Blue Blazes: Hike 100 and the guidebook | Columnists

Sometimes I need a little push to get out on the trail and the North Country Trail Hike 100 is a very effective push for me. Every year since 2016 the North Country Trail Association has offered this informal challenge. You sign up online at, keep track of the miles you hike on the NCT during the year, submit a completed form online and then wait for your patch and certificate! No cost is involved but I hope that once you start getting out on the North Country Trail regularly you will consider joining the organization and maybe even getting involved in our local chapter, the Minnesota Waters and Prairie Chapter located right here in Fergus Falls (

You can hike the same mile over and over to reach 100 miles or venture further from the area to try new sections. Some of the hikes in Fergus Falls include starting at the kiosk on County Road 1 and heading east to the river parking lot and back which is 2 miles round-trip. Judging by the number of people that we have seen while out mowing this trail, this would be a popular way to get in quite a few of the Hike 100 miles. Continuing on from the river, if you walk to One-Mile Prairie and take the NCT trail there all the way to the parking lot on Hwy 210 and then return to the river parking lot, you will have walked 2.6 miles. There are also easily accessible hikes through Delagoon Park and Prairie Wetlands Learning Center that can be counted toward the Hike 100. Many of the trailheads have good maps of the NCT that will show you the mileage too. There is a well-marked walk-through town that hooks up with the roadwalk to Abercrombie, North Dakota, that is also part of the official trail. From the PWLC head north on Cascade Street, go west on Bancroft Avenue by the hospital, then north on Union Avenue until you hit Fir Avenue. Take Fir Avenue. to the CR-88 wayside rest area and you have completed another 4 miles. If you do this with a friend, park a car at each end and you have a pleasant way to spend a couple hours walking and talking.

A good share of the trail in northwestern Minnesota is within driving distance to day hike a section, have lunch in a trail town (Fergus Falls, Frazee, Walker) and be home before dinner. Last summer this is exactly what some of my North Dakota hiking friends and I did. We met about 9 or 10 a.m. in the Park Rapids or Itasca State Park or Walker area, got in our section hike and were easily back home by dark. Each time we logged about 10 more miles toward our 2020 Hike 100.

If the hiking bug bites you and you’re interested in getting on the trail out of town, I recommend the “Guide to Hiking the North Country Trail in Minnesota,” by editors Linda D. Johnson and Susan Carol Hauser. This detailed guide starts at Fort Abercrombie, North Dakota, and describes the walk, mile by mile, all the way to the start of the Kekekabic Trail east of Ely. There are separate guidebooks for the Kek, the Border Route Trail and the Superior Hiking Trail which will take you all the way to the Wisconsin border. These trails are all officially part of the North Country Trail so you can count some of your hiking miles along the North Shore toward the NCT 100! The Minnesota NCT guidebook has maps, directions to all trailhead parking areas (including GPS coordinates), and a description of campsites and highlights along the trail. Most sections are 5-10 miles in length so can easily be done in a day. 

The book can be ordered at I have also seen it in local stores or park stores. I really enjoy reading about the section that I’m hiking ahead of time so I know if there are special features to note along the way. Afterward I get great pleasure in writing “DONE” across each section title page by the map! The miles really add up and I have now walked the first 484 miles from Abercrombie, North Dakota, to the Gunflint Trail. When my husband and I are driving home from one of these longer hiking trips, he will remind me that I have walked all this way across the state. Memories come flooding back every time we pass a trailhead or sign!

Pick up the guidebook or just head out to a local trailhead and start your Hike 100 to make your own trail memories. But be warned that this trail and hiking, in general, can be addicting!

Michelle Lackey Olsen is a member of Minnesota Waters and Prairie Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. Join our Meetup page Otter Tail Outdoors to receive notifications of chapter activities.

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