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Running through the colorful heart of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range region, the Mesabi Trail is well on its way to becoming one of the longer paved trails in the United States. When completed, the trail will run for 145 miles between Grand Rapids and Ely. Presently, 75 miles are paved between Grand Rapids and McKinley. A trail spur at Gilbert goes to Eveleth, while the main trail continues on to Wynne Lake.
The Mesabi Trail provides the opportunity to connect with nature as the trail winds through woods, stream areas, ponds, and lakes.
Animal sightings on the trail are common, with deer, raccoons, beavers, eagles, hawks, and even black bears making relatively regular appearances. For history buffs, the trail provides an open window to the past and present mining of the Iron Range as it takes users past constructed mine-pit lakes, old iron ore pits, and still-working iron ore mines.
Because the trail connects with so many towns and tourist attractions, such as the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum in Eveleth, Hill Annex Mine State Park near Calumet, and the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, the Mesabi Trail is also viewed as a way to get from place to place without using a car. All the trail routing through communities is along city streets.
A 6-mile section between McKinley and Biwabik is the next section of the trail to be developed in the near future. Also, because of reconstruction work on US 53, scheduled for completion sometime in 2017, the trail between Virginia and Gilbert detours at Mountain Iron and reconnects with the trail in Eveleth.
The western trailhead for the paved section beginning in Grand Rapids is at the Itasca County Fairgrounds (N.W. 14th St. and Crystal Lake Blvd.). Take I-35 to Exit 214, and head west on MN 73. In 2.5 miles turn left onto MN 27/MN 73, and in 4.8 miles, continue straight on MN 73. Go another 35.4 miles, and turn left onto US 2. Travel 36.8 miles, and turn left onto N.E. Fourth St. In 0.2 mile turn right onto N.E. Third Ave., and go 0.7 mile. Turn left onto N.E. 12th St., and then turn right onto Crystal Lake Blvd. In 0.2 mile turn left onto N.E. 14th St., and immediately turn right onto a dirt road. The parking is at the end of the road next to the trail.
In McKinley the paved trailhead and parking lot is on the southwest corner of the intersection of MN 135 and County Road 20. Take I-35 to Exit 237. Continue north 18.9 miles on MN 33. Exit onto US 53, and go 35.9 miles north. Take the MN 37 exit, and turn right onto MN 37. In 2.8 miles turn right onto CR 20/Heritage Trail, where the parking is located.
My son and I rode this trail in early August, from Grand Rapids up to Giant's Ridge. We did a self-supported bikepacking trip, camping overnight for two nights along the trail. This gave us plenty of time to see the sights.
It is a glorious trail to ride! It's well used by the locals, generally very well marked and maintained, and really a delight to ride. Other than three or four 8% grade hills, it is not a strenuous ride. The hills are generally quite short so that other than those few bigger hills previously mentioned, a beginner rider could easily do this trail. There is a section of the trail just before Biwabik that is on the road/hiway, and so this section may not be suitable for a beginner.
A word of caution for those camping and/or riding the entire trail: There is no water source at any point once you leave Grand Rapids - no pumps or spigots. Plan to carry plenty of water or be prepared to find a spot in one of the many towns the trail goes through to beg for water (the bars were quite accommodating)! Also, the only actual campsite area was just off the trail in Buhl. Otherwise, camping is limited for bike-packers. I highly recommend this trail for the ride experience and for the history lesson on Minnesota's iron range. There are many support mechanisms in place as well, for those that need it, including shuttle service. Well worth the WheelPass!
No doubt the Mesabi Trail offers a unique experience that's hard to beat. Like the best of the rail trails, but with hills and curves added. I rode 106 miles in two days of round-trip riding from Chisholm to Grand Rapids and had a very good time doing so. Very nice scenery, not too many road crossings, an excellent surface.
The trail stops at the edge of most cities and takes to the road until the other end of town. Most of these segments were pretty well signed, but coming into Nashwauk from the east I encountered conflicting signs posted next to the road and painted on it, followed the wrong one, and went out of my way almost a mile before backtracking.
One poorly signed road section is not a surprise. The biggest surprise (apart from the fact that I didn't at all mind the hills) was the lack of any true trailheads along the way.
The ideal trailhead has a dedicated parking lot for trail users, picnic tables, water, toilet facilities, and the gold standard: shade and showers. Many trailheads lack one or more amenities, but typically a trail has one or two trailheads with most of them.
Many towns along the trail had little to no off-road adjacent parking, there were few bathrooms, and not one trailside place with water to fill my bottles.
Another quirk which is not so unusual was the mileposts. They were spotty for the first 10 miles, then much more prevalent. There were 3 places between 0 and 48 where I found unaccounted gaps of up to 1/2 mile between two mileposts, so by the time you reach 48 you've gone 49. And I went several miles further by riding the "official" (i.e., noted on the map) side trails at Pengilly and Chisholm. Add that to my off-trail adventure, and that's how it took 106 miles to do 48 miles out and back.
