Hiking Eagle Mountain, Minnesota

One for the Minnesota Bucket List for sure. This semi-popular trail leads into the BWCA and to the highest natural elevation in Minnesota. The numerous adventures that I have enjoyed in the BWCA had always been by canoe, this was the first conquest traveled by foot. Viewing from above gives a new perspective on this vast wilderness.

Great Heights

Eagle Mountain sits a whopping 2,301 feet above sea level. Okay… so it’s not the most staggering height but it does hold the title for highest natural point in Minnesota. The lowest point in MN is under 15 miles away at Lake Superior, just 600 feet above sea level. A 1,701 foot difference in that short distance makes for dramatic landscapes in this area and picturesque scenery.

Permit

Hiking in the BWCA does require a permit. Overnight permits between May 1st to September 30 must be acquired ahead of time on recreation.gov, there is a fee for overnight use. Day use permits (free) are required year-round and available for self issue at the trail head or at Forest Service offices.

Length

This trail is 3.5 miles in length one way. It is not a loop! The out and back trail makes the total distance hiked 7 miles.

The hiking trail is considered a “wilderness trail,” meaning it is more rugged and not as frequently maintained as a other trails in the state, such as state park trails. You may come across downed trees and debris on the trail. Be prepared to go up and over or around.

Terrain

Eagle Mountain Trail is narrow with a variety of terrain. The trail passes over planked areas to pass marsh and swamp, over or around downed trees, over pronounced root systems, small bridges and creeks, along lake shores and beaver damns and finally a climb up rough trail and rock. This area has such variety, it’s amazing! Be sure to wear appropriate footwear.

Very Dog-Friendly

I wish we had been counting. The number of dogs on this trail was a surprise to me. We saw everything from young puppies to senior citizens, toy breeds to giants. If you have a well behaved and energetic pup at home, I encourage you to bring them along. They’ll love this adventure. We brought our 8 year-old Great Dane, Xena, along. She had a blast, even in her old age. Be sure to follow Trail Etiquette for Dogs to make sure everyone has a safe adventure.

Trail Head

Getting to the trail head is quite easy. Follow MN-61 to Lutsen, MN. Turn left onto Caribou Trail, after 17 miles you’ll go right onto The Grade for 4 miles. On the left you’ll find a decent gravel parking area with an obvious trial head.

This Trail head is complete with a vaulted toilet. I suggest you use it before the hike, it’s the last restroom unless you are planning to camp at one of the two sites off the trail, but there is no guarantee that they will be available.

Hitting the Trail

The first 3/4 of a mile are hiked in the Superior National Forest before you enter the BWCA. Be sure to snap a photo at the indicating sign as you enter this cherished wilderness. If you’re frequent visitors to the Superior National Forest and the BWCA, you’ll notice the slight change in trail conditions when you cross over.

After about 2.5 miles, along Whale Lake, there will be a four-way split. The trail that you’ve arrived on, a trail hooking to the east leading to a campsite, a trail heading north continuing on to Brule Lake Trail, and a trail to the west leading to Eagle Mountain. Obviously take the west spur trail leading to Eagle Mountain. Your destination will about another mile up. And I mean “up.”

The “Climb”

No, it’s not really mountain climbing. No equipment required but a pair of good hiking shoes. But it is still a steep incline over rock and loose gravel. Watch your footing and take it slow. Be sure to have children hike in front, this way the person behind them can catch them if they slip. Our 2 year-old hiker was able to accomplish this climb with the help of his dad. Our 10 year-old tackled it no problem. The senior Dane was able to complete it as well.

Not There Yet

Do not be deceived! You’ve scrambled up the rocky climb near the end of the trail and reached a stunning view, but you’re not there yet. While taking in the view over the nearby lakes in the BWCA from above is unreal and amazing, the peak is still farther up the trail. There will not be a marker at this point in the hike.

The Peak… Really

The trail continues opposite the gorgeous view. A quarter mile more lies a plaque that indicates the highest point in Minnesota. This location doesn’t have an amazing view or anything, but it is an accomplishment that every Minnesota hiker should check off their list. Let the sense of satisfaction wash over you… then return to the overlook for a well deserved snack and rest before your hike back.

