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The completion of the final segment of the Central Lakes State Trail in 2005 was the culmination of a positive partnership between volunteers and local and state officials that began in 1992 with the purchase, by the State of Minnesota, of an inactive Burlington Northern Railroad corridor.
The trail begins in Fergus Falls in Otter Tail County and ends in Osakis in Douglas County 55 miles to the south. The official northern trailhead has been an undeveloped parking lot just beyond where the trail crosses under MN 210. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has purchased property immediately south of MN 210 and, in the next few years, will be developing it as the official trailhead. For practical purposes of parking and limited water supply, trail users can park in Delagoon Park and take a short paved trail spur beyond the picnic area/campground to access the trail at that point (water is available only from sinks in the restrooms at the ballpark). There is also parking at a small gravel lot farther south just before the trail crosses County Road 29 at Chautauqua Lake.
The landscape between the two cities is incredibly diverse, ranging from rolling hills and dense forest to farmland, prairie remnants, and Minnesota’s famous lakes. Because the trail runs past lakes used by many species of waterfowl during migration, bird-watching aficionados will want to bring their binoculars.
While much of the trail offers the kind of rural serenity that lends itself to bird-watching and wildlife sightings, it also passes many railroad and state historic sites. The paved pathway also runs directly through the city of Alexandria, just northeast of a small town where the Kensington Runestone, an alleged Viking artifact, was discovered. The urban route passes several miles of both commercial and residential areas before reentering a pastoral landscape. There are significant road crossings along this route, so caution is advised.
The small towns of Ashby, Garfield, Nelson, Brandon, and Evansville all offer convenience stores or cafés where you can grab a bite to eat. The trail is a spacious 14 feet wide for its entire length. In Osakis, the Central Lakes State Trail connects directly to the Lake Wobegon Trail. That trail continues south for another 62 miles to the city of St. Joseph.
To reach the trail in Osakis, take I-94 to Exit 114. Head 1.9 miles northeast on MN 27, and turn left onto First Ave. E. In 0.7 mile turn left onto W. Main St. Park at the Osakis Information Center on the corner of Central Ave. and W. Main St.
To reach the trail in Fergus Falls at Delagoon Park, from I-94, take Exit 57. Head 1.7 miles north on MN 210 E. Turn right onto Pebble Lake Road, and go 0.9 mile. Turn left onto Delagoon Park Drive. Parking is on the left in 0.5 mile.
In the smaller cities of Dalton, Ashby, Evansville, Brandon, Garfield, Alexandria, and Nelson, park at the dedicated parking lots where available or on city streets.
As others have noted, this trail has wonderful scenery of lakes, farm fields, hamlets, marsh, etc. and is very wide and flat. Some town trail heads lack a biff and most lack water. Most have shade & picnic tables or benches. Small towns have convenience stores and restaurants. There are some swimming spots along the way e.g. Alexandria. I stayed at a nice campground near Ashby which is right across from the trail.
However, this trail desperately needs some TLC. There are big cracks from side to side which have filled in with weeds growing up; you'll have a "clunkity-bump" every 20-30 feet on many parts of the trail. Somebody needs to spray Round-Up on the weeds, pull them out & then fill the cracks in again with asphalt.
Nice ride from Ashby to Dalton. Open views of rolling prairie, wetlands and farm fields. Head (right) to downtown Dalton and take the paved county road east for 2 miles, then south on a less traveled paved county road with rolling hills past several lakes and wetlands, a beautiful country church on top of a hill with an outstanding view of the countryside and to the trail for the return to Ashby. This is about a 17 mile loop and makes the ride more interesting than out and back on the trail.
On August 21, 2015 my wife, 7 year old daughters and I traveled a couple miles east and a few miles west of Big Ole in Alexandria. The kids did fine as the trail is level and in good shape. On this short trip, the travel west was easier.
Going east involved more side street crossings. The tunnel under the main highway limits the high traffic danger going east and is kind of cool to go through. If we had traveled a little further and I expect we would have been out of town and had the joys of rural riding.
Going west involved crossing a couple busier roads, but was picturesque once we left town. As we rode several large culverts brought us right over the lakes. We did some Geocaching along the way and stopped to just look around.
The scenery was beautiful. In our view, the trail is great. Our round trip distance was about 14 miles (2 east and 5 west X 2).
