Like most of you, we’ve grown tired of being cooped up at home and with UTV events being cancelled and postponed we have been itching to get out and ride. We knew it was only a matter of time before getting an invite to do a little trail riding with some friends and we just couldn’t pass it up, it was time to get out and about. For our Memorial weekend, we loaded up and headed north to Moose Lake in Minnesota to see what the Soo Line ATV Trail is all about.
Our ride starts at our cabin at Sand Lake Resort, which isn’t actually on Moose Lake but on Sand Lake just a few miles south of Moose Lake, however Moose Lake is the general area to reference to. Access to the Willard Munger State Trail from our cabin is just across the street, talk about waking up and going; in under a minute from the cabin you’re already rippin! Take your pick, the Willard Munger State Trail runs both north-east and south-west with a variety of loops along the way and features a number of ride area destinations in any direction. We ventured both ways some, but mainly headed north to Moose Lake to access the Soo Line ATV Trail head.
The Soo Line
The Soo Line Trail is an abandoned railroad line that has essentially been converted to a gravel road intended for snowmobile and ATV / UTV use as well as hiking, mountain biking, cross country skiing and horseback riding. There are two parts of the Soo Line Trial, the Soo Line South ATV Trail and the Soo Line North ATV Trail also known as the North Woods ATV Trail. The Soo Line South ATV trail is 126 miles long, starting in Superior, Wisconsin and runs south-west ending in Royalton, Minnesota. The scenic route features a mix of dense forest, swampy marshes, farmland and trestle crossings as well as a variety of side loops including the Northern Pine Riders ATV Trail. It connects with the Soo Line North ATV Trail just southwest of Moose Lake near the trailhead we entered each day. The Soo Line North ATV Trail is 148 miles long, starting at Moose Lake and continues north-west through Aitkin County and serves as the backbone for the Aitkin County Northwoods ATV Trail System.
Although we trekked the Soo Line South Trail a ways, we spent most of our weekend on the Soo Line North Trail. Like the south trail, the Soo Line North Trail features a mix of dense forest, marshy swamps, farmland and trestle crossings. Once into Aitkin County, the North Woods ATV Trail System features a ton of loops off the Soo Line as well as several connector trails that lead to neighboring trail systems. Aitkin County on its own has 207 miles of connected trails, all of which are very well maintained, mapped and marked.
Although not a huge concern, old railroad spikes are still a threat to tires on the Soo Line.
Since the Soo Line runs through several small towns, it’s common for riders to make frequent pit stops for food and beverages at each town’s local bar / restaurant. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, almost all of these establishments were closed to in house dining and drinking, however curbside service was still available at many of the locations. Locals and regular riders to the area often “bar hop” these establishments, we didn’t get to experience that which was kind of a bummer but on a positive note it gave us much more time to ride and explore the area. Fueling up and going further was also a great benefit of the connected towns.
Trail Conditions are Excellent
The Soo Line as well as every loop and connector trail we rode on was excellently maintained, along each loop you’ll find garbage cans and signs reminding riders to keep the trails clean. The trails themselves are fast flowing, well-groomed and well taken care of. At each loop, town or popular waypoint you’ll find signs, trail maps, as well as historical markers and descriptive notes and images so you can easily navigate and learn about the area.
Almost every loop has multiple rest areas with picnic tables, take a break, enjoy the scenery and chow on some lunch; some even have fire pits so you can warm up or warm up your chow. We stopped and chilled at several of these spots, it was perfect for lunch or just to kick back and visit with your crew.
You’ll find a number of mud holes and wetland areas on the trails, many of which have wooden bridge crossings and geoblocks that are designed to allow ATVs and UTVs to cross the area while still allowing the hydraulic processes of the terrain to continue. Geoblocks are an open celled plastic material designed to support vehicle loads while protecting the ground and soil underneath. The geoblock’s open cells allow water to pass though and underneath, this allows the vegetation to grow through its openings.
Crossing creeks and rivers were a norm on the trails as well. Whether it was a trestle crossing or a large bridge, all were well constructed and maintained; they were great to stop and snag a few pics and enjoy the view.
Epic views indeed!
Axtell Technical Riding Area
On the Soo Line, just outside the town of McGregor, you’ll find the Axtell Technical Riding Area. This was a fun stop, the 40 acre park was filled with a variety of natural and placed features, including mud pits, a hill climb, sandy whoops, log and rock crawling obstacles, a bridge, bowls and much more. This was a great spot to test your skills and have a break from traditional trail riding.
Ty’s 4-wheel drive went out, bummer!
On our final day of riding we scooted down the Soo Line a ways to the Hill City Connector and made our way north to Hill City. The connector trail brings you to the backside of Quadna Mountain, a place we were familiar with; Quadna Mountain is the home to the annual High Lifter Quadna Mud Nationals UTV event. Although we are somewhat familiar with the area, it was fun to ride a trail that we had never been on. That trail led us to Hill City where we fueled up and stopped at Knuckleheads Bar and Grill for some curbside lunch. It seemed like a long haul to Hill City so we didn’t waste too much time getting back on the trail and making our way back to the Soo Line. We rode about 150 miles (total) that day.
Lunch at Knuckleheads.
All in all, Minnesota has once again proven to be a wonderful place to ride, the Soo Line Trail is a great destination to catch some scenic views and wildlife. It’s very enjoyable as it is a relaxed style of trail riding that is ideal for the whole family. We are already ready to head back for more!