Bear Head Lake State Park

A lesser known park tucked in the Northwoods just outside of Ely, MN is waiting for hikers to seek out it’s serene lake views and secluded trails. Check out this State Park the next time you’re in the Ely area.

Bear Head Lake State Park is just a 20 minute drive from the popular Northwoods town of Ely. An amazing place to basecamp or to visit while in the Ely area. Our adventure was with my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop in early May. The girls made wonderful lasting memories of camp and the outdoor experience here at Bear Head Lake State Park. There is so much to experience here, we will absolutely be back for more adventures.

Quick Review: 9/10 Serene lake views, plentiful animal sign, secluded trails, and numerous lodging options. This park is perfect for those seeking an experience with nature without crowds.

Trails- Nordberg Lake Trail

Our troop took the 3 mile Nordberg Lake Trail bright and early in the morning. This is a loop trail that leads around Nordberg Lake.

Trail Conditions: Being early in May in the northwoods, there was still small patches of snow on the ground in low spots. We also had to climb over some downed trees that hadn’t been cleared yet so early in the season. A fun little obstacle for our scouts to concur. You can check current trail conditions on the parks webpage.

Terrain: The Nordberg Lake Trail is considered “moderate” due to the rocky terrain in some sections and the hills near Nordberg Lake and East Bay. There are some stairs that need to be climbed/descended depending on the direction you’re going.

Nordberg Lake: A set of stairs lead downs to Nordberg Lake. This section of the trail is quite a sight, the small lake is so peaceful and a great spot for a break and a snack.

Park Road: A half mile section of the trail is on a park road before it reconnects with the trail. There are signs to direct your path. Even the park road was quiet, we didn’t see a single car while on this section. If one were to continue hiking on the road rather than turning back onto the Nordberg loop, it would lead to the group campsite.

East Bay: Though the south part of the trail leads along the East Bay, the view of the lake isn’t always prevalent. There is, however, a short trail leading to the waters edge. A great spot to take in the scenery.


Being one of the lesser visited state parks in Minnesota the trails are less congested. This gives that hiker seeking solitude a greater chance of succeeding. There is also the opportunity to travel by canoe. Portaging to Holter Lake on the south side of Bear Head Lake will offer more seclusion.


We had quite the wildlife experience during our stay at Bear Head Lake State Park. This was quite entertaining for the girls and sure to have made lasting memories of the Northwoods with their troop.

Wolf Sign: While on the road section of the Nordberg Trail, the ladies came across some scat. We inspected it with a stick. This scat was quite large, comparable to our Great Dane’s back home, and it contained a large amount of hair. At first the girls thought it was bear scat. After our visit to the Bear Center in Ely, it was determined that we had discovered wolf scat. Very exciting!

Owl Pellets on Trail: Our ladies were finishing up their 4th grade year in school at the time of our visit the park. They had recently learned about Owl Pellets. This made for an amazing discovery when they successfully identified an owl pellet on the trail near the East Bay of Bear Head Lake. The ladies were proud to be able to put their new knowledge to use.

Curious Bear: Certainly our most exciting experience at Bear Head Lake State Park involved a campfire and a curious bear. We had stayed at the Guest House at the Park. After an evening of hot dogs, s’mores, and playing flashlight tag by firelight, it was time to wind down for the night. I stayed out to watch the fire with two of our scouts while my co-leader brought the others in to start getting ready for bed.

With the area quieting and the lingering aroma of dinner and s’mores, we attracted a curious bear. The ladies were quietly chatting when I heard the rustling in the brush close to our clearing. I shushed the girls to hear better and that’s when we heard the classic bear “huff.”

To deter the bear from exploring his curiosity further, I banged on the table and shouted loudly. We stirred the coals and calmly headed for the Guest House. Once inside, I informed the girls that there was in fact a bear just outside camp. The looks on their faces was priceless and hilarious! It was quite entertaining to hear them retell the simple encounter with such embellished details. A trip the the Bear Center in Ely the following day put any fears they had to rest and learned they that bears are simply curious creatures.


Guest House: The Guest House was the perfect location for our Ely weekend “basecamp.” There’s plenty of space to accommodate up to 10 people. Full Kitchen, two bathrooms, three bedrooms, great dining area, two living spaces and plenty of outdoor space. The outdoor spaces include a yard with a firepit, a patio with a furniture, picnic tables, a grill, and a trail leading down to the North Bay of Bear Head Lake. It is a house but with it’s cabin theme, it doesn’t hinder the outdoor weekend experience.

I highly recommend the Guest House for those seeking an outdoorsy experience with a more “indoorsy” personality. It is also great for those with larger groups spending time in the Ely area.

Camper Cabins: 5 rustic cabins sit in the parks campground and hold up to 6 people. They are a single room with bunks. The cabins have heat, making them available in the winter as well.

Campground: Bear Head Lake State Park has 73 sites available for camper vehicles (45 are electric). Some of sites are more wooded than others.

Group Camp: One site is available for large groups up to 50 people. This site located on the north side of East Bay at the end of a spur park road.

Backpack Camping: Four sites are available for backpack camping. Three sites are on Blueberry lake, one is by itself on Becky Lake.

Canoe Camping: The park has two sites accessible by canoe. One on the south side of Bear Head Lake and the other in East Bay. If traveling by canoe, a great idea for a day trip would be to check out the portage leading into Holter Lake.

Morning views

A perk of staying at the park is getting up early to check out the morning views. Rising before the park opens to have a serene and secluded moment with nature is a most cherished experience. Especially when traveling with a group of Girl Scouts! This was a needed morning meditation, ranking just below the need for coffee. Visiting North Bay from the Guest House trail before the girls woke was a wonderful way to start the day.

Park Activities


  • Hiking (14 miles)
  • Swimming Beach
  • Camping
  • Canoe Access
  • Boat Access (drive in, 10 mph limit)
  • Fishing (walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, panfish, and black crappie)


  • Cross Country Ski (9 miles)
  • Snowshoe (anywhere in park except groomed trails
  • Snowmobile (4.5 groomed trails)
  • Camper Cabins & Guest House Year-round

Nearby Activities

Visiting this area means having much to do outside of Bear Head Lake State Park. With Ely and the BWCA so close, there is an abundance of activities at hand.

  • Visit the shops in Ely (Piragis Outfitter was my favorite)
  • Grab some ice cream at Northern Expressions
  • Visit the Bear Center
  • Visit the Wolf Center
  • Caffeinate at a coffee shop
  • Dine at the numerous restaurants
  • Visit nearby Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park (check for updates as it’s currently under construction)
  • Daytrip into the BWCA for hiking or canoeing (day use permits can be obtained at self issuing stations or the Kawishiwi Ranger Station)

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