Camping

Why not make it an overnight trip? There are two designated campsites off of the Eagle Mountain Trail. One on the west side of the trail on a spur and the other on Whale Lake. But be warned, in peak season these campsites are likely to be taken. About 3.5 miles north of the where the Eagle Mountain Trail becomes Brule Lake Trail there is a campsite of a spur lies a campsite on the peninsula of Fishhook Lake. You’ll also need an overnight hike permit to camp in the BWCA. This can be obtained at recreation.gov.

If you are concerned about the campsite availability during peak season, a valid concern from June through August, an alternative plan would be to camp near the trail head. There are several camping opportunities in the area.

First Come First Serve Camping in the Area: (No Fee, No Reservations)

  • Cascade River Rustic Campground (2.5 miles from trailhead)
  • Devil Track Lake Campground (6 miles from trailhead)
  • Baker Lake Rustic Campground (14 miles from trailhead)
  • Clara Lake Rustic Campground (15 miles from trailhead)

Reservable State Park Camping (Reservations and Fees Required)

  • Cascade River State Park (16 miles from trailhead)
  • Temperance River State Park (33 miles from trailhead)
  • George Crosby Manitou State Park (49 miles from trailhead)
  • Tettegouche State Park (55 miles from trailhead)

These are just a few of the options in northern Minnesota. There are many more private and public camp areas, some requiring reservations and fees. On our visit, we chose to stay at Cascade River State Park. A wonderful place to set up camp on a hike-in adventure.

Grab a Post-Hike Bite

We like to have a nice treat after a good hike. This time we decided on “My Sister’s Place.” This was just what we needed after a 7 mile hike with kids. While the burgers were tasty, the real treat was the blueberry shake. Never have I ever seen a BLUEBERRY shake on a menu, and it was amazing! We highly recommend “My Sister’s Place.”

Eagle Mountain had been on my Minnesota Bucket List for some time. For a few years we had intentions of visiting in the summer, we finally made it happen in lieu of a second BWCA canoe trip. This allowed us to bring our oversized pup along to the BWCA for the first time (she doesn’t do canoes). Now that it is off my bucket list for the summer, it’s back on the list for a snowshoe adventure!

10 Ways to Avoid Crowds in Popular Parks

Of course we all want to get out there and see the natural wonders in the National and State parks in our great country. It seems the more awesome the attraction, the more people flock to it and the more congested the trail becomes. Like you, I too seek the solitude of the trail. Here are several ways to beat the crowds and enjoy the peace that nature has to offer.

1. Lesser Known Trails

Hit the trails that are not as popular at peak times. They may take some extra driving, have a smaller parking area, and are not as beaten down but they are well worth the effort. Trekking a less popular trail during peak hours in the park will allow you to enjoy the area while avoiding the rush at the more popular attractions. Save the more captivating locations for a quieter time.

2. Strenuous Trails

For the more advanced hikers, taking on a more strenuous trail is an option to seek solitude. The more treacherous the trail, the less people you will encounter. Often there are some awe inspiring scenes at the end of a difficult trek.

**Warning: Do not attempt a hike outside of your ability. Take your skill level and experience into consideration before tackling more difficult terrain.

3. Visit in the Offseason

Even though most parks are open year-round, they aren’t necessarily busy year-round. Every park has a slower season. In the Midwest, our slow season is when the temperature drops and the snow falls. But look out, there are leaf peepers in the fall.

Always check for weather conditions and road accessibility if you’re venturing out in the off-season, or early/late busy season. Some roads close due to snow removal complications, falling rock, avalanche risks and other such natural occurrences.

**Keep in mind that there is a reason parks have an “off-season.” The park you visit might have extreme weather (cold or hot) among other dangers. Do your research on your particular destination prior to your visit in the off-season.

4. Weekdays

It can be hard to get away in the middle of the week, but this is a sure-fire way to see fewer hikers on the trails. While this isn’t exactly ideal, it may be a good option to consider for parks that you’ve had your eye on for a while.

5. Can You Canoe?

Traveling by water guarantees an escape from the congestion of the trail. There is no trail! Obviously this isn’t an option for all parks, but for those offering a launch site or rentals, it’s worth it to experience a park by way of canoe or kayak. It ads a serene element to any outdoor experience. Parks like Voyager’s National Park in Minnesota or Everglades in Florida are great locations to experience the wilderness by water. Be sure to check ahead of time to see if this is an option at your destination.

