DETROIT LAKES + CUYUNA, MINNESOTA
Photography & Words: Tory Powers / Riders: Steve Wilcox + Megan Barr
We all know that Minnesota is one of the USA's most beautiful states. But one thing that doesn't immediately come to mind when you think of the Midwest is mountain biking. But if you're not thinking of mountain biking when you think of Minnesota, you're missing out. Minnesota happens to have hundreds of miles of trails that are recognized internationally by IMBA. So, next time you think about mountain biking, think outside the box - think Minnesota. Because you'll be just as blown away as I was.
An aerial view of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
This May we took a trip to Detroit Lakes and Cuyuna to check out two of the best locations for mountain biking in Minnesota.
Being a Colorado native, I didn’t really know what to expect coming to the Midwest to ride mountain bikes, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Minnesota isn’t exactly known for its mountains, because they’re more like hills. But those hills are really fun to ride.
We began our trip heading northwest out of Minneapolis to Detroit Lakes. With a population of only about 10,000, this small town had a lot of character. Detroit Lakes is home to a lot of wonderful restaurants and views of Minnesota’s countless lakes. Interestingly enough, the growth of cycling in the area has brought a ridiculous amount of tourism. This is due in part to the large role they play in the high school cycling series.
Steve + Megan getting the lowdown from the Detroit Mountain Crew in their massive rental house.
Being only about 10-15 minutes from downtown, Detroit Mountain was just a short drive away for great riding. Known for its XC loops, Detroit Mountain is a ski area that has been adding yearly to its trail system. In a condensed area of only about 200 acres, it’s easy enough to get a 10-20+ mile ride with all the various trails in the area. Detroit Mountain also just got a grant from the state’s legacy fund to expand to near 350 acres with the addition of 5 extra miles of trails, downhill-only trails, and other things like playgrounds. Watch out for Detroit Mountain over the next few years as its expansion makes it even better than it already is.
Now, onto the riding. We got a chance to ride most of the trails here in a single day. We started out on the XC loops for a solid warm-up.
The summer leaves had a very beautiful fall feel..
I think I speak for everyone when I say my favorite trail was “More Cowbell.”
It’s only about 1.3 miles, but it’s full of switchbacks, ups + downs, and of course, two cowbells you get to slap each lap. The riding here isn’t really a “hit the trail once and you’re done” type of area, which was actually pretty refreshing. We rode a lot of these trails multiple times and it got better each lap.
Our favorite loop to do from the entrance was Shakedown St. > Chainlink > More Cowbell > South Shore. It’s about 2.8 miles long but has a lot of fast, flowy machined turns and big rollers to keep up your speed. This is definitely a place for a dropper post, though, because you’ll find yourself descending and ascending back to back constantly.
All of the trails have an eclectic feel. Try to find sasquatch on one of the trails!
We also rode their west-side trails (Twisted Sister and Rolling Thunder) which had a similar smooth style to crank out some laps. Interestingly enough, a lot of this borders hunting land/was hunting land back in the day. We found a pretty awesome lookout hut that we were too afraid to climb into.
In the evening, we headed up to check out their downhill-only trails that are lift-accessible, or uphill-accessible if your cholesterol is feeling a little high. Since we hit the area early season, they were prepping some of their new trails, but we still got to ride the mountain-favorites, Mustard Tiger and Swayze Train.
Mustard Tiger was my personal favorite on the mountain. If you like speed and making everything into some sort of jump, this is the trail for you.
Full of huge wood wallrides and lots of rollers + other trestles, we had an absolute blast. You can expect a lot more coming from these guys over the next couple of years!
Steve + Megan cruising down one of many bridges on Swayze Train (right). Steve hitting a curved wallride on Mustard Tiger (right).
What about around town? The whole city lies on some large lakes which are best paired with riding in the summertime. We hit a few amazing restaurants- Hub 41, Zorbaz, and Lakeside Tavern- all recommended. Hub 41 was our mid-day gyro and beer stop. Zorbaz was our mid-day pizza stop, and Lakeside Tavern is the perfect end of the day stop for a burger or a salad.
One of the many falafel gyros we ordered at Hub 41 (left) + a bbq chicken ranch pizza from Zorbaz (right).
