trails.

This trail has lots of wildlife to see. The terrain is rolling and takes you through forests and prairie. The trail is not very crowded. You should be on the look out for some loose sand and gravel.

There are many trails you can explore here with a total of 8 miles to ride through. How long you spend riding is up to you. You could finish in 10 minutes or an hour or more. It is $4 for a day pass, plus there are seasonal passes.

Even though the trail is not crowded it is shared by hikers and horses. So you will also see some horse poop. There is a 4 mile loop that goes around Eagle Point Lake. For explorers, just start riding, go left and go right to start. Then choose 1 of 12 different branch off trails.

18. Katherine Lake Trail

Katherine Lake Trail is for riders with some conditioning under their belt. The aerobic level is easy to fair, but the trail is very long. Technically the trail level is 2. Riders will be on a mix of hard-packed and loose gravel road.

This trail is rather silent as you ride. There is a high probability that you will see wildlife. You will be happy to see Katherine Lake after such a long ride. What you need to watch out for is some loose gravel and some traffic which goes a little quick.

The total distance is rather long at 34 miles going out and back. In order to finish you will need 3 hours. Be sure to bring enough food, water, and a first aid kit, just in case.

Overall, the ride is very nontechnical. The area is remote and you’ll be on a forest road. If you go off the main road during hunting season wear a blaze orange vest. You don’t want to get hit by bird shot or a deer rifle.

Start by going west at the beginning of Heffelfinger Forest Road and MN1. It will turn to gravel. At 5.4 miles you’ll pass FR 397, then at 13.2 miles turn left onto FR 102. You will pass by Katherine Lake at the 17 mile mark. At this point, take a rest before going back.