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BEST BIKE TRAIL Minneapolis 2006 - Elm Creek Park Reserve

If your bicycling outfit is festooned with the logos of energy-bar manufacturers; if you paid more for your bike than the per capita income in the Philippines; if you care more about how you look on your bike than what you can see from the saddle, then this trail is not for you. For everyone else, the Elm Creek Park Reserve is a gem hiding in plain sight. It is both the largest park in Hennepin County at some 4,900 acres and foreign terrain to many lifelong Minneapolitans. (Someone must be coming here, however, as the park boasts a new visitor's center, lighted cross-country skiing, snow-tubing, beginner downhill with tow rope, equestrian trails, a manmade swimming pond, and an archery area!) Unlike most of the state's rail-to-trail bike paths, Elm Creek's 18.3-mile bike circuit follows a loop. Two loops, actually: north and south. The southern route snakes through stands of woodland, with light dappling the path. You're not going to find Mont Ventoux in the rural stands of Champlin, but the path ain't flat here. Rather, the topography is like the longest kiddie coaster you've ever seen; you'll end up climbing a few thousand feet despite yourself. Though somewhat flatter, the northern loop offers both lighter traffic and superior views, with every turn revealing another unspoiled stretch of prairie and marshland. The heart-rate-monitor crowd can also spin off at the park's westernmost parking area and head out on Territorial Road for some pastoral road riding in the northwest metro.

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