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Five family-friendly Minnesota bike trails

For many kids, a bike is a passport to worlds beyond their front lawn. A bike represents freedom, fun and the great outdoors. And just as important, biking is a healthy pastime that children of all ages can enjoy.

As sports medicine providers and avid cyclists ourselves, we encourage all families to ride their bikes together. Biking together as a family is a great way to motivate children to stay active for a lifetime, as it shows role models being active and having fun. 

We are very fortunate to live in a state that is so committed to biking. In Minnesota, finding a great place to ride is getting easier and safer all the time. Minnesota state, county and municipal governments are creating 4,000 miles of paved biking roadways. There are hundreds of miles of off-road trails, too, if that is more your style. And did you know that Minneapolis has consistently vied with Portland, Oregon, for top biking city according to Bicycling Magazine

Here are our five favorite, family-friendly local and state biking trails:

  • Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System: This is the most easily accessed paved bike trail if you live in the Twin Cities. The Grand Rounds include 51-miles of trails along the east and west Mississippi River Parkways, Minnehaha Parkway and around the Chain of Lakes.
  • Gateway State Trail: This travels 18 miles from the east side of Saint Paul, ending north of Stillwater. The paved trail was built on an old railroad bed and is very flat, making this an easier ride.
  • Lebanon Hills Regional Park: Located in Eagan, Minnesota, these well-marked, off-road trails are suitable for beginners to more technical riders. This is a perfect place for a family outing as there are changing rooms, water, restrooms and a picnic area overlooking a skills park.
  • Cuyuna Country State Recreational Area: Located near Crosby, Minnesota you'll will find everything from easy to difficult single-track off-road trails through wooded areas. They also have fat tire bike trails for winter riding.
  • Paul Bunyan Trail System: This is the longest bike trail in Minnesota, offering 120 miles of paved trail from Brainerd to Bemidji, Minnesota. It is largely flat and appropriate for bikers of any ability. 

Once you've committed to having a bike adventure together as a family, here are some tips to ensure everyone has an enjoyable time:

  1. Safety should always be the first concern. Make sure everyone wears a well-fitting helmet and dresses comfortably for the weather in brightly colored and reflective clothing.
  2. Discuss biking etiquette-- it is never too early (or too late) to start learning. Ride on a predictable path or on the far right side of the road, signal turns and announce your presence as you approach another rider or pedestrian.
  3. Take frequent breaks to enjoy the view, take pictures, rest your legs and refuel. The bike trip should not be about the destination, but the journey together. So don't feel pressured to make it to a certain marker on a trail. Go as far as you feel comfortable, turn around or stop when you feel like it.
  4. Don't forget your gear. Choose the gear appropriate for your ride distance and destination. You want to be prepared, but not overloaded. You should consider bringing water bottles, sunglasses, sunscreen, a bike lock, a flat repair kit and healthy snacks.

Your child doesn't have to be old enough or big enough to bike on their own for long distances to enjoy a bike ride together. If your child is too small to ride alone, consider a towable carrier, like a Burley. Strider bikes, also known as balance bikes, are great for little kids learning to ride – these bikes help the child focus on the fundamentals of balancing, leaning and steering without the distractions and complications of pedals or training wheels. Trailer cycles (a one-wheeled or sometimes two-wheeled, bicycle trailer that attaches to the back of an adult bike) work great for taking kids a little older on longer rides as it allows them to pedal along and rest when necessary.

May is National Bike Month, making this the perfect time to get out there and ride with the whole family. 

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