St. Joseph to Osakis
Church steeples, colleges, cows and the mythical city of Lake Wobegon greet bikers on the 50 miles of the Lake Wobegon Trail from St. Joseph to Osakis. Take a 15-mile spur north of Albany through Holdingford to Bowlus where the trail meets the Soo Line Trail that goes on six miles to cross the Mississippi River.
The 14-foot wide trail leads you through the state’s leading dairy county, ten communities, three lakes, two colleges, two monasteries and the boyhood home of Noble Prize winner Sinclair Lewis. While much of the trail follows the busy I-94, there are beautiful stretches of woodlands, wetlands and lakes.
By connecting with the Central Lakes Trail at Osakis, there are 122 miles of paved trail from St. Joseph to Fergus Falls.
The St. Joseph Trailhead is easy to find, just under the water tower north of the intersection of County Highways. 2 and 75, north of the city. There is a parking lot under the water tower and a shelter. This is a mile west of the beginning of the trail and about a half mile from old rail mile marker 82.
St. Joseph is home of the College of St. Benedict with libraries, book stores, chapels, theatre and art gallery. You will find a trailhead center with bathrooms, parking and a meeting room. St. Joseph is also the home of the popular Tour of Saints Bike Ride and Caramel Roll Bike Ride.
Just beyond mile marker 84, you roll into the old town of Collegeville, which consists of only a few homes now but once had a popular train depot, boarding house, post office and store.
You can turn left at Collegeville for a 2.5 mile side trip to St. John’s University with its historic monastery, the new St. John’s Bible, three book stores, monastic gift shop, restaurant and an occasional National Championship football game. You can also hike the 2,500-acre arboretum.
Another six miles down the trail you’ll find one of the largest trailheads in the state with four shelters, bathrooms, a water fountain and a two-storied lookout tower/shelter that gives you a bird’s eye view of the surrounding region. This is a good place for groups to meet, picnic and bike.
The trail starts out from Avon along Lower Spunk Lake; Middle and Upper Spunk Lakes are to the south, all part of a half-dozen lakes that circle Avon. Enjoy the park and the beach, where you can take a dip on a hot summer day.
A clearing pops up on the north, with a pine stand and bluff in the distance. There is a shelter and picnic table for cyclists as well as cross-country skiers.
Two bridges cross outlets of Schwinghamer Lake. Listen to the water going over a small rock dam at the second bridge while the fish jump and the turtles sun. Check in at the comment box on the east end of the bridge. Enjoy a mile of riding through shade trees flanking the trail, farm lands and duck nests.
The next 5.5 miles is perhaps the most beautiful along this stretch of trail, with deeper woods, prairies, lakes and Lady Slippers.
The Albany Trailhead is near the city hall and golf course in the center of the city. A shelter provides bathrooms and parking. Railroad buffs will appreciate the wooden railroad trestle crossing the trail and Getschall Creek.
Hundreds of bushes and trees have been planted on both sides of the trail as a buffer between the freeway on the south and a highway on the north.
Over the next 6.2 miles from Albany to Freeport, the trail hugs the freeway, yet you get some nice views of farmland and prairie.
The North Arm of the Lake Wobegon Trail runs 16 miles north out of Albany through Holdingford to the Stearns-Morrison county lines where it becomes an extension of the Soo Line.
The North Arm is much different than the main trail giving bikers a near New England experience of rolling hills, placid farms, lakes and trees arching over the trail.
The former Soo Line rail bed is built up high over the prairie, lakes and streams.
The trail begins about a mile west of the trailhead in downtown Albany.
No mile markers were posted when we rode the trail so we’ll take our distances from Lake Wobegon north.
The trail moves .3 mile north of the main trail then turns east another mile along the north side of Albany before turning northwest into the countryside of Stearns County.
Two-and-a-half miles north, the trail leaves the rail bed, giving this two-mile section a variety of hills and curves.
