The climb up the gravel road was steady, even steep in some places.
By the time you got to the trailhead to the southern-most access to the Colorado Trail, you probably wished you had loaded up the bike and motored to the trailhead instead of taking the scenic route that winds up and through the foothills of the Rockies' San Juan mountain range. Because, right from the start, this trail is rugged, unforgiving.
The Colorado Trail, which runs north from Colorado's Front Range all the way down to Durango in the far southwest corner of the state, is regarded as one of the premier foot and bike trails in the nation. Still, it's not for everyone.
And that's the most blatant difference between, say, the world-class trails of southwestern Colorado and even nearby Moab, Utah, and those right here in Minnesota. And why Minnesota is the top trails state in the nation.
I've long believed that. And I'm not alone.
Minnesota was recently named "Best Trails State" in the country. The award, presented by nationally renowned American Trails, recognizes a state that is "facilitating an outstanding statewide system of trails."
Earlier this year, Minneapolis was named the No. 1 bicycling city in the U.S. by Bicycling Magazine and Minnesota was ranked the fourth most "bicycle friendly" state in the nation by the League of American Cyclists.
Much of the credit for the success of Minnesota as a trails leader would have to go to the DNR. Trails managed by the DNR include more than 600 miles of paved trails for biking, 1,000 miles of equestrian trails, 1,300 miles of cross-country ski trails, 1,000 miles of off-highway vehicle trails, 4,400 miles of water trails, 1,000 miles of snowmobile trails and several thousand miles of hiking trails.
Trails managed through a grant-in-aid system by local units of government and local clubs include more than 21,000 miles of snowmobile trails, 700 miles of cross-country ski trails and 1,300 miles of off-highway vehicle trails. Thousands of additional trail miles are provided by national, regional, county and local units of government, as well as nonprofit organizations.
That's all been good news for the state's economy. A University of Minnesota economic impact study found that spending at Minnesota trails totaled more than $2.4 billion in 2008 and that some 30,900 full-time and part-time jobs were supported by trail spending. Walking and hiking are the most popular activities on Minnesota trails, followed by biking, running, inline skating, ATV riding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and horseback riding.
The "Best Trails State" award is presented every two years by American Trails, the only national nonprofit organization working on behalf of all trail types, including bicycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, equestrian, snowmobile, off-highway vehicle and water trails.
More information about American Trails may be found at AmericanTrails. org. Take a virtual tour of four Minnesota state trails - including the Paul Bunyan Trail, which starts in Baxter and runs through Crow Wing and Cass counties - at www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/ virtual.html.
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www. twitter.com/brian_speterson.