Dispatch from the Trail: Mountain Biking the Maah Daah Hey, Cuyuna Lakes, Duluth, and Copper Harbor

The second leg of our trip has provided some challenges for me. From a lost wallet to a broken phone and some not-so-exciting trail in North Dakota, my first world problems have been a bit discouraging. Fortunately, this trip is about my family and I getting out and adventuring, seeing places we have never been, and finding sweet singletracks to rip around on.

North Dakota

Maah Daah Hey

After leaving the fun, excitement, and beauty of South Dakota we met up with Kristen’s parents near the Maah Daah Hey Trail in Western North Dakota. We camped at Buffalo Gap which had an extension trail that circumnavigated a section of the Maah Daah Hey (MDH); trail which resides in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park – thus, illegal to bike. No offense to North Dakotans, but MDH/Buffalo Gap trails were not my favorite bit of riding. MDH did offer a great challenge of long distance, cross-country riding, but the bad lands were not ideal day trip riding.

Each segment we rode was riddled with cow pies. That is not usually a deal breaker for fun trails but this was excessive. Views were mediocre and the trail itself had, absolutely, no fun factor. Rock gardens were nonexistent. The climbing was easy and the descents did not induce the adrenaline that keeps me coming back. To be honest, I felt like I was putting along a flat service road the whole time. There were changes in elevation but usually that means there is fun to be had. I have never ridden a more boring trail.

I understand the appeal of long distance, cross-country riding. I have done a fair share of endurance races. That is the one take away I got from MDH. We didn’t have a chance to ride much else in North Dakota so there could be something more exciting out there. If anything, it certainly made me excited to see Minnesota.

Minnesota

cuyuna lakes

Minnesota was absolutely beautiful. Lush, green and riddled with lakes. We stayed in Cuyuna for a few days on their new-ish pumptrack campground. We were able to bike into the east end of the trail system but did drive to a few varying trailheads with the whole family.

My wonderful in-laws gave Kristen and I an opportunity to ride together while they hung out with Parker. We nearly cleaned the entire trail system that day. With trail names like Man-Cave, Screamer, and Bobsled you know they’re fun trails.

Cuyuna Lakes is basically a giant pumptrack. All purpose-built, flow trails. Small climbs offered small downhill rewards and kept the pace fast. Pumping rollers and pedaling flats along lake shores helps to keep the ride enticing too. This family friendly system also allowed us to take Parker on some decent rides. He, at 4, was cleaning their hardest trails and loving them. The climbs were just enough to tire him but offer enough descending to keep him chomping at the bit. What an amazing little single speeder!

After a few days in Cuyuna we made our way up to Duluth. We camped at the top of Spirit Mountain – the local ski resort. Duluth was purely awesome. The local outdoors community has built miles of trail, the Duluth Traverse, that links into various trail systems including Spirit Mountain’s gravity fed rippers!

We had a fun day as a family riding the Spirit Mountain trails and took Parker on his first lift assisted day of riding. That kid is a Rockstar! The usual bike park style of trail was abundant. One named Calculated Risk was by far the hardest, with rock gardens down most of it including one large rock-wall area that I had to put a foot down on a few times while trying to descend. A full day of jumping and rock gardens definitely leaves the muscles sore for a few days.

The Duluth Traverse and adjacent trail system we rode were dually as fun. Kristen and I were granted another “date-ride” and we took advantage. Following her up the Traverse to Upper Burner Trail was a blast. The Piedmont system offered rollers, rock gardens, roots, manicured berms and some downright chunky sections. Both flow trail and classic singletrack are abundant here and make for some fantastic riding.

Michigan

Copper Harbor

From Minnesota, we found ourselves traveling for a few days, staying in the “Porkies” of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, visiting the Stormy Kromer factory and working our way to the tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Copper Harbor has been my favorite location of our trip thus far. Though the trail system offered only around 30-ish miles of singletrack, it was enough to keep us starry-eyed for a week. The main system sat on and between two hills that offered enough downhill to keep things spicy!

Loamy, North Shore-esque terrain offered cool, shady riding with roots and rocks aplenty (can you tell I like to ride rocks and roots?) A few of the trails like Downtown and Overflow were designated downhill only. Many of the rest were intermediate and black diamond trails meandering through the forest. Like Cuyuna Lakes, the trails were all purpose-built, flow trails. The combination of the trail design with actual descents lasting far longer than two minutes made for riotous fun.

“Date-Ride” days on the main trails allowed the wife and I to ride nearly the whole system and to ride the Point Trail; a traverse out to the point of the upper peninsula of Michigan. There wasn’t a trail I didn’t enjoy. Garden Brooke, Flow, Danimal, Stairway to Heaven and Red Trail (my absolute favorite) were some of my favorites. Rocky descents and glorious views of Lake Superior were awe inspiring. I would absolutely love to return here someday.

Conclusion

You can’t win them all. Though I didn’t necessarily enjoy North Dakotan trails, others might. The other locations of this leg of the trip were absolutely amazing and far exceeded any expectation I could possibly fathom. The beauty of the great lakes combined with rooty, rocky rides has been exactly why we embarked on this adventure. Seeing my little boy rally down the mountain in his full-face helmet has certainly been the icing on the cake. Onward to Ontario, Canada, Kingdom Trails in Vermont and south from there!

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