Did you know that each year over 25,000 mountain bikers flock to the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in central Minnesota? That’s right! The area offers more than 25 miles of world class mountains biking, open year round, and it’s located just two hours from Minneapolis.
But, what if mountain biking (especially in winter) isn’t really your thing? Don’t worry! There’s tons of things to do for a perfect weekend getaway in Cuyuna Minnesota in winter. Here’s 14 reasons to visit the Cuyuna lakes region in winter that don’t include mountain biking!
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Where is Cuyuna Country Minnesota?
Cuyuna Country is located about 2 hours north of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. This area is part of Minnesota’s Iron Range which is made up of three distinct iron mines: Cuyuna, Vermilion and Mesabi. They stretch from Crosby (Cuyuna) in the east to the Ely area (Mesabi) in the west.
It’s the area’s history of mining that actually allowed the creation of the maze of mountain biking trails. What once were functioning mine pits have filled with water and the red soil that was displaced from the mining operations have been transformed into the rolling hills found throughout the area.
Pro Tip: The mine pits that are now lakes are known for being crystal clear, making Cuyuna an ideal kayaking and paddle boarding destination in warmer months. It’s also an unexpected scuba diving destination!
Because Cuyuna Country refers to an area not just a single destination, it can be confusing to figure out where you actually go to visit! The primary towns that make up Cuyuna Country include Crosby, Ironton, Riverton and Deerwood. Brainerd, about 15 miles away, is the most developed city close to most of the activities in Cuyuna.
Best Place to Stay in Cuyuna Country
Out of all of the towns in the Cuyuna lakes area, Crosby is where I recommend staying. The town has an adorable Main Street with several restaurants and shops to visit and it offers direct access to paved, gravel and mountain biking trails in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.
Cuyuna Cove – The perfect retreat!
Just a few blocks from Main Street in Crosby, Cuyuna Cove strikes the perfect balance between easy access to things to do and a total nature retreat vibe. The cabins each include a private bathroom and shower, secluded patio with a grill, and even dedicated locked outdoor storage for bikes, skis and other gear.
After a long day of adventures, grab the smores gear and head down to one of two fire pit areas! The paths are all lighted with strings of lights. The patios are also perfectly made for star gazing too.
Pro Tip: The Cuyuna lakes area is known for its red dirt, which gets everywhere. Be sure to bring clothes that you don’t mind getting covered in red dirt. Even though Cuyuna Cove is very clean, your socks will get a red tint to them.
Why you need to visit Cuyuna Minnesota in winter
Like I said, Cuyuna is an ideal destination any time of year for those who love mountain biking. But, if mountain biking isn’t your thing or if you happen to visit when the trails are closed due to the spring melt, there’s still plenty of things to do in Cuyuna Minnesota!
Pro Tip: Many of the lakes in this area used to be mine pits. That means there are steep dropoffs and the water is incredibly deep. Huntington mine pit is over 250 feet deep!! Be extremely cautious about walking out onto the ice and stay close to the shoreline unless you’re knowledgeable about the conditions.
1 | Go hiking in Crow Wing State Park.
On your way to Cuyuna Country, consider stopping at Crow Wing State Park to stretch your legs. While you’re there, learn about the history of the Ojibwe and Dakota tribes.
The Battle of 1768 trail is the site of a significant battle between the Ojibwe and Dakota tribes and contributed to this portion of the state becoming Ojibwe land. The Red River Oxcart Trail takes you through the Old Crow Wing Town Site, a frontier town from the mid 1800s which is on the National Register of Historic Places. These trails are just over 2 miles each.
From the park entrance, drive straight to where the road ends in a parking lot. If you’re facing the picnic area, go to the left for the Battle of 1768 Trail and go right for the Red River Oxcart Trail. There is a pit toilet at this parking lot.
The park also has snowmobile trails and access to the Paul Bunyan State Trails which is open to snowmobiles in winter.
Pro Tip: A daily or annual permit is needed to access any Minnesota state park or recreation area. Purchase one online in advance if possible as the park offices are not always staffed. If you plan to visit five or more state parks in a year, the annual pass is a better and more flexible option.
2 | Load up on tasty wine, cheese and charcuterie at Victual.
Crosby may be a small town but this shop’s selection of wine, cocktail mixers, cheese, and locally made gifts will blow you away. This was my first stop in town so I could stock up the fridge in my cabin at Cuyuna Cove. If you need help choosing cheese, wines or anything the staff are super helpful and will allow you to taste the cheeses before purchasing.
Oh, and if you love ice cream, grab a cup or a cone on your way out of the store!
3 | Get a look at Cuyuna Country from above at Lookout Mountain.
For one of the best views of Cuyuna Country, head to Lookout Mountain (also called Cuyuna Overlook). This is the tallest point in the area and was created by the displaced material from the mining operations. The entire hill is covered in zig zagging mountain biking trails for all skill levels. But, the very top is accessible to non-mountain bikers and the view is worth it!
To get there, enter Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area from the access point in Ironton (search Miner’s Mountain Rally Center in Google Maps). When mountain biking trails are open, this is a great place to access them.
