by Hayley Spalding
In the heart of Minnesota’s lake country is the Heartland Trail that never lacks when it comes to fun outdoor recreational activities. Throughout the seasons, spending time visiting family and friends in the Park Rapids area I have had many fond memories. In the spring, you will find a color dash of trail riding as our feathered friends return. Then as the weather warms making it comfortable the wear shorts, pedal to many outdoor festival scheduled throughout the summer. In the fall you will find many gravel road riding opportunities. Before the season turns once again to winter’s prime activities, including cross country skiing and fat biking. It’s always fun here in the Heartland.
Exploring Park Rapids
Each year people spend time on the beach, pedal the Heartland Trail or discover Itasca State Park. If shopping is your thing a stroll downtown on their quaint Main Street is another option. It’s fun to window shop through the old fashioned stores fronts, where parking is never an issue. Cars are allowed to park in the middle of the street and getting downtown by bike is easy. What I find most appealing, is the community itself. It has small town charm and little quirks that makes it appealing to people of all ages, whether they are into riding a bike or not.
Where to Bike
The Park Rapids area, offers fun opportunities for both the recreation trail rider and the touring cyclist, with:
The Heartland State Trail
This 49 mile paved trail system starts in Park Rapids on the west side. Then connects with the Paul Bunyan Trail as it passes through Walker, before ending in Cass Lake. A multi-recreational trail system the Heartland Trail is open for biking, hiking and other trail uses. Parts of the trail also has a parallel grass track alongside for runners. Heartland trail, meandering past shaded pathways that pass alongside several lakes, offers cyclists plenty to see.
Shorter rides on the Heartland
The Heartland trail is used by a variety of people from serious cyclists to leisurely riders and everyone in between. For those who prefer a shorter distance rather than the full 49 miles. consider biking to Dorset, the “Restaurant Capital of the World. Its about five miles out-and-back from Park Rapids. Riding from Park Rapids to Nevis and back is around 15 miles. This will allow you a chance to see the World’s Largest Tiger Muskie. No matter how far you bike on this State Trail, you will find a welcoming community and a Loon calling out to greet you.
Bike Itasca State Park
About ten miles up the highway from Park Rapids is another place for trail riding. This State Park, known for the Headwaters of the Mississippi River and Historic Douglas Lodge offers 16 miles of paved bike trails. The rolling trails in the park winds through virgin pine forests that meander around a couple lakes, fun for the whole family. For a full bicycle tour of the park the Wilderness Drive, shared with motorists, adds an additional 10 miles to your ride. For those into road riding, at the Headwaters parking lot, the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) begins its journey to New Orleans.
Gravel and road touring options
Besides a road trip out of Itasca State Park on the MRT, the Park Rapids area also offers a network of bike-friendly roads so you can explore the Heartlands countryside. See more with MnDOT’s county bike map, of Hubbard County.