4 friends and I from Tennessee rode the Mesabi Trail from Grand Rapids to Ely last weekend over 3 days. Here are a few takeaways from our experience. First, talk to the people at Mesabi Shuttle (MS). It was invaluable to have a flexible shuttle service that can carry luggage, bikes, and/ or people and they gave good advice about lodging, etc, helped plan out itinerary. They were reliable and an excellent service.
Second, we found that by flying into Range Regional Airport in Hibbing, we did not need to rent a car. MS transported us to our hotel, we put our bikes together and then they transported us to Grand Rapids where we started the first leg of the trip to Hibbing. All in the same day.
Thirdly about navigating the trail. Take a paper map as the trail runs through many small towns and it is not always clear where to find the next trail head. The surface on the western half of the trail is older with cracks from freezing. It has been repaired but is still bumpy. At places the trail is heaved up a few inches, often marked with paint. Be aware. This is not a pace line trail for most of the way. Our mileage each day was a few miles more than expected by the map. MS has a nice detailed set of notes about resources along the way- stores, restaurants, taverns.
We stayed in Evelyth our 2nd night at Super 8, a homey accommodation. Our 3rd day was a 72 mile push to Ely. It was the best ride day with deeper woods, smoother trail, bigger climbs. The decent down to the super long floating bridge was a blast. There are a few places that require riding on the highway a few miles. This was not bad- either good shoulders or very low traffic. We stayed at a great VRBO house in Ely but they have many accommodations there.
Tips and high points- bring your own tubes, tires and tools as resources are limited. Mesabi Recreation in Virginia was a very helpful bike shop, a godsend when one of our members seat clamp broke. And it has a Tasty Freeze beside it. MS had a bike pump, but it is handy to bring your own. Boomtown Tavern in Hibbing was a good place to celebrate the first night. The Hull Rust Mine just north of Hibbing is worth a view- one of the largest open pit mines in the world. I highly recommend the Whistling Bird in Gilbert for dinner- very good Jamaican (in MN?). Good Old Days Cafe in Tower is a good place for a lunch stop. Watch for bears along the trail near Ely- we saw 2 cubs and didn’t wait around for more. Ely is a cool “end of the road” small adventure town with several restaurants and bars. We spent a day canoeing in the Boundary Waters. The outfitters there can easily set up rental and transport. If you want multi- night canoe trips plan ahead with an outfitter. You need a permit.
We enjoyed the last part of the trail so much we did it again in reverse, getting picked up by MS at Tower. This was a great bike trip and is highly recommended.
The Mesabi Trail™ has been funded in part by the LCCMR and the Minnesota Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund.