Paul Bunyan State Trail
The 115-mile, paved Paul Bunyan Trail is Minnesota’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’s namesake, Paul Bunyan, is a reminder of the rich forest lands that supported a robust timber industry and are ever present on your ride through the pines and you’ll see many incarnations of Paul Bunyan and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox, in towns along this one-of-a-kind trail. Read more …
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Along the Trail
The trail starts at Crow Wing State Park near Brainerd and ends at Lake Bemidji State Park near Bemidji. Including a few on-road connections, the total mileage is closer to 123 miles.
Crow Wing State Park to Walker
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. North of Brainerd you’ll find wetlands, gardens and the little towns of Merrifield and 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 as 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. 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. Farther down the trail you can meet Paul Bunyan’s girlfriend, Lucette, in Hackensack, home to an annual chainsaw carving festival. After Hackensack, take either the hilly route through the Chippewa National Forest to the shared section of the Heartland and Paul Bunyan Trail or the Shingobee Connector trail. Both routes connect to downtown Walker, but the Shingobee trail is shorter and easier.
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. Continue on to Lake Bemidji State Park or ride a 17-mile scenic loop around Lake Bemidji.
Traveling north on the Paul Bunyan State Trail after Hackensack, you’ll enter the Chippewa National Forest and come to a Y intersection. Go left and ride the hilly section of the Paul Bunyan Trail through the Chippewa National Forest to the intersection with the Heartland State Trail west of Walker. Go right and take the easier Shingobee Trail into Walker from the south.
After you cross Paul Bunyan Drive on the bridge in Bemidji, connect to the 17-mile Lake Bemidji Trail around Lake Bemidji. It doesn’t matter which way you go around the lake, the route ends at Lake Bemidji State Park.
The Paul Bunyan Trail is also part of the Mississippi River Trail Scenic Bikeway, a signed route from the Mississippi Headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Paul Bunyan trail follows the original railroad line built in 1893 and abandoned by Burlington Northern in 1983. In October 1992, the first 50 miles of the Paul Bunyan Trail from Brainerd to Hackensack opened to the public and it has since more than doubled in length.