Inner City Singletrack: Midwest

By Nick Legan

When traveling to a big city there’s no reason to leave your mountain bike at home. If you find yourself near any of these places, know that your mountain bike tribe has laid the groundwork for some of the best riding you’ve never heard of. From full-blown bike parks to hidden singletrack, heading to a metropolis doesn’t mean you’re stuck in a concrete jungle. Ribbons of dirt and green spaces crisscross most urban areas.

This is just a small sampling from the biggest travel locations in the midwest. Many more exist in nearly every city. Finding it is often as easy as asking a local bike shop.


Chicago, Illinois

The Windy City talks a big game, and in the case of mountain biking, it delivers, as long as you’re willing to drive a short distance. Several good dirt jump parks can be found close to downtown, but for a singletrack experience you should head to the Palos Trail System west of town. A high-profile bike park at Big Marsh Park opened last fall, but locals view it as a work in progress. Your best bet, according to the co-owner of Comrade Cycles, Bailey Newbrey, is Palos.

Top trails:

A 30-minute drive west of Chicago, the Palos Trail System is expanding all the time. It currently has over 30 miles of singletrack set on rolling terrain, using what space there is to maximize fun by dishing up tight, twisting, tree-lined singletrack along with faster doubletrack sections, water crossings and plenty of roots and logs.

Where to park:

There are two main parking lots for Palos: Maple Lake East and Bullfrog Lake. Both set you up for a great ride.

Must-hit libations:

Pre-ride:
For local flavor, head to Caffe Streets, a pro-bike cafe located between Wicker Park and Noble Square.

Post-ride:
After your ride at Palos, you’re a short walk or pedal away from Imperial Oak Brewing. They offer a large beer list and host food trucks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In the Wicker Park/West Town area, stop by Handlebar, a vegetarian, bike-themed restaurant/bar. Monday night is messenger night, with discounted beer for the hardworking couriers.

Bike shops:

Comrade Cycles is run by a worker-owner crew, among them Bailey Newbrey, a Tour Divide veteran. They keep it real, engaging with their community and building beautiful custom bikes at the same time. They are happy to help with bike needs and trail advice.

Where to stay:

Airbnb is a great way to find cycling-friendly accommodations. Otherwise, stick to downtown to give yourself easy access to museums, restaurants, the shore and Shedd Aquarium. The Wicker Park/ West Town area is a very hip neighborhood to check out.

One Day Trail in the Palos Trail System. Photo by Leslie Kehmeier via MTB Project.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul play home to 13 trail networks and over 100 miles of singletrack. From rolling river bottoms to rocky, ledge- and log-strewn sections, this Midwestern city has a lot to offer visiting mountain bikers. We hit up Cars-R-Coffins founder Hurl Everstone for the inside scoop.

Top trails:

Theodore Wirth Park has five connected trail segments for a total of 7 miles of trails that are easily accessed riding from many parts of town. The twisty, tree-lined singletrack packs in features, including a nice flow trail in the southwest Wirth Loop. Access the park via a short ride on the Cedar Lake Trail, then start at the brand-new Brownie Lake segment and connect with the Southwest Wirth Loop for a good in-town ride.

If you’re up for a short drive, the 35-minute commute from downtown to Lebanon Hills in Eagan is well worth it. They have over 11 miles of one-way, bike-only singletrack with a healthy mix of beginner and intermediate sections and even 2 miles of “extremely difficult” trail with logs, rocks and ledges.

Where to park:

If staying in town, ride from your hotel using the city’s incredible bike path and bike lane system. If heading to Eagan, look for the Lebanon Hills West Trailhead on Johnny Cake Ridge Road, just south of Cliff Road.

Must-hit libations:

Pre-ride:
Grab a coffee at One On One Bicycle Studio if you’re staying at the Hewing Hotel. It’s worth a visit, even if you’re staying elsewhere in town.

Post-ride:
Hit the recently opened Utepils Brewing just east of Theodore Wirth Park. The name is Norwegian and roughly translates to “want to drink beer in the sunshine after a long winter.”

Bike shops:

One On One Bicycle Studio is part bike shop, part coffee house, part art gallery and all heart. If you’re really nice, you might get a peek at its incredible basement.

Where to stay:

The new Hewing Hotel is two blocks from the legendary One On One Bicycle Studio and only one block from the start of the Cedar Lake Trail, a quick 3-mile connector to the Theodore Wirth Park trail system.

Theodore Wirth Park. Photo by Mike Fait via MTB Project.

We realize there are great inner-city trails everywhere. Have stories and info about your favorite urban singletrack that you’d like to share? Email [email protected] and we’ll publish a few on our website. Please include a photo (or several) and make sure the trails you write about are legal. 

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4 Comments

  1. You missed the Rum Village trail in South Bend. The trail is a short ride from downtown, in a city park. The trail is over 20 years old and was built in a previously junk strewn annex to a South Bend park. At the time it was being built IMBA told the local club the trail was a first..

  2. Too bad you overlooked Kansas City. Swope Park and Blue River Parkway trails are in the city, and they are great trail systems with miles and miles of riding (and you’d never realize you’re in the city). Shawnee Mission Park, Landahl Park, and Smithville Lake trails are in the metro… Along with some smaller trails. That’s a major miss.

  3. There will be another couple miles of singletrack added to the Theodore Wirth trail in the next year or so. The Lebanon Hills trail is one of many within the same distance. Check out Minnnesota Off Road Cyclists (MORC) for info on area trails, including whether or not they are open or closed. MORC maintains nearly all of the official trail systems in the Twin Cities Metro and outstate Minnesota. “Theo” as we locals like to call it is within riding distance of hundreds of thousands TC residents and we love and appreciate it!

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