Historic Motor Trails in Minnesota

What are National Trails? They were the first means of long-distance navigation as the nation's road network developed. At first, one had to navigate over long distances by following detailed guides that described various landmarks. By the 'teens, motoring associations began to spring up. They worked with roadside businesses and towns to established named trails. States, while they often built and maintained the roads, had little involvement or expense with the national trail markings. Trail markings were somewhat different from what we are accustomed to today; generally, each trail's unique marker was emblazoned on telephone poles along the road. Today's motorists have probably not heard of most of the historic national trails. A few have names that linger on in folklore: Lincoln Highway, Dixie Highway. Others are mostly forgotten except perhaps for some street names that retain the old national trail name.

By the mid-1920s, most states had adopted numbered route systems, and in 1926, the U.S. numbered route system began to be posted. The national trails fell into disuse and were no longer maintained by their sponsoring organizations. Many original sections of the historic routes were bypassed as states improved their routes. Still, the concept lingers on to some extent, as many states mark some commemerative routes that supplement the numbered marking.

These names and routes were drawn from my Clason's Motoring Guide, dated 1926 and the 1919 edition of the T.I.B. Motor Guide. This latter reference was one of the detailed guides discussed above. For references to national trails across the U.S., check Dave Schul's excellent national compilation of motor trails.


Pole Marker

National beginning

National end

Principal Minnesota cities

Corresponding current routes in Minnesota

Black Trail

[black band]

[several routes within Minnesota]

Duluth, Sandstone, Twin Cities, Rochester, Spring Valley

Sauk Centre, Glenwood, Morris

Long Prairie, Little Falls

Henning, Wadena

I-35, U.S. 52, U.S. 63




MN-29, MN-210

Black Diamond Trail

[black diamond on white band]



Fargo, Detroit Lakes, Wadena, Brainerd, Duluth

U.S. 10, MN-210, I-35

Black and Yellow Trail

Yellowstone NP


New Ulm, Mankato, Owatonna, Rochester, Winona

U.S. 14

Blue Trail

[blue band]

[several routes across Minnesota]

Grand Forks, Crookston,Bemidji

Rochester, Cannon Falls, Twin Cities, Anoka, Rush City

Sioux Falls, Marshall, Granite Falls, Willmar, St. Cloud

Albert Lea, LaCrosse

U.S. 2

U.S. 52, U.S. 10, MN-47, county roads to Rush City

I-90, MN-23



Chippewa Trail

[CT with a tomahawk across it)

Detroit Lakes, Ogema, Waubun, Brooks

U.S. 59

Daniel Boone Trail

[Stylized B inside D]

Twin Cities, Mankato, Blue Earth, Algona IA

U.S. 169

Duluth to Wadena

Green/White bands]

Duluth, Carlton, McGregor, Brainerd, Wadena

I-35, MN-210, U.S. 10

Glacier Trail

Just as soon as I can draw a freehand mountain goat ;-)

Glacier NP

St. Louis

Moorhead, Willmar, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Faribault, Albert Lea

I-94, U.S. 71, U.S. 12, MN-3, I-35

Green Trail

[Green band]

[several routes across Minnesota]

Duluth-White Iron Beach

Wadena-Sauk Centre

Twin Cities, Willmar, Benson, Morris, Browns Valley

Annandale-Fairmount ND


CR 4, MN-169

U.S. 71

U.S. 12, MN-9, MN-28



U.S. 61

Jefferson Highway

Image courtesy Dave Schul

New Orleans


Albert Lea, Faribault, St. Paul, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Motley, Bemidji, Thief River Falls

I-35, MN-3, U.S. 10, U.S. 71, U.S. 2, U.S. 59

King of Trails


Hallock (on to Winnipeg)

Ortonville, Moorhead, Crokston, Hallock, Winnipeg MB

U.S. 75

Lakes to Gulf Highway



Mabel, LaCrescent


Minnesota Scenic Highway

Blue circle w/star inside red circle w/words "Minnnesota Scenic Highway"

In-state route

Twin Cities, Brainerd, Walker, Cass Lake, Int'l Falls, Donaldson, Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Alexandria, Sauk Centre, St. Cloud

U.S. 10, MN-371, U.S. 2, U.S. 71, MN-11, U.S. 75, U.S. 10, MN-106, MN-29, MN-27/127, I-94

Miller Trunk Trail

yellow/white bands

In-state route


U.S. 53

Mississippi River Scenic Highway


Port Arthur (now called Thunder Bay) ON

Winona, St. Paul, Duluth (via Wisconsin), Two Harbors, Grand Marais

U.S. 61, I-94, WI-35, MN-61

Mississippi Valley Highway

Gulfport MS


Rochester, Cannon Falls, St. Paul, Duluth, Ely

U.S. 52, MN-20, U.S. 61, I-35, CR 4, MN-135, MN-169

National Parks Highway



Moorhead, Fergus Falls, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Red Wing, Winona

I-94, U.S. 61

Nelson Trail

[Yellow circle with letter N inside black outline]

[In-state route]

Worthington, Slayton, Marshall, Granite Falls, Benson, Glenwood, Alexandria, Wadena, Park Rapids, Itasca

U.S. 59, MN-23, U.S. 212, MN-29, U.S. 71

Red Ball Route

Cedar Rapids

St. Paul

Austin, Owatonna, Faribault, St. Paul

U.S. 218, I-35, MN-3

Red Trail

[Red band]

Several in-state routes

Twin Cities, Red Wing, Winona, LaCrosse

Fairmont, Albert Lea, Blue Earth

Twin Cities, Shakopee, Norwood, Redwood Falls, Marshall

Faribault, Mankato, Windom

U.S. 61



Old Shakopee Rd, CR 101, U.S. 212, MN-5, MN-19


Theodore Roosevelt Highway

Seaside OR

Portland ME

E. Grand Forks, Crookston, Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Duluth

U.S. 2

Short Cut West

somewhere west?


Dawson, Montevideo, Litchfield, Minneapolis

U.S. 212, MN-7

Vermillion Trail

green/white bands]

Duluth, Biwabik, Tower, White Iron Beach

CR 4, MN-135, MN-169

Wonderland Trail

red/white bands]

Duluth, Floodwood, Swan River, Grand Rapids, Cass Lake, Bemidji, Red Lake Falls, Crookston, Grand Forks

U.S. 2 (spur to RLF via MN-32)

Yellow Trail

[yellow band]


Bemidji, Cass Lake, Blackduck


U.S. 2, CR 10/39

Yellowstone Trail

arrow inside circle, surrounded by yellow circle with Yellowstone Trail inside


Plymouth MA

Montevideo, Olivia, Hector, Glencoe, Minneapolis

U.S. 212, I-94

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First uploaded April 4, 1998

Updated January 11, 1999