6. Picnic

Rather than waste time at restaurants or cooking a big meal, save time with a picnic. Packing a breakfast or lunch ahead of time will save you time on the day of your hike. A great time to break out the picnic basket is at the highlight of your hike.

7. Sign-up Early

For parks with activities requiring a reservation such as rock climbing, guided hikes, wildlife educations programs, cave tours, etc. Sign up for your designated activity and time in advance. This includes timed entry for National Parks.

8. Be a Sunrise Hiker

The early bird get the worm. This is true for hikers as well. Fewer people, cooler temperatures, more wildlife. You can’t lose! The earlier the better. Check the parks website to see when they open and plan to arrive at or just before opening hours. For national parks, there may be timed entries. If this is the case for your destination, shoot for the earliest possible time and reserve it well in advance.

9. Camp in the Park

What’s better than being early? Already being there! Camping at the park can give you the advantage of being one of the first hikers on the trail. We camped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and hit a couple of trails before others were even in the park. It can also give your group a chance to see more wildlife when they are more active.

10. Stay Near the Park

Missed the reservation window for camping at the park? No worries! Many popular parks have campgrounds or hotels near the entrance or a short drive away. Staying in a hotel nearby offers a chance to get to the park early while still having a hot shower at the end of a day on the trail.

Minnesota Lights: A Quick Guide to 7 Lights Displays

Glittering lights and Cold nights make for a magical experience in the great white north of Minnesota. Pull on your boots and zip up your coats, Minnesota is lit up and ready to celebrate the Christmas season with spectacular lights displays and festive activities!

Bentleyville USA

Of course we’ve all heard of Bentleyville here in Minnesota. Many families make a yearly tradition of visiting the walk-through lights display in Bayfront Festival Park, Duluth. A great addition to a weekend getaway to Duluth.

When: November 19th to December 23rd

Hours: Sun-Thurs. 5pm-9pm, Fri-Sat. 5pm-10pm

Location: 700 Railroad Street, Duluth, MN 55802

Admission: Free admission, $10 for parking

Highlights: (All Free) Marshmallow roasting station, visit/pictures with Santa, hot cocoa & coffee, Cookies and popcorn, complimentary strollers

**To beat the crowds, hit this event midweek.

Glensheen Candlelight Tours

Soak in all of the Christmas magic this historic estate has to offer on this self-guided Glensheen Candlelight Tour. This tour includes the lower level, 1st floor, and 2nd floor of the festive Christmas mansion.

When: Fri & Sat November 25-December 17th, December 22nd, 23rd, & 26th-31st

Hours: 5pm-8pm

Location: Glensheen Mansion, 3300 London Road, Duluth, MN 55804

Admission: Adults $25, Children (6-17) $13, Children under 6 are free

Highlights: Informative signs throughout tour, downloadable app for information on the tour, admission includes Spirit of the Lights outdoor exhibit on the Glensheen grounds

**Do not bring your own flashlights

Lake Superior Zoo Lights

Experience the Lake Superior Zoo‘s twinkling lights and displays. An event the kids are sure to enjoy.

When: Friday-Sunday Evenings until December 31st

Hours: 5pm-8pm

Location: 7120 Freemont Street, Duluth, MN 55807

Admission: $5 per person, free parking (Ages 2 & under are free)

Highlights: Free s’mores, GIANT inflatable display, Santa & Grinch visits, hot cocoa at the Safari Café

Minnesota Arboretum

The Winter Lights at the Minnesota Arboretum is a whimsical outdoor winter experience. The summer loving flower enthusiasts will enjoy seeing the arboretum in this new light.

When: November 17th to January 1st

Hours: Dates and hours vary with numerous events and specials, investigate further here.

Location: 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska, MN 55318

Admission: Regardless of membership, all visitors must have a Winter Lights ticket

Highlights: S’mores kits available for purchase (includes 4 s’mores for $7), .75 mile stroll through visitor center grounds and gardens, warm up inside visitors center

Glow Holiday Festival

Venturing north isn’t the only way to get a full holiday experience. This massive display of lights will have your holiday spirit beaming! Now being held in the CHS Field in St. Paul, this display is bigger and better than ever.

