About U.S. Bicycle Route 45
Location, length and alternatives
Minnesota’s Mississippi River Trail, or USBR 45, winds roughly 600 miles downriver 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. There are also several alternative routes, designated as USBR 45A, adding 200 miles to the total.
Cass Lake to Brainerd
|Explorer's On-Road Route
|Family Friendly State Trail Route
|Parallels the river with terrific views
|Does not parallel the river, focuses on connecting river cities via the Heartland and Paul Bunyan State Trails
|On-road touring cyclists
|Young people and adults new to bicycle touring
|Predominately asphalt roads and shoulders with approximately 7 miles of packed gravel roads (between Palisade and Aitkin)
Lodging and other services are limited between Grand Rapids and Aitkin
Broad selection of amenities and accommodations
In St. Cloud, cyclists can choose to follow the west bank of the river through Downtown or (USBR 45) or east bank (USBR 45A).
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. USBR 45 follows mostly trails and crosses the river several times to reach downtown Minneapolis, downtown Saint Paul, and connect to USBR 41. USBR 45A follows the opposite bank of the river and uses a combination of roads and trails.
Finally, to the south, bicyclists can remain on roads below the Mississippi River Bluffs (USBR 45) or ride the Apple Blossom Scenic Byway (USBR 45A). 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.
This route is relatively flat compared to bicycling in the Appalachian, Rocky or Smoky Mountains. This is especially true for those traveling 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 on the Apple Blossom Scenic Byway.
The MRT is signed from the Headwaters at Itasca State Park to the Iowa border, but there are a few locations where signs are not posted. As of June 2023, MRT signs have also not yet been updated to follow the updated route. While signs are helpful to navigate, they are not the only or the primary way to do so. Use a digital or print map to identify trail sections and connections.
Known areas with incomplete signs include:
- Clearwater County (from the northern boundary of Itasca State Park to Becida/MRT Map A)
- Aitkin County on County Road 10, also called Great River Road
- Hennepin County
- Dayton River Road (between Dayton and Champlin — west side of river/MRT Maps 3 & 4)
- Marshall Avenue (between St. Anthony Parkway and 8th Av NE in Minneapolis — east side of river/MRT Map 8)
- Minneapolis Park Board property (all parkland between 53rd Av N and northern boundary of Fort Snelling State Park — near E. 54th St/MRT Maps 7-10)
The Mississippi River Trail/USBR 45/45A uses a combination of paved trails, paved shoulders and shared roadways. Bicyclists on all road shoulders must be experienced, capable of sharing the road with cars and trucks. They must also bicycle defensively due to the traffic speeds, volumes and lack of separation from motorized traffic.
USBR 45/45A panel maps indicate locations where trail exists and where the route is on road.
Rules of the road:
When traveling on roads, bicycles are nonmotorized vehicles. Bicyclists are encouraged to "drive" appropriately:
- Ride safely and abide by the rules of the road.
- Ride single file with traffic.
- Follow best practices and position yourself appropriately based on the road speed, volume and shoulder/lane conditions.
- Use hand signals to indicate turns and movements.
- Stop at stop signs and signals.
- Be considerate about when and where your bike is parked and locked.
Parts of the route on paved trails suit bicyclists of all abilities and experience levels. Interactions with vehicle traffic occur at intersections and trail crossings. Share paved trail spaces with other bicyclists, pedestrians, and families with small children. Make sure to alert them of your presence.
Destinations, accommodations, and points of interest
- Headwaters: Itasca State Park, Mississippi Headwaters State Forest
- Paul Bunyan State Trail/Heartland State Trail: Paul Bunyan State Trail, Heartland State Trail, Walker, Nisswa, Baxter, Paul Bunyan State Forest
- Mississippi Northwoods: Bemidji, Cass Lake,
- Mississippi Crossings: Grand Rapids, Palisade, Aitkin, Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, Cuyuna Lakes State Trail, Brainerd, Baxter, Crow Wing State Park, Crosby, Riverton, Fort Ripley, Little Falls, Charles A. Lindberg State Park
- Scenic Mississippi: Sauk Rapids, Rice, Sartell, St Cloud, Clearwater, Otsego, Monticello
- Metro Mississippi: Elk River, Ramsey, Dayton, Mississippi National River Recreation Area, Champlin, Anoka, Coon Rapids, Brooklyn Center, Fridley, Minneapolis, Fort Snelling State Park, Lilydale, St Paul, Inver Grove Heights, Eagan, Rosemount, Coates , Hastings, St. Paul Park, Cottage Grove
- Mississippi Bluffs: RJD Memorial Hardwood State Forest, Red Wing, Lake City, Wabasha, Kellogg, Minnesota City, John A. Latsch State Park, Winona, Great River Bluffs State Park, La Crescent
Numerous private and public camping sites are available, including at several Minnesota State Parks along the route. Hotels can also be found in many of the towns located on the route.
Biking the Mississippi
Ride it all or just enjoy a segment or two. The Mississippi River Trail provides opportunities tailored for bicyclists of all types and ages to follow America’s great river.