A local favorite for Twin Cities’ mountain bikers, Murphy-Hanrehan offers 3 trail loops nestled in glacial moraine. With varying levels of difficulty, this trail is great for beginners and the experienced veteran.
Only 30 minutes drive from the Twin Cities, Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve features some of the most strenuous mountain biking tracks in southern Minnesota. Thanks to the rugged, hilly terrain, this track has fantastic technical features, such as narrow paths, exposed roots, step bridges, and an uphill rock garden. Most of the trails cater to the intermediate to advanced biker, but there is also an easy loop that has gradual climbs and wider tracks for beginners.
The park is developed upon steep glacial deposits (moraine), which is what makes the park so topographically difficult. This area is dotted with cone-shaped hills called kames, which can vary in 100 ft in elevation. They are dotted throughout the reserve. In between the kames, oaks dominate the lowlands and now Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve is one of the few places left in Minnesota with a substantial stand of ancient oaks.
The 10-mile bike track is found mostly in the lowland area, but portions of the track do take you up small kames. Instead of letting your environment turn into a green blur, look past the dirt path and take a moment to focus on what borders the trail. You may realize you are pumping beside the deep-crevassed oak trunks that once lived among the glaciers.
What Makes It Great
From the parking lot, head south and cross the road. You’ll see that the trail winds through a patch of prairie, which borders an oak-aspen forest. Within the prairie is the 1 mile-long easy track and within the forest are the two more challenging single tracks. Mostly flat and with minimal sand, the prairie trail is great for beginners or for experienced riders wanting a quick warm-up before entering the woods.
About two-thirds of the way through the easy loop, you will see two rocks and a log blocking a trail entrance. This is the 2.3-mile intermediate loop. Take a right and prepare for your world to transform from sunny prairie to shady oak-aspen forest. The trail surface is packed-down earth and offers steep climbs, quick descents, and natural obstacles. Exposed roots and fallen logs require skilled maneuvering, and the steep descents are often followed by sharp twists and turns. If your lungs aren’t burning yet, at the end of the loop, push hard up the long uphill climb back to the prairie fields.
Roughly 1.5-miles into the intermediate loop, there is a trail exit for the advanced loop. Take the right and you’ll notice right away that the surface of the trail becomes considerably rougher. On this trail, there are more exposed roots, larger rocks, and narrower paths. At the start is an uphill rock garden that usually scares away intermediate bikers. If you feel like pushing yourself though, make sure to wear your helmet and prepare for a bumpy ride. At the top of the rock garden, you drop in a significant amount of elevation through narrow trails with very sharp twists and turns. From beginning to end, the 6.9-mile difficult single-track offers lung-bursting climbs; steep boardwalk steps separated by a skinny; and a narrow tread often cutting across steep side slopes.
During the summer and winter, park managers host a summer nocturnal and a frozen frolic trial race with three categories: men, women, and under 17. There are awards and door prizes for the participants.
Who is Going to Love It
Murphy-Hanrehan is a great option for mountain bikers looking for some technical trails that are open all year-round. Minneapolis mountain bikers love this park for its significantly difficult single track and myriad of technical obstacles.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. The parking lot for the trailhead is off Murphy Lake Rd, in the northwestern section of the park. The only time the trail is closed is when the trail is wet after a recent rainfall, so to prevent further trail damage. Before heading out, make sure to check the MORC website for trail conditions.
It’s important to note: Try not to venture off trail. There are patches of poison ivy, prickly ash, and wild parsnip spread throughout the park.