DULUTH + LEBANON HILLS, MINNESOTA
Photography & Words: Tory Powers (Fulframe) / Riders: Steve Wilcox + Megan Barr
This past May we traveled to Minnesota to visit two heavily talked about areas for mountain biking - Detroit Mountain and Cuyuna
. We absolutely could not get enough, so we had to make another trip back in June to visit Duluth and Lebanon Hills.
In an area that’s not typically known for its mountains, two of the locations we checked out - Cuyuna, and Duluth, are both respectively IMBA ranked at silver and gold. Duluth shares this certification with only five other places in the entire world. If that’s not convincing enough on its own, keep reading to see why we enjoyed it so much.
Duluth was the first stop on the second leg of our trip. This is probably the spot I had heard the most about, and rightfully so!
The popular port city located along the North Shore of Lake Superior is an ultimate destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs.
Duluth saw original growth as an industrial powerhouse and continues to thrive as an iron ore, coal, and grain distributor. This unique port city backdrop is complimented by popular tourism attractions such as Canal Park, Skyline Parkway, Spirit Mountain, Glensheen Mansion, plus warehouses re-purposed as trendy shops and breweries. The region provides some stunning views and wonderful lake breezes during the summertime, which attracts people from all over the world. The best part is that world-class riding is a mere 5 minutes west of town, and there are over 100 miles of trails in the area!
Just a couple of turns up the mountain the Piedmont + Brewer trailheads stem right off of the main highway for super easy access. Our morning ride was at Piedmont.
We did a nice big loop of Foxx Rocks > Admiral Rockbar (then we played on the super fun black B-line) before heading over to the northeast side to check out DM + Medropolis, some of the local favorites.
A couple more chunk sections on Admiral Rockbar.
The greenery here was amazing. Everything was super lush and vibrant in color. Ferns everywhere.
I’m not kidding when I say that some of these trails have some really difficult sections that even top athletes would enjoy. DM was probably one of the techiest that we saw, but it wasn’t the kind of trail you can hit without looking at some of the features.
This area was absolutely amazing. It was a wide mix between huge rock slabs which quickly turned into chunky, then fast and flowy. It was really cool because going into the trails relatively blind, we didn’t know whether we’d be hitting a crazy rock roll, a bridge, roots, or fast water bars. The trails here are extremely dynamic and if you’re in the mood for a specific type of riding that day, they have countless greens all the way up to double blacks depending on how frisky you’re feeling.
One of my favorite parts about this area are the countless overlooks. It’s easy to get caught up spending 30+ minutes just hanging out on a big rock checking out the awesome views Duluth has to offer.
This area is managed by COGGS, Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shore - pretty much the ultimate (coincidental or not) cycling foundation name. They do an outstanding job maintaining the trails and creating work days. We were blown away with trail conditions on every single trail. We didn’t hit any areas that seemed like they had been neglected.
Definitely thankful to have a resource like Trailforks in a place with this many miles of trails.
For lunch, we had to maintain the mountain biker’s diet of pizza and beer so we hit a local gem called Ursa Minor. It’s an outstanding brewery that also just so happens to have woodfired pizza.
Following our newly conceived food babies, we headed back up the mountain, but this time to the Brewer side. We parked at the same trailhead, but crossed under the bridge to the other system. There was one trail over here we really wanted to check out, Kissing Booth. A short traverse/climb from the parking lot sets you right at the top for this rocky descent.
Word has it Steve runs the Kissing Booth that's located at the top of the trail.
Full of ladders, rock rolls/slabs, and even some doubles, this trail was fast and loose.
It’s only about a half mile long but it has its own separate climbing trail right beside it if you didn’t get enough out of one lap. Otherwise, it sets you right out on the road less than a mile away from the trailhead. I honestly could have ridden this trail all day.
We packed up and headed back down south to Eagan, which is just south of Minneapolis to check out Lebanon Hills. This region is what every big city dweller hopes and dreams to have such close access to, and this crowd is amongst the lucky ones. Lebanon Hills is built and maintained by Minnesota Off Road Cyclists and managed by Dakota County Parks. We cannot thank people like trail builders enough. They often get taken for granted. Here's to you folks!
Lebanon Hills is a trail system with about ten miles of trails full of beginner loops to aggressive rock skills parks to always keep you on your toes. We ended up there on a Saturday, which we were originally concerned about, but since all of the loops are uni-directional, we barely encountered anybody. There were tons of people out and about but lost in the mix of all of the trails they had to explore on.
Leb (as the loc-dogs call it) is definitely XC heavy but all of the trails are fast and have lots of flow to them. You can bring enduro bikes here and still have a blast.
Lebanon is built with every skill level in mind. Their blue loop even has alternate lines depending on if you're in the mood for rocky + jumpy or fast + flowy.
We rode everything here, but I had the most fun on their outer loop, which is just named for the color “blue.” It was definitely pedally, but towards the end it shifted into big sweeping berms and some jumps.
In between all of the fast turns, the crews here strategically placed man-made rock gardens (which I'm usually against) to spice things up a bit. They weren't forced at all, just enough to add some extra fun to the trails.
(Left) Steve rolling into a rock garden + (right) Megan shredding a turn in the shade.
Everything was beautifully green and felt like it was something out of a movie. The other trails were amazing too, don’t get me wrong. In the mood for testing your balance and handling skills? They had lots of man-made rock gardens built for hopping around. Want tight turns and trees? There’s a trail for that.
There are short trails towards the center of the park that are rated the most difficult with fun slow-paced rock features that really test your bike handling skills.
One really outstanding thing to note about this place is the tree coverage. It's almost all within a forest, meaning you can actually ride during the day time on those hot summer days. Something pasty Irish/German boys like myself can appreciate.
(Left) Steve hitting some mid-trail doubles in a set of 3 + (right) Steve following Megan over a trestle under the foliage.
It's really easy to get carried away in here and end up doing more miles than you originally planned. All of the trails flow together very nicely and before you know it you've already put down 10+ miles of riding.
(Left) Megan flowing through the trees + (right) the guardian forest gnome approves of the shredding.
An interesting feature about this park is it’s completely snowbike-able. The trail signs even mark how the difficulty changes (usually down a grade) during the winter months. This area is open for riding year-round!
Just a short distance away from Leb is Minnehaha Falls, a massive waterfall right downtown. Another plus was that this was directly next to an amazing seafood eatery called Sea Salt + ice cream shop. I don't even like anything that comes from the water but ever since that fish po'boy is all I crave. The wait was super long but I can see why. Also, they don't have fries, so don't ask.
There's a walking trail that goes all the way along Minnehaha Creek (which was more like a river) and leads out into the Mississippi. Definitely worth checking out for the views and wildlife.
Minnesota is a very outdoorsy destination. When we got to the Mississippi we saw plenty of fishermen, kayakers, canoers, and people just outside enjoying the amazing weather.
It's no question that what Minnesota is doing is an outstanding feat for the mountain bike community. It was really cool seeing how diverse the riders were at places like Lebanon. I'm super thankful that we have such a supportive community that produces trails for every difficulty so that we can keep making mountain biking mainstream and add more and more trails every year.
Presented by Explore Minnesota
To learn more about biking in Minnesota or to book a trip, visit Explore Minnesota