Thousands of years ago massive glaciers scoured Northern Minnesota, scraping the ground clean and leaving a unique, rugged landscape behind. This landscape has become known for its pristine waters, deep forests, and now, mountain biking.
In the early 2000s, a group of motivated cyclists formed the Superior Cycling Association (SCA), a non-profit organization aimed at developing and promoting cycling on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Their dream was to see 25+ miles of high quality singletrack lacing the Shore, including everything from cross country options, to downhill options, to singletrack of all levels.
Currently two locations are being developed by the SCA in conjunction with the National Forest Service, International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), and local governments: Britton Peak near Tofte, MN, and Pincushion Mountain, near Grand Marais, MN. Both of these sites take advantage of dramatic geography unlike anything else in the Midwest to provide a tremendous riding experience on sustainably-built trails that wind through pristine forests.
Britton Peak’s trails are built next to the Sugarbush Trail System?s trails and currently contains roughly 6 miles of dedicated singletrack in three trails called Short Stacker (1.5+ miles), Crosscut (2 miles), and Skookum (2 miles). Short Stacker is a beginners loop containing some good, flowy sections and a nice burn to get your heart rate up. Crosscut has significant elevation rise and fall throughout its run, as well as some great technical options. It connects with Skookum at its northern end and Short Stacker at its southern end. Skookum completes the larger loop by swinging wide to the east and intersecting with a few of the Sugarbush Trail System trails. It offers many opportunities for riders to test their skill and endurance with its varied terrain and features. Five more miles of trail are in the works, along with a potential traverse trail to connect Britton Peak with potential trails at Lutsen Mountains Ski Area.
Pincushion Mountain’s trails interweave with the Pincushion Mountain Ski Trails and currently offer roughly 10 miles of singletrack and 25+km of ski trails. A Devil Track Trail is being planned that will follow the Devil Track River Gorge, providing unmatched vistas and trail features.
The trails at Pincushion include the Talus Trail (1 mile), the Fluvial Trail (2.5 miles), the Back Eighty (2 miles), the Canadian Shield Trail (1.5 miles), and Rock and a Hard Place (+/-3 miles). The Talus Trail is an approach trail running from the parking area to the Fluvial Trail, dropping into a valley across several sections of loose rock (talus) before finishing at a stream crossing. The Fluvial Trail is a 2.5-mile loop that highlights the landscape as it runs across side cuts, rock outcroppings, stream crossings, and established jumps for the extra-adventurous. The Back Eighty is the original singletrack at Pincushion; it is a technical, windy course that demands your attention the entire ride. Although not incredibly fast, it will test your riding ability. Canadian Shield is a new loop taking advantage of the large monolithic rock mass that makes up Pincushion Mountain to give you amazing views of the lake and technical ascents/descents throughout the route. Rock and a Hard Place is just that: a challenging route through the woods with very little soil underneath you. Although it is not slickrock riding, some sections are not far from it.
Progress continues at these trails and ridership is beginning to take off as Northern Minnesota establishes itself as a riding destination with not only fantastic trails, but great restaurants, beautiful lodging options, and views of Lake Superior, all for a fraction of the cost of traveling West for high quality riding. The SCA is seeking riders to help christen these trails as well as supporters to help in its mission to establish the North Shore as a premier ride center for the country.
In order to support this mission, the SCA hosts the Sawtooth Mountain Challenge every September. This year the Challenge will include several miles of brand new trails that will be debuted for the race on September 7th. Riders of all levels and abilities will gather in downtown Grand Marais to climb over 600 feet to the trails to compete in either an 8 mile, 15 mile, or 21 mile race. Winners in each category will be awarded prizes from several local businesses.
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux is a road cyclist turned mountain biker from Grand Marais, MN. He serves on the board of the Superior Cycling Association and runs the Art House B&B with his family in Grand Marais.