Go on an ATV Adventure in Minnesota's Great Northwest

By C.B. Bylander

Northwest Minnesota, where all-terrain vehicle manufactures Polaris and Arctic Cat were founded, is truly an ATV-riding destination. This part of the state has long trails, great scenery and a remoteness rarely found. In fact, some trails take riders so deep into forests and bogs the nearest gas station is a good 50 miles away.

Group ATVing in Thief River Falls

Ride next to the river on the ATV trails near Thief River Falls / Textron Arctic Cat

The trails are largely the product of 20-plus years of work. Over time those who manage local, county and state lands have worked with ATV clubs to create an extensive network of trails through state forests, state wildlife management areas and other public lands and roadways. Today, the far northwest—the Warroad and Roseau areas, the Fourtown and Grygla areas, the Crookston area and the Bemidji area—all have ATV trails that attract riders from throughout Minnesota and nearby states.

And riders there are.

Nearly 270,000 ATVs are registered with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. That number is similar to the number of licensed small game hunters in Minnesota and three times the number of waterfowl hunters.

Northwest Minnesota is where western prairie and farm fields merge with the forests of the east. Together, they create a compelling mosaic of lakes, wildflowers, wooded groves, bogs and other natural features.

Where to go? Consider these popular destinations:

Two ATVs beside the Paul Bunyan State Forest trail

Explore the Paul Bunyan State Forest on an ATV

Bemidji Area

There are three different trail systems in the Bemidji area. These include the Wilton Trails Northwest system west of Bemidji and the Schoolcraft and Round River Drive Trail systems to the south. The Wilton trails run for 37 miles along abandoned railroad grade. The Round River Drive Trail is 107 miles long. This trail is a combination of Paul Bunyan State Forest roads and trails. The terrain varies greatly, and miles of trail twist and climb in this rocky moraine and pothole landscape.

The Round River trails connect to the community of Akeley, which is a good place for getting gas or finding a private campground. The Schoolcraft Trail is 29 miles long. It connects the community of Lake George to the Paul Bunyan State Forest. This hilly terrain is dotted with ponds and bogs. The trail is a combination of forest and township roads as well as county and state road right-of-ways.

Baudette/Warroad Area

This area features the Warroad/Roseau trail system and the Bemis Hill trail system. Nearly 90 miles long, the Warroad/Roseau trails are located largely in the northeast corner of the 700,000-acre Beltrami State Forest. The Bemis Hill trails travel for 96 miles on the eastern edge of the forest. The Warroad/Roseau trails connect to 200 additional miles of Off-Highway Vehicle trails.

Trails in the Beltrami State Forest mostly travel along pine covered ridges, large flatlands and look out over peat bogs. Carp’s Pit Recreation Area is a popular picnic and resting area for Warroad/Roseau trail riders. There's also a picnic area for Bemis Hill riders, too.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane / Bill Szepanski

Grygla Area

This area features the Fourtown-Grygla and Con-Con trails. These trails are located immediately south of the Warroad/Roseau and Bemis Hill trails. The Fourtown-Grygla trail system covers 170 miles. Much of the trail follows county roads, township roads, ditch banks and existing trails. The Con-Con trails are short segments scattered within Marshall and Beltrami counties. These trails are not contiguous but do connect with the Fourtown-Grygla system.

Riders in this area may see the occasional moose as well as black bear, sandhill cranes and many different waterfowl species.

Crookston Area

The Agassiz Recreational Trail begins at Crookston and extends 52 miles to the southwest until it ends at the tiny town of Ulen. Not far from the North Dakota border, riders can enjoy surprisingly scenic views of the Sand Hill and Wild Rice rivers from the bridges that pass over them. The trail runs atop an abandoned railroad grade. Riders travel through sparsely wooded stretches and scenic farm country. This is a multi-use trail also popular with hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders.

Two important things to know about ATV riding in Minnesota:

  • Non-residents operating an ATV on state grant-in-aid trails need a non-resident trail pass unless your machine is registered in Minnesota. Trail passes are available at mndnr.gov/buyalicense.
  • ATV safety training is required for all riders born after July 1, 1987, who are riding on state or grant-in-aid trails.
C.B. Bylander

C.B. Bylander is a hunter, angler and outdoor enthusiast. He lives on a small lake in Crow Wing County. Now retired, he spent much of his career working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.