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Mesabi Trail: The Untapped Cycling Heaven of Minnesota’s Iconic North

The Mesabi Trail stretches 162 miles from the Mississippi River in Grand Rapids, MN, to the gateway of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Ely. 150 miles are paved with approximately eight more to be completed this fall.

The trail consists of four segments—Mississippi (Grand Rapids–Nashwauk), Mesabi (Nashwauk–Gilbert), Laurentian (Gilbert–Tower), and Vermilion (Tower–Ely). Each segment offers different natural and manmade landscapes—from glacial lakes to active mines, hardwood forests to pines, and wetlands to rock cuts.

A Paved Cycling Heaven

The Mesabi Trail is not a typical “rail-to-trail.” It is not straight nor flat. There are curves and switchbacks, approximately 3,300 feet of elevation change over the full distance, and hills of up to 8% grade with sustained climbs and seriously fun downhills.

“Cycling groups travel from all over the country to ride the Mesabi Trail—even from Winnipeg, Canada—because there is nothing else like it,” said Sarah Ciochetto, St. Louis & Lake Counties Regional Railroad Authority Deputy Director. “With such a diverse landscape and 28 communities, it can be a completely different ride each time.”

Off-Trail Adventures

The trail passes through 28 Iron Range towns, each with their own history and recreational adventures, as well as locally sourced eats and craft brews.

“Each community offers unique experiences, from museums and county fairs to mine lakes and scuba diving,” explained Ciochetto. “Golfing, camping, kayaking, fishing—you name it. There’s something for everybody along the trail.”

For the natural-surface trails enthusiasts, the Mesabi Trail joins three world-class mountain biking systems—Tioga Recreation Area (Cohasset), Redhead Mountain Bike Park (Chisholm), and Giants Ridge Bike Park (Biwabik)—adding up to 75 miles of purpose-built, IMBA-approved, natural-surface singletrack.

Plan A Spring or Summer Cycling Trip

Reserve lodging as your home base for out-and-back cycling or arrange for a one-way return trip using the Mesabi Trail Shuttle Service. Additional options for trail experiences include bike-packing from town to town or using the Mesabi Trail Lodge-to-Lodge service to transport gear and luggage to each stop.

The Mesabi Trail is a one-of-a-kind trail in a one-of-a-kind place. See details about purchasing a Wheel Pass and learn more:

Where is the Mesabi Trail?
The Mesabi Trail is located in northern Minnesota—running from Grand Rapids to Ely.

  • 3 hours north of Minneapolis
  • 1 hour northwest of Duluth
  • 3 hours east of Fargo
  • 5 hours south of Winnipeg

May 1, 2023

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