By Marie Malinowski
“Minnesota” and “mountain biking” might be borderline oxymoronic when used together, but we still have enough off-road trails with hills, rock gardens, tree roots, logs, and bogs for riders both skilled and just starting out.
Afton Alps: Apropos of ski resort/biking areas, Afton Alps mountain biking trail has brutal climbs and screaming descents. For $9/day per rider, you get a nice mix of winding singletrack and great views of the St. Croix River Valley. Bring your 20-tooth chainring for the climbs.
Battle Creek: Hills, expert-level singletrack, sand, rocks, and roots. What’s not to love about Battle Creek? Well, I suppose it’s the fact that the signage is suckage. This leads to confusion on the trail and sometimes, near-collisions with other riders. Be careful at Battle Creek.
Hillside: A thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride is the best way to describe this trail. It’s all hills. Still, they’re relatively short and steep, but that only makes the downhills better. The few flat sections involve tight, twisting singletrack through trees. Very cool. Watch out for the plastic alligator on the bridge. The $4 that you’re required to leave in the trailhead pay box goes back into the trail.
Lebanon Hills: Leb is a great place to ride, and on July 29th, 1.2 miles of brand new intermediate singletrack opened. I’ve been riding this trail for more than 10 years and I watched it morph from double-track XC ski trails to manicured, sustainable mountain bike trails with beginner, intermediate, and advanced loops, hills, berms, bridges, skinnies, fatties, log piles, log ladders, rock gardens, and some free-ride silliness opportunities for those who are up to it.
Minnesota River Bottoms: Though flat, it still has plenty of tight, twisty, singletrack through the trees and a few log piles but nothing that will make you want to scout first. It’s a two-way trail so make a lot of noise when you approach blind turns. I’ve seen head-on collisions on this trail that were both funny and needed medical attention. A floating raft takes you across Nine Mile Creek. Really fun trail to ride at night.
Murphy Hanrehan: At nearly 10 miles in length, this is one of longer trails in the metro area. The Murph experience entails open, rolling prairie, hills, singletrack through trees, rock gardens, blind turns, steep climbs and screaming descents, bridges, boardwalks, skinnies, and a really ugly skinny that is like two inches wide and stands like 10 feet off the ground with a teeter totter at the end. You must ride through the easy and intermediate loop to get to the advanced loop. The advanced loop is the longest of the three loops.
Salem Hills: You won’t find drops, rock gardens, bridges, skinnies, brutal climbs, and squeeling descents at Salem Hills but you will find flowing singletrack that winds through woods, blackberry bushes, and open prairie. Great trail for beginner or intermediate riders, great trail for night riding.
Terrace Oaks: A fast, and rolling intermediate-level singletrack with just enough sharp turns logs and roots to make it fun. There is an expert-only loop that is short with a hairpin switchback and a tight downhill switchback. The trail is short so you’ll have to ride it several times over to feel like you’ve had a workout. Or, ride two laps around Terrace Oaks, ride over the Lebanon Hills for a lap, then back to Terrace Oaks for a few more laps. If you’re new to mountain biking, Terrace Oaks is a great trail.
Theodore Wirth Park: If you like a lot of short ups and downs, quick and curvy turns, mild rock gardens, jumps, and log piles, you’ll like Theo Wirth. If you’re a beginner, you’ll like it even more.
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