Did you know that you can get just about anywhere in the Twin Cities via bike path? The following list features three of our favorite trails in the metro area, plus two paths essential for escaping the big-city bustle.
If you're surprised to see the Greenway here, slap yoself. Picturesque and well-maintained, it's like a highway from the future for alternative transportation. The route is nearly six miles long, and has three lanes: two for cyclists and one for walkers and joggers. Its highlights include the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge over Hiawatha Avenue and the Midtown Freewheel Bike Shop, as well as access to the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. The path parallels historic railways, and runs from West River Road in Longfellow to the Kenilworth Trail by Cedar Lake. Even cooler, the Greenway is oft-plowed throughout the winter, which makes snow-bearded, red-cheeked bicycling much, much easier.
Sidenote: if you're bicycling from St. Paul, the Greenway connects with the Light Rail Trail for a quick trip into downtown.
Cedar Lake Trail
(Website and map)
Minnesota has the United States' first indoor shopping mall, and, much more importantly, our first bicycling freeway: the Cedar Lake Trail. Thanks to a recent extension, the trail now runs from River Road in downtown Minneapolis (under Target Field) all the way to the western 'burbs. You could, if you're in St. Louis Park, start your Saturday evening with a movie at Showplace Icon, then hook up with the CLT and ride into downtown Minneapolis for a drink at Marvel Bar in North Loop, right off the trail. The CLT is a flat and highly manageable ride, and on dark nights it's easy to imagine its emptier expanses being haunted by a ghostly roadie in translucent Lycra.
Supra tip: Stop off at Hidden Beach for a swim or to watch the sunset on a springtime night.
West & East River Parkways
The parkways are two underrated yet essential routes between deep Minneapolis and deep St. Paul. They're also the place to be on lovely-as-hell spring days. West River, with its ascents and descents into and from the river valley, is especially cool late at night (equip yourself with a bright light) because of how peaceful the path feels. And that last hill into Gold Medal Park is a killer. East River is narrower, but also flatter, and your ride is ever-accompanied by the sight of posh, river-view homes. These paths are perfect for University students commuting to school, and for cyclists seeking an easy ride where they can tune out and philosophize as they pedal cross-city (that is, for the most part; watch out for errant walkers).
Scenic tip: Our favorite view of the river is on the Marshall Avenue bridge. Check out the Mississippi overlook at the end of Summit Avenue, too.
Lake Minnetonka LRT
(Website and map)
After you chug a Cold Press at the Depot in Hopkins, hop onto this trail to journey into Minnetonka, Excelsior, and Victoria. The forest views off-trail are beautiful, and get more gorgeous as you progress. The trip cross-county is perfect for a late spring day of beach-going and ice cream-eating (Adele's Frozen Custard in Excelsior is a favorite stop). The trail is 10 feet wide, and composed of crushed, hard-packed limestone, making it a pleasant ride for those on skinny tires. This LRT, like the Cedar Lake LRT and the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT, is maintained by the Three Rivers Park District. It was built as a rail line in the 1890s and abandoned in 1980; now we use it to RIDE BIKE.
Minnesota River Bottoms
If you're seeking a way to escape the metro's cultivated paths on your new Surly Krampus, this is the route to follow. Best accessed via Bloomington Ferry Road, Lyndale Avenue (Central), or Indian Mounds Elementary School, the trails of MRB follow the Minnesota River flood plains amid cottonwood, silver maple, ash, and willow trees. According to the DNR, plenty of wildlife live here, including white-tailed deer, fox, woodchucks, coyotes, turkeys, and even the (not poisonous) fox snake. The River Bottoms are flat and ideal for beginner- to intermediate-level mountain bikers. Sprint through the forest. Lift your steed over fallen trees. Cross many streams. Figure out why the Dakota -- who lived in villages along the riverbanks centuries ago -- believed this locale was the origin and center of Earth.