When: November 22nd to January 1st

Hours: Sun-Thurs 5pm-9pm (last entry time at 8pm), Fri-Sat 5pm-10pm

Location: CHS Field 360 N. Broadway Street, St. Paul, MN 55101

Admission: Adult $20.75, Child(4-12) $12.75 (cashless event, purchase Tickets online)

Highlights: Giant Slide (extra cost), S’mores package available for purchase, enchanted forest, penguin playground, interactive northern lights display, Trolly ride

Celebrate the Light of the World

‘Tis the season of giving and the Willmar Celebrate the Light of the World event is all about giving back to the community. The drive through Christmas display is free for all but there is an opportunity to give a gift to four non-profit organizations; Salvation Army, Kandiyohi County Food Shelf, Habitat for Humanity, and United Way.

When: November 24th to December 31st

Hours: 5pm-10pm

Location: Robbins Island Regional Park, 945 US Business 71, Willmar, MN 56201

Admission: Free Event, Donations accepted for 4 non-profit organizations

Highlights: Drive-through lights display (great for take out Dinner and a show, one of our family traditions)

Sam’s Christmas Village, WI

Hop over the border for a whimsical Christmas experience at the popular Sam’s Christmas Village in Somerset, Wisconsin.

When: November 25th- January 1st

Drive-Through Only Days: Mon. & Tues. November 28th- December 13th ($15 per adult)

Hours: Sun-Thurs 5pm-9pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-10pm

Location: 710 Spring Street, Somerset, WI 54025

Admission: Adult $20, Child (3-10) $10, 2 & under are free, $10 Parking on-site (cash only for parking)

Highlights: 10 Million lights on display, Christmas Market Thurs-Sun nights, Visit Santa in Christmas Market, sledding hill, S’mores Cabins available for rent ($119+)

**Bonus: Friendly dogs are welcome on leash!

No Clutter Gifts for the Outdoorsy Minnesotan on Your List

Cut the clutter and give a gift that will be useful and appreciated. The season of giving is such a wonderful time and seeing the look on your loved one’s face is a wonderful experience. But the aftermath of gifting can leave a chore of finding space for the gifts received, not that they aren’t appreciated, but we can skip this step with the gifts listed here.

Adventure Gifts

Memberships to the MN Wolf/Bear Center– Have a wolf or bear lover on your list? They’ll love being part of to the Wolf or Bear Center community in Ely, MN.

**Be Aware: The Bear Center is only open from the end of April to the end of October as the bears are taking their seasonal nap.

**Hours are limited during the winter months at the Wolf Center, but the wolves are most active during this time. Worth a visit!

MN State Parks Pass/Gift Card– The gift that gives all year-round! Endless adventure for the entire year at the 66 Minnesota State Parks.

National Parks Pass– Same goes for the Nationals Parks. A wonderful gift for those who travel far and wide, especially the snow-birds heading south.

Vertical Endeavors Rock Climbing Lessons/Pass– With 6 locations in Minnesota this pass can be the start of a new adventure or passion. Classes, gear, and memberships are available here.

Ziplining Tickets– For the thrill seeker, adventure awaits with locations across the state. Check height and weight restrictions prior to investing in this gift. Many parks in the state are closed during the winter, so this may be a gift redeemable in the spring,

Ski/Snowboard or Snowtubing Pass– Keep your outdoorsman busy all winter long with a pass to their favorite winter sports joint. For those who love winter but aren’t into flying down the hill on a board, try out snow tubing.

Zoo Season Pass– There are several Zoo’s in Minnesota, some open all year long, some only part of the year.

MN Arboretum Pass– For a more mellow crowd, a Minnesota Arboretum Pass is a great gift those in the vicinity of the Twin Cities area. With each changing season, the arboretum if filled with a new beauty.

Knowledge Gaining Gifts

Outdoorsy Magazine Subscription– Yeah, yeah… I know, so much is read online. You’re reading this online right now… But your adventurer won’t always have wifi or cell service. Outdoors magazines are a great resource for learning new skills and about new adventures that you may not have thought of. Some examples of outdoors magazines include:

Adventure Book– Have an outdoorsman so into adventures that they read about adventures while they are between adventures? Get them a new book! Here are some ideas:

  • The Twenty-ninth Day by Alex Messenger
  • Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Guide Book– A guide book to their favorite area or an area they’ve mentioned they’d like to explore. Even better, a guide book and map of their dream trip!

Road Atlas– For the Road-tripper, an Atlas is a rather practical gift. Relying on GPS alone is unrealistic and frankly, dangerous.

