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A peaceful refuge from the city life: Bemidji trails offer outdoor wonderland

An overhead view of the Paul Bunyan State Trail reveals the pretty, and straight, segment of the path right before an entrance into the Lake Bemidji State Park in this undated image.

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- With the sun shining vibrantly and a peaceful breeze rustling leaves on a weekday afternoon, the city of Bemidji can be found bustling with activity: cars honking, semaphores flickering, electric signs flashing. Luckily, finding refuge from the vehicles and noise that accompany rush hour is simply a blade, stroll and pedal away.

The city serves as a crossroads for two major Minnesota trail systems: the Paul Bunyan State Trail provides 100 miles of trail extending to Brainerd, while the Blue Ox State Trail extends 110 miles north to International Falls.

The trail network in the Bemidji area -- nine trail systems, offering more than 60 miles for recreation that can be found within 15 miles of the city -- provide a fruitful fauna for the recreational enthusiast.

The national North Country Trail, traversing 4,600 miles across the continent, meanders through nearby Chippewa National Forest.

Along the east shore of Lake Bemidji runs a small portion of the paved Paul Bunyan State Trail, which nearly encircles the lake and stretches from the north side of the pond to Brainerd. Here, with their eyes closed on a summer day, one can enjoy the rhythm of the lake gently lapping at the shore as it harmonizes with the melodies of wheels from strollers, rollerblades, and bikes cruising across the tar. Laughter from kind people, both booming and soft, adds to the chorus provided by seasonal songbirds.

With their eyes open, they absorb the decadence that is the deep blue lake; the simplicity of the varying greenery; the vividity of the stunningly colorful wildflowers. Most importantly, they see the joy written upon the faces of those who chose to spend time on one of our many local trails that day.

"Trails are so special because they make a community more livable, as far as providing off-road recreational activity," Tony Walzer of Bemidji said. "It just provides a safe haven away from vehicles."

Walzer, acquisition and development specialist for the Department of Natural Resources' Northwest Division in Bemidji, said he believes the trails are not limited to recreation for locals.

"They also provide an opportunity for people to use them for utilitarian purposes, such as commuting," Walzer said. "Tourists can use it (the Paul Bunyan State Trail) to explore the areas around the lake and into the State Park."

A large plus to the trails, Walzer said, is the security they provide.

"Trails are so popular in the state because people like that safe riding environment," Walzer said.

Constantly improving the level of safety that these trails provide is a tenet that is regarded highly, and recent developments have shown that. The addition of a pedestrian/cyclist bridge over the Beltrami County Road 12 and Paul Bunyan Drive Southeast intersection -- the main span was placed in mid-July -- is a large step forward for the Paul Bunyan State Trail.

"This bridge will add a major safety component by eliminating the crossing of one of the busiest intersections in Bemidji," Walzer said.

The trail-bountiful community is not limited to the paved trails that are most often used by cyclists though; the Bemidji area boasts a boardwalk in the state park, which flaunts a Tamarack bog with orchids and lady slippers, numerous hiking trails in the park; a single-track mountain biking trail at Movil Maze; and running trails behind Bemidji's middle and high schools that double as groomed cross-country skiing trails during the snowy months.

Many of the trails are maintained by the Bemidji Area Cross Country Ski Club and community volunteers in the winter months, but are open to non-ski season hiking, mountain biking and running.

For more details or trail maps, visit online at or contact The Home Place Bike and Ski Shop at 218-751-3456.