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Explore the best rated trails in Brainerd, MN. Whether you're looking for an easy walking trail or a bike trail like the Soo Line Trail - Southern Route and Shingobee Connection Trail. With more than 7 trails covering 427 miles you're bound to find a perfect trail for you. Click on any trail below to find trail descriptions, trail maps, photos, and reviews.
After 50 years of organizing road bike trips for our friends all over the west, across the country, and 6 trips to Europe, we are now in our 80s and wanted to try ‘rails to trails’ bike routes as a little less rigorous. Our first try was ‘Minnesota’s 10 best’ with 8 of us from Oregon. Our first, the 5-star Paul Bunyan 120-mile ‘hall of fame trail’ from north to south. Then Soo Line to Lake Wobegon, to Central lakes state trail in 7 days.
It is easy to see why Paul Bunyan is in the Hall of fame. 120 miles of woods and Lakes with almost no traffic. Wow. However, it does not deserve ‘5 stars’ 4 at best. The North 50 miles and Southern 20 miles 5 stars for sure with some very impressive and expensive bridges built over the major roads. The north section ends after a 7-mile windy hilly stretch south of Walker. The locals called this stretch the ‘Alps of Minnesota’. It was more fun than the Alps. Perfect rollers in a perfect woods setting ‘6 stars for sure’ and the best 7 miles in our almost 300-mile trip. However, the middle 55 miles were very poorly maintained, boring, and at times noisy with a highway running alongside (2.5stars at best). There is no reason the large frost cracks (more like canyons) can’t be filled with hot tar at a reasonable cost with trail volunteers. These cracks were so bad that on a road bike with skinny tires we stood on the petals and loosed our grips when going across the cracks as often as every 40 feet as the jolt was so severe. Note 2 of us shuttled the cars to the motel and the end of each day and rode back to meet the group. Took Turns worked well. Also note the bike paths in the Netherlands, France, and Germany where they also have freezing winters were always in perfect condition. Also note, if the states want to attract tourists they will have to keep these trails in at least a minimum of ‘good’ shape. We will try other states as the concept of off-road trails is now essential to our skill level and the right trail is perfect. However, we don’t see a good rating system in rails to trails.
We only did a short portion of the trail from Lake Bemidji State Park, but it was great! We talked with a local and they said the trail is beautiful in the fall, we might need to come back. Wonderful day.
We ride sections of the Bunyan every year, mostly north and south of Hackensack. The section between Backus and Pine River is in very poor shape due to expansion cracks. Hard to ride it on a tandem. (“BUMP! “BUMP!”) but from Hackensack north it’s perfect. The section through the woods to Akeley is very beautiful, rather challenging, and often VERY buggy.
The 11-mile paved part from Onamia to Isle is rough due to freeze/thaw cracking, every 30 feet is a bone-jarring crack and some big bumps occasionally. Also the paved trail is scattered here and there from gravel from the adjoining ATV gravel trail. Nice and flat through the wooded prairie and bog. 2-mile Section from Waukon to Isle is better pavement. Scared up a huge black bear which surprised me but the bear ran the other way. Best with mountain bike but doable on road bike, bring a spare tube.
My husband and I rode 100 miles on Oct. 11, 2021. We started in Baxter and rode to Hackensack then turned around and went back. The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful. We stopped in Nisswa (great facilities for riders!) and Pine River. Hackensack didn’t really seem to cater to the needs of riders on the trail as well as other towns. Wish we could have ridden the whole trail but we didn’t have any way to shuttle back to Baxter. The trail was nice except for periods of cracks that don’t seem like much at first, but after awhile they get irritating.
Agree with the other reviewer that this follows the road a bit too closely, but that's not a problem if it's only 1/3 of a longer route, taking the Paul Bunyan Route NW at the junction (this is a gorgeous newly paved stretch with hills and curves, tho not too strenuous) and continuing ENE along an old RR grade back to Walker, where you can celebrate with a beer and lunch. We saw wolf scat on the second third of this route once (first wondered why folks were walking dogs this far off the road, then stopped and noticed fur in the poop, plus it was still steaming a bit!) Really great loop.
Just completed the Paul Bunyan Trail from Brainerd to the end of the paved path at the Blue Ox Trail. The trail is in pretty good shape and wends it’s way through small, friendly towns for the most part. Most bike accommodating is Bemidji with trails around town and out to the State Park. Least bike accommodating is Walker. Soulshine Bike Shop in Hackensack has a reasonably priced shuttle.
We began the trail in Baxter and went all the way to Bemidji and back. There were parts that were better maintained than others but on the whole we’d give it 5 Stars! Good signage and the website was helpful for distances between towns. I highly recommend this trail.
Our first ride, we rode the section from Pine River to Brainerd and back to Pine River (68.35 miles RT). Very nice trail, mostly flat. Follows the highway for the first 7 miles or so but then moves away. Most scenic from Nisswa to Brainerd. Many sections of bumpy “seams” but not the entire ride...they come and go. No one on the trail until the afternoon, then it became a little busy but mostly around the small towns. Many places to stop and rest along the way. Highlight of our ride was spotting two bald eagles perched in a tree no more than 50 ft from us. The 2nd section, we rode north, starting at the Walker Hotel, down to the trail and followed the trail to the 18 mile marker (41.32 miles RT). There were some rough spots in the trail but for the most part, it was a nice, quiet, smooth ride.
We loved our ride on the first half of the Soo Line southern trail. Due to a late start, we parked at the lot off of Highway 10 about 2 p.m. At first we were dismayed at the number of ATV trailers because we’ve been on shared trails before and they are not my favorite. Fortunately, the southern trail is all paved and non-motorized, so there was nothing to worry about! The trail is flat and well maintained. The only hill is the one out of the parking lot LOL! It varies between open farmlands and tree-lined woods. There was a nice breeze to keep us cool and enough shade for the hottest of summer days. There are three wooden bridges to cross that are a wee bit bone-jarring, but the views of the Mississippi are wonderful! Everyone told us to stop in Bowlus - a charming town with a nice community center with bathrooms, and you must stop at Jordie’s trail side cafe. The food is great! They have outdoor seating with lots of room between tables and a beautiful waterfall/pond. They serve lots of ice cream and pie, hence the title of this review. There’s ample parking in Bowlus as well, so we’ll start from here the next time and hopefully make it to Holdingford.
Lots of options for mt bikes and a paved trail as well. Good signage and skill practice areas. Beautiful area.
Went to St. John’s University so this review 100% biased... but for great reasons! The views at this unique spot are absolutely incredible... over 60 miles of beauty. If you’re able to make it all the way to the end, you won’t be disappointed! Top 5 trails over 18+ miles. 1) Root River Trail 2) Paul Bunyan Trail 3) Cannon Valley Trail 4) Lake Wobagon
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