The Hills We Die On: Bike Ride #10 in Minneapolis and St. Paul’s Ugliest Cliffs

When it comes to the hills, Minneapolis and St. Paul are not San Francisco. They’re not even duluth. or Stillwater. In fact, apart from some great hikes along the Mississippi River and odd hills here and there, the cities are fairly flat.

But anyone who has crossed the Twin Cities by bike knows that despite the lack of topographical fame, there are still some brutal climbs. For example: the Ford Parkway’s march from Minneapolis to St. Paul. Or try climbing a symbolic hill outside of downtown St. Paul.

So which hills in the vertically-challenging Twin Cities are considered the worst – either in terms of steep inclines or just unrelenting climbs? To find out, MinnPost rode a number of them (and then usually down!). We also used data from DNR MnTOPO Tool To evaluate hills quantitatively, given the total length of the climb and the number of vertical feet gained.

Here’s a short tour of ten of Minneapolis and St. Paul’s most intimidating slopes.

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Minneapolis

Of the two cities, Minneapolis is certainly the least accomplished when it comes to verticals. However, the windmill city is not without … positive aspects.

Franklin Street from East River Parkway to Cecil Street SE

This is a great hill to bomb Under; Great entrance from St. Paul to Minneapolis through beautiful Prospect Park and to the river. On the way, not much. It’s just a simple old steady climb. Add more height gain by navigating Prospect Park’s mysterious network of streets to the witch’s hat water tower.

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The photo shows the way up the hill with the bike lane on the right

MinnPost photo by Greta Cole

E. 50th Street from Minnehaha Parkway to 1st Avenue

Map showing the route described above and below

Having just ridden a giant bronze hare on the side of a bike path along Minnehaha Parkway, you might be lulled into the false sense that riding south of Minneapolis is fun and games; Fun, flat walks along the creek side. But swerve to the right later at fifty, and soon you will be denied the idea. The hill starts at the 50’s gradually but then picks up the descent quickly. It’s also a very wide street, which means cars will scurry off your side, only emphasizing your sense of inadequacy as you slowly crawl, wondering if your bike has a lower gear.

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The photo shows a wide residential road without lines that slope upwards to the top of a hill

MinnPost photo by Tom Nehil

Kenwood Parkway near Spring Lake to Mount Curve

Map showing the route described above and below

For a cyclist, Kenwood Parkway may offer one of the best hill climbing experiences in the Twin Cities. It is a tall hill that follows a delightful set of curves along narrow, divided lanes in a wooded setting, punctuated only by luxury homes. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine you’re starting the first climb in the Tour de France – then open it up again quickly as a Land Roar passes you 40 with just one foot away. The hill in Kenwood reaches its maximum point when you reach the intersection with Mount Curve, but for an extra small climb, take a hard left onto this street. You are on top of the world.

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The image shows a one-lane road curved and sloping upward in the distance

MinnPost photo by Tom Nehil

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South Dupont from Groveland Terrace to Mount Curve Avenue

Map showing the route described above and below

Other than absolute happiness, most people would have no reason to climb this hill. It connects two larger streets in Lowry Hill which can be easily accessed via flat roads or skipped altogether. But for the true hill connoisseur, it’s irresistible: This thing feels like it’s going straight up. In fact, between the mansions and the improbable slope, you might think you’re in Los Angeles. And while this hill has the steepest steepness of any given story (nearly 15% at a time!), it’s also one of the shortest—about 400 feet from Groveland Terrace up to Mount Curve Ave.

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The photo shows a small side road sloping upward at a dramatic angle

MinnPost photo by Tom Nehil

Theodore Wirth Parkway – North

Map showing the route described above and below

The entire bike path along Theodore Wirth Parkway through Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis is one of the best rides in Minneapolis: it’s all curves, undulating hills amid pretty trees, and a golf course. Once you reach most of the park heading north, there is a gentle gradual climb out of the park. This tricks you into a relatively flat – even slightly sloping – section before you really make your way to the intersection with Golden Valley Road, which is also at latitude 45.

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Photo showing the bike path through the park land that curves and slopes up

MinnPost photo by Tom Nehil

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Saint Paul

St. Paul, with its bluffs, valleys, and unmaintained road surfaces, presents some of the real challenges for the climbing cyclist. Here are some of the best in town.

Ramsay Street from Pleasant Street to Summit Street

Map showing the route described above and below

For our money, this hill is the biggest challenge anyone could have reason to ride in Minneapolis or St. Paul. It’s a very steep trek, not to mention the drive. Of course, if you want something tougher, you can go a little east and ride Chilkoot in Stillwater, which averages over 15%. But this is a way out.

The thing about steep St Paul’s hill is that it’s actually the shortest route between two popular points: the fun West Seventh District and the stately summit, spitting next to the University Club and Summit Overlook Park. While you might look up the hill and think “why would anyone ever ride that,” the bike lane painted on its side invites anyone looking for a challenge—and many, according to several people who saw MinnPost climb it on a recent Sunday evening. It’s a very steep grade lasting 0.2 miles. It is recommended to use gears.

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Road photo taken at sunset with the bike lane on the right side of the road in the center of the photo

MinnPost photo by Greta Cole

Osceola Street from Pleasant Avenue towards Grotto

Map showing the route described above and below

This is a short and steep hill. But it is not the degree that presents problems for the people who ride it. It’s the road surface, as this particular stretch of the hill is cobbled, which can really stand up to the biker. Not wanting to flip over on the way to Crocus Hill, MinnPost took a mountain bike for this ride. We’re told that cyclists on lighter bikes would like to ride A taste of Europe’s cobbled streets, anyway.

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The picture shows a gravel road

MinnPost photo by Greta Cole

Randolph Street from Chatsworth Street to Snelling Street

Map showing the route described above and below

This is a long journey to think about the “high” part of the name of the Highland Park neighborhood. This climb from West Seventh to the Highland is steep and steady, stopping traffic lights on stretches where the steepness—like the one by Trader Joe’s—really kills momentum if you hit them wrong. Silver Lining: A dip near the intersection of Hamline Street helps propel you to the last uphill trek.

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The picture shows the green light on the stop light at the intersection and the broad four-lane road with cracked pavement

MinnPost photo by Greta Cole

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Ford Parkway from the River to Snelling Street

Map showing the route described above and below

No problem here. This is the longest range – a mile and a half starting from the river and ascending to Snelling. It’s also a very slow and very steady climb, apart from the part that leveles around the Highland Shopping Center long enough to catch your breath before it makes you crawl again.

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The photo shows a 5-lane divided road with cars parked on either side and a grassy street in the middle, sloping downhill in the distance

MinnPost photo by Cory Anderson

Marshall Street from the River to Fairview Street

Map showing the route described above and below

Which is worse – Ford or Marshall? A (very informal) Twitter poll Marshall suggests it is the most hated hill. Mathematically speaking, however, Ford is more than hardworking; More severe, on average, and longer. Marshall has some sharp points for sure, but it flattens out to give the rider a break. The problem here is all the stop signs, which make what might be a rather daunting trip up St. Paul from Minneapolis take longer than it might otherwise.

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The picture shows four lanes of a road with a high hill in the distance

MinnPost photo by Cory Anderson

King of the hills?

You might be wondering, “Okay, but how do all these hills compare to each other?” Here is a diagram:

In terms of length and sheer height to climb, Ford is definitely the biggest hill. But to go downhill, Ramsay has to take the honors (South Dupont is nearby, and may actually be steeper at some points, but so short, it’s practically over before the real stress begins.)

Did we miss one of your favorite climbing trips? Let us know in the comments section below.

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