13 creatures that could kill you on a Minnesota MTB trail

“No cougars, la la la LA! No cougars, la la la LAAAA!” This was the song I sang as my husband and I made our way through the Bend, OR, singletrack on a recent mountain biking trip. I barely noticed the craggy lava rocks for which the trails are famous. I was too worried about the muscular cats that were surely hiding behind every boulder we passed, just waiting to pounce on an out-of-state mountain biker.

Thankfully, my terrible singing kept the cougars at bay, and I survived the trip unscathed. As I reflected on the experience during the plane ride home, I felt grateful to live in Minnesota, where the mountain bike trails are void of bone-crushing predators.

Side note: Yes, I have an irrational fear of being attacked by a wild animal. It might have something to do with growing up in Florida, where alligators, sharks, and venomous snakes lurk around every corner—or at least in my imagination.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder: Could our trails be home to any dangerous predators? So, I did a little (anxiety-fueled) research. To help you know what to expect on your next ride, here’s a sample of the wildlife you could encounter on a Minnesota MTB trail.


Teeth & claws

Thankfully we don’t have grizzlies, but we do have their smaller and less aggressive cousin, the black bear. Apparently, these guys are not relegated to the Northwoods. Last year, according to the Elm Creek Facebook page, there was one (with cubs!) that was spotted in where else, Grizzland. Yes, it’s unlikely you will come across a bear on the trail. But if you do, it’s wise to know how to respond.

Wolves and coyotes
You’re on a night ride and you hear a spine-tingling howl: wolf or coyote? Could be either, but here in the Metro it’s likely the latter. Both are elusive creatures—not ones to take interest in the relative cacophony of a mountain bike. But they do have sharp teeth, making them a less-than-ideal trail dog.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but apparently it’s true. Minnesota has a transient cougar population, and there have been multiple (51 at the time of this writing!) verified cougar sightings since 2014. The Minnesota DNR even has tips for what to do if you see one. Perhaps it’s time to move back to Florida…

antlers & hooves

They’re everywhere. Thankfully, most are docile, not to mention terrified of humans on two wheels. But there are times when they appear out of nowhere, dashing across a trail or popping out from behind a tree. I’ve had a couple of near-deer misses, mostly during twilight rides at Theo, when one decides to hang out at the exit of a tight corner.

Large and in charge, moose are likely only to be on trails north of the Metro–we’re thinking Jackpot, which bills itself as a “wilderness trail,” or on one of the stunning systems up in Ely. But yes, Minnesota is one of the few states that support a moose population. The moose happens to be our state’s largest wild animal.

There have been accounts of moose accosting outdoor recreators in Minnesota, but not yet one involving a mountain biker. If you see one, the consensus seems to be to keep a respectful distance and, if charged, run away from the moose. (Moose are said to have a low predatory drive.) That said, they can run up to 35 mph, so maybe that sprint workout isn’t such a bad idea?

Angry Flora

Stinging nettle and poison ivy
There’s nothing worse than going OTB into a healthy patch of stinging nettle. Oh wait, there is: going OTB into one poison ivy plant. Lucky for us, both line our tight singletrack in the summer months. Sticking to the trail will mostly keep you safe from these blister-inducing shrubs, but as we all know, that’s easier said than done. Two more reasons to invest in skills instruction, if you ask me.

slither, feather & fur

NOT to be confused with “stick.” (I still have nightmares of the Danish boat driver warning me of a “Steek! Steeek!” bobbing its way toward me in a swampy Florida lake.) Yes, we have snakes in Minnesota—nearly 20 species of them according to the Amphibian and Reptile Survey of Minnesota.

Thankfully, you only have to worry about where you put your foot down in far southeastern Minnesota, where the venomous timber rattlesnake makes it home. According to my research, this might include the Memorial Park trails in Red Wing. I don’t know about you, but the potential of a rattlesnake in the leaves raises the stakes for attempting to clean their infamous teeter skinny.

Around the Metro and northward, the only snakes you’re likely to find are ones that can’t kill you: garters, eastern hognoses, ring-necked snakes, and the like. That said, having any snake slither across your path can startle you enough to grab a fistful of brake. Let’s hope you’re not the ride leader.

Squirrels and chipmunks
You might not think of these urban-dwelling rodents as trail wildlife. But like deer, they’re ubiquitous. And their demise has the potential to end your ride or at least dampen your stoke.

While these critters don’t have enough mass (at least not the ones I’ve seen) to knock you off your bike, they can pose hazards. Famously indecisive, they’re known to make a last-minute call to shoot across a trail, putting them at risk of being flattened by your chunky Minions. Again, let’s pray you’re not the ride leader.

Turkeys, grouse, and owls
In our riding experiences, turkeys, grouse, and owls are some of the most commonly spotted birds on Minnesota MTB trails. Turkeys are hard to miss, thanks to their habit of loitering en masse. Being that our mountain biking season rarely coincides with Thanksgiving, it’s best to avoid a collision.

Grouse seem to always be upset. And no one wants to deal with an angry bird. Whenever I’ve seen them, they’ve made their displeasure known with an aggressive flurry of the wings. I’ve never stuck around long enough to find out what comes next.

Owls are majestic creatures, but their hoots and unrelenting stares can be unnerving. Let’s be honest: Some are large enough to pluck you off your bike if they wanted. OK, maybe that’s a stretch. But if it did happen, we can assume the victim didn’t live to tell about it.

Respect our wildlife, and it will respect you

In all seriousness, we’re fortunate to have a rich diversity of wildlife in Minnesota. Seeing any of these animals on a MTB trail, even a chipmunk, calls for a moment of reverence and respect. Per the IMBA Rules of the Trail, mountain bikers should never scare animals—even if they do strike terror in our hearts. Let’s give them space, let them adjust to our presence, and carry on with our epic rides.

What wildlife have you encountered on our Minnesota MTB trails? Drop us a line with your story. If it’s about a cougar, keep it to yourself.