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Paul Bunyan State Trail, stretching 119 miles from Bemidji to Brainerd, is one of the longest rail-trails in the country. The multiuse, fully paved trail is mainly for nonmotorized use; however, snowmobiles are permitted during winter.
The rail-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.
The trail's newest segment, completed in 2014, extended the route 9 miles south on MN 371 to Crow Wing State Park, so those wishing to camp during their trip can do so at Crow Wing State Park or at the north end of the trail in Lake Bemidji State Park.
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 also five 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.
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.
Toured this trail and was shocked at how poorly maintained it was. Heaved pavement everywhere and overall bad surface. I broke 3 spokes and gave up the trail halfway through in favor of riding the roads. Roads in Minnesota are beautifully maintained. The trails should be too. The state does not live up to its bicycle friendly reputation.
We are from Missouri in our 60's and look for rails-trails (preferably paved) where we can stay comfortably along the trail and park our car in a safe location. In Sept 2017 we stayed at a resort in Backus MN before riding and arranged a 4 day ride from Backus to Bemidji and back, which would result in about 30 miles per day. Weather was unusually warm on day 1, but misty for the rest of our tour. Fortunately it rained only at night while we were under a roof. Day 1 we biked to Walker, a town on shore of Leech Lake with a brief stop in Hackensack for breakfast. On the way to Walker, rather than taking the Shingobee shortcut, we took the Paul Bunyan trail through the Chippewa Forest, which is not a rail-trail- it is a paved mountain bike trail with some steep sections for 9 miles before joining up with the Heartland rail-trail into Walker. But that Chippewa stretch was well worth it, beautiful scenery. We stayed at Walker Hotel, nice facility with good breakfast about 3 blocks off the trail. Anyone interested in outdoor sports must go to the Reeds sports store in Walker! (about 6 blocks from hotel but no biking stuff) And there are nice tourist shops and a brewery in Walker. Then on to Bemidji on day 2, with a brief stop at the LaPorte grocery, as there aren't many places to stock up on that stretch. Contrary to previous reviews, we found the trail in Bemidji to be well marked all the way to the new bridge over highways to our hotel, which is close to the lakeshore park where statues of Paul Bunyan and Blue Ox and downtown stores are. Lots of good shopping and restaurants in downtown, check out the cooperative store and the Bemidji Brewery, maybe also the Minnesota Nice Café. Day 3 was back to Walker with a stop for pizza at the PoppleBar in LaPorte. Day 4 we took the Shingobee shortcut out of the southeast corner of Walker, to connect with the Paul Bunyan back to Backus. Note that the Shingobee also has some short but very steep sections. Overall, the trail was well maintained, no bugs, only a few sections of bumpy roots, and we met some nice folks. Will come back to do the southern section of the PB trail someday.
We used panniers to carry our things and did laundry along the way. But if you don’t want to do that you can use the shuttle service Dennis at Embracing Pines provides. He also has a terrific B&B right along the trail you can stay at and get shuttled to a different stop each day.
Flew to Minneapolis / St Paul and took the Executive Shuttle to Brainerd / Baxter MN. Shuttle driver was great though and dropped us at LifeCycles where we rented bikes (pre-arranged since their rentals are in Nisswa) – call and talk to Zach the owner. We rode the 2 miles to our hotel and stayed at the Baymont Inn. Dinner was at the Boulder Tap House the first night and they have 36 beers on tap and have avocado fries – so delicious. Staying at the Arrowhead Lodge would have been better since the shuttle drops there. Hunt around for the trail on Google Maps – you have to cross 371 – be careful. Rode 10 or 15 miles on the trail and checked out the small town of Brainerd. Lots of food establishments.
Rode 47 miles from Baymont Inn in Baxter to Crow Wing State Park and on to Nisswa. Walked around a little bit of the tourist shops and saw a Barbie collection and other nostalgic items. Drank a flight at Axe Brewery and learned that they play 18 holes of golf on the lake here in the winter. Each hole has a restaurant or brewery to taste and there are thousands of people. Ate pizza at Raffertys. Stayed in the Nisswa Hotel right there and the owner is Bob. Right after you leave Nisswa there is a Laundromat literally feet from the trail in Pine River about 5 miles north of Nisswa. There is another one in Backus just after Pine River.
Rode 32 miles to Hackensack.
