Savor Small Towns on the King of Trails Byway
Minnesota's King of Trails Scenic Byway is part of Historic Highway 75, a true whopper of a road. It travels the entire United States, from Winnipeg, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico. American Indians and pioneers' wagon wheels wore the path before it was paved to accommodate a new tourism-boosting invention, the automobile. Back in the 1920s, when the road was termed The King of Trails, the speed limit was 30.
The speed limit's more than double that now, but life still moves at a slower pace along Minnesota's segment of historic 75. Farmland fills the landscape between small towns, where the past is present in museums and longstanding traditions. Travelers experience both along the byway's 414 Minnesota miles.
It can feel as though time's stood still in tiny Warren, for example, about 60 miles south of the Canadian border. Here you'll find well-manicured lawns, a Dairy Queen with retro signage and the '50s-vintage Sky-Vu Drive-In Theatre a mile west of town on Highway 1. Warren is also home to Settlers Square, a quaint boardwalk-lined pioneer town re-creation that's part of the Marshall County Museum.
Thirty miles down the trail, you'll run into Crookston. Downtown's late-19th- and early 20th-century buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Interested in a walking tour? Swing by the Crookston visitors' bureau on Second Street for an informational guide.
Head 70 miles south and you're in Moorhead. With a population of over 32,000, it's by far the largest city on Minnesota's stretch of 75. Here, the Hjemkomst Center's many attractions make it a clear standout. The center's star is the amazing 16-ton replica Viking ship that a Moorhead man built in the 1970s, and which made a trans-Atlantic journey to Norway before being placed on view here.
To the south, the King of Trails is anchored by the communities of Pipestone and Luverne, both worth lingering in. Pipestone's draws include a beautiful historic downtown. Most of it is built out of the rich deposits of Sioux Quartzite that saved this area's prairie from farmers' plows. Stop by the Pipestone Chamber for information on the many buildings of note. Plan for a meal at popular Lange's Cafe, opened by the Lange brothers in the 1950s. With a daily hot dish special and a glass display case loaded with homemade pies, this is the type of place you picture when you picture small-town Minnesota cafes. Lange's is right across the street from the chamber.
About 25 miles down the road in Luverne, the newly restored Rock County Courthouse Square is a fantastic stop. The historic complex is also built from Sioux Quartzite, and it houses galleries that coax the stories of area soldiers and citizens to life. Actually, Luverne's many preserved buildings, including the train depot and the 1915 Palace Theatre, make it easy to picture history unfolding here. No wonder Ken Burns focused on Luverne in his World War II PBS documentary, "The War."
If you make your byway trip in September, try and hit the King of Trails Fall Marketplace. The one-day event is celebrated in select cities along the trail with flea markets, garage and craft sales, and produce and flower markets. Most participating towns are on the south segment of the road. It's another good way to savor the slow place of life, past and present, along the Minnesota's historic King of Trails Scenic Byway.