The trail head in Alexandria had toilets, water and a place to sit down. Parking was good. Also, basically across the street is the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum (lots of vintage boats) and the Runestone Museum. We enjoyed both.
We look forward to more Central Lakes trail this summer.
This trail is a beautiful ride through the edge of Praire Pothole Region of Minnesota.
You'll see plenty of potholes and prairies with lots of wildlife along the way. Watch out for the deer and Sandhill Cranes! You should see lots of water fowl along the way too.
Check out the Prairie Wetland Learning Center just outside of Fergus Falls MN. For more info go to http://www.friendsofprairiewetlands.com/
If you ride the trail in late summer to see the those "amber waves of grain" that are part of the great American folk song "America the Beautiful!"
The trail weaves through the land dotted with woods, prairies, lots of large and small lakes and the many small towns that dot the country side evoking memories of a Norman Rockwell painting. Truly a wonderful experience of small town America from a cycling perspective.
The east end of the trail merges with that other icon of America... "Lake Wobegon" ... in the form of the Lake Wobegon Trails. The combination of trails creates 100+ miles of paved rail trail to enjoy from Fergus Falls MN on the west to St Joseph at the east end ... a really wonderful ride across Central Minnesota.
This route is also a favorite of many of the cross country cyclists following the northern tier route of the Adventure Cycling Association. (http://www.adventurecycling.org/)
Happy Tails! Cliff
Lake Wobegon Trails Association
33504 Shorewood Drive
Avon MN 56310
My wife and I rode a portion of the trail from Evansville to Osakis, September 21. Although cool, it was calm and clear. The gentle grades make for an easy work out. Every few miles one comes chugging into a little town, past the great grain elevators.....just like the trains used to. Our only dissapointment came as the info center/trailhead in Osakis was closed on Saturdays. Sort of wanted to pick up a memento of this GREAT trail.
All in all, a truly wonderful experience.
We rode just a short portion of this trail in mid-September: Alexandria to Garfield. It's a really nice trail, and we'll probably go back for more. We started at the statue of Big Oley in Alexandria, on the shores of lovely Green Lake. We first went east, but lost the trail at a pretty lakeside picnic spot. So we turned around and rode back the other way. This section of the trail threads its way from one scenic lake to another. The trail is flat and smoothly paved and most of this section is well away from noisy roads. There's not a lot of shade, but some spectacular fall color with all the sumac and wild flowers. Very pretty, easy ride.
First of all, the whole Central Lakes trail is a huge wonderful surprise. If one expects boring farmland-only scenery, one is in for a nice awakening! Lakes, ponds, swamps, woods, thick greenery, a wide variety of waterfowl, and yes even farmland greet the happy cyclist.
Evansville has some "hidden" wonders just a few feet from the trail. Just across Hwy 82 is a historical site with buildings and at certain times of year events commemorating the varied history of this area. Two blocks away is also a wonderful art gallery with an always changing show of regional artists. The Evansville Historical Foundation and the Evansville Arts Coalition are very active and welcoming to cyclists, so get hold of them for a tour!
This fall (2007) the last 2 mile segment was paved to connect the Central Lakes and Lake Wobegon trails. It is now fully paved from St. Joseph, MN (next to St. Cloud) all the way to Fergus Falls, MN (~110 miles). It's an excellent trail - flat, scenic, mostly protected from the wind, lots of lakes, etc.
There is a large bike shop in Alexandria (Bike & Fitness Company) that is right on the trail, rents bikes and is very friendly.
If you get the chance - don't miss this trail. It is both a fast ride and beautiful.
I live in San Antonio and when I came back to Fergus Falls I brought my bike so I could ride this trail and I'm glad I did. The ride takes you through the central lakes area and the scenery and wildlife are magnificant. A great trail to ride. Thanks MN.
The trail has been paved from Garfield to Ashby as of early June 2004 so it is now paved from Osakis to Fergus Falls. A shelter is also being built in Garfield.
"This is a good, quiet trail with limited services available. All the towns had food and places to stay. The trail's flat -- really flat. "
"The trail is nicely paved from Osakis to Garfield (about half the distance). The paved distance includes the Alexandria area. From Garfield to Fergus Falls, the trail is packed well but unpaved.
The trail is very flat and sheltered from the wind by trees and manmade burms for about half the overall distance.
The Alexandria portion of the trail is great as it cuts along several lakes and is frequented by locals for fishing (right off the trial!)."
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