Summer in Minnesota ushers in a period of collective euphoria. We can finally shed our layers and move unencumbered, letting the sun warm our skin and the breeze wash over us. All that time spent slip-sliding down ice-laden walkways makes us fully appreciate things like running in single-layer ensembles and moving through air that doesn’t sting our eyeballs and burn our lungs.
That’s probably why the Land of 10,000 Lakes has quietly gained a reputation for outdoor recreation. We don’t have mountains or an ocean, just a good old-fashioned ambition for embracing adventure and fitness, especially during the nicest months. Not to mention the incredible infrastructure we have built to accommodate an active lifestyle. If you’re looking to get out and moving this summer, consider any of the following activities, best enjoyed when the sun is shining and the temps are above freezing.
There’s no doubt that the sport of mountain biking is growing in Minnesota. From the metro area to the North Shore, new single-track is being designed and built every year.
Ride: Lebanon Hills, Elm Creek, Battle Creek and Theodore Wirth parks are just a few metro spots that offer a range of single-track trails. For a comprehensive list, check out the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists’ website (morcmtb.org). For world-class trails, the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System in Ironton, Minn., can’t be beat (cuyunalakesmtb.com). Keep your eye on the progress of the Duluth Traverse trail, which has ambitions to be the first 100-plus-mile system of single-track right within a city (coggs.com).
Rent: Mountain bikes and/or fat bikes are available to rent at locations including the Angry Catfish in Minneapolis (angrycatfishbicycle.com), Maple Grove Cycling (maplegrovecycling.com) and Cycle Path & Paddle in Crosby (cyclepathpaddle.com).
Race: Navigating trails from the bluffs of Mount Kato to the red dirt at Cuyuna Lakes, the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series (mnmtbseries.com) welcomes high school athletes, seasoned riders and newbies. Three Rivers Parks District also hosts endurance-oriented races and sprint series events around the Twin Cities in July and August (threeriversparks.org). And for one of the best mountain biking events in the state, don’t miss the Lutsen 99er on the North Shore on June 25 (lutsen99er.com). Young off-road buffs ages 8 to 13 can sign up for the Loppet Foundation’s Adventure Mountain Bike Series, which hosts four races at Theodore Wirth Park from May 25 to July 13 (loppet.org).
Just because we don’t have mountains doesn’t mean there aren’t some gnarly bluffs and sheer rock faces to scale in the area. Rock climbing is one of the most unique ways to experience the great outdoors in Minnesota. There’s really nothing like climbing one of the state’s premier crags.
Locales: The quartzite cliffs of Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne and Barn Bluff in Red Wing, which has more than 100 routes, are two of the best. Or head to the North Shore of Lake Superior for the scenic Palisade Head and nearby Shovel Point in Tettegouche State Park. If a quick day trip is more your style, head to Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls for some trad climbing and bouldering.
Instruction: Positive Energy Outdoors in Duluth (outdooradventures.org) and Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais (stoneharborws.com) organize guided climbing on the North Shore. Twin Cities-based Vertical Endeavors takes climbers to Interstate and Blue Mounds state parks, and holds classes and private lessons. For information on route conditions and climbing permits, check out the Minnesota Climbers Association website (mnclimbers.org).
Rentals: If you’re going it alone, there are couple of equipment rental options. The Outdoor Center at the University of Minnesota (recwell.umn.edu/outdoor/rentals) has everything from bouldering crash pads to climbing shoes to helmets. The University of Minnesota Duluth’s Recreational Sports Outdoor Program also has rentals.
Thanks to the simplicity of the sport, minimal equipment requirements and a wealth of trails, runners abound in the 612. Whether you’re looking for a new trail to hit, a club to join or a race to run, there’s no shortage of ways to get out and stretch your legs.
Run: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes is hands down the running hot spot in the Twin Cities, but there are plenty of other great options. Minnehaha Parkway, the Mississippi River Road and the adjoining Grand Rounds Scenic Byway offer more than 50 miles of paved trails along some scenic real estate. For unpaved paths that are gentler on the knees, consider logging miles at Theodore Wirth Park, Pike Island, the Minnesota River Bottoms or Afton State Park, or check out Three Rivers’ and Dakota County’s park offerings.
