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  1. #1
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    Cycling in Minnesota (Road)

    I posted this in one of the regional sections and got little response. I thought I would try here. I hope that's okay with everybody.
    We are planning a trip with road bikes to Minnesota this summer (2014). We bring our own bikes. We are looking at some of the Rails To Trails trails. We are looking at the longer trails. Hartland State Trail (from Park Rapids to Cass Lake) looks nice as does the Central Lakes State Trail (from Osakis to Fergis Falls). We plan to stay in one location for about a week and ride from there. Can anybody recommend either of these trails (or another)? With that recommendation can you suggest where we should call home base? Also, what is the best time in the summer for great weather? We live in South Central Texas so I don't like cold weather. Thanks

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    Senior Member WhyFi's Avatar
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    No experience with those trails myself, but there are a few other Minnesotans here that may chime in. In the meantime, you might also want to poke and/or ask around on the forums at the MN Randonneurs site - I'm sure they'll be a good resource.
    Quote Originally Posted by RollCNY View Post
    I would wager that not riding in Minnesota is just as fatiguing as not riding in New York.

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    In my experience, the weather from late May to August is like a Texas spring or late fall. But last year they had some freak snowfall in early May!

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    Senior Member goldfinch's Avatar
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    Hartland is nice. I like the town of Cass Lake. It is a pretty area. The nearby Paul Bunyan trail is long and varied, I like it a lot. If you stay in Walker you have access to both trails. There are nice places along Leech Lake.

    I don't know the Central Lakes trail.

    Southern Minnesota has two beautiful connecting trails, the Root River Trail and the Harmony-Preston trail. The town of Lanesboro would be a nice little town to stay at, right along the trail. I highly recommend it.

    Weather is highly variable. June can be cold. Or not. It often has rainy weather and a lot of bugs. Last June was miserable in the northern part of the state. Late August and early September is nice, the bugs are quieting down. Southern Minnesota is more likely to be hot and humid though.
    Last edited by goldfinch; 01-14-14 at 10:24 PM.

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    Senior Member halfspeed's Avatar
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    The Munger trail is nice. I don't know about the others. You're better off planning no earlier than June to avoid unpredictable weather. There's usually some time in July when the heat and humidity cranks up to Texas levels. August is usually nice, too.
    Telemachus has, indeed, sneezed.

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    Hartland Trail is much more scenic. Also, it connects to Paul Bunyan trail.
    Adventure Cycling has just added a new Minnesota Rail Trail Loop map set: http://www.adventurecycling.org/cycl...il-trail-loop/ that covers about 485 miles, including Hartland Trail, Central Lakes Trail & Paul Bunyan Trail. If you want to stay central, I would recommend Park Rapids or Walker.
    The MN Dept of Transportation has published maps for bike riding, including roads w/shoulders and level of traffic: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/bike/maps.html That site also includes links to other bike/touring sites - great place to begin.
    Weather wise, May and June can have quite a bit of rain. July and August could be fairly dry and maybe hit the 90's.

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    Senior Member goldfinch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by halfspeed View Post
    The Munger trail is nice. I don't know about the others. You're better off planning no earlier than June to avoid unpredictable weather. There's usually some time in July when the heat and humidity cranks up to Texas levels. August is usually nice, too.
    The Munger and Laveau trails between Duluth and Carlton are beautiful. The rest of the Munger is a bit tedious. I agree with MN Bike Tourer that the Hartland and Paul Bunyan are in general more scenic than the Munger.

    The MNDot map leaves much to be desired, with a number of errors, at least for my part of the state (the northeast).

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    If you go to northern Minnesota (Virginia, Biwabik, Gilbert area - google them) there are tons of trails that are quite scenic (like ooh aah gorgeous) although not all rails to trails. As mentioned, the riding around Lanesboro in south central Minnesota is not to be missed. Generally, though out the state there are lots and lots of bike trails.

    Just slightly east of the Twin Cities in Menomonie, WI is the Red Cedar trail that links up with the Chippewa River Trail.

