Minnesota Destinations: North Central Minnesota
Travel from the Paul Bunyan Trail to a Taste of Dorset, explore the trails, woods, rivers and lakes of North Central Minnesota.
Lake Country Scenic Byway
The Lake Country Scenic Byway is an 88-mile corridor along Highway 34 between Detroit Lakes and Walker with a spur north from Park Rapids on Highway 71 to Itasca State Park.
Following the Lake Country Scenic Byway, visitors discover many places to explore: Itasca State Park, the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and Leech Lake. Along the lake-dappled countryside, they will view winding rivers, forests and a patchwork of farmland. Experiences for travelers can include fantastic fishing, north woods hiking, scenic biking, golfing and more. In a pleasing twist, you'll find that two of the largest locally owned and operated music festivals in the entire nation are not far from either end of the Lake Country Scenic Byway.
Two new historic markers and interpretive signs are up along the Lake Country Scenic Byway. One sign is located at the Height of Land Town Hall between Park Rapids and Detroit Lakes on Highway 34. The other sign is near the intersection of U.S. Highway 71 and 105th Avenue in Arago Township north of Park Rapids.
The Heartland Trail is an old railroad bed that starts in Park Rapids and travels through Dorset, Nevis, Akeley, Walker and ends up at Cass Lake. It is a 49 mile multiple use trail, open to non-motorized use during the spring, fall and summer for bicycling, hiking and in-line skating. Users can expect to see a wide variety of wildlife and wildflowers along the way. In the winter, the Heartland Trail is part of a network of groomed riding trails in the area.
The Paul Bunyan Trail
The Paul Bunyan Trail is a bike trail and snowmobile trail that starts at Baxter and includes 69.6 miles of paved trail to Walker, 39.5 miles of unpaved trail that weaves and bobs between Walker and Bemidji and then five miles of paved trail from Lake Bemidji State Park to Co. Rd. 20 across the Mississippi River trestle to 5th and Gould. The total trail length is 110 miles and when completed, the Paul Bunyan State Trail will also connect with the Blue Ox Trail forming one of the longest rail to trail conversions in North America - 210 miles.
The community of Lake George is perhaps known best for its blueberry festival and the lake is known for great fishing. It is located six miles east of Itasca State Park on 71/200 towards the Kabekona Corner.
The lake itself is a spring fed lake and a great place to catch pan fish, walleye, northern pike and bass. The water is clear, clean and inviting. The Jack Weinmann Family Memorial Guest Quarters at St. Francis Lodge on Lake George opened in 2010. The retreat center for nuns started out as a vision and prayer of Sal Di Leo, a man raised by Catholic nuns in the 1960s.
Each summer, the small town hosts a three-day festival that is focused on blueberries. This year it's scheduled for July 26-28. The festival includes a blueberry pancake breakfast, a blueberry ball and a blueberry square dance. There is an educational booth on blueberries. A pie sale, a pig roast and the Firemen's Bean Feed are also great fun. There is a quilt show, an arts and crafts show and a flea market.
The Lake George Community Park is on Payne Lake. Swimming beach, baseball field, picnic tables, picnic shelter, playground, toilets and public access.
Nevis is often celebrated as the gateway to the Paul Bunyan Forest, where hikers and campers can enjoy more than 40,000 acres of woodland. Nevis is 10 miles east of Park Rapids and five miles west of Akeley. It claims to be home of the world's largest tiger muskie - a statue of such can be found if you drive up the main street to the park. The town is located along the east end of Lake Belle Taine. A bison ranch, an emu ranch and golf courses are not too far from Nevis.
State forest trails are signed for off-highway vehicle travel, and the famous 27-mile Heartland Trail runs through Nevis. It is kind of the midpoint of the Walker to Park Rapids portion of that trail. The community offers several public recreational facilities, such as a public beach, park, dock, boat ramp and public access to Lake Belle Taine. The quaint village is home to several restaurants, small shops, a grocery and of course the trademark - the muskie in the center of town that reigns and watches over all festivities and activity.
