Park Rapids, Minnesota to Cass Lake, Minnesota is 49 miles on this paved bike trail. It is busy with both bikes and walkers. There were times when it was hard to keep social distance so if you go, bring a mask! The Minnesota DNR website says that if you see a lot of cars at the trailhead, go to a different trailhead. Good advice. There is a trailhead every 5-10 miles. I noticed a lot of variety in how busy the same section could be compared to other sections. This post is focused on the sections that include the towns of Park Rapids, Dorset, and Nevis. There is a beautiful spot with a bridge and an amazing amount of lilypads between Dorset and Nevis
We started at Red Bridge Park in Park Rapids, Minnesota. We ate our Rocky’s Pizza in the park, looked at the sculptures, watched the ducks, and checked the map. It confused us to read that we were only 5 miles from Itasca State Park. Itasca is about 20 miles from this park. Finally, we realized that we were standing at intersection F01 looking at a map for intersection F10. Don’t be fooled! We started walking toward Dorset. We did not see many other pedestrians. It is a bike path, after all.
This route was a railroad track before it was a bike path. It is level and straight most of the way. If your feet or wheels appreciate level even ground, this is for you. It is one of the first trails created from unused tracks. The small towns along the way are great places to stop for ice cream or to shop. I’m not sure if every town has an ice cream shop just off the trail, but I enjoyed a cone in Dorset, Nevis, and Walker. Not all on the same day, of course. That would be crazy. This is a trail I have walked a few times, some sections more than others.
Between Dorset and Nevis there is a bridge over lilypads and a channel that connects two lakes. It is a lovely place to stop and rest. Steps lead down to the water. One time when we were here there were teenagers jumping into the water. We did not stay that time, but other times I have sat here to contemplate this idyllic scene. Sometimes ideas for paintings come to me here. One time after standing there awhile, I noticed many fish in the water, all facing my direction. They must be used to being fed by people standing in that spot. Still, even though I knew there was a logical explanation, it was still an interesting experience. There is parking near this spot at the place where highway 18 crosses the trail.
We noticed it was much less busy east of Nevis. In that area the trail is next to a busy highway and has few trees. It was a hot day so other trail users were probably on the sections that were shady. This is the way to Akeley where there is a statue of folk story character Paul Bunyan. A trail map sign showed another trail intersecting the Heartland. When we followed it we found it to be a lovely unpaved trail. Unfortunately that trail is a snowmobile trail, not a summer trail. Maybe we misread the signs. The landowner was nice, but we got the message and headed back to the paved Heartland Trail.
Do you have a story of a time you realized you were on a trail that really wasn’t a trail? What did you do? Each situation is different but I always try to respect the land where I walk and figure it out as I go.