Lake Country Scenic Byway: Ski, Slide, Fish
Grab a set of Nordic skis to glide along groomed trails that wind through Itasca's deep-green forest and across blankets of brilliant white snow. You also can rent snowshoes and blaze your own way through the woods. On-site modern lodging and kitchens make it easy to nestle in for a relaxing winter weekend.
If you're in the mood for dining and shopping, head south to Park Rapids, the byway's midpoint and a good hub. You don't even need a car. Snowmobile trails thread through the Itasca and the entire Lake Country Area.
The Heartland State Trail, running 49 miles between Park Rapids, Walker and Cass Lake, becomes the winter highway for snowmobilers. It also connects to the 100-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail, making it possible to zip north to Bemidji or as far south as the Brainerd Lakes area.
Heading east toward Walker, the Lake Country Scenic Byway winds into the Chippewa National Forest. Its hilly Shingobee recreational area, thick with tamarack and pine trees, is a favorite destination for cross-country skiers. Its steepest hill was a downhill ski run half a century ago and is now one of the state's biggest sledding hills. An historic warming house is a good place to rest before making the steep climb back to the top.
In February, Walker hosts its annual Eelpout Festival to celebrate the infamously homely fish, dubbed "freshwater cod." Fish houses sprawl across Leech Lake like a city on ice for the weekend-long contest. You might even see Paul Bunyan and pals make a comical leap into frigid water for the Polar Bear Plunge.
Whether you seek the triumph of a good fish tale or the thrill of snowmobiling, there is plenty to enjoy along the byway. Or, do nothing at all. Curl up in front of a fire and watch the snow softly fall across Lake Country.