Minnesota’s Heartland State Trail slices right through the heart of northern Minnesota. Over its 49 mile length you can bike (or hike) between Park Rapids and Cass Lake. The cycling is flat and easy as far as Walker. This part of the trail is one of the first of the rails-to-trails in the United States. For the final four miles past Walker, you can look forward to some rolling hills.
The biking is pretty on the Heartland Trail through a mix of farmland and wooded areas with a few lakes and marshes along the way providing more expansive views along with some bird life. I also enjoyed the peek a boo views of well-kept farms with their white picket fences.
There are several stops along the Heartland State Trail you’ll want to make.
It’s only a two block detour off the trail in Akeley to see the 25 foot tall Paul Bunyan statue, the largest in the state and one of the largest statues in the country. It was built by Dean Krotzer, six sons and a son-in-law and finished in 1985. Reportedly the sculpture is eight times the size of a Krotzer man and required 4.5 tons of welded steel. Take the requisite selfie picture.
In Nevis, pull over at Muskie Waters Co. If you’ve got kids a stop here for a sundae, ice cream cone or a shake may be just the bribe you need to keep them moving. Adults can look forward to a caffeine fix. My cycling companion for the afternoon, Steven Frick, a local firefighter recommends eating next door at The Iron Horse Bar and Grill. There was no time for that on the day I rode, though it looked like a great place to have a break and enjoy a beer.
About halfway along the trail you’ll intersect the Paul Bunyan Trail, the longest paved trail in the state at 123 miles. (It connects Crow Wing State Park to Bemidji State Park.) If you’ve got the time and the inclination you could certainly make the day into an epic one – cycling an out and back section of the Paul Bunyan Trail along with the Heartland Trail. You could arrange a shuttle with Embracing Pines B&B to shorten the day. (See below for more information.)
If it’s a hot when you arrive in Walker have a swim in the poorly named Leech Lake. I have no idea if there are leeches. Let’s hope not. At the very least head down to the lake and enjoy the view. The town itself is a pretty one so if you’ve got the time, explore the few blocks that make up the downtown
There are a number of places in Walker were you can stay including Chase on the Lake. I stayed at Embracing Pines B&B, situated right beside the Paul Bunyan Trail. They offer a shuttle service for both the Heartland and Paul Bunyan Trails – with preference given to guests. You can expect to be very well fed here – and sent to your room with fresh-baked cookies.
Thank you to Explore Minnesota for making this trip possible, to Freewheel Midtown Bike Center for the use of their awesome bike and especially to you Steven for an afternoon of guiding and great conversation.
More posts related to cycling in Minnesota you might enjoy:
- Exploring Minnesota by Bike: The Cannon Valley Trail
- Cycling in Minnesota: The Mesabi Trail
- Discover Minnesota by Bike: The Gitchi-Gami Trail
- Cycling the Gateway Trail: St. Paul to Stillwater, Minnesota
- A Bike Ride to the Headwaters of the Mississipi in Itasca State Park
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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