Pro Tip: Be sure to bring microspikes as the trails, particularly towards the end of winter when the snow is melting, will be slushy and icy. Theses are the ones I wear.
Park in the Miner’s Mountain Rally Center parking lot. To find the way to Lookout Mountain, face the changing stations and then go to the right and up the wide paved path. There is a small sign that says that’s the direction for the Cuyuna Overlook. Follow the paved path all the way to the very top, less than a mile.
From the top, you are rewarded with sweeping views of several different mining pits including Pennington, Huntington and Portsmouth mines. Sit and enjoy the view at one of the picnic tables or benches. There is also a pit toilet here.
This is an ideal spot for sunrise, sunset, and stargazing!
Pro Tip: Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area is part of the Minnesota state parks system. This means you either need to purchase a day pass for each day you plan to enter or an annual pass displayed on your vehicle.
4 | Enjoy a gorgeous sunset view at Paradise Point.
After enjoying the view from Lookout Mountain, take a small detour to Paradise Point. As you come down the paved path to Lookout Mountain, just before you reach the parking lot, turn left onto a gravel or partially paved road. (It’s hard to tell because it was covered in snow.) Follow the path (or other footprints in the snow) always staying to the left as the path splits all the way to the very end. Here you’ll be on a thin strip of land with water on three sides. This is Paradise Point, and it offers arguably the best sunset in Cuyuna with a view of the frozen mine pits.
For a more accessible alternative, view the sunset from the beach at the Miner’s Mountain Rally Center parking lot. There are both steps and a paved ramp from the parking lot.
Pro Tip: Be sure to get your Minnesota State Parks Passport stamp by stopping in at the main office in Ironton (307 3rd Street, Ironton, MN 56455). Note that it is not located at the entrance to the recreation area like in most parks but it is available outside of the entrance of the main office so you can access it after hours.
5 | Explore the paved and gravel trails on a fat tire bike.
Mountain biking isn’t the only type of biking to do in the Cuyuna lakes area. There are loads of paved and gravel trails that are open even when the mountain biking trails are closed!
Red Raven is located right on Crosby’s Main Street and is a short walk or drive from Cuyuna Cove. They offer bike rentals and have a great cafe as well.
For an easy ride, head down 3rd Ave NW towards Cuyuna Cove. Turn into Cuyuna Cove’s gravel driveway but turn immediately left onto the bike trail. This short spur trail will lead you to the Cuyuna paved bike trail.
When you reach the path, turn right and follow the trail straight until it merges onto a road (8th Street NE) which eventually turns into Deer Trail Drive. After a short ride, the road will end at Highway 210/ 6 where you’ll see the paved trail along the left side of the road. Follow this around Serpent Lake for a leisurely ride. The paved path will end at Deerwood, so you can either turn around or make your way through the streets back towards Crosby.
Alternatively, instead of turning right onto the paved path from Cuyuna Cove, turn left and go under the road to follow the paved Cuyuna Lakes State Trail eight miles from Crosby to Riverton.
Pro Tip: Red Raven did not have a paper map of the paved trails, but I did have cell phone service (T-mobile) throughout the area and was able to use Google Maps to navigate.
6 | Try your hand at ice fishing.
There are 25 miles of shoreline and seemingly endless lakes and mine pits in the Cuyuna area. This makes it a popular destination for fishing all year round.
Those with a trout stamp on their fishing license can fish for trout, northern, bass, sunfish and crappie in designated trout lakes. Find out which lakes are designated trout lakes by viewing the maps on the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area website.
If you don’t have your own ice fishing gear, Red Rider Resort offers 4-hour guided ice fishing trips.
Pro Tip: A fishing license is required to go ice fishing. Purchase a day or annual fishing license through the Minnesota DNR. Licenses are also available for purchase in person at Oars & Mine bait shop located next door to Cuyuna Cove in Crosby.
7 | Relax in your cabin at Cuyuna Cove (or wherever you stay).
The Cuyuna lakes area is full of adventure but it’s also a place of solitude. Be sure to reserve a little time to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Bring a book or journal, your favorite blanket, and some warm tea or coffee.
8 | Visit Milford Mine Memorial Park.
Just a ten minute drive from Crosby, down a red dirt road, is the Milford Mine Memorial Park.
This is the site of the biggest mining disaster in Minnesota history. What looks like a lake today was once a mining pit. In 1924, 48 miners were working in the mine when suddenly it was flooded. Within 15 minutes the mine was full of water and sediment. Only 7 miners made it out alive, meaning 41 people lost their lives in that mine pit.
Today, there is a short trail to a small boardwalk with a view of the mine pit/ lake. It’s a peaceful place to sit and relax while also learning about an important part of the Cuyuna area’s mining history.
9 | Take a hike or snowshoe along Sagamore Mine Lake.
The Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area is split into four units. The Sagamore Unit is the furthest south, about a ten minute drive from Crosby. From the parking lot, there are trails going either direction around the lake. If facing Sagamore Mine Lake, to the left is Syracuse trail and the right is the Klondyke trail with a short diversion up to a viewpoint with a picnic table called Crow’s Nest.
