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Tackle the Trails in the Off-Road Triangle

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Explore the off-road triangle. / Arctic Cat Inc.

Tackle the Trails in the Off-Road Triangle

By Dave Halsey

Unloading the trailer, I knew this was going to be a fun ride in my side-by-side ATV. It was also sure to be a big adventure for my two young grandsons and their dad.

 

ATVs Paul Bunyan State Forest

We were at the Stompin’ Grounds Lodge & Campground, just north of Akeley, where day-trippers are welcome to park their trucks and trailers in a large parking lot. It’s a popular destination for off-road riders heading to two of Minnesota’s most popular trail systems: the Martineau Trail for off-highway motorcycles (OHMs) and the Round River Drive Trail for ATVs.

These two trail systems are both in the Paul Bunyan State Forest, one of three state forests surrounding Park Rapids that make up an “off-road triangle” with more than 200 miles of trails for motorized recreation. In addition to the Paul Bunyan State Forest, which is about a half-hour drive north of Park Rapids, the off-road triangle includes Two Inlets State Forest to the northwest of the city and Huntersville State Forest to the southeast.

Kids on ATVs and dirt bikes round river drive

Round River Drive Trail winds through a variety of terrain, some of which is perfect for beginning off-road riders. / Dave Halsey

Paul Bunyan State Forest

I’ve ridden many of Minnesota’s 70-plus off-road trails, and Round River Drive remains my favorite. It’s large enough that even on a busy holiday weekend it doesn’t feel crowded, because riders are spread out across 80 miles of roads and trails. The gravel forest roads are perfect for beginning riders, winding among tall pines and small ponds.

Narrow, more technical ATV trails are rated “easy” to “more difficult” with hills to climb, tight turns to maneuver and boulder-strewn segments, where you need to decide which rocks to avoid and which to climb over. Intertwined with the ATV trails are 100 miles of single-track motorcycle trails, some that challenge even the most experienced dirt bike riders.

Mapped and signed, both trail systems’ many loops make it easy to get turned around, but all trails lead back to the forest roads, making the return trip to the trailhead quick and easy if storm clouds loom or sunset approaches. 

Finding food and fuel is no problem. The ATV trail includes a route going south into Akeley, with two gas stations, Zappy’s Cafe and the must-see Paul Bunyan statue, a popular spot for a photo op. The trail continues west to Nevis, home to the world’s largest tiger muskie and the Iron Horse Bar & Grill, famous for its BBQ. For post-ride dining, head to Dorset, the “Restaurant Capital of the World.” This year, the small town’s annual “Taste of Dorset” is Aug. 1 and includes live bands, shopping and games.

At the end of our 35-mile ride, we shook off a little trail dust, and rounded out the day with burgers and fries at the Stompin’ Grounds. We talked about the fun we had, the trails that were easy and those that were challenging. I asked my 8-year-old grandson, a newly certified dirt bike rider, how he managed a segment with deep sand, where he had tipped over a few times. He looked at me, smiled and confidently replied: “I think I mastered the sand, Grandpa.” That he did.

Dirt Bikes Huntersville Trail Family Riding

Huntersville State Forest has almost 60 miles of single-track trails. / Douglas Marsh

Extending your trip

The main access to the Forest Riders State ATV Trail is the parking area in Two Inlets State Forest, about 15 miles northwest of Park Rapids. In this area, the ATV trails range from level and smooth to rolling and hilly. South of the state forest, they connect to the Smokey Hills Trail.

In northern Wadena County, about 12 miles southeast of Park Rapids, Huntersville State Forest has just shy of 60 miles of signed, single-track trails for off-highway motorcycles. Their difficulty ratings range from “easy” to “more difficult.” Right off the trail, the Outpost Bar & Grill features a Friday fish fry among its daily specials. Two public campgrounds offer direct access to the trail and many more miles of easy-riding, gravel forest roads within the state forest that are open to motorcycles and ATVs.

For those who want to camp and ride, there are public and privately owned campgrounds in all three state forests, as well as dispersed camping (no campsite, no amenities) right off the forest roads for a more remote wilderness experience. Public campgrounds are shown on the state forest maps, recently updated by the Forestry Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Trip-planning tools

Wherever you’re headed in the off-road triangle, there are plenty of rider resources to help you plan a route; find food, fuel, parking and camping; and easily navigate the trails.

New! Minnesota OffRoad Adventures Trail Riders Guide

This free, 28-page Trail Riders Guide includes QR codes to download maps for all the ATV trail systems in the state. It is available at Explore Minnesota’s welcome centers statewide, or you can request a copy by visiting www.exploreminnesota.com/order-travel-guides or by contacting a travel counselor at [email protected] or 1-888-VISITMN (1-888-847-4866).

Minnesota DNR Resources

  • OHV Trail Atlas. This free, 80-page OHV Trail Atlas includes maps, descriptions, directions, trailheads and parking areas for 70 OHV trails.
  • State Forest Maps. These free paper maps not only show state forest trails and campgrounds, they also highlight places to go hiking, mountain biking, birding and berry picking, as well as the locations of fishing piers, boat launches, swimming beaches and picnic areas.

The atlas and the state forest maps are available from the DNR Information Center ([email protected] or 651-296-6157 or 888-646-6367), or you can print individual trail maps from the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/ohv/interactive_map.

Mobile Apps

Several apps available from the App Store or Google Play, when downloaded to your phone or tablet, will show your GPS location on off-highway vehicle trails in Minnesota and across the U.S. They include Avenza Maps, GAIA GPS, onX Offroad and Ride Command.

Dave Halsey

Dave Halsey is a freelance writer specializing in motorized recreation, the communications director for ATV Minnesota and president of the Woodtick Wheelers ATV Club.