Stayed in Hackensack at the Owl’s Nest hotel. Right in town there is a statue of Paul Bunyan and his girlfriend Lucette. Also a beautiful etched marble bench. Owls Nest motel is small but clean and generally ok. Ate spaghetti at Lucette’s Pizza of course. Dinner was at Udom Thai and then breakfast the next day was supposed to be at Joe's Vittles. Those are the three best restaurants here and there are only like 5. One is called Butts and Buns and the other is Char Broiled. At Char Broiled the food looked really good too and they have lots of beer on tap and allow you to try them with a flight. We also keep seeing signs for a meat raffle. Weird. Also in every town there is a water tower with the town name on it. This is a very small town and not nearly as nicely kept as Nisswa.
Rode 39 miles to Park Rapids
Left Owls Nest at 8:30 after skipping Joe's Vittles due to a steady drizzle of rain. We rode 38 miles through the Chippewa state forest. The forest section is 9 miles or so and slightly hilly and very beautiful and remote. Made our way to Park Rapids by turning onto the Heartland Trail. We made a point of stopping in Akeley to see the memorial to veterans and an enormous statue of Paul Bunyan. Arrived in Park Rapids at the Red Bridge Inn and host Chris was there to meet us. You can see this B&B from the trail. Chris and Robyn are the hosts. Chris was so wonderful and brought our bikes and us inside. Let us do laundry and helped us with getting settled. This is definitely the place to stay in Park Rapids. We ate a quick lunch at Subway and ate a terrific Mexican dinner at Vallartes. Relaxed the afternoon away with tea in this beautiful B&B.
Rode 28 miles to Walker MN after an enormous breakfast at the Red Bridge Inn. Stopped in Dorset (lots of restaurants) and Nevis (giant fish statue) and Akeley (home of the largest Paul Bunyan statue and a museum. We saw a small beaver swimming in one of the many lakes. Arrived in Walker and stayed at Chase on the Lake. The resort is beautiful with flowers and the town is kept up. We found three tall cryptmaria like bushes against a bank where there were a hundred or so finches chatting. Very cool. We went to Portage brewery and had a sampler flight and a stout pint. They use wild yeast and this is the best beer ever. Then we went to the Superone grocery store and got dinner. There are a lot of restaurants in town – but we were tired out.
Rode 32 miles
Next day we rode the Shingobee connection trail and then came back to town. We got a Subway sandwich and rode an hour or so towards Cass Lake. Turned around at mile 38 or so (11 miles from the lake) and came back. Took great photos of purple martins. Ate dinner at Zona Rosa. It was definitely only one or two stars. Got more breakfast and snacks at SuperOne. Walked around town and looked in the little shops – but this town closes up early.
Rode 32 miles to Bemidji
After leaving Walkter we stopped in LaPorte and bought water and ate snacks and the grocery there makes lunch and is very good. Rode to Bemidji and rode through the college town and along the lake. Stayed at the Country Inn and Suites literally 20 feet from the trail. Had beer in the hotel bar called JJ’s (great) and rode bikes to Dave’s pizza for a veggie pizza and spaghetti and it was super. There is a brewery and Tara Bemidji restaurant we really wanted to try but they were closed that day. There is also a very cute B&B in town called Lake Bemidji B&B but we didn’t stay there. Rode back and after sunset the bugs were horrible so we used the guest laundry. Tomorrow we go back to Brainerd on the shuttle with Dennis from the Embracing Pines B&B.
Rode the 26 miles again to Crow Wing State Park from Baxter / Brainerd.
Used the Executive Shuttle service to return to Minneapolis Saint Paul airport.
I parked next to Paul Bunyan and Babe in downtown Bemidji. Very nicely kept park, much improved from the abandoned amusement park that was there when I first saw them many years ago. I rode up the west shore of Lake Bemidji to the northern end, then through the state park and down the east shore of the lake.
I didn't have any issues with signage on the trail, although part of it just south of where I parked was closed for sidewalk construction. From the city trail 2 blocks west I made the connection to a trail bridge over the highway and continued on my way. The only confusion came on the north side of the bridge, where the trail loops back in the opposite direction before looping again at the lakeshore in an exaggerated "S" shape.
There were occasional views of the lake through the trees before lakeshore development took over and bumped the trail further away. The surface was excellent throughout. At the abrupt end of the trail I doubled back for a short while to the turnoff into Lake Bemidji State Park. This route had some ups and downs and fast curves before ending at a campsite. I then took the road straight through to the park entrance and turned left on the marked bike route, a county highway with a wide paved shoulder.
This is when I encountered the only less than ideal riding conditions. The paved shoulder disappeared and I had to continue a while longer until turning left again to head south on a rather busy state highway. But it wasn't long until I reached the turn to a quiet side street that took me the rest of the way to the college campus and a separate bike trail through the parks to Paul and Babe.
