Central Minnesota Bike Trails Explore Lake Country

By Explore Minnesota

Biking the Central Lakes Trail
The 55-mile Central Lakes State Trail runs beside wildflowers, prairie grass, wetland ponds and wildlife between Fergus Falls and Osakis

There's no better way to see the rolling hills and abundant lakes of central Minnesota than from your bike. Explore the region's impressive network of paved bike trails to visit charming small town main streets, historic sites, family resorts and everything in between.

Central Lakes State Trail

Location: Between Fergus Falls and Osakis
Distance: 55 paved miles

The Central Lakes State Trail winds through picturesque countryside and communities from Fergus Falls to Osakis. Like other trails built on former railroad lines, Central Lakes is relatively flat and easy to ride—perfect for cycling families and groups of all ages and abilities.

Wildflowers, prairie grass, open fields, rolling hills, wetland ponds and wildlife are part of the scenery on the Central Lakes State Trail. The hilly terrain cradles dozens of lakes, and red barns and emerald pastures dot the landscape.

You can opt for a short trip between towns—spaced about every seven miles—or ride the entire 55-mile length over the course of a day or two. The trail parallels I-94, running southeast from Fergus Falls. Pedaling through the small towns of Dalton and Ashby, you're immersed in the rustic charms of Minnesota's rural farm country. South of Ashby, the trail passes by Lake Christina and Pelican Lake, and the area between Melby and Evansville features a more densely woodland landscape.

The trail runs right through the heart of Alexandria, the biggest town along the trail. "Big Ole," the 28-foot-tall Viking, greets cyclists at the north end of downtown, and just off the path visitors can explore more Norse culture at the Runestone Museum. Other stops worth a detour include Legacy of the Lakes Museum and the beach at Lake Agnes.

The section of trail to Osakis is a peaceful stretch of mostly open prairie and farmland. The end of the trail, near Lake Osakis, connects to the Lake Wobegon Trail, which cyclists can take all the way to St. Joseph.

Cuyuna Lakes State Trail

Cuyuna-kids21.jpg
Mom and kids riding the paved trail at Cuyuna / Photo by Aaron Hautala

Location: Between Crosby and Riverton
Distance: 7 paved miles, plus short sections of paved trail in Brainerd and Aitkin

Who would have thought back in 1910 that recreation would someday replace mining operations in the town of Crosby, about 15 miles northeast of Brainerd? Certainly not the toiling miners of that time. But thanks to Mother Nature working her magic over time, water has filled the mini-canyons carved out by mining operations and turned them into clear, deep lakes.

The Cuyuna Range has transformed from an area of iron ore mining to a hub of outdoor adventures. Aspen and birch trees, shrubs and wildflowers now border the lakes where the mining trucks used to tread. The transformation of Cuyuna is something to behold.

This slice of nature is now the 5,000-acre Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, nestled right at the charming town of Crosby. The paved Cuyuna Lakes State Trail offers seven miles of biking or hiking, meandering through the hardwood forest and along lakeshores.

If you prefer off-road riding, Cuyuna also boasts 30 miles 30 miles of world-class mountain bike trails. Bike rentals are available in town.

Glacial Lakes State Trail

Location: Between Willmar and Paynesville
Distance: 27 paved miles

Like a zamboni passing over a hockey rink, the gently rolling topography of West Central Minnesota was created when glaciers moved across the area around 10,000 years ago. Smoothed over by glacial movement, the unearthed countryside was defined by its gentle hills, pristine pastures, and lakes, ponds and wetlands of all sizes. The Glacial Lakes Trail gives you a scenic ride through history in this unique region of Minnesota.

From Willmar to Spicer, this trail passes pastures, fields of corn and soybeans, and ponds and wetlands full of cattails. Watch for herons and ducks. At Spicer, about midway, you can take a dip in refreshing Green Lake, featuring a big, festive beach. North of Spicer, the trail crosses a bridge over Nest Lake and skirts to the east of New London. Don't miss New London's entertaining waterski shows Friday nights during the summer. From here, the trail follows Highway 23 through Hawick; a 2-mile paved spur at the north end links the trail to Paynesville.

Lake Wobegon Trail

Biking the Lake Wobegon Trail near Holdingford
Two bicyclists take a fall ride on the Lake Wobegon Trail near Holdingford

Location: Between St. Joseph and Osakis, with a spur north from Albany
Distance: 62 paved miles

Fictional Lake Wobegon is the quintessential Minnesota small town. It was built, character by character, in the imagination of storyteller and humorist Garrison Keillor, who reported the "News from Lake Wobegon" on his long-running public radio show "A Prairie Home Companion."

Lake Wobegon is based, in part, in the rural communities north of St. Cloud. Many of these little towns are now linked by the paved Lake Wobegon Trail, allowing cyclists to enjoy a peaceful ride through a quiet countryside of dairy farms, lakes and streams. In today's bustling world, where even small cities seem to have traffic jams, the towns along the trail are a big step away from the hustle and bustle of city life, reminders of a simpler era.

Part of the trail comes close to I-94, but most of it is far from life's fast lane in peaceful farm country. The flat, peaceful trail weaves a 62-mile route through some of central Minnesota's charming rural towns, abundant dairy farms, lakes and streams. The Lake Wobegon Trail is roughly Y-shaped, running west about 50 miles from St. Joseph to past Sauk Centre, with another arm heading northeast from Albany, a town of about 2,700 right off I-94, for about 15 miles.

Mille Lacs Soo Line Trail

Location: Between Onamia and Isle, south of Lake Mille Lacs
Distance: 11 paved miles

With a scenic state park near each trailhead, the Soo Line offers biking near Mille Lacs, one of the state's largest lakes. At Isle, on the trail's north end, streets in town take you to Father Hennepin State Park, featuring a great beach on Mille Lacs. This short, flat trail passes numerous wetlands where red-winged blackbirds perch on cattails. The western trailhead of Onamia has an information center in a restored train depot. From town, you can follow County Road 26 for 6 miles to the beautiful forest of Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.

Paul Bunyan State Trail

Paul Bunyan Trail Bemidji
The Paul Bunyan Trail spans 115 miles between Brainerd and Bemidji

Location: Between Brainerd and Walker, and between Walker and Bemidji
Distance: 115 paved miles from Brainerd/Baxter to Bemidji

Clocking in at 115 miles, the Paul Bunyan State Trail is the longest continuously paved rail-trail in the country. The trail spans from Crow Wing State Park in Brainerd to Bemidji State Park, north of Bemidji.

The trail explores Minnesota's North Woods and lakes country, with plenty of resorts, campgrounds and friendly trail towns as a base for a biking getaway. Most of the trail is level, following an old railway bed, with the exception of a hilly 9-mile segment in the Chippewa National Forest northwest of Hackensack.

The southern end of the Paul Bunyan Trail runs through the scenic Brainerd Lakes area, a popular destination for fishing, golfing and resort stays. The trail passes lakes, marshes and forests, and crosses nine rivers and streams. The Paul Bunyan Trail hooks into the Heartland Trail south of Walker.

The northern portion of the trail passes lakes, fields and woods and connects Walker, Benedict, Laporte, Guthrie, Nary and Bemidji. The northernmost segment of the trail crosses the Mississippi River, follows the scenic shore of Lake Bemidji, and leads to Lake Bemidji State Park.