Looking for a vacation spot where you can cool off this summer? Pack your hiking boots and fishing gear and head for Paul Bunyan country, in the forests and lakes of northern Minnesota.
A handy jumping-off point is Brainerd - www.explorebrainerdlakes.com/ - a short flight or little more than two hours' drive along the Mississippi River from Minneapolis.
Start with “Visitors” and take time to click on “Paul Bunyan” for local Bunyanesque landmarks and short tales about the legendary giant lumberjack and his faithful companion, Babe the Blue Ox. “Day Trips” has tour suggestions, especially the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway.
Then browse through “Outdoor Rec” for the real reasons people come up here: the trails, forests, fishing and hunting. Especially the fishing; the area covered by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce claims 465 lakes, a small sample of Minnesota's more than 10,000. (By the way, all those lakes mean mosquitoes. Plan on buying bug repellent.)
The Bunyan byway is one of several official Scenic Byways - www. exploreminnesota.com/Scenic-Byways. html - in the region. If you drive to Brainerd, you'll be following the northern end of the Great River Road scenic byway, which follows the Mississippi all the way to its source at Lake Itasca. Try one of the offshoots from the Great River Road such as Edge of the Wilderness.
That last byway takes you into a resort area also called Edge of the Wilderness - www. edgeofthewilderness.com/ - where you can get way back into the woods to canoe, fish and watch wildlife, or wait for winter and use your snowmobile or cross-country skis on an extensive trail system.
You can pick up more details on attractions and recreation from the area's biggest town, Grand Rapids - www.visitgrandrapids.com/ - including fishing guide services and the Judy Garland birthplace museum.
400 fishing lakes
The Great River Road will take you farther northwest to Bemidji - www.visitbemidji.com/ - where the video includes shots of their own Paul Bunyan monument and there's another collection of Bunyan tall tales. “Attractions” leads you to Bunyan amusement parks.
The Bemidji region boasts 400 fishing lakes within 25 miles, and there are links to fishing info.
Under Bemidji's “Recreation,” click on “Summer” for fishing guides and a link to “Waterways” for details on many of the lakes in the area. Then hit “Northwoods” for a link to Itasca State Park, the spot where the Mississippi River starts.
The park offers camping, hiking and fishing, but its most famous attraction is the spot where the Mississippi is narrow enough that you can walk across it. They also mention, but don't supply the Web link for, the Chippewa National Forest - www.fs.fed.us/r9/ forests/chippewa/ - where you can watch bald eagles, follow nine canoe routes, fish, hike and camp.
Between Grand Rapids and Bemidji, Leech Lake - www.leechlake.org/ - sprawls across 112,000 acres and is surrounded by resorts and lodges, thousands of acres of forest and a number of scenic trails for bikers and hikers.