I then headed south through a well-signed on road section and back to dedicated trail south. I intended to stop at Guthrie and head back, but turned around sooner when Guthrie didn't show up where I expected, but threatening weather did. It was a very nice ride, and a little work to separate the full lake circle route from traffic would have made it perfect.
Rode the Paul Bunyan from Crow Wing State Park to Pine River in late June 2017. Agree with other comments regarding signs in Baxter/Brainerd. Poorly marked. Once you get north of Baxter and the trailhead at the Northland Arboretum (mile marker 13), the route is well marked. Problem is all the large cracks in the pavement that feel like you've just hit a 2 by 4. And there are hundreds of them! Also rode the stretch from Pine River to Hackensack last year. It was worse than the section from Baxter to Pine River. Won't ride it this year because of those nasty cracks. Pavement is much better in the Walker area where the Paul Bunyan meets the Heartland to present MANY interesting and enjoyable combinations of trail, towns, hills, flat and scenery. In fact, all of the trail north of Hackensack (all the way to Lake Bemidji State Park) is in good shape with some minor bumps here and there. Apologies to Nisswa, Jenkins, Pine River and Backus who have very nice bike-friendly towns, but their section of trail is TERRIBLE (with the exception of the four miles from mile 37 to 41 which are excellent). No, I'm not with the Walker Chamber of Commerce, just a bike enthusiast who came up here from Florida to spend the summer away from the sweltering inferno that is the Sunshine State this time of year. (Florida is great from December to February... don't work for them either.)
My husband came up from Missouri and rode the trail from Crow Wing to Lake Bemidji. It is a beautiful ride. However, the signs are very confusing in places. In Brainard there were Paul Bunyan signs and then you would come to an intersection and there would be a MTR trail signs. Being unfamiliar with the trail we were quite confused. Then in Bemidji they need to distinguished between the main trail and the city connection routes. Overall, it was a great ride.
A friend and I biked from Baxter to Bemidji and back, two years ago, in July 2015. It's a beautiful trail and a fun ride. I'm not complaining, but I'm curious about the bumps and ridges in the trail. There are long sections that have raised ridges across the trail at frequent intervals. Relying on my memory, almost two years after that ride, I would say there was a raised ridge across the trail about every 20 feet. Possibly caused by frost, I don't know. In other sections, there were a lot of 2-inch-high bumps where plants were forcing their way up through the asphalt. Will the bumpiness stay the same, get worse, or is it repaired at intervals? What's the plant that can grow right through an asphalt trail?
This is a great trail from Crow Wing State Park with lots of small hills & curves. Once you get to Baxter it becomes very confusing because there is another trail (MRT) that sometimes runs contiguously with it, sometimes parallel & sometimes goes in another direction. Obviously, better signs are needed.
When we rode it last summer we put on a lot of extra city miles getting through Baxter/Brainerd--mostly on busy city streets. Most of the locals had no clue about trails. Once through Brainerd the trail is wonderful going through pine forests & by lakes. There was supposed to be some road construction north of Nisswa but don't know if that's done or how it impacts trail?
We biked from Crow Wing State Park to Nisswa. The first several miles wind through the park with Pines, Birch and Oak trees. Along the trail edges were Black Eyed Susans which in July were in full bloom. In Baxter at approximately 10 miles, there was a convenience store/gas station with rest room (College Square). We turned left at the corner, but looks like you can go straight as well. There are some fast food places on the main road just a block north of the trail. After leaving Baxter/Brainerd you will past several lakes. In Merrifield (mile 21) there was a Superamerica Gas Station. We continued on to Nisswa (mile 29), where there were several restaurants was well as shops to browse. We had lunch and then turned around at this point. Trail was wide, well marked for the most part and fairly smooth pavement.
Skated from Bemidji to Baxter in 2 days. The pavement and scenery are great the whole way and between Hackensack and Walker was my favorite. I took the original route (not the Shingobee connecting trail) and while it is hilly it is manageable if you have a good brake. The blind turns are worse than the elevation changes in my opinion. Bemidji to Hackensack is pretty sparse for supplies other than LaPorte so pack lots of water. The southern half has more frequent towns with better services. Only complaint is the walk from the trail in Baxter to the bus stop. Bus service is affordable and nice though. Highly recommend this trail and hope to go again!
Road construction on trail between mile 8 and 9.
The milepost on the trail were recently revised to reflect the southern extension of the trail to Crow Wing State Park. Excelsior Road in Baxter is no longer mile zero. It is now mile 12.7. Nisswa is now mile 29 (was 16), Pequot Lakes is now mile 35 (was 22) etc.
