Time: 3 hours, 48 minutes
In Menahga, MN, leave the Cottage House Café on Cedar Ave. and turn right (east) onto 1st NE/CR21/Twin Lakes Rd. Travel 5.4 miles to CR6. Turn left (north) and follow 2.5 miles to MN-87E. Turn right (east) and travel 6 miles to CR13. Turn left (north) and travel 10 miles to MN-34E. Turn right (east) and ride 16.4 miles to MN-371 in Walker. Turn left (north) and travel 20.6 miles to US-2E in Cass Lake. Turn right (east) and ride 18.6 miles to CR8 in Bena. Turn right (south) and follow this through Federal Dam (7.4 miles) straight onto MN-84S (21.8 miles) to Longville (26.4 miles). Continue along MN-84S for 14 miles. Turn left (west) to continue on MN-84S for 10.8 miles to Pine River. Turn right (north) on MN-371N and travel 7 miles to MN-87W. Turn left (west) and travel 14.1 miles. Turn left (west) to continue on MN-87W. Travel 14.6 miles to CR6. Turn left (south) and continue on Twin Lakes Rd. to Menahga.
The rider on this trip will cut through thickly forested areas, wind around multiple lakes, and bridge numerous rivers & streams.
These roadways are generally kept in good condition. You’ll be transitioning from fast-paced highway travel to lonely county roads that ribbon between lakes. Be wary of blind turnouts, slow-moving vacationers, quick-moving logging trucks, wildlife, and gravel in the corners of the less traveled sections.
Closest motorcycle dealerships include Ray’s Sport & Cycle in Grand Rapids, Northland Off-Road & ATV in Grand Rapids, Bemidji Sports Centre, Brother’s Motorsports in Cross Lake, Viking Land Harley-Davidson in Brainerd, and Power Lodge in Brainerd.
Start or end your trip on the white sugar sand beach of Menahga’s Spirit Lake. The town of Menahga takes its name from the Chippewa word for blueberry bush and it is considered by its approx. 1,300 inhabitants as “The Gateway to the Pines”.
Apparently, the term was coined in 1916. When the Jefferson Highway (now Hwy. 71) made of dirt, was completed, linking New Orleans to Winnipeg, a large group of dignitaries, including Louisiana’s governor, traveled the road and visited Menahga. The governor announced in a speech that he had traveled “from the palms to the pines,” and that Menahga should be known as “The Gateway to the Pines.”
Located on the shore of Leech Lake, Walker was founded in 1896 in an area initially populated by Native Americans, early fur traders and loggers. Already a rough frontier town prior to its establishment, Walker continued to develop with business, jobs and other services generated by four logging companies and the railroad.
What is now known as the Chippewa National Forest was established in 1902, upon which time tourism took hold as folks from the Twin Cities sought recreation associated with the area’s thick forests and abundance of nearby lakes. The city reached its peak population in 1950, but continues to cater to an influx of outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year.
Located on the shore of its namesake, Cass Lake, this town of approx. 775 people is situated within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe are headquartered here.
The village was established in 1898 with the construction of the Great North Railway. As with other area communities, Cass Lake grew from the trade in forest products before benefiting from tourism with the establishment of the Chippewa National Forest.
The name Bena comes from the Ojibwe word meaning “partridge” or ruffed grouse.
Bena was incorporated as a village in 1906 – eight years after Minneapolis native and entrepreneur Ernest Flemming established a post office in the community being served by the Great Northern Railway. Not only the postmaster, Flemming went on to become the owner of the local hotel (Lake Winnibigoshish Tourist Camp) and a dealer in general merchandise.
Incorporated in 1911, Federal Dam is named after the Leech Lake dam built by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in 1882. Located along the Leech River, on the northeast side of Leech Lake, the village began as a railroad town – the division point for trains going from Superior, Wis. to Federal Dam and from Thief River Falls to Federal Dam.
A campground for tourists was established in 1935 and proved such a boon, visitors from Chicago often utilized Soo Line trains to travel to the area for fishing, boating, hunting and camping excursions.
Locals still like to think of Federal Dam as “The Best Little City by a Dam Site.”
Longville started around 1906 as a logging town. However, due to its off-rail location and nearby lakes of Long Lake and Woman Lake, tourism quickly overtook logging as an industry.
Today, the town’s population in the winter is under 200 permanent residents but swells to over 5,000 in the summer when cabin dwellers are included. As a result, the town’s economy is primarily made up of two sectors: services and real estate. Real estate agents sell land and cabins, and a large number of service providers, such as a marina, hardware stores, grocery stores, gas station, bait shop, etc. support the cabins.
In 1873, two years after the Northern Pacific Railway had bridged the Mississippi River in what is now Brainerd, George Barclay established the first permanent trading post on the Pine River, alongside what is now Highway 371.
Barclay’s Trading Post, a general mercantile, supplied the area with food stuffs, tools, etc., before the entrepreneur went on to build a ranch and hotel. The railroad soon followed, and with it came more people seeking to build their riches on the frontier of the Northwoods.
Barclay wouldn’t live to see the town at its zenith, however, as he was shot and killed in a now non-existent hotel in Pine River in the late 1800s. The murderer was never apprehended. Today, Pine River’s main street through the city is named Barclay Avenue.