The 115-mile, paved Paul Bunyan Trail is Minnesota's and the country's longest paved rail trail. It has been inducted into the Rails to Trails Conservancy's Hall of Fame, as a "signature Minnesota destination." The trail starts at Crow Wing State Park near Brainerd and ends at Bemidji State Park near Bemidji. Including a few on-road connections, the total mileage is closer to 123 miles.
The trail's namesake, Paul Bunyan, is a reminder of the rich forestlands that supported a robust timber industry and is ever present on your ride through the pines. Much of the old red pine forest has been preserved in the Chippewa National Forest, which hosts a portion of the trail near Walker.
The northern trailhead is located in Lake Bemidji State Park.
You will see many incarnations of Paul Bunyan and his sidekick Babe the Blue Ox in towns along this one of a kind trail, but here are some things you can only find with the help of technology. Geocachers call the Paul Bunyan trail a Power Trail because almost 1000 geocaches wait to be discovered along the route.
Crow Wing State Park to the Chippewa Forest
Riders can catch glimpses of the Mississippi River on their way through the park towards Brainerd's Northland Arboretum. The Brainerd lakes area is a favorite with tourists seeking an Up North experience with creature comforts. Countless resorts, hotels and campgrounds cater to cyclists and are located near the trail. The area has a large number of hiking and cross-country ski trails, too. North of Brainerd you'll find wetlands, gardens and the little towns of Merrifield and Lake Hubert. Enjoy the quiet beauty of the many area lakes on the way to Nisswa. Downtown Nisswa is a bustling tourist town with many shops and restaurants to explore. Stop for a tour of the historic pioneer village and regular turtle races throughout the summer.
The Pequot Lakes Visitor's Center is a good place to rest and recharge. Rumor has it Paul Bunyan's bobber now serves the town's water tower. Stop and take a rest in Paul Bunyan's chair at Bobber Park.
At the Pine River Information Center you can see vintage displays, including a pair of Paul Bunyan's baby shoes, big enough to stand in. You can meet Paul Bunyan's girlfriend, Lucette, in Hackensack, home to an annual chainsaw carving festival.
Keep an eye out for carved critters along the trail, like Colonel Cobber in Backus. This 10-foot chainsaw carving of a corncob man is a favorite picture opportunity with cyclists.
After Hackensack, you'll come to a Y intersection. Go left and ride the hilly section of the Paul Bunyan Trail through Chippewa National Forest to the intersection with the Heartland Trail west of Walker. Go right and take the easier Shingobee Trail into Walker from the south. Both routes connect to downtown Walker, called the city on the bay on the south side of Leech Lake. Walker is another hub for visitors, because it is at the crossroads of the Paul Bunyan and Heartland Trail, and the North Country Hiking Trail, surrounded by state forests and the Chippewa National Forest.
Walker to Bemidji
On the way to Bemidji, you will cross the Kabekona River and go through Benedict, Laporte and Guthrie in a mix of quiet, rolling farmlands, crystal clear lakes, and forest lands. Bemidji, the first city on the Mississippi River, is on the south side of Lake Bemidji and flanked by the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest to the west and Lake Bemidji State Park to the north. In Bemidji, you'll want to visit the famous statue of Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox named Babe, right on the trail. Continue on to Lake Bemidji State Park or ride a 17-mile scenic, loop around Lake Bemidji.