Stands of towering pines and massive hardwoods form a canopy above back roads on this 225-mile route through an expansive region of forests and lakes that stretches north of Brainerd (135 miles northwest of the Twin Cities). Sky-blue lakes seem to pop up around every curve. The area has long considered itself the home of legendary lumberman Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox. You'll find statues of the giant dominating towns that started life as lumbering and fishing camps.
Vacationers explore these communities, lingering along their main streets for lunch, ice cream cones and to browse shops. Weekly turtle races, with local youngsters as the stars, draw crowds in Nisswa. Paul Bunyan-themed amusement parks add to the appeal of Brainerd and Bemidji, the largest towns in the area.
Resorts specializing in outdoor fun speckle the shores of lakes, from huge Leech to smaller Gull. You can fish, swim and canoe, and even golf on championship courses. Classic north-country lodges hewn from massive logs serve tempting suppers that feature the catch of the day. Paved bike trails crisscross the countryside.
Native American traditions endure in many parts of this region, especially on the shores of giant Mille Lacs Lake, where Ojibwa families have lived for generations. A museum there traces the tribe's history.
At Itasca State Park, visitors can walk across the Mississippi River's headwaters on stepping-stones. Although it gathers momentum as it flows south, the Mississippi is just a trickle here, dwarfed by the woods and lakes in this land that spawned stories of Paul Bunyan and other tall tales.