MRT Road SignWoman biking on MRT

Mississippi River Trail


Location, Length and Alternatives

Minnesota’s Mississippi River Trail winds roughly 620 miles down river from its source within Itasca State Park to the Iowa border.  Located largely on the shoulders of paved roads and on low-traffic roads, the route also includes relatively long segments of scenic state and regional trails. 


Bicyclists have two route alternatives between Cass Lake and Brainerd:

Route Alternatives Explorer's On-Road Route Family-Friendly State Trail Route
River Orientation Parallels the river with terrific views Does not parallel the river, focuses on adjoining lakes instead
Audience On-road touring cyclists Young people and adults new to bicycle touring
Length 200 miles
100 miles
Surface Predominately asphalt roads and shoulders but includes one-mile of naturally surfaced trail (Norway Beach) and 20-miles of packed gravel roads (between Palisade and Aitkin) All asphalt

Lodging and other services are limited between Grand Rapids and Aitkin

Broad selection of amenities and accommodations


Throughout the 72-mile long Twin Cities Metro Area, the MRT is routed on both sides of the river - you can pick a side or ride both.  The bikeway is located within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), an urban national park. Although much of the route is presently on-road, several off-road regional trails suitable for a wide variety of bicyclists are featured within this segment (local and regional planning is presently underway for several new off-road river-oriented trails with the eventual outcome being a continuous 144-mile off-road Metropolitan river loop).  


Finally to the south, bicyclists can remain on roads below the Mississippi River Bluffs or ride the Apple Blossom Scenic Byway.  The byway allows bicyclists a view of the Mississippi uplands, spectacular views of the river and adjoining bottom lands.  It also offers access to Great River Bluffs State Park.

Compared to bicycling in the Appalachian, Rockey or Smokey Mountains, this route is relatively flat. This is especially true for those utilizing the Paul Bunyan and Heartland State Trails between Cass Lake and Brainerd and other trails within the Twin Cities Metro Area which have a maximum sustained grade of 3 percent.  The steepest climb of the road route is 578 feet and is located on the Apple Blossom Scenic Byway.


Route Navigation
Do not expect to navigate the MRT following signs. Use MnDOT provided MRT maps as the MRT has only been partially signed in the Twin Cities. 


Riding Safety
Whenever on roads, remember you are a vehicle - non-motorized - but nontheless, a vehicle. "Drive" appropriately.

  •  Ride safely and abide by the rules of the road
  •  Ride single file with traffic
  •  Use hand signals to indicate turns and movements
  •  Stop at stop signs and signals
  •  Be considerate where and when you park and lock your bike


When on paved paths, you will be sharing space with other bicyclists, rollerbladers, pedestrians and families with small children. Make sure to alert them to your presence. In some cases, bicyclists wishing to ride at higher speeds have the choice to ride on the road adjacent to the path.