Train: A number of thriving clubs provide training guidance and camaraderie. Among them are Club Run (clubrun.org), Calhoun Beach Running Club (calhounbeachrunningclub.com) and the Life Time Fitness running clubs (lifetimefitness.com). For something a bit more casual, drop in at a running specialty store’s group run, like Fleet Feet Marathon Sports’ Tuesday night community runs (fleetfeetminneapolis.com) or Mill City Running’s Wednesday night group runs or Friday morning runs, the latter of which is famous for serving pancakes post-run (millcityrunning.com).
Race: The veritable buffet of running events in the Twin Cities will satisfy any pavement or trail hound. Twin Cities in Motion (tcmevents.org) hosts a series of events throughout the year leading up to the big dance, the Twin Cities Marathon in October. While consulting active.com will bring up everything from 1-mile races to ultra marathons, it’s worth checking local race management companies like Anderson Races (andersonraces.com) for events. For more competitive race series events, USATF Minnesota helps organize everything from road races to cross-country and track meets (asatfmn.org). There are even races aimed at specific demographics, like those who enjoy rehydrating after a run with a cold brew (breweryrunningseries.com) or who prefer scenic off-road venues (umtr.net).
While yoga is a year-round venture, the outdoor variety is reserved for only the most glorious months in Minnesota. With a gentle breeze and the warming sun, Mother Nature offers a particularly spiritual setting to get your Namaste on. Drawing in all ages and ability levels, outdoor yoga sheds the intimidation factor that sometimes accompanies regular studio classes.
Classes: There are outdoor yoga options every day of the week. Tuesday evenings at 6:30 from June 14-Sept. 13, end your workday with Luminous Yoga (luminous-yoga.com) on the shores of Lake Calhoun. On Wednesdays, the Yoga Garage (theyogagarage.com) visits Lake of the Isles in that same time frame. Head to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska (arboretum.umn.edu) at lunchtime on Thursdays for yoga in the gardens, and return for a Sunday morning session. Or hit up a Sunday morning class at Lake Calhoun, hosted by the Twin Cities Yoga Cooperative (facebook.com/twincitiesyogacooperative). For early birds, the Lake Harriet Yoga Project (facebook.com/lakeharrietyogaproject) holds 6:30 a.m. sunrise yoga classes at the Lake Harriet Bandshell every single day Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Events: Minneapolis’ Loring Park will play host to the Common Grounds Yoga and Music Festival (commongroundsfestival.com) on July 9. The event features al fresco classes in various styles of yoga, along with music, meditation and performances in the park.
As soon as the mercury spikes, Minnesotans are drawn to water. While relaxing on shore and enjoying the breeze or pedaling along a gently flowing creek are popular activities, water sports offer a more immersive experience.
Open water: The Chain of Lakes and Minnehaha Creek are obvious choices for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding. The 72-mile Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (nps.gov) runs right through the Twin Cities; get details on where to enjoy the river at the Mississippi River Visitor Center in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota (nps.gov/miss). Also check out our state parks (dnr.state.mn.us), which have a wide variety of waters to navigate.
Rentals: With on-shore operations at Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Lake Nokomis, Wheel Fun Rentals (wheelfunrentals.com) is the go-to for stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), canoes, kayaks and pedal boats. Many state parks and Three Rivers Parks (threeriversparks.org) offer canoe, kayak and SUP rentals. Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis (midwestmtn.com), REI in Bloomington (rei.com) and the University of Minnesota Outdoor Center (recwell.umn.edu/outdoor/rentals) also rent a wide range of paddling equipment at reasonable rates.
Tours and events: Sign up to tour various sections of the Mississippi via kayak with Above the Falls Sports (abovethefallssports.com) or via SUP with Stand Up MN (standupmn.com). For a more competitive flavor, check out the UCare Tri-Loppet at Theodore Wirth Park on June 25. The 7K paddle, 5K run and 13K mountain bike race can be completed solo or as part of a relay. For SUP enthusiasts, the Midwest Stand Up Paddleboard Racing Series (midwestsup.com) gives you the chance to test your fitness, including the Paddle for Humanity at Lake Calhoun on Aug. 7.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer from Minneapolis.