We rode from Grand Rapids to Virginia. the trail currently ends in Virginia due to road construction. The trail was in great shape. Any bad spots were spray painted white so you could see them.Yes, there are some hills. Nothing anyone who rides much would worry about.All in all this is an amazing trail. Go now.One downside... restrooms and water almost non-existent.
My husband and I did 53 miles of this trail on the Mesabi Bike Tour in July 2015. It was a well supported and organized ride. We really enjoyed the cooler up north temps and beautiful scenery. The hills are long and challenging but lots of nice downhills too. I had enough after 53 miles. Would love to go again next year!
My wife and I stay at the Hidden Haven Resort in Cohasset, about 10 to 15 miles NW of Grand Rapids. Bob and Katie are the owners, and great people, and the fishing is very good! I usually come in from fishing around 1:30-2:00 grab a snack,and my road bike and head to Grand Rapids to ride the Mesabi. Great trail and scenery! I have road all of it now except the area south out of Ely that's not all completed yet. We go the last week of Sep. for peak color. Awesome ride!
The Mesabi is a very unique trail for MN. Most midwest rail trails are flat & somewhat boring. The Mesabi has numerous hills (many pretty steep) and curves. The scenery is spectacular even though much of it is obscured by small trees & shrubs close to the trail. Amenities are few & far between but most of the small towns have restaurants, bars, stores for the basics.
My main complaint is that the trail disappears as you pass through the numerous small towns; you have to be hyper aware. It is replaced by sidewalks, narrow roadways, road shoulders which are often poorly marked & in poor condition, hence dangerous. It's hard to enjoy a continuous, flowing ride. The worst town on this count was Virginia (fairly big town) as the trail jogged on & off roads & sidewalks, through parks, across busy streets, etc. I took an alternate route upon returning on another rough road & got a flat a mile from the end. There was also a bridge construction detour between Hibbing & Chisholm which is supposed to be done by this Oct. If you're tired of boring farm-country trails, give this one a try.
My husband and I biked 3 sections of this trail during and just after Labor Day weekend. It's a beautiful trail, wide and smooth and remarkably scenic. Not a lot of facilities at the trail heads, but all the little towns have pit stops of one sort or another. It is noticeably hillier than the other rail trails we've ridden in Minnesota. Bring lots of water and be prepared for some long climbs with occasional steep grades. We found the signage at the trail itself to be very good, although it is still a little confusing trying to find some of the trail heads. Trail usage was surprisingly light considering how beautiful the weather was. Maybe this trail just hasn't been discovered yet.
Virginia -> Mountain Iron (4.5 miles)
We rode this trail segment just before sunset and thoroughly enjoyed it. Getting out of Virginia was a little messy, but after about a mile of crossing and re-crossing the same busy street we found ourselves on a beautiful wooded trail that occasionally opened out to breathtaking fields of wildflowers. Just before you get to Mountain Iron there is a long dip down, then a longer hill up past the Wacootah Ore Pit, which is full of deep blue-green water. Mountain Iron itself is worth a quick tour. It's the site of the first mine on the Mesabi Range, and fiercely proud of the fact. This would be a great ride on a hot day, since the trail has lots of shade. On the other hand, coming into Mountain Iron just at sunset was a beautiful sight, with the sunset glinting off the historic town hall, the town founder, and the little steam shovel in the park.
Chisholm -> Hibbing (10 miles)
If you can only ride one segment of the trail, this is the one to pick, especially if you're interested in the local history and culture. The town of Chisholm is big enough to have a hotel and some places to eat but small enough to be charming. And the Hull Rust Mine at the Hibbing end of the trail is absolutely jaw-dropping. You can skip Iron World, but you don't want to skip the World's Largest Open Pit Iron Mine. The trail in between is scenic, including a perfect photo op of the beautiful gorge between Chisholm and Hibbing. The trail is far enough from the highway to be very quiet, and the ore dumps are overgrown with wild flowers from May through September. There is one big hill; the rest is gently rolling. There is, however, no shade. We rode on a perfect autumn day with temps in the 60's so this wasn't a problem. If you're riding in the summertime, I'd recommend this segment as an early morning or evening ride.
Here's how to find the downtown Chisholm trail head. The main street of Chisholm is called Lake Street, and is easy to find - just keep driving towards the water tower until you come to the street with all the storefronts. Go downhill on Lake Street until you come to the town lake. Right where the Bridge of Flags starts is the trail head kiosk. If you start at this trail head and ride to the Hull-Rust mine the trip is 10 miles each way, not 7. If you're staying at the Chisholm Inn, ride east and north on the frontage road and pick up the trail at the south end of the lake, right where it crosses the busy north-south street.