Last summer I rode this trail and was happy to find a "loop trail" between Walker & Hackensack without the intense hills and curves found going through the Chippewa forest (not that I minded them); not sure what it's called. There are some hills but it runs along Hwys 371/200 north of Hackensack and puts you into Walker on the eastern edge where there are some city trails & low traffic roads.
I'm looking forward to riding a new trail section from Crow Wing State Park north to Brainerd. It sounds like you have to be paying attention in order to stay on the trail--maybe more signs are in order??
MN highway 371 between Nisswa and Jenkins will go major reconstruction in 2016. The Paul Bunyan Trail will be significantly altered and relocated in some areas between Nisswa and Pequot Lakes in order to accommodate an expansion of the highway from 2 lanes to 4 lanes. For details see
Tuesday September 2, 2014 we started in Crow Wing State Park hoping to get beyond Brainerd. The new state park segment opened end of July and is just gorgeous - slightly rolling and high above the Mississippi, swaddles you in soothing green. Once you cross the river on the very nice MN 371 bridge, you need to be heads up as some of the signage is confusing/absent/outdated/vague going into and through Brainerd. At the end of the bridge (northbound), there seems to be no sign but if you turn right and look back, there is an old sign which indicates the trail would be left but you just get to a fenced off old road - needs to be updated. Instead, turn right to go under the bridge and follow the trail into Baxter - it seems to backtrack a bit but you're OK. The trail parallels Jasperwood Drive and then comes to a T and a trail sign indicating a right turn across the road. (Note that on the return, there is no trail sign at this point so you need to remember where to turn left at Jasperwood Drive). Continue into Baxter and after the trail crosses a street in a business zone, you come to a "Y" - the only indication for the trail is a small yellow arrow to the right. You then come to Brainerd near a shopping mall and there is a trail sign indicating the trail to the right along College Avenue - the trail is then basically a wide tar sidewalk which you follow to MN 48/Highland Scenic Road and there is a sign for the trail to the left. Follow the trail to NW/SW 4th Street and turn left - there is no trail sign at this point (needs one!) but you can tell because the tar path turns while straight ahead is concrete sidewalk. I can't tell you what happens then because we missed that turn and wound up poking around town on some other streets marked as bike routes and then turning around. If you find yourself crossing the river, you've gone too far; if you reach a fire station you're further off; if you reach the county office complex; you're way off. However, on the return there was a trail sign at the appropriate point but we now didn't have time to check it out. The segment through Brainerd is basically a "safe" route through town until you really pick up the trail again. After reversing all of the above, we soothed our frustrated selves returning through the beautiful Crow Wing State Park. 30 miles round trip for our efforts.
On Saturday, the 6th of September, a buddy of mine and I began our ride in Lake Bemidji State Park and finished in Crow Wing State Park about 11 hours later. The actual trip probably took 9 1/2 hours, but we had to stop at a bike shop in Walker for some mechanical repairs (Paul Nye the Bike guy--highly recommended), and ran into a number (25?) of deadfall trees during the last 4 miles to Crow Wing state park from the big storm on the previous Thursday (the 4th). The section from the Bemidji Park to Walker was amazing--beautiful scenery, very nice trail with few defects. Lots of native plants and wildlife and scenic water views. Signage a bit confusing near the industrial area of Bemidji; one spot where the signs seem to point both right and straight. Trust me here and go straight. After Walker you run into some very challenging hills for a bit. The Trail gets pretty rough with cracks and holes once you get past Hackensack and all the way to Pine River, but overall a wonderful experience and felt so good the next day that I wanted to do it again. A little bruising between Hackansack and Pine River, but otherwise smooth and scenic.
Drove from Brainerd (locked bike at Brainerd Public Library just across the street from Mickies Pizza and Subs---drop off for bus) and drove to Bemidji. Left car at BSU and took a Jefferson Bus back to Brainerd. Rode to Pine River and stayed at Rodeway Inn. Rode 70+ miles from Pine River to Bemidjii. Rained and drizzled both days. Directional signs are good for most part but there should be a sign behind the Lucky Moose in Walker directing a rider as to how to meet up with trail from residental streets. I had to ride around a while to find the trail again. There is some significant elevation issues (8%)south of Walker that are testers. At Bemidji if there was a sign as to where to turn to get to downtown Bemidji, I missed it and ended up coming to a primative trail (horse, ATV/snowmobile and hiking not for a bike. Not even a Mnt bike especially with a rain soaked trail and headwind. I did about two miles and finally realized this can not be the Paul Bunyen Trail. A sign as to the name of the primative trail's name and a sign indicating where to find the Paul Bunyen Trail would help old tired folks like me to find their way to downtown Bemidji and BSU. I imagine this is a great fall foliage trail but with the rain, wind and overcast skies, this was not a pretty as the Wm Munger Trail.
