By Michael Doyle
The Lake Wobegon Trail is unusual in that it has two alignments, one running east-west on the old Burlington Northern line, the other northeast from Albany to Holdingford and on to the Stearns County border on the former Soo Line railbed.
The trail from Albany through Holdingford cuts through the countryside rather than paralleling a highway or county road, offering its travelers unobstructed views of of well-groomed farmland quilting the rolling hills, laced with meandering streams and rural byways.
The trail begins about a mile west of the trailhead in downtown Albany. Watch closely for it: the connection off the trail to Sauk Centre looks as if it just connects to the road running right next to the trail. In fact, it crosses the road and continues straight north past the bowling center for about a half mile before swinging up onto the Soo Line railbed and following that alignment.
Two and a half miles north, the trail leaves the railbed briefly and climbs a hill that offers a panoramic view of the countryside before swooping back to the railbed.
At six miles, watch for glimpses of Two Rivers Lake to the east of the trail. The railbed runs about a mile and a half along the trail high above the lake. Breaks in the trees offer teasing vistas of the lake and valley.
At seven and a half miles the trail cuts through "Dago Hill." Locals tell the story of Italian rail crews hauling dirt from the railbed to the top of the hill with cable cars. One day the cable broke, killing the son of the rail crew's foreman.
The first glimpse of Holdingford, like so many small towns, reveals its watertower and church steeples.
Minnesota's largest covered bridge is over Two Rivers leading you into Holdingford. A trailhead north of County Road 17 offers bathrooms, a covered picnic shelter and parking.
As you ride down main street checking out the shops and restaurants, your nose may pick up the sweet scent of a candle-making shop on that block. But sniff at your own risk. Other days may bring earthier scents, as farmers fertilize the nearby fields.