When it comes to hills, Minneapolis and St. Paul are no San Francisco. They’re not even Duluth. Or Stillwater. In fact, aside from some big rises along the Mississippi and the odd hill here and there, the cities are fairly flat.
But anyone who’s traversed the Twin Cities by bicycle knows that despite that lack of topographic notoriety, there are still some brutal climbs. For example: the slog up Ford Parkway from Minneapolis to St. Paul. Or, trying to climb the Ramsey hill out of downtown St. Paul.
So which hills in the admittedly pretty vertically challenged Twin Cities are the worst — either for sheer steepness or just unrelenting length of climb? To find out, MinnPost rode up (and then usually down, whee!) a number of them. We also used data from the DNR’s MnTOPO tool to evaluate the hills quantitatively, looking at the overall length of the climb and the number of vertical feet gained.
Here is a brief tour of ten of Minneapolis and St. Paul’s most intimidating inclines.
Of the two cities, Minneapolis is definitely the under-achiever when it comes to verticality. Nevertheless, the Mill City is not without its… upsides.
Franklin Avenue from East River Parkway to Cecil St. SE
This is a great hill to bomb down; a grand entrance from St. Paul into Minneapolis through the pretty Prospect Park neighborhood and to the river. On the way up, not so much. It’s just a plain old steady climb. You can add even more elevation gain by navigating the mystifying street grid of Prospect Park all the way up to the witch’s hat-topped water tower.
E. 50th Street from Minnehaha Parkway to 1st Avenue
Having just ridden by a giant, bronze bunny on the side of the bike trail along Minnehaha Parkway, you might be lulled into the false sense that South Minneapolis riding is all fun and games; pleasant, flat rambles along a creekside. But veer off toward the right a block later at 50th and you’ll soon be disabused of this notion. The hill on 50th starts off gradually but then quickly picks up steepness. It’s also an extremely wide street, which means cars will be whizzing by you, only underscoring your own sense of inadequacy as you slowly crawl along, wondering if your bike has a lower gear.
Kenwood Parkway near Spring Lake to Mount Curve
For a cyclist, Kenwood Parkway may present one of the best hill-climbing experiences in the Twin Cities. It’s a long hill that follows a pleasing set of curves along narrow, divided lanes in a wooded setting, punctuated only by fancy houses. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine you’re starting the first climb in the Tour de France — and then open them again quickly as a Land Rover passes you going 40 with just a foot of space. The hill on Kenwood hits its steepest point right as you reach the intersection with Mount Curve, but for a bonus cherry-on-top tiny climb take a hard left on to that street. You’re on top of the world.
South Dupont from Groveland Terrace to Mount Curve Avenue
Other than for the sheer joy of it, most people will have no reason to climb this hill. It connects two larger streets on Lowry Hill that can easily be accessed via flatter routes or just skipped altogether. But to a true hill connoisseur, it’s irresistible: this thing looks like it goes straight up. In fact, between the mansions and the unlikely incline, squint and you might think you’re in Los Angeles. And while this hill features the steepest grade of any featured in this story (nearly 15% at one point!), it’s also one of the shortest — just about 400 feet from Groveland Terrace up to Mount Curve Ave.
Theodore Wirth Parkway — North
The entire bike trail along Theodore Wirth Parkway through Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis is one of the best rides in Minneapolis: it’s all curves and undulating hills amid beautiful trees and, well, a golf course. Once you’ve made it through most of the park heading north there is a nice, gradual climb out of the park. This one fools you with a relatively flat — even slightly downhill — section before making you really work your way up to the intersection with Golden Valley road, which also happens to lie on the 45th parallel.
St. Paul, with its bluffs and gorges and ill-maintained road surfaces, presents some true challenges for the climbing cyclist. Here are some of the city’s best.
Ramsey Street from Pleasant Avenue to Summit Avenue
For our money, this hill is the most challenging anyone would have reason to ride in Minneapolis or St. Paul. It’s a steep drive, much less ride. Of course, if you want something even tougher, you could go east a bit and ride Chilkoot in Stillwater, which has an average grade of more than 15%. But that’s a ways out.
The thing about this steep St. Paul hill is, it’s actually the shortest route between two popular points: the fun West Seventh neighborhood and stately Summit, where it spits you out right next to the University Club and Summit Overlook Park. While you might look at the hill and think “why would anyone ever ride that,” the bike lane painted on its side beckons anyone looking for a challenge — and many are, judging by the several people MinnPost saw climb it on a recent Sunday evening. It’s a steep steep grade that lasts for 0.2 miles. Gears recommended.
Osceola Avenue from Pleasant Avenue toward Grotto Street
This is a short and somewhat steep hill. But it’s not the grade that presents problems for people riding up it. It’s the road surface, since this particular stretch of hill is cobblestone, which can really buck a biker around. Not wanting to croak on the way to Crocus Hill, MinnPost took a mountain bike on this ride. We’ve been told cyclists on slighter bikes like to ride it for a taste of Europe’s cobblestone streets, though.
Randolph Avenue from Chatsworth Avenue to Snelling Avenue
This is a plenty long ride to contemplate the “high” part of the Highland Park neighborhood’s name. This climb from West Seventh up to the Highland area is a steep and steady one, and stoplights on stretches where the grade’s steeper — like the ones by Trader Joe’s — really kill momentum if you hit them wrong. Silver lining: a dip near the Hamline Avenue intersection helps propel you up the last uphill jaunt.
Ford Parkway from the river to Snelling Avenue
Quite a hill here. This is the longest of the bunch — a mile and a half starting from the river and going up to Snelling. It’s also a very slow and very steady climb, aside from the part that evens out around the Highland Shopping Center just long enough to catch your breath before making you crawl up again.
Marshall Avenue from the river to Fairview Avenue
Which is worse — Ford or Marshall? A (very informal) Twitter poll suggests Marshall is the more hated hill. But mathematically, Ford is more of a slog; steeper, on average, and longer. Marshall has some steep points, sure, but it flattens out to give a rider a break. The problem here is all the stoplights, which make what might be a fairly zippy uphill ride into St. Paul from Minneapolis take longer than it otherwise would.
King of the hills?
You might be wondering, “Ok, but how do all these hills compare to each other?” Here is a chart:
For sheer length and height of climb, Ford is definitively the biggest hill. But for steepness, Ramsey has to take top honors (South Dupont is close, and actually may be steeper at some points, but it's so short it’s practically over before the real straining starts.)
Did we miss one of your favorite climbs? Let us know in the comments section below.