HEADWATERS [ North Central ] Many a Minnesota road trip is planned around the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park. In the summer, you can wade across the little stream that will grow up to travel through 10 states and eventually meet the Gulf of Mexico. In the winter, you can ride your snowmobile to this frozen landmark. Itasca, the state’s oldest state park, is encircled by a 31-mile snowmobile trail loop that connects to hundreds more miles radiating in all directions from the park. This region is one of Minnesota’s richest reserves of woodlands, and it’s an easy ride from the park, which has snowmobile trailer parking at the visitor center, to trails in the nearby White Earth, Paul Bunyan, Two Inlets, Welsh Lake, Bowstring and Mississippi Headwaters state forests. There’s a lot of talk about Paul Bunyan in these parts, and forest management continues to be a visible part of the local economy. Itasca State Park contains a few of the massive red and white pines that once covered northern Minnesota, and a few more can be found in the area’s state forests. These beautiful woods also contain hundreds of nice lakes and some smaller, less famous rivers, adding variety and challenges to your ride. South and east of the park, the woods are transitioning to agriculture, and trails in these areas run across fields and in ditches. GREAT TRAILS Snoway #1 runs east of Itasca, and travels from Brainerd to Backus, passing first through the Spider Lake area, which features a tight network of challenging, hilly trails that curve around lakes and ponds. This area is popular with experienced riders who want more thrills while covering the territory covered by the flat, straight Paul Bunyan Trail. Corridor Trail #63 connects Itasca to the La Salle State Recreation Area to the north. This quiet, exceptionally pretty trail wanders through mixed stands of pines and a small, awe-inspiring stand old-growth northern white cedar. Lake LaSalle, one of the state’s deepest lakes, is known for its high-quality ice fishing. The Heartland Trail is a 49-mile rails-to-trails route that connects Cass and Leech lakes. Mixed pine forests provide habitat for some of Minnesota’s most elusive wildlife, including black bears and bobcats. You’re more likely to see a majestic bald eagle; the birds are thriving in this area. The Paul Bunyan State Trail runs 115 miles between Brainerd and Bemidji. It connects to the Blue Ox Trail, and together they comprise the longest rails-to-trails network in the U.S. These are true corridor trails, with long, flat straight-aways to add clicks to the odometer. West of Itasca, Corridor Trail #74 in the White Earth State Forest offers 70 miles of trail in a glacier-formed landscape of potholes, lakes and hills. The Smoky Hills State (Photo by Dan Vertina/Ash River Kabetogama Snowmobile Club) Forest features 30 miles of snowmobile trails. This quiet area is known for its slopes and turns, and passes a couple small lakes. Heading north, the trail connects to another beautiful trail system in the Two Inlets State Forest. (Photo by Wayne Davis) (Photo by Dan Vertina/Ash River Kabetogama Snowmobile Club) ROAD TRIP ATTRACTIONS The main attraction in this region is the headwaters marker at Itasca State Park, where the symbolic start of the Mississippi River is marked by a plaque. The Continental Divide Wayside Rest in Deer River marks one of three continental divide high points in Minnesota. This is the spot where the Laurentian Divide determines which ways the area’s waters flow, east or west. Visit the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids to learn how the lumber industry helped shape this part of Minnesota, as well as many of the trails we ride today. Open on Saturdays only. When in Longville, keep an eye out for Bruno, the town dog of Longville. Bruno, who lives with the LaVallee family (of snowmobile racing fame), makes a daily trek into town to do his rounds. The story of Bruno is the most clicked-on piece for the Twin Cities station KARE. 24 Minnesota Snowmobiling Destinations