The convenience store was, well, not overly convenient. At least not from here, and not in comparison to the other amenities of the trail.
A bicyclist or in-line skater or jogger or walker or any of the other types the trail attracts had to leave the trail and nearby trailhead, walk to County Road 3, cross County Road 3 and go another 50 yards to reach the store for a refreshment or energy boost or whatever.
A good 100 yards from the trail. So, yes, not totally inconvenient, either. But with everything that can be found on - or just off - the trail ...
This stretch of the Paul Bunyan Trail - Merrifield to Nisswa - includes many of the same things that draw people to the lakes area as a whole: lakes, woodlands, wildlife and, depending on what you're looking for, peace and quiet or the hustle and bustle that comes with a small tourist town in the summertime and early fall. Or a little of both, if you like.
From Merrifield to Nisswa, the Paul Bunyan Trail winds along a number of quaint lakes. Here the trail runs between the lake and one of many points in which to view the surrounding splendor.
» Purchase reprints of this photo.Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson
The Paul Bunyan Trail, like this area, can be anything you want it to be, providing a good running, biking or in-line skating workout or the venue for a leisurely ride or stroll through lake country.
The Merrifield-to-Nisswa stretch offers all of the above, as do many other segments of the trail and its sister trail - the Heartland Trail.
Most any stretch will do. But as the colors change from summer greens to fall brilliance, the following are four must-see stretches of the trail, in order going north from Baxter, where the Paul Bunyan Trail begins.
Merrifield to Nisswa
Distance: 7.3 miles.
Trail type: Mostly flat - 22-foot gain in altitude from start to finish (1,198 feet-1,220 feet).
How to get there: From Brainerd, take County Road 3 north to Merrifield. Turn left on East Bell Train Road - at the sign to Bell Train Resort. Trailhead and parking are to the left. Or, if going south from Nisswa to Merrifield, trailhead and parking lot are located off Highway 371, just south of downtown Nisswa behind the Triangle convenience store.
The route: The trailhead is across from Bell Train Resort and North Long Lake. Stretches along North Long Lake, several smaller lakes and resorts, through woodlands and along short stretches of prairie - wear your orange or red during the deer hunting season as the occasional stand can be seen on each side of the trail. At about the two-thirds mark, the trail crosses County Road 19/Clark Lake Dam Road, where you'll find a nice rest area on one side of the trail and beautiful Clark Lake and the public lake access/dock on the other side. From there, the trail dissects two smaller, environmental lakes, one on the left and another on the right, about a mile from the Nisswa trailhead/parking lot, which is a short walk or bike from downtown Nisswa and all the bustling town (at least in the summer and, to a certain extent, the fall) has to offer.
Trail highlight: For lake lovers, the stretch from just south of where the trail crosses County Road 19/Clark Lake Dam Road to Nisswa is a must-see.
East Twin Lake to Pequot Lakes
Distance: 4.3 miles.
Parking: Limited (at East Twin Lake public access and, to the south, along Wilderness Road).
Trail type: Mostly flat - 78-foot gain in altitude from start to finish (1,224 feet-1,302 feet).
How to get there: From Brainerd, take Highway 371 north to Wilderness Road or about a mile further north to the East Twin Lake public access.
The route: From Wilderness Road, West Twins Lake is visible on the other side of Highway 371. Then, after a short open stretch, the trail is again consumed by forest, with East Twin Lake soon visible to the right. Less than a mile in, East Twins Lake is visible just to the right. You see more and more of the lake as you go along, and about a mile in, the public access butts up against the trail. The lake skirts the trail for about another half mile, slowly giving way to forest, then farm land and pieces of the city (Pequot). A nice rest area is located to the left about two-and-a-half miles from the starting point, and soon after, less than a mile outside of Pequot, a grass trail runs parallel to the paved trail to the left, just into the woods, for those who might prefer a more rustic trail experience.
Trail highlight: Where the trail and the East Twin Lake public access come together is quite scenic, especially come fall.
Just north of Hackensack to Highway 34
Distance: 11.5 miles.
Trail type: Flat at first, then very hilly. The first three miles or so are flat. Then, over the next 8.5 miles, although the difference is only 10 feet from here to the end of the stretch (1,371 feet to 1,381 feet), in between, it's a rollercoaster like no other on the Paul Bunyan Trail, with a total vertical descent of 731 feet and a total vertical ascent of 741 feet.
How to get there: From Brainerd, take Highway 371 north through Hackensack. Go another four miles to County Road 50. turn left - trailhead and parking are on the right.
The route: This stretch of the trail is all about ascent and descent, so don't forget your safety helmet. To get to the hilly segment of the route, take the trail 2.9 miles north from the trailhead. A sign there will tell you what lies ahead: "Caution. Due to terrain, this 8.5-mile trail segment may be challenging for some in-line skaters, wheelchair users, inexperienced bikers and those with limited abilities." There are other signs warning of steep slopes and wild curves as well, and before you know it, the trail will take you far from the sight and sounds of Highway 371 and into the heart of Chippewa National Forest. There are stretches you'll battle to get to the top of inclines. But before you know it, you're sailing downhill again, with enough speed to scale a good part of the next hill before kicking it into high gear to reach the top, and so on. But although ultra-hilly, no ascent or descent is overly lengthy.
Trail highlight: The many downhill runs in which you have the opportunity to shoot through a variety of tight and winding curves.
The dock at the public access on East Twin Lake is just off the Paul Bunyan Trail south of Pequot Lakes, a quick sojourn from a bike ride on the trail.
» Purchase reprints of this photo.Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
Highway 34 to Walker (Heartland Trail)
Distance: About 7.5 miles.
Trail type: Flat.
How to get there: From Brainerd, take Highway 371 through Hackensack. Go another two miles to County Road 6/Lower Ten Mile Lake Road. Go west (left) - road becomes County Road 12 - to Akeley and Highway 34. Go east (right) for several miles to marked trailhead/parking lot. At the trailhead/parking lot, follow the trail less than a mile to the fork and map/overview of the Heartland Trail. At the fork, go right toward Walker.
The route: Here, the Heartland Trail picks up from the Paul Bunyan Trail, which dead-ends at Highway 34. With a canopy of pines and aspens, the trail traverses a ridge of sorts, skirted on both sides by forest. Several miles in, the trail offers a spectacular view of Lake May, then hugs Leech Lake. At Walker, the trail continues along Leech Lake, with a side trail to downtown Walker, which skirts a stretch of the lake, a marina and several upscale neighborhoods before suddenly ending at the back of downtown.
Trail highlight: The Heartland lives up to its name, with prairie in most every direction at the trailhead. But it was nice leaving those wide-open spaces behind for the canopy and tranquility of the forest and, later, the views of Lake May.
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at 855-5864 or email@example.com.
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