The Paul Bunyan Trail
The story about Paul Bunyan, the giant mid-Western lumberjack, is a tall tale, but the promise that you’ll enjoy exploring the 100-mile-long Paul Bunyan Trail is real. In winter, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers travel along this snowy freeway that stretches from Brainerd to Bemidji, Minnesota, passing through several logging towns. In summer, the converted railroad bed is a popular bicycling and hiking trail. No matter what time of year you decide to go, you won’t be let down. This stretch of trail offers year-round excitement to anyone who ventures to this mid-west hotbed of outdoor fun.
You don’t have to cover the entire length of the trail during a vacation, because there are 14 towns along the way where you can stop for lunch, explore local sites, or spend the night. Summer or winter, many people choose one of the towns as “home base,” a make day trips from there.
If you want to travel the entire trail in the winter, start in Brainerd and plan on 3 to 4 days for the snowmobile ride to Bemidji. You’ll want to stop in some of the small towns along the way. In these towns you’ll find local craft shops—where you can pick up hand-knitted mittens and a scarf (you’ll need them for Minnesota’s cold winters)—museums and restaurants run by friendly locals. When the snow falls, trail conditions are posted weekly. Snowmobile rentals are available in several towns.
Along the way you might be tempted to explore some of the 1,200 miles (1,900km) of networked trails in the Brainerd Lakes Area, go downhill skiing at Ski Gull, or try the cross-country and snowshoe trails at the Northland Arboretum. In many of the towns along the Paul Bunyan Trail, shorter snowmobile routes branch off into forests and across ice-capped lakes. For a slower-paced, but equally exciting brand of winter fun, head to the annual Ice Fishing Competition on Gull Lake sponsored by the Brainerd Jaycees. Contestants brave the bitter cold to be the first to catch a fish (and hopefully a sizeable one) in the frozen-over lake. The competition attracts thousands and the prizes equal $150,000.
If you want a break, park your snowmobile at the Grand View Lodge on Gull Lake and sample other kinds of winter sports. The friendly staff at the lodge can arrange dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, or downhill skiing outings. Then have sore muscles soothed in the resort’s Glacial Waters Spa. In warmer weather, an array of watersports awaits visitors at Grand View Lodge.
In the summer, many hikers and bikers like to overnight in one of the towns along the Paul Bunyan Trail and make day trips. With a car, it’s easy to take your bike to other points on the trail. In this area there are lots of lakes where you can enjoy boating, swimming, and other water sports.
Paul Bunyan Trail (www.paulbunyantrail.com). Minnesota Tourism ( 800/657-3700 or 651/296-5029; www.exploreminnesota.com).
When to Go: Year-round.
Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
$$–$$$ Grand View Lodge, 23521 Nokomis Ave. ( 866/801-2951 or 218/963-2234; www.grandviewlodge.com).