When there is snow on the ground, these trails are designated for fat tire biking, cross-country skiing (ungroomed) and snowshoeing. During this time of year, it’s best to stick to hiking on the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail. However, in the times between when there is snow and dry trails, it’s common to see hikers on these trails.
The Klondyke trail takes you past what remains of the mining buildings and structures. Both trails offer stunning views of Sagamore Mine Lake!
10 | Spend a night stargazing.
The adventure doesn’t end when the sun goes down in Cuyuna country. Grab a blanket and drink of your choice and head outdoors at night to gaze up at the stars.
For a unique view of the stars, consider hiking up to Lookout Mountain to enjoy the view from there. Be sure to bring your headlamp!
11 | Rev your engine as you explore the snowmobiling trails.
Scorpion was a snowmobile manufacturer once based in the Cuyuna area. Not only was it important as a place of employment in the region but also represented an important aspect of life in northern Minnesota.
There are literally hundreds of miles of snowmobiling trails accessible through the Cuyuna lakes area. In fact, if you want to you could ride one all the way up into Canada!
The Cuyuna Lakes Chamber of Commerce has helpful snowmobiling information and links to trail maps for the region.
12 | Take your pick of the many cross country skiing & snowshoeing trails.
In winter, cross country skiers and snowshoers can use the over 40 miles of groomed fat tire biking trails. Here are a few trails worth highlighting:
Larson Lake Trail
This groomed trail is located about ten minutes from Crosby in Aitkin. The trail is 7.2 miles but there are options for shorter hikes. Enjoy views of frozen wetlands and Larson Lake, perfect at any time of day but especially at sunset. Suitable for any skill level.
Find it: 21660 County Rd 10, Aitkin, MN
If you’re looking for a challenge, French Rapids offers 10 miles of groomed trails with lots of hills and views of the Mississippi River. These trails are a mix of classic and skate skiing.
Find it: Type ‘French Rapids Mississippi River access’ into Google Maps. Alternatively, drive to Brainerd Crow Wing Regional Airport and turn into the airport. From there, watch for the cross country skiing signs on the left side of the road.
Pro Tip: A Great Minnesota Ski Pass is needed for skiing on any groomed trail located in a Minnesota state park or recreation area. This post has information on the different cross country ski passes in Minnesota.
Yawkey Unit Trailhead or Portsmouth Trail
Just a short walk from Cuyuna Cove is easy access to two trails that are part of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area – the Yawkey Unit trailhead and Portsmouth Trail.
Find it: From the gravel/ dirt driveway entrance into Cuyuna Cove, take the immediate left onto a small bike trail. Follow it a short distance and you’ll see the signs for these two trails which will take you to pine forest, lakes and mine pits.
13 | Grab a delicious bite to eat at one of Crosby’s restaurants!
Check out these Cuyuna and Crosby MN restaurants on your visit!
There’s something extra delicious about good pizza after a long day of exploring. Rafferty’s, located on Crosby’s Main Street, was a pleasant surprise that offered dine in and carryout. Try the vegetable supreme specialty pizza (I got mine with red sauce and added sausage) and absolutely devoured it! They have convenient mini and small size pizzas if you want one all to yourself.
While you’re renting a bike at Red Raven, grab a bite to eat in their cafe. For breakfast, I recommend one of their scones or breakfast burrito. Later in they day, try the Turkey Bacon Guac grilled sandwich. It’s filling and tasty!
Iron Range Eatery was highly recommended to me by a local as one of hte more unique and true-to-the-region menus in the area. Unfortunately, they are currently closed on Sundays and Mondays, which is when I was there. Check their website for their most up to date hours.
14 | Make a pit stop or spend an entire day at Mille Lacs Kathio & Father Hennepin State Parks
Before you leave the area, make a stop at Mille Lacs-Kathio and Father Hennepin State Parks. They are located just 10-15 minutes from each other so why not explore both?
The drive to Mille Lacs-Kathio State Park will take you along Lake Mille Lacs which is an incredible sight in winter. The lake is a popular destination for ice fishing. It will look like a small town out on the frozen lake with all of the ice fishing houses!
Mille Lacs-Kathio is an expansive state park. If you’re short on time, follow the paved road all the way to the Interpretive Center parking lot. From there, follow the 0.5 mile Touch the Earth Trail which takes you on a boardwalk through a bog.
History lovers will enjoy the Landmark Trail. To get there, turn right towards the Ogechie campground parking lot. From there, you can take the 1 mile loop trail to ancient American Indian villages.
Father Hennepin State Park is located right on Mille Lacs Lake. The park is significantly smaller than Mille Lacs-Kathio but offers a completely differently experience. You can hike through forest and along the beach. The Pope’s Point Trail is one mile out-and-back trail that follows the shoreline to a beautiful overlook.
Enjoy your perfect weekend getaway to Cuyuna Minnesota
There’s so much more than mountain biking to do in Cuyuna Minnesota in winter. Get a taste of the peace and solitude of the Minnesota North Woods between your adventures!
Have you considered hiking all or part of the 300+ mile Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota? Follow along on my journey as I share step-by-step tips and resources on how to plan your backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail!
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