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Preparing For Your Visit
Before you make your way to the Cuyuna Lakes Area, there's a few things you should know to best prepare, like downloading a copy of the area's map. First things first, you'll need a vehicle permit if you plan on parking inside the recreation area. These vehicle permits are $7 for the day or $35 for an annual permit, and although now a days payment is done online, you'll still have to stop at the booth pictured above to scan the QR code and fill out a small piece of paper to display on your dashboard during your visit. In addition to having your vehicle permit, there are a few rules the Cuyuna State Recreation Area implements :
Exploring the Cuyuna State Recreation Area
1. Where to Stay
Anytime you plan an overnight visit, one of the most important things to consider is where to spend the night. Luckily, in the Cuyuna Lakes Recreation Area you have a few options. Our personal favorite is Cuyuna Cove - a boutique lodging option that offers direct access from the property to the Cuyuna Lakes Area. Pictured below, they have adorable glamping options in the summer or self contained, cozy cabins available year round.
If you're looking for something inside the Recreation Area then you have two options. The yurts near Yawkey Mine Lake are a popular option, and although they don't have running water or electricity they are 20 feet wide and are said to sleep 7 people. These yurts tend to book out a ways in advance, and all bookings are done on the Minnesota DNR website.
The only other option inside the Recreation Area is at the Portsmouth Campground, which sits on the northern shore of Portsmouth Mine Lake. Here, they have multiple electrical hook up sites, walk in sites, and a group camping site. Reservations can be made at the same Minnesota DNR website.
2. Which Area is Right for You?
The Cuyuna State Recreation Area is made up of 4 main areas. The Sagamore Unit revolves around the Sagamore Mine Lake, and has 5 different trails that spans 7.5 miles. These trails are known to be bit wider for adaptive bikes, and have been created for all skill levels to enjoy!
The Mahnomen Units (north vs. south) are where you can find the largest concentration of things to do. With access from just outside the edges of the city of Ironton, here you can find multiple lakes to enjoy in addition to multiple overlooks, and even Miner's Mountain - the highest point in the entire area. With multiple biking and hiking trails starting in this area, the longest takes you 12 miles around Huntington Lake. If you head into the Mahnomen North Unit you can find even more biking trails and mine lakes. If it's your first visit to the area this is where we would recommend visiting first!
The Portsmouth Unit surrounds the Portsmouth Lake, and like the other areas of Cuyuna State Recreation Area you can find multiple biking and hiking trails along the shores of the lake. The Portsmouth Lake is also known for having rainbow trout making it a great place to go fishing!
Lastly, the Yawkey Unit is my personal favorite. Pictured below, you can see the Yawkey Mine Lake - which in our opinion is one of the most beautiful lakes in the area. Not only can you enjoy the lake but this is also where the Yawkey Yurts are located. If you're looking to enjoy a part of the Recreation Area that is a bit quieter than the rest then this is the spot we recommend.
3. The Mine Lakes
By now you've heard a lot about the area's mine lakes. Once upon a time (in the early 1900's) these were used as iron ore mining pits (also why the dirt in the area is so red). Eventually, the mines shut down, plants and trees grew in the pits, and now these spring fed lakes have become incredibly, crystal clear lakes.
They're known throughout the state as excellent diving lakes thanks to their clarity, and if you bring a paddle board or kayak then there's even more ways to enjoy them! You can also rent gear like glass bottom kayaks from Cuyuna Outfitters! Our personal favorite mine lake is the Yawkey Mine Lake.
4. 50 Miles of Trails
Throughout the entire Cuyuna Lakes Recreation Area, you can find over 50 miles of trails. Although we can't personally recommend any specific biking trails, two of our favorites are exploring along the Yawkey Mine Lake and the Miner's Mountain Overlook. If you're looking for an easy, nice, flat hike then we recommend heading out along the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail in the Mahnomen South Unit. No matter which hike you choose, there are multiple guidelines that the Minnesota DNR recommends that you follow :
5. Seasonal Advice
The Cuyuna Lakes Recreation Area is open daily in every season, and although most might visit during the summer months - the area is also incredibly beautiful in the Fall and Winter! Based on our experience the area is a bit harder to enjoy in the spring when everything is melting, creating wet and muddy trails.
In the Fall, the foliage is incredibly colorful and beautiful. The best place to visit in our opinion is Miner's Mountain Overlook and Huntington Lake to take in some of the fall views!
In the Winter, you can head out ice fishing, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing on the groomed trails! Just make sure to dress warm, and bring any gear you need! If you're looking to go fat tire biking you can also rent bikes from Red Raven or Cykel!
Watch our Crosby Adventures here!
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