Posted in Explore Minnesota Tourism

Bike Trails & Paul Bunyan Beckon in Walker

photo-17As a kid, I always wondered why I never spotted Paul Bunyan or Babe the Blue Ox during annual up-north family vacations. They were supposed to be so darn big, how could I miss them? Back then, summer seemed endless, and packing for the yearly summer vacation was an Olympic trial. While the rest of the family packed the fishing boat, I worked on strapping my banana seat bicycle to the truck.

This was our ritual, for every year we’d head north to Paul Bunyan country – past Brainerd and Hackensack to the third-largest lake in Minnesota, Leech Lake. Leech sits right smack in the Chippewa National Forest, and the town of Walker is nestled on its shores.

What’s truly cool about Walker is that it hasn’t changed much since I was there as a child in the 1970s. The downtown still has its small town/Mayberry feel, with many of the same stores I remember. Even the original museum is still there, complete with stuffed owls and beaver (although it now shares space with the Walker Spirits store, which makes for great wine shopping amidst the wildlife). But what has changed, and for the better, are the trail systems.

This area has worked hard, and continues to work, on its trails. They are well mapped out and well-marked, and locals are all familiar with them if visitors have any questions. Whether your bicycle has a banana seat or not, these trails will not disappoint.

The Heartland State Trail was the starting point on this excursion, as it runs right through the town of Walker. This trail was one of the first rail-to-trail projects in the country. It’s a multiuse trail that runs 49 miles between Park Rapids and Cass Lake. On this trip, we were told of “the loop,” which runs out of Walker, around past the North Country National Scenic Trail and connects to the Shingobe Connection Trail, which heads back into Walker for a 25-mile loop. It’s ideal for an afternoon ride, as long as you don’t mind numerous curves and some stretches of steep hills.

Also be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks, as this loop doesn’t go through any towns once you start out. In fact, only two other riders were seen on the path during the entire ride. It’s a great trail to get away from it all and enjoy the lake and hardwood forest that surround you.

Don’t zoom past those NCT (North Country Trail) signs that you’ll see along the trail – hop off your bike for a bit and head for a hike on this best-kept secret. At 4,600 miles, it’s the longest footpath in the nation. It runs through seven states, and it’s most well-known stretch is the Appalachian. It’s the only National Scenic Trail in the state of Minnesota, and it’s amazing how many folks still aren’t familiar with it. My favorite discovery? Funny-looking boot brushes are installed at trailheads to help you clean seeds or other plant materials from your shoes.

The Heartland Trail also connects to the Paul Bunyan State Trail. Yes, a trail named after the elusive giant I chased in my childhood. When it’s complete, the Paul Bunyan State Trail will be 120 miles long and extend from south of Brainerd to Lake Bemidji State Park. It’s now 112, and all paved from Brainerd to Bemidji, and it’s the longest continuously paved trail in our state’s trail system.

This trail is primed for hiking and bicycling, and I passed a fair amount of in-line skaters as well. Once the work is done, the trail will connect with the Blue Ox Trail (naturally) and will become one of the longest rail-to-trail conversions in North America at 210 miles. Not bad for the big guy and his trusty steed.

For a little sustenance after your ride, head to The Piggy BBQ. Local husband and wife team, Steve & Kathy Blake, offer fresh fare that’s smoked each day. When it’s sold out, it’s sold out, so get there early. The beef brisket, cold smoked turkey and ribs were the perfect end to a long day of biking, and the cornbread and real draft root beer with pure cane sugar will boost the energy levels back up.

Right behind the restaurant is the cute-as-a-button Green Scene market & deli, a perfect stop for healthy and organic snacks. The local farmers market takes place in the parking lot on Thursdays from June to September.

And just for the record, I could have sworn I saw a giant lumberjack footprint during the ride.

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Posted in Explore Minnesota Tourism

Make Fishing Part of Your Minnesota Trip

voyagaire 56There are three major holidays in the state of Minnesota – Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Minnesota Fishing Opener. Or so goes the saying … and it’s no wonder. Minnesota is known for its fishing.

It’s the land of 10,000 lakes (actually even more); it says so right on our license plates! So including a fishing adventure as part of your trip to Minnesota makes perfect sense. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned angler or a complete novice, the sport of fishing can be enjoyed by all.

It’s easy to include fishing as part of a vacation or quick getaway, no matter what area of the state you’re visiting, including the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Local visitors bureaus often have information on nearby lakes and rivers; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also provides info on lakes and fishing, including the licenses required.

If you want to fish on your own and have your own gear, bait shops are a great source of information on where and how to fish in the local waters. These folks will know what fish are biting and what they’re biting on. Stop in for bait and get the local fishing scoop while you’re there.

