Mountain biking in Crosby and Cuyuna
Sure, many of America’s most famous mountain biking sites are in the Rocky Mountains, but there are other sites closer to the more populous states further east.
Cuyuna is recognized as an IMBA Silver Level Ride Center, as well as the Best Trail in Minnesota (WCCO 4 and StarTribune), in the Top 50 Trails in the United States (Bicycling magazine), and one of the Top 26 Places in the World to Visit Right Now (Outside).
Cuyuna’s signature is a cycling experience for families and experts alike that provides overwhelming fun. 30 miles of one-way, one-direction, purpose-built trails wind through a landscape created by 70 years of iron ore mining. Since mining left nearly 40 years ago, nature has reclaimed the area—water has filled the pits and turned them into 15 deep, crystal-clear mine lakes, and trees have taken root on the rocky, rugged landscape. It’s the perfect canvas for crafting year-round trails to conquer by mountain bike.
New trailside developments include a ride-in, ride-out yurt campground, glamping camper cabins, and campsite lodging. Also available locally are a brewery, a farm-to-table restaurant, a coffee bar, and a ride-in, ride-out wood-fired pizza kitchen alongside the paved trail. Cuyuna also provides a 6-mile paved bike trail, a pump track, and 100 miles of gravel/pavement road riding. The clear waters of the mine lakes are perfectly situated for kayaking, paddleboarding, paddleboard fishing, and scuba diving.
With over 30 purpose-built trails from which to choose, you'll never bored riding Cuyuna.
History of mountain biking in Cuyuna Lakes
Unlike many mountain bike parks that are in mountain range or wilderness areas, Cuyuna’s story is one of rebirth. The region was covered in iron ore mines, starting from 1907 and boosted through increased demand during the two World Wars and Korean War. But from a peak production in 1953, mining declined steadily, with the last ore being shipped in 1982.
These were mainly large ‘open cut’ mines which became huge craters through decades of mining.
With the close of mining, water pumping ceased and the huge open cut mines soon became deep lakes. Forests regenerated over the abandoned work sites that surrounded the pits. Meanwhile the surrounding towns went into economic decline with shops closing and those remaining wondering what the next big thing would be to revive their fortunes.
Unlike so many other abandoned mining regions, Cuyuna’s story has a happy ending. Economic revival has rolled into town on two knobby-tired wheels! Initially some of the locals were very sceptical about their new alien visitors. But over time as the town has revived, businesses reopened and new ones like craft brewers setting up shop. So the locals have gotten to like their new mountain biking friends.
There are now over 30 miles of single track trail for summer riding. In winter there are 40 miles of groomed trails for cross country skiing and fat biking.
The trails are spread across five areas, all linked by an eight mile, paved off road path called the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail.
Most of the trails are green or blue rated (beginner or intermediate) but there are four black diamond trails for advanced riders.
Although there are no high mountains, Miners Mountain trail offers the toughest climb, best views at the top and then longest descent.
Timber Shaft Trail offers technical manmade obstacles integrated with iron ore boulders and rock gardens.
Minnesota State Parks and Trails manages the trails and closes them after heavy rainfall, reopening them as soon as they dry out.
Cuyuna Lakes is 2 ½ drive north of Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport via US-169N
The drive from Minneapolis to Cuyuna Lakes is rated as one of the most scenic drives in Minnesota.
Cuyuna Lakes is 8 ½ hours drive north west of Chicago.
When to go
Some would say Minnesota's winters are worth avoiding. Others would say to visit in the winter is to earn your badge of honor and enjoy some spectacular fat-biking expereinces through a paradise of snow-covered and enchanting forests.
It gets very cold at Cuyuna Lakes in winter. The lakes themselves freeze over and the trails are get covered in snow. But the local tourism operators rent out fat bikes in winter and say you can ride all year round. If you don’t like the cold then April to October would be the best time for you.
All the info
Most of the Cuyuna Lakes trails are flow trails. The area features rolling hills punctuated by a mixture of natural lakes and mining lakes, created when the vast open pit mines closed and the natural ground water, which had been continuously pumped out during the mine’s lifetime, seeped back into the pits.
The total trail network is 30 miles (50 kilometres) long, with a highest elevation 1,401 feet (427 metres) and a lowest elevation of 1,200 feet (366 metres) giving a variation of 201 feet (61 metres).
In addition to a wide range of technical trails the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail is a wide, flat lakeside recreational trail suitable for all types of bikes, that allows you to ride off road between each of the four MTB trail areas.
Beginner Mountain Bike Rides
More Difficult Mountain Bike Rides
Most Difficult Mountain Bike Rides
Extremely Difficult Mountain Bike Rides
Gravel / Pavement Bike Rides
International and National Recognition
Where to stay
Most of the Cuyuna Lakes MTB trails are located right next to the small old mining town of Crosby. Just west of Crosby is the Portsmouth Campground which offers 33 campsites, 18 of which have electric power plus a group camp and three yurts (insulated round tents with wood floors and woodstoves that sleep 3 to 7 people).
True North Base Camp offers a mixture of cabins that sleep up to six people and camping sites.
In the nearby town of Deerwood (four miles from most trails) is the three-star rated Country Inn Deerwood.
Just east of Crosby is Hallett House Bed & Breakfast also rated three stars.
If you’re looking for something completely different, within Crosby itself is the three-star, Viking themed Nordic Inn Medieval Brew & Bed. They also offer fat bike rental.
The nearest larger town that offers more accommodation options is Baxter, which is 18 miles to the southeast via route 210.
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Where to eat and drink
There are at least 10 different eating options to choose from in Crosby and neighboring Irontown. The Iron Range Eatery is the top rated restaurant in town.
Other popular eateries are the North Country Café and Red Raven Bike Café. As its name suggests, the Red Raven Bike Café will make mountain bikers feel right at home with bike memorabilia displayed inside and bike parking straight outside the front.
Cuyuna Brewing Company located on the heart of Main St, Crosby brews their own range of beers on their premises.
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Bike stores and rentals
There are two specialist stores in the town of Crosby, right next to the trails.
As its name suggests, Cycle Path and Paddle caters for both mountain bikers and kayakers, with both sale and hire bikes. They rent fat bikes in winter and a range of full suspension Rocky Mountain MTB’s in summer, plus kids bikes and tag-alongs for the flat recreational trails.
Red Raven combines a café and full service bike shop with sales and hire.
Book a mtb tour
While there are no commercial tour companies in Cuyuna, the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew is a very active local club that maintains the trails and is working towards growing the trail network to 75 miles for three days of mountain biking without repeating a single trail.
Their website includes event news and the latest trail conditions.
Events, key attractions and other points of interest
Cuyuna Lakes is a 5,000-acre area of reclaimed iron ore mining land covered in lakes and forests. The lakes offer deep water scuba diving with exceptional water clarity, trout fishing, and water sports.
Croft Mine Historical Park honors the area’s mining history, including a simulated mine trip. The unusual name ‘Cuyuna’ came from the mining surveyor who was the first to drill ore there in 1903, Cuyler Adams. It’s a combination of the first three letters of his first name, plus ‘Una’, the name of his dog!
The mighty Mississippi River wraps around the Cuyuna Lakes area. You can travel along The Great River Road National Scenic Byway that follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Right next to the Cuyuna Lakes MTB trails is the historic town of Crosby, population 2,344. It’s Main Street is renowned for antique shopping.
Crosby’s Hallet Center offers indoor swimming pools, sauna, fitness center and in winter free ice skating.