MTB Trail Review: Lebanon Hills

With summer gone and free time to mountain bike less and less frequent, I took advantage of the good weather until it really starts to get cold.  Over and over again I read and hear that Lebanon Hills is the trail of choice in the region if not the state.  The MORC trail review for Lebanon hills says “Plain and simple: This trail has developed into one of the “must ride” trails in Minnesota“, and I’d have to agree.  Not only is there enough mileage here to keep you busy for a good chunk of your day, but there’s something for everyone here.

Map courtesy of MORC

I’m on record that I’m a bit more of a novice trail rider.  The intermediate trails – especially “Dream II” – are fantastic trails that are equal parts good climbs and fast descents.  These trails gave me enough technical challenges but also made it fun to fly around curves after a climb.  One thing that quickly stood out to me was rocks.  Lots and lots of rocks.  Even on the intermediate trails, Lebanon Hills loves to test your ability to navigate large and small boulders and your ability to pick a clean line and stay with it, both uphill and down.  Good challenge.

A rider flys over one of many bridges in Lebanon Hills

If intermediate trails are too, well, intermediate, Lebanon Hills also offers a lot of technical riding in their “Expert Loop”.  I tried it, and at times it was a ton of fun, but I wouldn’t say that I really excelled at it.  Huge log piles, tons of rocks, drop offs, you name it.  Numerous times there were large rock fields that kicked my A and I came to a grinding halt.  Had I known what I was getting myself into I would’ve approached the trails differently, but when you’re flying around corners essentially blind not knowing what to predict, it’s different.  My favorite sections on these trails were the massive log piles.  I had never hit logs stacked so high, so it was a good test.  My least favorite had to have been climbing up hill with at least 7 good-sized logs spaced about 10 feet apart from each other.  I’m not too embarrassed to say I probably only made it over 4 out of the 7 cleanly.  Better luck next time.

Not my favorite
Good times

There’s a lot to like at Lebanon Hills, and when there seems to be a constant movement to continually make it better and more of a destination, which isn’t the case for a lot of trails around the metro area.  I’d have to agree, it’s a must ride.

Check out my ride here (although the time’s a little off since I forgot to start my watch after a break, like an idiot).

Trail Run: Hyland Park

Next weekend I’ll be running the Surly Trail Loppet through Theodore Wirth Park.  I’ve ran a few half marathons and one full marathon, but have never ran a trail race before.  I’ve been training for a little while on paved and crushed limestone trails, but haven’t run on any “real” trails.  So, to help me train further for this, I decided to do my long run at Hyland Park.

I’ve been searching for good trails to run around the Twin Cities for a while and haven’t yielded many results.  One of the last times I was in TC Running to buy myself the newest Asics Kayano, I asked an employee who was helping me where the best trails to run around the TC were.  Hyland was all he could come up with.  So, with this half-hearted recommendation in mind, I decided to check it out.

After parking in the Richardson Nature Center parking lot, I hit the trails not really understanding where I was going. My goal was to run 11 miles at a moderate pace.  I wasn’t really trying to push myself too hard, just get the mileage in.  Although it was overcast, Hyland is a beautiful park and it had no shortage of locals barbecuing, tossing a frisbee around, biking on the paved paths, or out for a leisurely stroll.  I saw only one other person running the trails with me.  Not sure if that’s telling or not.

Check out my run here.

Generally, it was a lot of fun to run the trails as opposed to the paved paths and crushed limestone paths I’m used to.  I love the sense of being more out in the wild and running on natural surfaces (yes, I know I’m still in a suburban park, but it feels different).  The trail surfaces ranged from running on grassy areas, wood chips, hard packed earth, and soft soil.

Careful, don't take one of these trails into someone's backyard

My one complaint is that although the trails are marked and there is occasionally a map on the trail, they’re still not marked that well and it got confusing where to actually run.  As a result, I ran 12.5 miles instead of my goal of 11.  One time, I saw a narrower trail off the main path and I thought, “Alright!  Even more off the beaten path, I’m there!”.  Nope.  Ran into someone’s backyard.  Sorry.

If you’re looking for an alternative to constantly tuning on your typical path or streets, I highly recommend changing it up and try out trail running.  Hyland Park is a good place to start.

MTB Trail Review: Elm Creek Park

Since I’m more of a novice biker, the skills necessary to ride over some terrain with technical and challenging obstacles eludes me.  I still try, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not altogether successful with those attempts.  So I ventured to the northern burbs and checked out the new singletrack at Elm Creek Park in Champlin.

The trail was designed and created with the help of MORC and is well maintained.  There isn’t a ton of climbing on this track, but to me, that’s most of the charm.  What Elm Creek doesn’t have in obstacles and technicality, it makes up for in speed.  And of course, going fast is a blast.  It was a ton of fun to push my bike and get going as fast as I could.  A lot of other trails have too many twists and turns just for the sake of having twists and turns.  It was refreshing to have long trails where I could anticipate far enough ahead and be able to build a little speed to hit a jump.

There are a few obstacles, but I stress the word “few”.  Most of the “obstacles” are trees with a narrow gap in between them.  The man-made obstacles are far and few between and they present little challenge, but are fun nonetheless.

If you’re near Elm Creek Park Reserve, I highly recommend this fast, clean single track.