The Heartland State Trail is one of many long-distance trails managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. When established in 1974, it became one of the first rail-trail conversions in the country. The nearly 50-mile trail connects the small cities of Park Rapids and Cass Lake along a forested route.
As you might expect from a trail in the heart of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Heartland State Trail runs past a number of lakes, rivers and streams, many of which are directly accessible from the pathway. Public beaches, resorts and campgrounds also line the route, so be sure to bring your bathing suit and fishing gear. When water is not the primary vista, towering white pine, spruce fir and hardwood forests offer shade and habitat for various animals, including raccoon, red fox, whitetail deer, beaver and porcupine. The trail also skirts the edge of both Paul Bunyan State Forest and Chippewa National Forest, home to a large population of bald eagles.
Because the Heartland State Trail is a rail-trail, the trek is fairly level and smooth. Still, those desiring a rest will want to stop in Dorset, Akeley or Nevis, three small resort towns hosting restaurants and shops. Near the city of Walker on Leech Lake, indefatigable trail users can connect directly to the even longer Paul Bunyan State Trail
An adjacent grass path between Park Rapids and Walker accommodates both equestrian users and mountain bikers, while a parallel treadway for snowmobilers runs from Walker to Cass Lake. The last 4 miles of the trail in the north leave the level former railroad corridor, so be forewarned: The terrain here becomes significantly hillier. In the distant future, the Minnesota DNR hopes to extend the Heartland State Trail an additional 85 to 100 miles from Park Rapids to the city of Moorhead.
Parking for the Heartland State Trail is available in Heartland County Park at the trail's southern endpoint in Park Rapids. The parking lot can be found where the trail meets Mill Street. In Dorset, Nevis, Akeley, Walker and Cass Lake, park on city streets.