Road Tripping on the Otter Trail Scenic Byway
By Greg Breining
The 150-mile Otter Trail Scenic Byway winds through lake country and hardwood-covered hills—a luscious fall scene. (Download a route map at minnesotascenicbyways.com.) Pick up the Otter Trail at Urbank (about 160 miles northwest of the Twin Cities) and head west on Highway 38 for a short hike and beautiful view at Inspiration Peak, a forested knob that rises 400 feet above the surrounding countryside.
Head west on a winding route of county roads to Fergus Falls, a town of 13,000 situated on the rushing Otter Tail River with an attractive downtown. View the paintings, woodcuts, and sculptures of Charles Beck and other local artists at the nonprofit Kaddatz Galleries (111 W. Lincoln Ave.) housed in the century-old building that was once the Kaddatz Hotel. Walk the trails of the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, a 300-acre U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service area on the south edge of town.
North and east on County Road 1 is Phelps Mill, which sits alongside a small dam on the Otter Tail. Follow the byway signs north to Maplewood State Park. A driving loop and hiking trails visit the more than 20 sparkling lakes nestled in the park’s hollows.
Follow the route to Pelican Rapids, where a sculpture of the town’s namesake bird stands, watching—expectantly, perhaps—a small waterfall. From here, the byway turns east to Perham, a farm town with a standout museum, In Their Own Words, which tells the story of war through the oral histories of local veterans. On your way back home, look for Ken Nyberg’s sculpture garden along Highway 210 near Vining. Nyberg has cobbled together metal scraps into roadside attractions, including a big foot, a giant coffee cup supported by pouring “coffee,” and a host of larger-than-life animals, including, appropriately, an otter.