    Generally, once you are out of the Cities, it's pretty easy to find really spectacular cycling. Generally the roads are pretty good and there are lots of roads with really wide shoulders.

    Best time of year, based on what you are used to, would be pretty much anytime during the summer. We don't get as hot up here as you do with high 90's for extended periods being unusual. We've had entire summers without going over 90. There are only three months of the year when there hasn't been official snowfall - June, July and August. That being said, June can be rainy and cold (by your standards) especially early and we have had snow in May (like last year).

    Generally, for being in Northern Minnesota, I think most would say that late July and into August is probably the best. The woods have had a chance to dry out and often the bugs are not as bad and the weather is generally pretty spectacular. Just remember, though, we wear shorts and sandals down to the 40's here and wearing a fleece jacket with shorts is considered standard Minnesota attire. Night will be generally be cool by your standards even during the warm part of the summer. A night that stays above 70 is considered pretty warm.


    J.

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    If you're at all interested in organized rides and you're there in August there's a nice ride in Itasca State Park - Tour de Pines. Starts near the headwaters of the Mississippi and loops its way around the park. I think it's Aug. 16, but the website is currently blank so I can't check. The park is one of two pieces of the state that were never logged so there is some pretty good scenery. The park is fairly close to Park Rapids, so is worth a visit even without the ride.

    There are a few other rides, one following the Mesabi Trail from Fayal to Colraine on Aug 2, but that's a ways east from Park Rapids.

    Otherwise that part of the state is pretty much paved over with bike trails, and the roads can be pretty good on their own.

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    Senior Member JimF22003's Avatar
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    OT: but half of the town names you all have posted give me serious flashbacks. I grew up in Aurora north of Duluth, but left in 6th grade (1969). Now I feel like going back for a bike ride
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    Senior Member clichty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimF22003 View Post
    OT: but half of the town names you all have posted give me serious flashbacks. I grew up in Aurora north of Duluth, but left in 6th grade (1969). Now I feel like going back for a bike ride
    Not if you were looking at a MN road right now. Ugh. Snow, ice, salt, sand everywhere. Couldn't tell you when I rode last, getting stir crazy on the trainer!

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    Senior Member RPK79's Avatar
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    I haven't ridden in northern MN and I tend to avoid the trails and stick to county roads and the paved back roads connecting them. Personally I like climbing and rail trails, while scenic, generally don't offer much in that area. The Great River Road on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi starting in Prescott and going south is a popular bike route with some nice hills.

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    Senior Member RPK79's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by clichty View Post
    Not if you were looking at a MN road right now. Ugh. Snow, ice, salt, sand everywhere. Couldn't tell you when I rode last, getting stir crazy on the trainer!
    End of October was my last ride. Went from Hastings taking back roads down to down by the Treasure Island Casino and powered up that monster hill then headed back to Hastings.

  14. #14
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    I did a tour in July 2012 and it was awesome. Shipped the bikes to Revolution Cycle & Ski in St. Cloud, flew to MSP and got a bus to St. Cloud. Then I rode the Lake Wobegon trail, overnight in Alexandria, and on to Fergus Falls. By then the trail had changed names to the Central Lakes trail. After a night in FF, I rode to Wadena for a night, then Baxter/Brainerd to start the Paul Bunyan trail. Paul Bunyan is everywhere in MN. The PB trail is just marvelous. If you stay in Walker you can take a day ride to Park Rapids. Bemidji is a nice destination.

    If you were looking to stay one place, consider Walker, or anywhere along the trail as it passes Leech Lake. That would give you lots of day trip options.

    As for the weather, I was there in late July, and everyone else but me thought it was hot. You'll be fine.

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    Senior Member halfspeed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by clichty View Post
    Not if you were looking at a MN road right now. Ugh. Snow, ice, salt, sand everywhere. Couldn't tell you when I rode last, getting stir crazy on the trainer!


    Studs and warm clothes help.
    Telemachus has, indeed, sneezed.

  16. #16
    Senior Member RPK79's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by halfspeed View Post


    Studs and warm clothes help.
    More power to you if that's your thing, but I'll just stay on the trainer thank you very much.

