Explore the Mountain Bike Trails at Cuyuna

By Brian Fanelli

Couple mountain biking at Cuyuna
Cuyuna's 30+ miles of scenic and challenging trails earned it a Silver Level Ride Center designation from IMBA / Photo by Roy Son

The iron ore mines at Cuyuna closed for business over 30 years ago, but in the past 10 years they've been reborn as one of Minnesota's best mountain biking destinations.

Cuyuna is now home to more than 30 miles of flowing, mixed-difficulty singletrack trails, and has gained a reputation as one of the best mountain bike trail centers in the entire country.

Several loops of singletrack were carved into the rocky, post-industrial terrain, circling the pit mines-turned-lakes, winding through woods and over steep hills. Elevated areas offer outstanding views of the landscape’s many lakes—some of which are natural, while others are former pit mines that filled with water over time.

Ironton Cuyuna Couple Aerial
Two mountain bikers take in the scenic Cuyuna landscape / Photo by Micah Kvidt

Trails at Cuyuna cater to all skill levels, from beginner-friendly trails like Galloping Goose to the more advanced trails in Yawkey Trail Unit.

Yawkey is where you'll find some of the most popular and talked-about trails at Cuyuna, including the aptly named Bobsled Trail. It starts with a short but steep climb up the ridge overlooking Yawkey Mine Lake, then heads into the woods for a breakneck-paced, berm-filled, adrenaline-fueled rocket ride back down to the bottom. After a run down this trail, you won’t have any doubts about how Bobsled earned its name.

White-knuckled trails like Bobsled are outliers, though, according to Crosby resident and co-owner of Red Raven Bike Shop & Cafe, Patrick Stoffel. “I’d say about 80 percent of the trail system is pretty family friendly, and there isn’t really any way to accidentally ride a skill level you’re not ready for. It’s pretty clearly marked."

Get On The Water in Cuyuna

Three kayaks on the shore of a Cuyuna pit lake
Three kayaks line up on the shore of a Cuyuna pit lake / Photo by Don Checots

For a change of gears, paddling Cuyuna’s pristine lakes on a kayak, canoe or paddleboard is also a treat. The locals point to Pennington Mine Lake as a good starting point, which connects to Arco Mine Lake for a three- to four-hour trip. Rental boats and boards are available from Cycle Path & Paddle in Crosby.

Not only are the old mining lakes beautiful, they're also prime fishing waters. You'll find bass, walleye, crappies and sunnies, and some of the lakes are also stocked with trout. Local fishing guides can help anglers find their way around the lakes and to the fish. Guides are worth the money, as many also know the history and old mining lore of every lake they fish.

Cuyuna lakes are also popular with scuba divers. Since the lakes are spring-fed, the water is clear enough to give divers 40 feet of visibility. Old trucks and bits of mining equipment line the bottoms of the lakes waiting to be discovered by divers. Divers can go deep and swim over cliffs, as many of the mine lakes are 200 feet deep. The Minnesota School of Diving in Brainerd organizes scuba trips in the mine lakes.

Where To Eat & Drink Near Cuyuna

A collage of Red Raven, Cuyuna Brewing and Iron Range Eatery
Cuyuna Brewing Co., Iron Range Eatery, and Red Raven Bike Shop & Cafe / Photos courtesy of Cuyuna Brewing Co., Griff Wigley and Joe Nelson

Like nearly everything in Crosby, the town's bars and restaurants have been completely revitalized by the mountain bike trails. But Crosby is a town that prides itself on history, and all of its businesses—new and old—work to strike a balance between new school sensibilities and gritty old-school charm.

In refurbished red-brick storefronts across downtown, places like Cuyuna Brewing Co., Red Raven Bike Shop & Cafe and the farm-to-table Iron Range Eatery have injected new life into the town's dining options. Nothing tastes better after a long day of riding than a perfectly balanced Yawkey Ale from Cuyuna Brewing, and there's no better place to rest your legs than the patio at Iron Range Eatery.  

Cuyuna Lakes mural Crosby

A mural in downtown Crosby chronicles the region's mining-to-biking transformation

Meanwhile, long-standing businesses like North Country Cafe and The Crosby Bar continue to serve up old-school tastes and traditions that never go out of style. These places are where you can fuel up in the morning with the biggest pancakes you've ever seen and wind down in the evening with a stiff drink and a meat raffle. They've been here since before the trails, and they'll almost certainly outlive us all—but until then, there's nothing like pulling up a barstool at these venerable Crosby institutions and biting into the town's history.

Where to Stay 

Couple outside a cabin at True North Basecamp
Relaxing outside of the cabins at True North Basecamp / Photo by Micah Kvidt

One of the more eye-catching places to stay in town is True North Basecamp, which has made a splash online with its endlessly Instagrammable “north woods industrial” rental cabins. Each of the six, 275-square-foot cabins at True North has one full- and three twin-sized beds, high-speed internet access, integrated USB charging ports, and temperature control for year-round comfort—the perfect blend of wilderness and Wi-Fi.

True North Basecamp Interior
Each cabin at True North Basecamp has a unique theme / Courtesy of True North Basecamp

For a more rustic stay, book one of three Minnesota DNR yurts overlooking Yakwey Mine Lake. Built from a Spartan template of insulated canvas tents, wood floors and woodstoves, think of these yurts like rustic camping lite: Similar to a true, backcountry experience, but with bunk beds, shelter and a wood stove to smooth out some of the more intimidating aspects of tent camping.