Winter Fat Biking in Cuyuna

By Brian Fanelli

Two riders winter fat bike at Cuyuna
Two riders winter fat bike at Cuyuna / Courtesy of Cuyuna.com

The Cuyuna iron mines went dormant in 1984, but over the past 10 years they've been reborn as some of the country's best mountain bike trails. And with 25 miles of winter-ready trails, Cuyuna is the Midwest's next big winter adventure destination.

The now-dormant iron ore mines at Cuyuna were once the region’s main economic engine, and in a roundabout way, they still are. Although the mines closed for good back in 1984—abandoned like so many other industrial sites across America during that time—over the past 10 years, something unexpected happened. Something magical. The mines were reborn as mountain bike trails and, once again, they beckoned people to Cuyuna.

The trails are busiest during summer, but according to Emily Smoak of Minneapolis, winter is the best time of year to ride. “It’s funny how you might think the best weather is warmer weather, but it’s not,” she says, describing a recent trip to Cuyuna. “I think the perfect weather would be 24 degrees and crisp blue skies.”

25 Miles of Winter Fat Biking Trails

More than 25 miles of Cuyuna’s flowing, mixed-difficulty singletrack trails are “groomed” for winter fat biking. If it’s your first time riding a fat bike on groomed trails, check out the beginner-friendly Galloping Goose Trail before testing your skills elsewhere. Formerly known as “Easy Street,” this 6-mile loop around Huntington Mine Lake is the perfect introduction for riders still getting familiar with the sport.

Fat biking on a groomed trail in Yawkey unit
Fat biking on groomed singletrack in Yawkey Trail Unit / Courtesy of Cuyuna.com

More advanced riders often prefer the higher-difficulty trails found in the Yawkey Trail Unit, including the fan favorite, Bobsled. One of the most popular and talked-about trails at Cuyuna, Bobsled starts with a short but steep climb up the ridge overlooking Yawkey Mine Lake. Stop to take in the view from the top, then follow the trail into the woods for a breakneck-paced, berm-filled, adrenaline-fueled rocket ride back down to the bottom. Ride this trail with a fresh layer of snow on the ground, and you won’t have any doubts about how Bobsled earned its name.

White-knuckled trails like Bobsled are outliers, though, according to Red Raven Bike Shop owner 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.”

Things to Do During Your Fat Biking Trip

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 many other businesses in Crosby, Stoffel and his wife opened Red Raven Bike Shop & Cafe within the last 5 years. The shop joined more than a dozen other new businesses to open since the mountain bike trails came to town. Many of the formerly abandoned red brick storefronts downtown have been reborn, and there’s now a craft brewery, farm-to-table restaurant, wellness studio, tattoo parlor, bookstore and gift shop, among other things.

Crosby is also part of the Brainerd Lakes Area, a region known for charming downtowns, family-friendly resorts and lakes both large and small. Drive a few minutes in any direction and you'll find plenty of other highlights, including award winning 18-hole golf courses, art galleries, vintage and antique shops, boat rentals and charter launches.

Places to Stay

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

One of the more eye-catching places to stay in Crosby 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.

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 winter 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 camping in the cold. Each yurt can house seven guests and, in true Minnesota Nice fashion, logs to feed the wood stove are complimentary all winter.

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