    Where about is this taken?

  17. #17
    Senior Member halfspeed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RPK79 View Post
    More power to you if that's your thing, but I'll just stay on the trainer thank you very much.

    Where about is this taken?
    West of Byron. With studs, gravel roads are actually more rideable than pavement.
    Telemachus has, indeed, sneezed.

  18. #18
    Senior Member RPK79's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by halfspeed View Post
    West of Byron. With studs, gravel roads are actually more rideable than pavement.
    I haven't been that far south on my bike. I would probably give the gravel a try, but my lungs don't like the cold.

  19. #19
    Lover of Old Chrome Moly Myosmith's Avatar
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    I put on 100 miles last week with studded tires and enjoyed every minute of it. A couple of days were unseasonably warm but the first couple were still cold and icy, but with proper clothing and tires, winter riding can be just as enjoyable as skiing, snowboarding, sledding or any other winter outdoor activity.

    To the OP: Mid-May through mid-June is the peak time to see wildflowers, vibrant green growth, clear running water and crystal blue lakes, as well as young wildlife along the rail-to-trail and other cycling routes in MN. Temps are generally in the 50s at sunrise and 70s or 80s at mid-day. The weather in lakes country is variable so pack with versatility in mind. Another great time of year is late fall, about the time the leaves change color. This is a little less predictable as is depends on several factors from moisture throughout the summer to the timing of the first frost, but generally falls somewhere between mid-September to mid-October in most of the state. If you really don't like cool weather (50-60 degrees F is not considered cold here) your best bet is late June through August where AM temps run in the 70s and mid-day 80-95F are common. There are usually a few 100 degree+ days but not many.

    Another great destination, not far from some of the others listed, is Itasca State Park just north of Park Rapids. If you are thinking about the Heartland/Paul Bunyan Trail network, it is a short trip to Itasca by car or bike. The rural highway between the two has good shoulders and lots of cyclists so traffic is aware of bicycles and generally "Minnesota Nice" prevails. I've ridden a number of organized rides in that area and never had anything but good experiences. There is a small bike shop in the Itasca park (same building as the bait shop/boat rentals/and convenience store) with a surprisingly good selection of bike gear and a small but well equipped repair shop should you need any assistance or just want cycling specific advice about the area. The bike trail through the park is beautiful with some points of interest to stop at along the way, and lots of gentle curves and rolling hills. The photo for my avatar was taken in front of the largest Red Pine in MN which is along that trail.

    Bemidji, Walker, or Park Rapids would all make good bases for the western lakes region. Duluth is a good base for the Arrowhead region and Rochester is good for the area south of the Twin Cities (but not the Days Inn there, just trust me). Rochester is actually an interesting city in a beautiful area and one of my favorite weekend trip destinations. Lots of street festivals, interesting architecture, multi-cultural diversity (mainly due to the world renowned Mayo medical center and associated hospitals) and some excellent small restaurants. Mac's Cafe downtown has great Greek and American food and is across a nice courtyard from a historic theater that has been converted to a bookstore but retains all of its historic features and is on the national registry. The city itself is cycle friendly and there are a couple of trails in the area and an abundance of rural highways through rolling hills lined with pastures and fields. Spring Valley, not far from Rochester, is host to the annual Almanzo 100, a gravel century which is growing each year and attracts hundreds of riders.

    Oh, did I mention, I love this state.
    Last edited by Myosmith; 01-15-14 at 08:24 PM.
    Lead, follow or get out of the way

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    Op I'm up in Bemidji not to far from the heartland trail. I would stay in Walker, park rapids or bemidji for a home base. I agree with the others that the heartland and the Paul Bunyan are nice.

  21. #21
    Senior Member goldfinch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnJ80 View Post
    If you go to northern Minnesota (Virginia, Biwabik, Gilbert area - google them) there are tons of trails that are quite scenic (like ooh aah gorgeous) although not all rails to trails.
    The Mesabi trail is especially nice, I like the stretch coming out of Grand Rapids which circles around the old iron mines now filed with water.

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