At 120 miles, the Paul Bunyan State Trail is the longest recreational trail in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Natural Recourses Parks and Trails Division recently (three years ago) added over six miles to the southern tip of the trail. For just $1.2 million, this connected the Lake Bemidji State Park in Bemidji to the Crow Wing State Park just south of Baxter.
I wanted to show that this little jaunt is a worthwhile use of your time. So, last Sunday I took my Gary Fisher road bike and hit the trail. I live just off of the Buffalo Hills City Trail on Graydon Ave. I was able to connect to the trail by riding west past Central Lakes College on College Dr (which is part of the PB Trail at that point) until it hits the Hwy 371 bypass.
Out in the open along College Dr, the wind was being difficult that day. The direct headwind brought any momentum I had to a screeching halt. However, after I crossed Hwy 371 and started to head south along the trail proper, I was able to get some speed.
After about a mile, this section of trail hits its most standout feature: the crossing of the Mississippi. A re-crossing of Hwy 371 is necessary but really fun. The trail weaves under the Hwy 371 Bypass bridge twice in order to make a safer crossing. You can see a video of the bridge and the under crossing from YouTube user UntoTheBreach. (Great resource if you want to see the entire southern leg of the PB Trail.) The artwork on the bridge is beautiful. The view is grand and the trail is just getting started.
Right after the river crossing, the trail follows it through a deeply forested section of the trail. Once safely blocked by the trees, the wind had almost zero effect on how fast I was able to go; my speed was much more dictated by my sore quads.
However, during the 60-minute ride, the trail provided many things to enjoy such as winding dips and raises all while providing a smoothly paved surface, perfect for road bikes, sneakers, or roller blades.
The beauty of this leg of the trail is that you can get a little bit of everything. If you like nature, you’ll be greeted with groups of wild turkeys and scampering woodchucks. If you want a shady ride, tall trees will escort you south. If you want to see where the forest and prairie meet, you’re in luck.