Make Your Escape: A Cuyuna Christmas

Dec 21, 2020Mountain Bike Trails, Winter Biking

By Tonja Sahaydak

This story originally appeared in the 2018/19 winter edition of Trails

Last December my husband Martin suggested we spend four days in a yurt in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area near Crosby with our teenagers Justice, Jarod and Josie to get in some quality family time. I was hesitant at first. Sure, we love to ride Cuyuna’s mountain bike trails in the summer and swim in the cool, clear lakes. The vibrant color contrasts of red dirt, green leaves and blue waters awaken my soul as much as a vigorous bike ride awakens my body.

But in the winter it’s a cold, still world of black and white and a yurt is just an insulated canvas on a wooden structure. Temperatures were forecast to never reach above zero degrees during our stay, but Martin assured me we’d be fine. A winter getaway, he said, was just what our family needed because each of us is usually off on their own activities and we’re rarely at home together.

On Christmas Day we packed our minivan with fat bikes, the teenagers and gear to survive four days of adventure and left for Cuyuna.

Cuyuna yurt in the snow

At the Yawkey Mine we made the short hike to the yurt to haul in our goods from the parking lot and after 30 minutes of teamwork, there was a crackling fire in the cast iron woodstove, logs back stocked, and our gear was neatly stowed in place. While the yurt was heating up, we bundled up in our sleeping bags and took a look at our home for the next few days.

The five windows and domed skylight above provided ample light. Three wooden bunk beds lined the curved walls, one with a couch that folds flat into a double bed. A padded rocker was perched next to the stove, a chunky wooden table and chairs chat on the wooden floor in the middle of the room.

Soon, the yurt was warm enough, the sun started to set and we called it a day. The outside temperatures plunged to -26 degrees and throughout the night we took turns feeding the stove with logs.

Nighttime trips to the vault toilet took some getting used to because that kind of cold sucks the breath right out of your lungs when you step outside. But as much as I dreaded crawling out of my warm sleeping bag, wrestling with the parka and strapping on the headlamp, seeing the beauty of the brilliant stars blanketing the black skies made it worth the effort. The night was still, interrupted only by the occasional yelp of coyotes.

teenagers gathered around a wood stove

The promise of a beautiful day woke us in the morning and we decided to get out the fat bikes. The Yawkey Unit trails were well groomed and started just a few feet away from our yurt. Trout and Man Cage trails provided short, 10-minute loops. I enjoyed Dragline for a slightly longer, meandering trail with several cut-offs to choose from. Bobsled was more difficult, but offered a good climb, great views and a downhill that guaranteed a smile every time.
Staying close to the yurt and being able to pop inside when the cold settled in was key to keeping it fun.
Because it was so cold and cooking is only allowed outside, we planned meals that required very little dishwashing and could be quickly prepared or reheated over a camp stove in the picnic shelter just outside the door of the yurt.
Our days at the Cuyuna yurts went fast and we filled them with biking, snowshoeing and family time. Every night we gathered around the wood stove for a fireside chat or read books and played games. We even had some friends join us for an afternoon.

four people with fat bikes pose in front of a yurt in the winter
Minnesota winters can be long and relentless, but if you can’t escape that time of year, you can still find warmth amid the cold. Spending time with our kids at the yurt made us realize how draining it is to be so busy all the time. Being together in nature allowed us to truly relax and return home refreshed. Martin was right. It really was just what our family needed.
About the Author

About the Author

Tonja Sahaydak enjoys traveling, riding bikes and listening to her favorite podcasts. She puts her riding skills to the test when coaching high school students in the Minnesota Interscholastic Cycling League and keeps the wheels turning at her job as a Project Manager at a small firm in Deephaven, MN. 

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I’m Jan, the publisher of Minnesota Trails Magazine. I’m looking for that one trail, the next ride, a new discovery and other reasons never to sit still in Minnesota.

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