Get out and enjoy the beautiful gem known as the Central Lakes Trail!
It begins at the southeast edge of Fergus Falls and is available for all to enjoy. This 14 foot wide, 55 mile long, nearly level, paved trail is a superb asset for residents of the region as well as visitors. It is one of the nicest paved trail corridors in the state. You will likely feel like you are in a narrow park that just keeps going on and on.
The trail is open to non-motorized visitors with the exception of snowmobiles during the winter season. It is great for walking, running, bicycling, in-line skating, roller skiing, wheelchairs, etc. No fees are charged!
The trail is built on a former railroad line stretching between Fergus Falls and Osakis. It additionally passes through the communities of Dalton, Ashby, Melby, Evansville, Brandon, Garfield, Alexandria, and Nelson. The trail traverses through, or next to, a scenic mixture of woodlands, grasslands, lakes, wetlands, and farm country.
The frequently elevated former railroad grade provides for spectacular views of the surrounding area and its wildlife. In other locations, the trail passes between steep wooded banks, giving a cool, shaded refuge from the mid-day sun.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation land corridor through which the trail passes is generally about 100 feet wide, allowing for a profusion of wildlife, wildflowers, and a variety of trees and plants. It is very common to see deer, rabbits, beaver, muskrats, ducks, turtles, and a large number of bird species, including an occasional eagle along the trail. Wildflowers are very common and include large numbers of yellow Lady Slippers and the less common, but more spectacular, Pink Lady Slipper.
The trail gives users a break from many of the dangers of the highway. While there are occasional road crossings for which to be cautious, they are fairly infrequent and are well marked with signs. As an example, the 10 mile stretch of trail between Fergus Falls and Dalton has only one highway and two gravel road crossings. Trail users find themselves simply enjoying the experience. It's one of those special places you can take the kids for a safe bike ride.
Some sections of the trail are greatly separated from roads, while other stretches are within sight of them. In general, the trail is quite isolated from nearby roads between Fergus and Dalton, between Ashby and Evansville, and between Garfield and Osakis. The sections between Dalton and Ashby and that between Evansville and Garfield are typically within view of a highway, but still a very nice place to spend time.
Most trail users spend an hour or two on the trail, while others spend the day or even multiple days. Since it passes through so many communities (typically one every 7 miles or so), there is normally plenty of access to water, snacks, restaurants, parks, etc., along the way. Many of these communities are providing facilities specifically for trail users. They include shelters, bathrooms, picnic tables, benches, parking areas, connecting community trails, helpful signs, etc.
Sometimes bikers ride part of the trail and find lodging in one of the communities along it, returning the next day. Others ride one way down the trail and get "picked up" by a friend. Some even bike or skate to Alexandria and catch the bus back!
It doesn't end there!
The Central Lakes Trail is connected to the Lake Wobegon Trail; which extends from Osakis to St. Joseph (48 miles) and also to Holdingford. An additional connection from the Lake Wobegon Trail to the Morrison County trail has been completed. This results in a total paved trail length of approximately 130 miles.
It is yours to enjoy! Please follow the rules, pick up after yourself, and have a great time on the trail with the rapidly growing number of us already out there.