Mountain Biking Travel: Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area

6:44 PM

Sunrise over Portsmouth Mine Lake - steps from the camp site
I am officially going through Cuyuna withdrawal.  The Spouse and I spent the past weekend up at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation area with my bike team riding the mountain bike trails, drinking beer, eating far too much food, and laughing around the campfire.  It was an amazing weekend that ended too quickly.  My adventures reaffirmed what I already knew: Cuyuna is the best mountain biking experience you can have in the mid-west.

Cuyuna is located just north of Ironton/Crosby Minnesota, and is far enough away from Brainerd so you don't have to deal too much with the north-woods resort set.  There are a couple of motels in the area, but we set up a tent for the weekend at the Portsmouth campground just off of Highway 30.  The campground is located right on the mountain bike trails and boasts flush-toilets and hot showers.  No reservations are accepted, but don't worry - there is always a spot to be found.  My only warning: if you are not used to Iron Range water (yup, it looks pretty orange out of the tap) you might want to haul in some fresh water from back home.

The Trails
Oh, the trails.  When The Spouse and I first visited Cuyuna a couple of years ago we spent the first hour digging the trail map out to check where we were (trails are all conveniently numbered) and plan our route.  I cannot stress how completely unnecessary this is.  The main section of trails are located in the Mahnomen Unit running between the shores of Alstead Mine Lake and Huntington Mine Lake.  There is a two-way trail (Easy Street) that runs along Huntington, and you can reach all the trails along its length within a few minutes.  Part of the joy of riding Cuyuna is just following your front wheel as the trails merge and flow into one another.  Anytime you want to leave the trail system, you are pretty much 2-5 minutes away from Easy Street and your exit.  The other great section in the Yawkey Unit also has trails designed to start/stop from a common entrance point, so it is easy to work through all the pathways on your incredible mountain bike choose-your-own-adventure.

The other reason you do not need to keep looking at a map is because of difficulty.  Cuyuna uses the standard Green (easy), Blue (moderate) and Black (difficult) trail markings that most people are familiar with, but the increased difficulty often is more related to the rider's speed than specific technical elements.  Blue trails usually have more climbing and descending, but beginner mountain bikers can navigate these sections by simply going slower.  I would also encourage newer riders to check out the black sections - you can walk through anything that looks too intimidating, and it is nice to see where your advancing mountain biking skills will eventually take you.

Not To Miss Trails
Cuyuna rewards those who spend the time necessary to explore all of the area trails, but for those who are looking for the highlights...
  • Sidewinder (Mahnomen Unit) - this trail runs along Alstead Mine Lake and is a great return route to get you back to Highway 30 (via Switchback).  I prefer this trail to Easy Street because of the awesome flow - every downhill is created for pumping, so get off your seat and use the ground for speed!
  • Miner's Mountain (Mahnomen Unit) - Yup, it's a climb, but one that is well worth the effort.  Take a little detour through Rocky Flats on your way up (trail marker 45) to see what the cool kids are capable of, then take the Chute down as a reward for your climbing after you've enjoyed the view.
The view from the top of Miner's Mountain
  • Haul Road (Yawkey Unit) - If you are arriving by car you could drive all the way into the Yawkey Unit, but you would miss Haul Road.  Instead, park just off Highway 6 and enjoy the pure joy of this access trail.  There are no climbs here, just perfectly formed bumps to pump your way through.
  • Bobsled (Yawkey Unit) - Bobsled gives you some of the best downhill in Cuyuna with huge berms that are begging for your commitment.  Remember your physics and lean that bike to get the most out of this screamer of a trail.
  • Man Cage (Yawkey Unit) - This is a hot-lap of a mountain bike trail.  The most fun I had this past weekend was chasing a teammate around and around Man Cage, getting an amazing cardio workout to boot!

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