Paul Bunyan State Trail, stretching 123 miles from Bemidji to Brainerd, is one of the longest rail-trails in the country. This distance includes its newest segment, completed in 2014, that extended the trail 9 miles south on MN 371 to Crow Wing State Park. The multiuse, fully paved trail is mainly for nonmotorized use; however, snowmobiles are permitted during winter.
The Paul Bunyan State Trail follows an inactive railroad corridor built in 1893 and last owned by Burlington Northern. The corridor passes through boreal forests, along more than 20 lakes and 10 rivers/streams, and among meadows sporting colorful wildflowers in spring. You’ll also encounter wildlife along the way.
For those using the trail for the long haul, you’ll find towns situated every 8–10 miles. Many of the towns have a long history in the railroad and timber industries, and, before that, American Indians of the Ojibwe and Dakota nations lived in the region. Those wishing to camp during their trip can do so at either end of the trail: at Crow Wing State Park or at Lake Bemidji State Park in Bemidji.
The Paul Bunyan State Trail intersects with the Heartland State Trail at MN 34 northeast of Akeley and north of Walker near MN 200 and MN 371. The Paul Bunyan State Trail also connects with the Blue Ox Trail at Paul Bunyan’s northern trailhead in Lake Bemidji State Park, although the actual northern end of the trail (with no parking or amenities) is just northeast of the park at CR 20.
There are five newly installed bicycle repair stations along the trail at the following locations: Northland Arboretum parking lot and trailhead in Brainerd; Lake Bemidji State Park visitor center; Crow Wing State Park, near the trail start; Nisswa; and Pine River.
The Paul Bunyan State Trail between Nisswa and Jenkins will remain open during the MN 371 North realignment project expected to last through fall 2016.
To allow for highway realignment, a new section of trail that will become a permanent reroute is to be constructed in summer 2016. The trail realignment is expected to cause minimal disruptions. As always, trail users should be cautious near construction activity and check trail conditions before traveling.
For construction updates, trail conditions, and more information, visit dnr .state.mn.us/state_trails/paul_bunyan.
To reach the southern trailhead at Crow Wing State Park, from the intersection of MN 210 and MN 371 in Baxter, take MN 371 S. 7.5 miles to 60th Ave. S.W./N. Koering Road. Follow it northwest 1.3 miles through Crow Wing State Park to the parking lot, which will be on your right.
To reach the parking lot in Baxter, from the intersection of MN 210 and the MN 371 bypass in Baxter, go north one block on MN 371 to Excelsior Road. Turn right onto Excelsior and go 0.75 mile to Conservation Drive; the parking lot is on the left.
The northern trailhead is located in Lake Bemidji State Park. From the intersection of US 71 and US 2/MN 197/Paul Bunyan Drive in Bemidji, head east on Paul Bunyan Drive 1.6 miles. Turn left onto Bemidji Ave. N., and go 3.9 miles. Turn right onto Birchmont Beach Road/County Road 20 and go 1.5 miles to the park’s entrance. Follow State Park Road 1 mile to the trailhead.