In April, we asked the residents and visitors of Minnesota to tell us which trails deserve a Top 10 accolade. And the great responses we received just go to show that there are many stars in the North Star State!
While we unfortunately can’t shout out all the trails with votes, we can shout out Minnesotans for being so passionate about their trails and trail networks.
To close out Minnesota Month in April, RTC is pleased to present this list of Top 10 Trails in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
1. Root River State Trail
Fillmore and Houston counties
Part of a larger 60-mile system referred to by some as the “Cadillac of Bike Trails,” the 42-mile Root River State Trail is known for the limestone bluffs, wildlife, wooden bridges and Scandinavian towns that can be found off the old railroad right-of-way along the river.
2. Paul Bunyan State Trail
Beltrami, Cass, Crow Wing and Hubbard c.
Lumberjack Paul Bunyan is known in American folklore for being large. So it’s appropriate that this RTC Hall of Fame trail bears his name. Spanning 112 miles (120 when complete), it is one of the longest continuously paved trails in the U.S.
3. Heartland State Trail
Cass and Hubbard counties
When established in 1974, the 49-mile Heartland State Trail made history as one of the nation's first rail-trail projects. And as you would expect in a land of lakes, the trail runs past a variety of water bodies—many of which are directly accessible from the pathway.
4. Willard Munger State Trail
See TrailLink.com for county segments.
A collection of three multi-use trail segments spanning about 160 miles, this trail highlights the rich backdrops and history of East Central Minnesota, following the route of a railroad that saved many lives during the notorious Hinckley and Cloquet fires in the 19th century.
5. Lake Wobegon State Trail
Stearns and Todd counties
This 62-mile pathway claims its name from the fictional town made famous by Garrison Keillor’s radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion.” But the quaint cafés, cultural attractions and vistas are the real deal. Plus—you may spot a Showy Lady’s Slipper.
6. Central Lakes State Trail
Douglas, Grant and Otter Tail counties
The 55-mile Central Lakes State Trail boasts a seamless connection from the Lake Wobegon Trail as well as a 14-foot width across its entire length. And true to its name, lakes are a central attraction; many types of waterfowl use them during their migrations.
7. Mesabi Trail
Itasca and St. Louis counties
When complete, this currently 115-mile trail running through the Iron Range region will span 132 miles. The trail is an ode to the region's mining past/present as it winds past manmade mine-pit lakes, old iron-ore pits and functioning iron-ore mines.
8. Luce Line State Trail
Carver, Hennepin, McLeod and Meeker counties
Like a “jaunt down a country road,” this 63-mile trail stretches through preserved countryside in urban and rural Minnesota. In the east, one will find sugar maples and basswoods; in the west, the remnants of tall-grass prairie. Wildlife abounds.
9. Gitchi-Gami State Trail
Cook and Lake counties
Currently a 29-mile multi-use trail, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail will eventually span 88 miles on Lake Superior’s north shore. The trail is an active transportation amenity, providing a safe, nonmotorized alternative to State Route 61. Highlights: Great parks and views.
10. Cannon Valley Trail
The 19.7-mile Cannon Valley Trail inhabits the corridor of the former Chicago Great Western Railway, gradually descending 115 feet in elevation from Cannon Falls to Red Wing. Users can enjoy the spectacular beauty of the area's overhanging cliffs and wetlands.
Photo 1 courtesy of Root River Trail Towns; Photos 3, 8 and 9 courtesy of TrailLink.com; Photo 4 courtesy of Scott Schumacher via Flickr; Photo 5 courtesy of How to Build & Repair via Flickr; Photo 6 courtesy of MN DNR; Photo 7 courtesy of Sheldon Schwartz via Flickr; Photo 10 courtesy of Cannon Valley Trail.
Amy Kapp is RTC's content strategy manager and Editor-in-Chief of Rails to Trails Magazine. Kapp frequently publishes articles and blog posts about topics related to parks and trails, the outdoors and community development.