The trail between Pine River and Walker, and really the whole trail, offers great opportunities to view native Minnesota wildlife! Trail riders report seeing white tail deer, beaver, eagles, ospreys, fox, ruff grouse and even an occasional black bear and perhaps even an elusive timber wolf! But, don't worry, the critters are more afraid of you than you are of them and consider yourself fortunate to be able to see them in their natural element. Early mornings and early evenings are best for wildlife sightings.
There is signage now as the Paul Bunyan Trail enters a residential area in Bemidji. The route to connect back up with the rail trail portion is a few blocks, where it then skirts the shores of beautiful Lake Bemidji and crosses the Mississippi River. Truly, one of the most scenic portions of the trail.
Trail improvements are still in play to get a bridge crossing Paul Bunyan and connect up to the lakeside trail sooner. Bemidji is actively pursuing bike friendly wayfinding, trails and routes, so be patient as the City, State and local organizations work out the details to ensure safe, well marked experience for all. Come often to see our progress.
What a fantastic trail, especially now that it's completed to Bemidji. I've ridden all of it at one time or another. Recently, I rode the new section from Walker to Bemidji--very smooth, wide pavement--with hardly any users (on weekdays). At the Bemidji end there is no trail head or any signs or maps to the remaining route to Bemidji State Park so I skipped that part. Guthrie is the best stopping point on this stretch with benches, shade trees, porta potty and a large parking lot at the township hall. I couldn't get the water pump to work, however.
I've often found that the largest MN towns (Fergus Falls, Willmar, Brainerd) have non-existent or poor trailheads, while some of the smallest towns really go out of their way to accommodate users. A case in point is the small berg of Hackensack which has bathrooms (not a porta potty), shelter, benches, water, beautiful lake with fishing pier, restaurants, stores with snacks, etc. AND very friendly people. Schedule a stop here and Pine River which has similar amenities.
The trail between Hackensack and the Heartland junction is very atypical of MN trails with many hills and curves for 10-12 miles. Much of this is within the Chippewa National Forest. In addition to the hills and curves, you'll see towering pines, wild flowers and some great lake views at the southern end. When you connect the PB with the Heartland, there's over 150 miles of paved trails on which to cruise. If you go on only one of our wonderful trails don't miss this gem, I can't imagine a trail could be any better. (photos to come)
The trail is now paved all the way from Bemidji to Brainerd for a distance of 100+ miles. There is a 2 mile gap in the trail remaining at the south shore of Lake Bemidji in Bemidji that can biked using surface streets.
"My wife and I just completed a great trip. Rode from Baxter to Pine River, Walker, then Park Rapids on the Heartland Trail. We then reversed our direstion and returned to Baxter where the car was parked at the motel. The trails are great and if you don't camp there are places to stay in small cities along the way. The people were very helpful and every motel had a place to store the bikes. We plan on going back it was so much fun. Ron Gile"
"Don't expect to camp on this trail, you may not find it. State maintained rest stops have had all the trash cans and picnic tables removed. Very poor services. I was very disappointed."
"My wife and I rode the Paul Bunyan trail from Nosswa to Brainerd and back last Summer (2006). This year, in September, we are returning with 20 or so folks, mostly from Colorado, to bike the whole trail as well as much of the Heartland Trail. The PB Trail is beautiful!"
The paved portion of the trail has been extended from Hackensack to Highway 34 and connects with the Heartland Trail. I rode from Hackensack north about eight miles. You are in the northwoods without hugging a highway. It is very beautiful and peaceful. I highly recommend the trail.
My 12-year-old daughter and I rode the trail from Baxter to Pequot Lakes. We enjoyed the wild flowers and pine forests. The trail winds around dozens of lakes and if the sun is out you will see why the Indians called this the land of sky blue waters. There were plenty of gift and specialty shops to browse in Nisswa and Pequot Lakes.
We found a great resort called Breezy Point just six miles east of Pequot Lakes on Highway 11. The resort is on Pelican Lake and has a public beach. The lake is great for swimming with clear shallow water and a naturally sandy bottom. We will be back to explore more of the Paul Bunyan State Trail.
"This is a well-constructed trail whose first link (Brainerd to Nisswau) is downright spectacular as it curves around lakes, passes through shady forests and beside heavy marshes. Beyond Nisswau, the trail becomes straighter and is often too close to the highway to provide the quiet woodsy atmosphere of the first link. We went on a quiet day, though, and got in some very high-speed riding beyond Nisswau--the long straightaways are very inviting to speedsters."
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