This route includes the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, one of 100 U.S. National Forest scenic byways named by the federal government. Previously used by voyageurs and loggers, it today takes you through thick stands of pine and hardwood, over rolling hills and past bogs and fishing lakes in the Chippewa National Forest. Be sure to hit the binders for photo ops at historic sites and in small lumberjack-influenced towns.
MN-38 is a main north/south artery, so be extra wary of traffic, including dawdling vacationers and fast moving logging trucks. On the second leg of the trip, much of the 40-mile section of the Edge of Wilderness Scenic Byway was reconstructed in recent years, promising a smooth ride for cyclists.
Closest motorcycle dealerships include Ray’s Sport & Cycle, service provider Northland V-Twin and H-D specialists The Hawg Pen and Midway Motors, all in Grand Rapids. If you’re on a dual-sport and plan to explore the Chippewa National Forest, grab a map at the ranger station in Marcell, located halfway between Grand Rapids and Bigfork.
The county seat of Itasca County, Grand Rapids was named for a 3.5-mile-long stretch of rapids located on the nearby Mississippi River; rapids that made the community the uppermost limit of steamboat travel during the late 19th century.
Although technically and geographically a member of the Iron Range, Grand Rapids’ economy grew on paper manufacturing and other wood products, as the Mississippi provided an optimal method of log shipment to population centers.
Today, the rapids the town’s name was founded upon are hidden beneath the Paper Mill Reservoir, made by a dam built by the Blandin Paper Mill – which still operates its papermaking facilities downtown.
Want to learn more about Minnesota history on this tour? Stop at the Forest History Center – a State Historic Site and a living history museum that recreates life as it was in a turn of the 20th century logging camp. Costumed interpreters guide visitors through a recreated circa 1890’s logging camp to educate the public on the history of white pine logging and its relevance to today’s economy.
Otherwise, maybe you’ll pass through Grand Rapids during one of its nine annual festivals, including the Judy Garland Festival in July (Garland was born in Grand Rapids as Frances Gumm). This year, the 75th Wizard of Oz Anniversary Celebration occurs at the Judy Garland Museum on June 15.
Located in the heart of lake country, Bigfork originally began as a settlement when Damase “Uncle Tom” Neveaux built a cabin along the Big Fork River and began logging activities. Though Neveaux reached the area in 1887, the land was opened for settlement in 1900. The Minneapolis and Rainy River Railway added a stop in 1906, and in 1907 Bigfork was incorporated as a village.
Today, Bigfork’s location next to Scenic State Park makes tourism a significant part of the economy for the community’s 470 residents. Major employers include the Rajala Lumber Mill and Bergquist Company, a switch manufacturer.
Scenic State Park
Scenic State Park’s wilderness-like setting offers giant pines, the pristine Coon and Sandwick lakes, and 16 miles of hiking trails.
The park has 93 drive-in camping sites available at two campgrounds. Not the tent type? An available cabin was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It rents for $70 per night, sleeps four, and is available from mid-April through the end of November. Make a reservation.
Chippewa National Forest
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the papers making the Chippewa the first National Forest established east of the Mississippi River. Originally know as the Minnesota National Forest, the name was changed in 1928 to honor the original inhabitants.
Today, the 666,542-acre National Forest and the Leech Lake Indian Reservation share boundaries. The Chippewa offers 1,300 lakes and ponds, 925 miles of rivers and 440,000 acres wetlands, and supports 250 wildlife species, 11 resorts, 21 developed campgrounds, 160 miles of hiking trails and five OHV riding areas, near Blackduck, Cass Lake, Deer River, Marcell and Walker.
The community of Taconite was established in 1907 and is one of several “whistlestop” cities located on Hwy 169 that are collectively known as “Range Cities”. The mines and cities comprise part of what is known as Minnesota’s Iron Range, specifically the Mesabi Range.
Taconite abuts what was originally called the Holman Mine, with independently operated mines located on either side of the city. Now closed, the abandoned pits that surround the community have been filled and joined into what is called the Canisteo Mine complex.
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For more information, click over to VisitGrandRapids.com and check out their page devoted to four recommended routes: the 89-mile Hundred Lake Tour, the 86-mile Avenue of Pines Tour, the 127-mile Off The Beaten Path and the 108-mile Southern Ramble.