At six miles you’ll see glimpses of Two Rivers Lake. The woods are so dense here you can barely see the lake to the east.
The rail bed is built high above Two Rivers Lake, which lies below the trail for about a mile and a half is a beautiful sight when the trees open up to offer a wide vista of the valley below.
At seven-and-a-half miles you will cut through Deago Hill, where the trail bed slices through high banks. Locals tell the story of Italian rail crews hauling dirt from the rail bed to the top of the hill with cable cars. The cable broke, killing the son of the rail crew’s foreman.
The Holdingford skyline, like most Stearns County towns, is broken by a water tower and church steeple. An old iron bridge over Two Rivers leading into town now sports the longest covered bridge in the state. People in town have purchased a six-passenger bicycle to give senior citizens rides along the trail.
The trail leads you into downtown Holdingford at the intersection of Main Street and Stearns County 17. The trailhead is across the road with parking and an old railroad car. You can use the bathrooms at the city center a block south on Main Street.
The forest thickens north of Holdingford on its way to Bowlus where the trail becomes the Soo Line Trail where you will cross the Blanchard bridge along the Blanchard Electrical Dam on your way to Highway 10.
Freeport is the birthplace of Lake Wobegon. Have a beer in Ackie’s Bar or a caramel roll at Charlie’s Cafe, where Garrison Keillor found the characters that people his fictitious village.
The trail crosses the Sauk River for the first time leaving the freeway for 5.7 miles to Melrose.
Enter Melrose with the historic St. Mary’s Church and Rectory, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Melrose Area Museum. Legend has it, Nobel Prize winning author Sinclair Lewis and his friends biked from Sauk Centre as boys and climbed a ladder to the steeple of St. Mary’s while it was under construction. Local boys took away the ladder and the Sauk boys were left screaming for help.
The official Melrose Trailhead is across the road near the Melrose Feed Mill. As you leave Melrose, benches lie along the trail where you can stop and rest. Watch as you cross Hwy 13 twice.
You will come upon a stand of thick trees and a stand of horse-tail.
Two miles out of Melrose you cross a bridge over the Sauk River. Remember to sign the guest book and leave your thoughts on the trail.
Welcome to Memoryville with a unique little transportation museum, village, and antique store. Owner Dick Young has done a good job of collecting lots of interesting buildings and history.
After spending a good while in woodlands, you join company with I-94 to the south. The high overhead bridge is a popular place for bikers to stop and visit.
The pond on the north is a waterfowl protection area and a good place to bird watch.
The turkey farms east of Sauk Centre were the first in Minnesota, establishing Stearns County as one of America’s leading turkey growers.
The trail enters the residential areas of Sauk Centre as it crosses the Sauk River once again.
A bridge takes you high over busy Hwy 71, which is also the Original Main Street made famous by Sinclair Lewis in his novel Main Street.
A parking area for those who want to start the ride near the Ding Dong Cafe is at 526 Elm St. This was once a rail area with a depot, elevators and mills. All are replaced by townhouses.
The trail crosses Sinclair Lewis Avenue two blocks west of the world famous author’s boyhood home, which may be open for a tour. You’re also four blocks from downtown.
Before crossing Co. Rd. 11 on the west side of Sauk Centre, you can double back on a two mile spur line to the trailhead at Sinclair Lewis Park with camping, bathrooms and a picnic area just two blocks from downtown.
About 100 feet from Co. Rd. 11 you will cross a stone arch bridge over a small stream where Lewis nearly drown as a boy.
The rail bed rises high above a wetland along I-94 with a beautiful view of the valley. You may also find some fierce northwest winds.
Bikers are always looking for that cold, fresh drink of water, which is what they will find from a hand pump in a small park along the trail in West Union.
This town of 1600 people is a two-trail town where the Lake Wobegon Trail meets the Central Lakes Trail. Many bikers park their car at the boat landing near Lake Osakis. The Osakis Chamber operates an Information Center with bathrooms near the trail downtown.