Following Detroit Lakes, we made the short two-hour drive east to Cuyuna. There was a huge shift in both terrain and the general feel of the area. Being located on the Iron Range, Cuyuna is full of desert-red dirt that stained my shoes in the best + most memorable way.
I'd heard a lot about Cuyuna, considering it's one of 15 IMBA Silver Level Ride Centers in the entire world. Yeah, it's kind of a big deal. We couldn't wait to hop on our bikes and ride sun up to sun down.
With a population of only 353 as of 2017, it definitely felt like the kind of place you would know everybody. You could just tell that this place was on their own schedule and almost built around riding.
With an absolute downpour the night before our ride, we were a bit stressed. However, we were excited to find out that this dirt absorbs water like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We had absolutely perfectly tacky conditions all day long.
We began our day at the yurts right alongside the Yawkey Mine Lake, which are available for rent and feature 3 bunk beds, a fireplace, and a spacious area for all of your gear.
Right outside of the huts was this awesome well water pump (right next to a bike stand, complete with a pump + tools) where we topped off our water before we headed out.
Our first ride began at the “Yawkey Unit” trail system. We rode the trails Bobsled, Man Cage, Skip, and Timber Shaft, which seem to be the highest rated trails in the area. Similar to Detroit Mountain, these trails were very short but extremely fun.
Our warmup lap was Bobsled, my personal favorite. Nestled in the trees, this trail was swooping turns as far as the eye could see. It was the constant cycle of a left turn followed by a right turn, maybe I’m just a sucker for going fast.
Megan + Steve flowing down Bobsled in Cuyuna.
Countless turns. I wasn't kidding.
Man Cage was a great loop for intermediate riders that was fast and flowy with connections to the more difficult trails in this system, Skip + Timber Shaft. Skip was one of the few trails that had any sort of rocks, and they were pretty big, relatively unorthodox for this area. It was fun to ride down, but even more fun to try to make it up!
Timber Shaft, on the other hand, wasn’t really a trail, but more so a skills park at the highest point. This is an amazing place for intermediate riders to test their skills on balance + bike control on countless trestles and rock features.
Next, we went to the “Mahnomen Unit” which borders a handful of massive lakes for fishing. We rode a bunch over here, including Miner’s Mountain, Chute, Hopper Hill, + Screamer. Now, these trails are short, no question about it. But do you know that one section on your favorite trail back home? I feel like that’s the mindset they had when building these trails. With limited space and elevation changes, these trails were designed to be extremely fun in such a short space- absolutely worth riding multiple times back to back. Something that was really cool about this area is nearly every single trail is one-directional, meaning no more “Strava bros” yelling at uphillers to pull over for their poor shot at KOM. Glad to see more places taking on this concept!
Cruising along the best overlook in the trails of Cuyuna, Miner's Mountain trail.
Hitting the fast turns of Screamer, my personal favorite.
The fast straight leading into Screamer (left) and Steve hitting a big switchback with views of the lake through the trees (right).
At the bottom of the mountain was yet another skills area for every single level of riding. It felt like a zone designed for progression. With gradually increasing difficulties, we saw everyone from children to older folks crushing this area. Yet even more trestles, skill features, and jump lines filled the area.
We were blown away to see an expert jump line with 10-15ft tables and other fun features as part of this area. You could be 3 years old or a world cup racer and you would have a blast in Cuyuna.
I had to get a taste of this bigger line myself. Coming from a dirtjump/racing background, this was the ultimate playground.(Photos by Steve Wilcox.)
We spent a good amount of time at Red Raven, a bike shop/cafe with amazing paninis. I'm serious. Amazing. This place was always poppin' with all of the local riders and the team working in the bike shop were more than helpful with figuring out what trails to ride.
Now, if you didn't get enough, this is just the beginning of what Minnesota has to offer. There are countless areas to ride, so we had to do a second trip out to extend this series. In the second part, we take an in-depth look at Duluth (a Gold Level IMBA Ride Center) and Lebanon Hills (located very close to downtown Minneapolis) in order to showcase the ultimate destination trip if you're looking for a new type of riding. Keep a look out during July 2019 for the release of the second part of this series.
Presented by Explore Minnesota
To learn more about biking in Minnesota or to book a trip, visit Explore Minnesota