Rough Riding in Minnesota
The Mississippi River influences the character of many rides in southern Minnesota. North America's greatest river begins as a small stream in the north woods, but by the time it reaches the metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul it begins to show its mighty character. The system of river locks and dams that makes the river a highway for barges and tugs ends in the Twin Cities. As impressive as it is, the Mississippi is a trickle compared to what it once was. When the continental glacier melted, the river filled the valley from rim to rim, carving the gorges, bluffs, and palisades that make it the scenic wonder it is today.
Tucked into the niches of the Mississippi bluffs are three rides that take advantage of the river's handiwork. Riders will find extremely challenging mountain biking on the Holzinger Lodge Trail on the edge of the river city of Winona. At the more isolated Snake Creek Trail, set in a side valley of the great river, riders can enjoy a moderate route in an almost alpine setting. On the All-Terra Tour, a system of gravel roads creates a moderate ride through the hills and orchards just south of the historic river city of Red Wing.
The river does greatly influence the Twin Cities area (where over half of the state's population lives), but the riding terrain in the metro area is a product of the glacier's ice sheets rather than its runoff. Evidence of the glacier doesn't get any more impressive than on the Murphy-Hanrehan Trails. The extremely challenging riding there covers steep, rocky moraine laid down by the melting ice. It is part of the Hennepin Parks system, which preserves nature's legacy and provides many kinds of recreation around the metro area. Buck Hill is a private alpine ski area that offers the enthusiastic mountain biking public a challenging experience in a controlled area that takes in almost all of the vertical feet that skiers enjoy. Lebanon Hills also offers challenging riding on a short but exciting loop on a steep glacial moraine. At Elm Creek, another Hennepin Park destination, the riding is easy and shows that the glacier also created marshes and scenic lakes surrounded by low hills.
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