"Does everyone need a Facebook page?"
This snippet of conversation, overheard while sipping coffee and overlooking the expanse of Leech Lake from the Walker pier, spoke much about being connected in our world. It also unintentionally spoke of life in Walker, where you don't need wireless to be connected to the lakes, land and rhythms of small-town life under the northern Minnesota sky.
Walker (population 1,000) is the Cass County seat and the center of resort life around Leech Lake, Minnesota's third-largest lake. It is also a visitor magnet to the surrounding Chippewa National Forest, the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and hundreds of regional lakes.
For starters, hit the trails. Walker is the junction of more than 150 miles of paved bicycle trails, including the Heartland and the Paul Bunyan state trails (information at www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/). Drive north of Walker to the town of Cass Lake to pedal the Migizi Trail, which twists through the heavy forest on the eastern edge of Pike Bay and Cass Lake (map at www.fs.fed.us/r9/chippewa/flyer/migizi_trail.jpg). The North Country National Scenic Trail, part of the longest continuous footpath in North America, cuts through the Chippewa National Forest south of Walker (www.nps.gov/noco). ATV riders can enjoy miles of back-country trails near Leech Lake on the Lake and Pine Country Trail.
If you'd rather see the country by car, Walker is the eastern terminus of the Lake Country Scenic Byway, a ribbon of road that meanders through the region's lakes, rivers, forests and wetlands (www.lakecountryscenic byway.com/).
Leech Lake, 112,000 acres and about 200 miles of shoreline, features bays and shore structures that favor spawning walleye. The big lake and its surrounding neighbor lakes are known for great walleye, northern, muskie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and pan fishing.
Maybe you are more interested in exploring by boat instead of wetting a line. There are several marinas in and around Walker. Leech Lake's size attracts sailboats, too. You can learn to sail, rent a sailboat or just go for a ride on one at Fleet Sails (6913 Hwy. 371; 1-218-547-1188; www.fleetsails.com).
To learn more about the region's rich American Indian history and storied past as frontier town, visit the Cass County Museum and Historical Society (201 Minnesota Av. W.; 1-218-547-7251; www.cass countymuseum.org). Local businesses and organizations sponsor Free Fridays, when the admission fee is waived.
Here's a sampling of the many options in and around Walker: Anderson's Horseshoe Bay Lodge (8098 Hawthorn Trail NW.; 1-800-873-1229; www.horseshoebayresort .com) features cottages, hotel and condos open year-round. Chase on the Lake (502 Cleveland Blvd.; 1-888-242-7306; www.chaseonthelake.com) is an elegant and charming resort with both hotel and condo accommodations. City Dock Launch Fishing and Cottages (310 5th St. N.; 1-218-547-1662) offers personalized guided fishing trips as well as lakefront cottages. Leech Lake B&B (11058 Steamboat Loop; 1-218-547-2231; www.leechlakebb.com), the only B&B on the lake, is also on the Heartland Bike Trail.
Among Walker's many dining options, the 502 restaurant offers patio dining overlooking Leech Lake (502 Cleveland Blvd.; 1-888-242-7306; www.chaseonthelake.com) and live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Benson's Emporium (400 Minnesota Av.; 1-218-547-2323; www.bensonsemporium.com) has an outside patio.
The Café Zona Rosa (101 5th St. N.; 1-218-547-3558; www.cafezonarosa.com) offers a large selection of Mexican and American food, outdoor dining and a new cabana bar. For fresh fare, try the Green Scene market and deli (617 Michigan Av. W.; 1-218-547-2880; www.walkergreen scene.com). The Lucky Moose Bar & Grill (441 Walker Bay Blvd.; 1-218-547-0801) serves such specialties as walleye cakes. To get the pulse of Walker, grab a pizza, ice cream or coffee to enjoy on the patio at the Village Square (411 Minnesota Av. W.; 1-218-547-1456; www.villagesquarewalker.com).
Visitors' guides, information on events, attractions and more are available from the Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce (1-800-833-1118; www.leech-lake.com).
Jim Umhoefer is a freelance writer and photographer from Sauk Centre, Minn.