Land of 10,000 Steps: Walk or Run on These Popular Minnesota Trails
By Erica Wacker
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As home to America’s fittest city according to FitBit, Minnesota offers countless trails all over the state to get your steps in and log some extra miles.
Even better, many of Minnesota’s paved trails pass by scenic landscapes, glistening lakes and iconic landmarks that make the miles feel like less of a workout and more of an adventure. So the next time you want to add some memorable steps to your Minnesota vacation, look no further than these scenic trails.
Duluth is No. 1 according to FitBit data, and it’s easy to see why. For starters, the beautiful Lakewalk stretches 7.5 miles along the Lake Superior shore, offering lake views as far as the eye can see and passing landmarks including the Aerial Lift Bridge, Fitger’s, Leif Erikson Park and Brighton Beach. For a change of scenery, head inland to Hartley Park, where you’ll find 10 miles of multi-use trails weaving through the woods.
Ely’s Trezona Trail is a nearly 4-mile loop around Miners Lake, a former mining pit just north of downtown, with relatively flat terrain on the southern end and hillier portions as you move north. After your workout, cool off with a beer at the Boathouse Brewpub or iced coffee at the new Northern Grounds cafe on downtown's charming Sheridan Street.
The 1.7-mile Rainy Lake Recreation Trail in Voyageurs National Park starts at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and connects with the International Falls Bike Trail at Highway 11 for another 10 miles. After your hike, take a guided canoe or boat tour into this unique water-based park (summer only; reservations recommended).
The Mesabi Trail is well established as a premier bicycling destination, but the 120-mile (and counting) paved trail is also open to people traveling on foot. Pick any of the 20+ access points along the trail, from Grand Rapids on the western end to Biwabik on the east, and take in the views of the many rock cuts and mine lakes along the way.
Coming in at No. 20 on FitBit’s list, Minneapolis is a mecca for outdoor recreation. The Chain of Lakes—Maka Ska, Harriet, Cedar, Brownie and Lake of the Isles—are popular with locals and visitors alike, connected by more than 11 miles of paved walking/running and biking paths, and part of the larger Grand Rounds trail system that encompasses 51 miles of trails. Pick a lake and make a loop—the biggest, Bde Maka Ska, is a perfect 5K—then reward yourself with a snack from one of the great lakeside eateries.
While Minneapolis is the city of lakes, in St. Paul, it’s all about the river. A paved ped/bike path parallels Mississippi River Boulevard on the capital city’s western edge, turning east past downtown and beyond, with beautiful views of the mighty river, lakefront homes and cityscapes along the 15-mile route. If a loop is more your speed, head to Lake Como or Lake Phalen for a lap or two around the lake.
Three Rivers Park District, on the west side of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, offers runners and walkers lots of options. At Carver Park Reserve, two paved loops wind past lakes and woods with plentiful wildlife. As an added bonus, those who like to exercise with their dogs can take advantage of the off-leash dog area just off the trail.
Stretching 13 miles from Lake Waconia to Wayzata, the Dakota Rail Regional Trail follows a former rail corridor, traveling between Lake Minnetonka’s many bays, over bridges, and past attractions like Gale Woods Farm and Big Stone Mini Golf. More paved loops can be found in Hyland Lake, Elm Creek, Baker, Lake Rebecca and other park reserves throughout the Three Rivers system.
East of St. Paul, Lake Elmo Park Reserve has 5 miles of paved trails with gently rolling hills and a variety of landscapes. The Mississippi and Minnesota rivers in this region are both paralleled by paved trails, with new segments of the Mississippi River Trail (in Hastings’ Spring Lake Park) and the Minnesota River Greenway (in Burnsville) debuting in 2017. Catch a view of both rivers from the 4.5-mile Big Rivers Regional Trail from Eagan to Lilydale, which overlooks the confluence of the two.
The multipurpose Camden Regional Trail connects the city of Marshall to Camden State Park. Once outside the city limits, the trail travels over 10 miles of gently rolling hills alongside Highway 23 all the way to the park.
A 13-mile loop encircles the charming city of New Ulm, 5 miles of which is a paved off-street trail. The trail passes through city parks that house unique amenities, including a dog park, skate park and graffiti art wall, and puts visitors within blocks of landmarks such as the Hermann the German monument and Schell’s Brewery.
Owatonna’s city trails, which include Kaplan Woods Parkway, the Buxton and the connecting Muckle Trail, offer a wide range of views, passing through parks, under bridges and adjacent to city streets. Be sure to plan your route to include a stop at the trailside Blast Soft Serve; you’ve earned it.
Choose from more than 85 miles of paved trails in Rochester (FtiBit's No. 8 city), ranging from lakeside loops to downtown river walks. Take a nearly 2-mile lap around Silver Lake, where you can also rent paddleboats and bikes, or travel a similar distance along the banks of the Zumbro River, passing by the Rochester Art Center, Mayo Civic Center and other downtown landmarks. Northeast of downtown, Quarry Hill Nature Center has blacktopped “family trails” that link up to all three parking lots, as well as to the park’s many unpaved trails.
Take a leisurely stroll around lovely Lake Winona, which features a 5-mile blacktop trail that circles both segments of the lake and passes through Lake Park, home to a rose garden, historic bandshell and playground. Incredible views of the lake and surrounding bluffs await at every turn.
The longest paved rail-trail in the country, the aptly named Paul Bunyan Trail gets its start in Lake Bemidji State Park, traveling south along the shore of Lake Bemidji for nearly 7 miles to downtown. For a 5K loop in the city limits, start at the iconic Paul & Babe statues and follow the lake’s southwest shore through the picturesque Bemidji State University campus.
East Grand Forks
Mosey your way along the Red Lake and Red rivers on The Greenway, a 2,200-acre natural open space hugging the Minnesota-North Dakota border. The Minnesota side features multiple trailheads and parks with everything from pickleball courts to horseshoe pits. Passing right by downtown, it’s also perfect for pre- or post-dinner strolls.
Thief River Falls
Pick a section or conquer all 7 miles of the River Walk in Thief River Falls, which winds along the river through numerous parks, past a dam, and the historic Soo Line Railroad Depot and steam locomotive. Historical markers along the way depict what the area looked like many years ago.
Meander along the Crow River on the Luce Line State Trail in Hutchinson, passing between lakes and through city parks along the way. Around the midway point of this 6-mile stretch of trail, take a detour down the charming Main Street for a sweet treat at Elena’s Bakery or locally sourced lunch at Zella’s.
The walking/biking path at Perham’s Arvig Park makes a full, over 3-mile loop around the park and adjacent golf course. Plan your visit in August to coincide with the annual Pioneer Fest, or head downtown for the weekly turtle races in summer or Turtle Fest in June. There's also a craft brewery open year-round.
The Mississippi River creates a beautiful backdrop for walking and running in the Granite City. Downtown, the half-mile River Walk on the west bank hooks up with the Beaver Island Trail for a 3-mile jaunt. Cross over to the other side at University Drive and loop back up past the beautiful Munsinger and Clemens Gardens. West of downtown, several miles of trails wind through Quarry Park & Nature Preserve, past 20 quarries and over a floating boardwalk.
Willmar Lakes Area
Start at the trailhead on the north end of Willmar and head north through the rolling hills of this lakes area on the Glacial Lakes State Trail. It’s just over 10K to the south end of Green Lake in Spicer, where ice cold beverages await at the popular lakefront restaurant, Zorbaz. From there, it’s another 5 miles to the charming town of New London, where you can catch a water ski show by the Little Crow Ski Team on most Friday nights in the summer.
Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.
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