Nevis will celebrate its annual Muskie Days celebration July 19-20. Geared to young and old, the event features parades, food, games and music. A Music Festival also coincides with Muskie Days and will feature a variety of bands.
Uff Da Days
Nevis will be celebrating the annual Uff Da Days, a Scandinavian celebration, held annually on the last Friday and Saturday of August, this year the 30th and 31st. As always, there will be lots of family fun, food, and entertainment. Activities include bingo, a horseshoe tournament, a lutefisk, Swedish meatball, and homemade lefse dinner, kids games, contests, prizes, a flea market, vendors, a beer garden, a parade, lots of local music and entertainment for the entire family and the "Continuing Saga of Ole & Lena," the fifth in a series, performed by the very unprofessional Uff Da Day players. Ya, sure ... you betcha!
City Beach and Park, Highway 34 to Nevis, north on CSAH 2 and west on Beach Road. Playground equipment, picnic tables, swimming beach and restrooms.
Muskie Park, Highway 34 to Nevis, north three blocks on CSAH 2. Picnic tables, pavilion and playground as well as a Veterans Memorial with a lighted flagpole, flowerbed, honorarium benches and walkway.
Akeley offers many outdoor activities and attractions for tourists. It is located right on the corridor of the Lake Country Scenic Byway, 10 miles west of Walker and five miles east of Nevis. Highway 64 also goes south toward Motley.
Besides being a good place to enjoy the outdoors, the small town offers plenty of other attractions with two theaters. Many artists also make their home in Akeley. Among them is a chainsaw carver, just west of town on Highway 34.
The former school now includes a public library, archery range and a used clothing and furniture shop. A community garden is established near the former school. Several organized events throughout the summer lead ATV riders through the managed network of trails in the Paul Bunyan State Forest. The many resorts around the lake-rich area offer amenities and shopping for a vacation to remember.
Big Paul Bunyan
Akeley's Paul Bunyan statue in the center of town can't be missed. He is shown down on one knee with his huge hand held out to comfort kids of all ages. The 31-foot tall statue has welcomed visitors to Akeley for more than 25 years.
There is a picnic area, covered pavilion and park close to Paul's statue. Also, the Heartland Trail routes behind the pavilion and during warmer weather, you might find music, barbecues, parties and all kinds of activities going on around the town's favorite icon.
Woodtick Theatre's summer season kicks off in mid-June and runs through mid-September. When Frank Haas and his wife, Gail, made several trips to Branson, Mo., it was decided that northern Minnesota could use a similar type of entertainment. Together Frank and Bill Proudfoot joined forces and began the task of creating a theatre. Cindy and Mike Chase purchased the Woodtick Theatre in 1997 from the original owner, Frank Haas. The building is a former dry goods and grocery store that has been converted into this theater with the down home living room atmosphere.
Akeley is also home to two parks that provide an excellent area to spend time outdoors and have a picnic.
City Park, Highway 34, Akeley. Picnic tables, shelter, Paul Bunyan Historical Society Museum, Paul Bunyan's statue and Paul's Cradle.
City Beach and Campground, Highway 34 to Akeley, then follow signs. Public access to 11th Crow Wing Lake, shelter, picnic tables, fishing, boat landing and campground.
Dorset, a town with just a handful of people, boasts being "The Restaurant Capitol" of the world. It is located about six miles east of Park Rapids or six miles west of Nevis on Hwy 34 and about a mile north on state Hwy 226.
Many travelers bicycle to Dorset by starting on the Heartland Trail in Park Rapids, Nevis, Akeley or Walker. Some start out at the trailhead in Dorset. There is plenty of blacktopped parking, a playground to keep the kids amused while parents can relax at the rest area, which includes a bench, toilets, picnic tables and water from a hand pump. Plus, the trailhead is right next to downtown Dorset for easy access to restaurants and shopping.
Streets are lined with boardwalks, casual porch swings and flower baskets. The shops are filled with special items, from books to unique decor and antiques - the kind of stuff that turns houses into homes.
For more great ideas on vacations and daytrips in Minnesota, see our entire magazine at www.MNDestinations.com