If you’re staying at a resort, the staff usually have some great fishing tips. Resort owners and their teams are often diehard fisher-people themselves, and are more than happy to share any wisdom with visitors.

Bait shops, resorts and local tourism bureaus also have the names of local fishing guides in their rolodexes. Don’t poo-poo this idea. If you’re not familiar with Minnesota waters or don’t fish regularly, Mother Nature has a way of depriving you of a catch. Guides can be worth their weight in gold to both casual anglers and seasoned veterans.
Some resorts and guides are able to provide guests some basic fishing gear if you don’t have your own, so check ahead of your trip to see if this is the case.

While I am biased in favor of fishing guides (my father was a fishing guide for years), many resorts and bait shops will point visitors in this direction too, especially on a first trip. They can refer you to experienced guides, and may have worked with them for years. Whether you want to introduce your kids to fishing or enjoy an outing with old fishing buddies, there’s a guide out there who can make the fishing adventure happen.

If you find one who interests you, check out their website, or give them a call to find out rates and more information. Trip rates are usually broken down into full day or half day, and a set number of people. Perhaps you want a shore lunch or shore dinner, which some guides can accommodate. Keep in mind that sunrise and sunset are often the times when the fish are most likely to be biting. Try fishing with a guide early in your trip, and use the tips you get to fish on your own for the rest of your vacation.

“Almost every lake has multiple guides,” says Travis Frank, Minnesota fishing guide and owner of Trophy Encounters. “Tell them what you’re looking for. Looking to catch a trophy? Just have a good time? These are the things we need to know to do our job.”

“Most of the guides out here, we love the outdoors,” he adds. “We love being on the water, and love the opportunity to show somebody our office and playground. It’s what we do.”

To stay on top of the latest fishing news, sign up for the weekly Explore Minnesota fishing report.

Posted in Explore Minnesota Tourism

Minnesota = Fishing

Make Fishing Part of Your Minnesota Trip

By Kelly Jo McDonnell

There are three major holidays in the state of Minnesota – Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Minnesota Fishing Opener. Or so goes the saying … and it’s no wonder. Minnesota is known for its fishing.Kelly Jo McConnell fishing with sonIt’s the land of 10,000 lakes (actually even more); it says so right on our license plates! So including a fishing adventure as part of your trip to Minnesota makes perfect sense. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned angler or a complete novice, the sport of fishing can be enjoyed by all.

It’s easy to include fishing as part of a vacation or quick getaway, no matter what area of the state you’re visiting, including the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Local visitors bureaus often have information on nearby lakes and rivers; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also provides info on lakes and fishing, including the licenses required.

If you want to fish on your own and have your own gear, bait shops are a great source of information on where and how to fish in the local waters. These folks will know what fish are biting and what they’re biting on. Stop in for bait and get the local fishing scoop while you’re there.

If you’re staying at a resort, the staff usually have some great fishing tips. Resort owners and their teams are often diehard fisher-people themselves, and are more than happy to share any wisdom with visitors.

Bait shops, resorts and local tourism bureaus also have the names of local fishing guides in their rolodexes. Don’t poo-poo this idea. If you’re not familiar with Minnesota waters or don’t fish regularly, Mother Nature has a way of depriving you of a catch. Guides can be worth their weight in gold to both casual anglers and seasoned veterans.
Some resorts and guides are able to provide guests some basic fishing gear if you don’t have your own, so check ahead of your trip to see if this is the case.

Fishing GuideWhile I am biased in favor of fishing guides (my father was a fishing guide for years), many resorts and bait shops will point visitors in this direction too, especially on a first trip. They can refer you to experienced guides, and may have worked with them for years. Whether you want to introduce your kids to fishing or enjoy an outing with old fishing buddies, there’s a guide out there who can make the fishing adventure happen.

If you find one who interests you, check out their website, or give them a call to find out rates and more information. Trip rates are usually broken down into full day or half day, and a set number of people. Perhaps you want a shore lunch or shore dinner, which some guides can accommodate. Keep in mind that sunrise and sunset are often the times when the fish are most likely to be biting. Try fishing with a guide early in your trip, and use the tips you get to fish on your own for the rest of your vacation.

“Almost every lake has multiple guides,” says Travis Frank, Minnesota fishing guide and owner of Trophy Encounters. “Tell them what you’re looking for. Looking to catch a trophy? Just have a good time? These are the things we need to know to do our job.”

“Most of the guides out here, we love the outdoors,” he adds. “We love being on the water, and love the opportunity to show somebody our office and playground. It’s what we do.”

To stay on top of the latest fishing news, sign up for the weekly Explore Minnesota fishing report.