Chisholm -> Buhl (4-5 miles)
Perfectly nice ride, but not as pleasant as the other two segments we rode. The trail was wide and smooth, but ran close enough to the road so that the traffic noise was noticeable. Several long, steep hills, including one back-breaker close to the Chisholm end. And there's no shade at all. The one redeeming feature of this stretch of trail is the view of Chisholm from the top of the big hill.
I think there's an error on the last review of this trail. This trail is paved, it is smooth. The surface isn't broken up at all. There is no need for a mountain bike on this trail. I think he's talking about the wrong trail. I last rode this trail in July 07 and there are constant improvements. There was two very short unpaved sections due to road construction but that was it. I wonder what section he rode?
"This trail holds promises of granduer when in fact is poorly laid out and even worse when it comes to finding services needed for touring cyclists. The map I recieved from the web site is horribly inaccurate and the trail surface is rough and poorly maintained. Unless you are day riding with a mountain bike, stay clear of this one."
"I rode this trail from Grand Rapids to the floating bridge past Taconite. I also rode this trail from Marble to Pengilly(see my other review).
And I rode this trail from Hibbing to county road 661 east of Buhl.
The trail is scenic with open pit mine lakes, some really nice long distance views and the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere sometimes.
But the trail looks to be a combination of MUP(multiple use path) and rail/trail.
From Grand Rapids the trail starts hilly and doesn't hit rail/trail for about 5 miles.
After reaching Taconite the trail heads down a steep, steep grade and over a floating bridge in a swamp. Then very shortly after that bridge the trail dead ends on a local highway.
I try to avoid highways if I can, so I went back.
I then rode from Marble to Pengilly.(see seperate review)
If you are going to look for trail heads, I suggest you get a map before you start. I wrote down directions and I couldn't find one of Chisholms trail heads, the one I wanted of course. So I started at Iron World. If the fair happens to be session I don't think you could start from there, because it goes through the middle of the fairgrounds. The directions for the other trail head were flawed. It turns out I was there, but if that's a trailhead where was the parking. It looked like you were supposed to park on an ATV trail!
The only thing about parking at Iron World is that the trail from there to get to the trail is 1.5 miles long, downhill. But you know what that means especially on a hot day like I had(it hit 90).
I rode to Hibbing on a mostly flat rail/trail.
East of Chisholm on the trail is not a rail/trail until you reach Buhl. The ride was up a big steep hill with a nice view overlooking Chisholm at the top. From there until Buhl you ride alot on old 169(it's closed) but there is NO SHADE at all.
Riding east out of Buhl again is rail/trail, but that ends in a few miles. You then have to ride on a local highway south to continue on a trail. That trail is hilly and near U.S. 169 until I turned around at local road 661.
Be prepared to climb hills on this trail, bring bug repellent and be ready for some solitude."
"On July 8th I rode the trail from Marble to Pengilly. The trail looks brand new over the whole distance.
Leaving Marble it's obvious that between here and Calumet it is not a rail/trail. There is a long climb and several smaller ones going the other way.
Once reaching Calumet the rail /trail starts again. The trail dead ends on state 65 about a mile north of Pengilly.
The surface is great, but if you don't like climbing avoid the segment from Marble to Calumet."
"I've decided to keep posting updates on this trail. About 80 of the 132 miles is now completed, and we rode it all this summer. It just keeps getting better. It's never dull--fantastic varieties of scenery, wildlife, Minnesota history (plan on an afternoon on the Iron World side excursion--this should not be missed--take the historic train ride), and a curving, dipping, rising ride on a smooth trail. The trail over the Laurentian Divide isn't done yet, but that will be a scenic major climb and descent. Also the trail will curve past the old underground mine and experimental physics station at Tower (Go down!) If you're not entranced by the crystalline quality of the old mine tailings ponds, you're just not an outdoor person. Watch your trail map on the one weak segment of the trail through the city of Virginia and be ready for two short, steep climbs heading east from Virgina. If you're a golf fan take the side trail (from under the bridge at Embarrass Lake just east of Biwabik) up Giant's Ridge between Biwabik and Aurora and scope out the two championship golf courses carved out of the mountainous forest. Check accommodations ahead if you're not camping--northern Minnesota can be a tough place to find a bed in the summer. Sammy's in Hibbing is a great Italian meal stop. "
"We tried the completed portion from Grand Rapids to Taconite last summer and found it to be our cup of tea. The trail has enough twists and gentle rolls to keep you interested and a marvelous variety of sights, the best of which may be the old mine pits now converted into small, crystal clear lakes. Once the whole trail is completed to Ely, this should be one of the country's great rides. "
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