TREES AND TRAILS [ Brainerd Lakes ] Brainerd is full of classic road trip Kodak moments — or as the kids today call them, Instagram-worthy stops. The greatest hits include the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues, epic ice fishing villages, the state’s record largest evergreen tree, classic northwoods scenery and friendly local businesses that ooze Up North character. It’s a beautiful place to visit in the summertime and even prettier under a blanket of sparkling fresh snow. This city enjoys snow early and late — in May 2017, Brainerd woke up to three inches of snow and it’s not unusual for winter to start in October. This makes for a full December-through-March snowmobile season. With an average yearly snowfall of 46.8 inches, snowmobiling is a way of life here, and more than 1,200 miles of trails crisscross the region, linking riders to the state’s biggest and best routes. The Crow Wing County Snowmobile Association, a band of 12 different snowmobile clubs in the area, is regularly recognized in TV station WCCO polls for providing the state with the “Best Snowmobiling.” You’ll have to see if you agree. The town is a tourist mecca — yes, there are plenty of fudge shops — and it’s also extremely welcoming to snowmobilers. You can pick up a trail map at many local businesses, and the availability of rental shops make this a great place to introduce new riders to the sport. The lakes area is dotted with resorts that cater to riders, and some offer rentals. You’ll be able to ride straight from your room just about everywhere in town. GREAT TRAILS Crow Wing County has more than 1,000 miles of trail, meaning riders can spend the entire season exploring this central region and still not see it all. Trails reach three unique state parks, cross heavily forested state lands, and swing around the numerous lakes that make the region a popular playground in all seasons. The Paul Bunyan Trail runs through Brainerd, and it’s Minnesota’s longest state trail, offering 115 miles of nearly continuous riding that includes stops at 15 “trail towns,” where snowmobilers can find shelters, restrooms, lodging and meals right on the trail. Bridges, outstanding scenery and links to other major and smaller trails add variety all along the way. In other words, this snowmobile trail is essentially a road trip. Corridor Trail #37 runs right through Brainerd, traversing hundreds of miles of varying terrain as it heads north or south. For the ride of a lifetime, snowmobilers can get on this trail in the southwest metro and stay on it all the way to International Falls. ROAD TRIP ATTRACTIONS You’ll need to pay homage to Paul Bunyan at some point. The famous 26-foot-tall talking lumberjack statue lives at the Paul Bunyan Land amusement park, but it’s closed in the winter. A 12-foot version (he’s sitting down) greets visitors at the Brainerd Welcome Center year-round. Other Bunyan-abilia can be found at the Paul Bunyan Water Park (one of three waterparks in town). Crow Wing State Park, located at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Crow Wing Rivers, is scenic and rich with native and early settlement history. Snowmobile to the northeastern part of Gull Lake on January 27 to witness the spectacle of 10,000 people ice fishing at the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza. Bring your rod, your bucket and get in on the fun. Prizes include ATVs and a pick-up truck. The Pequot Lakes Brush Pilots snowmobile club hosts the Antique Snowmobile Rendezvous, a three-day celebration that includes a show and trail rides. January 19-20. Breezy Point is the site of Ice Fest, a winter celebration that includes snowmobile radar runs, ice slides, pond hockey and ice fishing. January 6-7, 2018 SELFIE SPOT PAUL BUNYAN’S BOBBER There’s probably some tall tale on why Paul Bunyan’s bobber ended up 125 feet in the air in Pequot Lakes, but the real story is that the idea came from the town’s high school art students. It’s on the Paul Bunyan Trail. Also keep an eye out for Bunyan’s oversized chair and his blue ox, Babe. TRIP PLANNER Little Falls CVB 800-325-5916 Nisswa Chamber 218-963-2620 Pine River Area Chamber 218-587-4000 Visit Brainerd 800-450-7247 Whitefish Area Lodging Association Pequot Lakes, Crosslake, Pine River 28 Minnesota Snowmobiling Destinations