Consumable Gifts

Outfitter Gift Card– The list of Outfitters in Minnesota is endless, surely your adventurer has mentioned a favorite or a most frequented outfitter. A gift card to this location will ensure that they can acquire the gear they need for their next excursion.

Trail Snacks– Granola bars, power bars, trail mix, protein bites… find out your hikers favorite snacks for a trail snack basket.

Camp Desserts– There is a wide variety of freeze-dried or dehydrated food items on the market. Grab a couple of desserts for your favorite hiker. They’ll thank you later for a special treat after a strenuous hike. My daughters favorite so far has been a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich.

S’mores Basket– The s’more lover will be thrilled with a s’more basket! A variety of chocolates, grahams, and mallows with stylish roasting sticks… oh yes! This w

Boot Socks– Lets face it, socks take a beating on the trail. I can’t tell you how many socks I’ve burned through while hiking. Holes, holes, and more holes. Quality boot socks is a gift that keeps the hiker on the trail.

Color Packets for the Campfire– This is a new discovery for our family. This past year we came upon color changing packets for campfires and a local outfitter sells pinecones that change the flame color as well. Great for older kids and adults!

First Aid Kit– Great for an accident prone outdoorsman or the one who ventures past cell service regions. A compact and stocked first aid kit complete with a First Aid Guide, is the gift of preparedness.

Whatever gift you choose for your adventurer they’ll be sure to appreciate it! Happy shopping!

Baker Lake to Kelly Lake: Passing the Torch in the BWCA

It had been more than 30 years since my dad last paddled into Baker lake. Things had changed a bit since then with many trips made in between. Instead of the company of his brothers, he had his bowman for life (my mom), his daughter (me), son in-law (Scott), and two grandchildren (Sandy and Killian). Three generations in a single BWCA camping party. My dad has always been the group leader on these trips. Even though he was the youngest of his brothers, he’s always been the one to take the reins. This year, however, he put the map in my canoe. I asked why I had it, I guess he was confident in the skills he has taught me. Cue the lump in my throat.

Last year we asked my folks to accompany us on our BWCA trip in June. We had a very successful excursion and made great memories on our journey down Hog Creek. We decided to make it an annual thing as it had been when I was growing up. After getting our reservations made in January (yes, January) for this June, my mom suffered an injury to her shoulder. Mom worked hard with physical therapy to regain strength and use, but to little effect. After an MRI, surgery was immanent. Paddling was not an option.

Thankfully, the Baker Lake entry point is not difficult to traverse. Offering plenty of adventure with minimal effort. If you are catering to an injury (or a toddler), this is a great little jaunt into the B.W.C.A..

Ranger Station

We used the Tofte Ranger Station for Entry Point #39 Baker Lake. The Tofte Ranger Station is off of Hwy 61 on the left just before you enter Tofte.

Tofte Ranger Station
Address: 7355 W. Hwy 61
Tofte, MN 55615
Hours: May 1st- Sept. 30th: Sun-Sat 8am-4:30pm
Oct. 1st-April 30th: Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm
Phone:218-663-8060

Entry Point Details

Entry Point #39
Permits Issued Daily2
Permit TypeOvernight Paddle
Ranger Station Tofte

Getting There and Parking

Getting to this entry point is pretty simple. Yet, somehow, we missed two turns. Too enthralled with in our moose watch. When finished at the ranger station, follow Hwy 61 north to the Sawbill Trail. Take a left onto Sawbill, follow it for 17 miles, it’ll turn to gravel after some time. You’ll approach an intersection with way too many options, take the right most turn onto The Grade (also reads Nat. Forest 170). After 5 miles, turn left onto Forest Route 1272. There is a split for either the Baker Lake campground or the Baker Lake entry point, stay left for the entry point. Don’t worry, there are signs along the way, just don’t get too into your moose hunt that you miss them.

This entry point has ample parking and drive right up to the lake for loading and unloading with room enough to turn around with a small trailer. It also has a vaulted toilet. That is luxury! At our last entry point to Bower Trout, I had to use a tree, so this was a real treat.

As we load our canoes with gear butterflies swarm the kids. Killian was quite entertained! It’s an amazing loading spot and the kids were so happy to be out of the truck.

Baker Lake & 1st Portage

Baker Lake is a petite puddle in terms of BWCA lakes. We paddled just long enough for Sandy’s hat to blow off in the wind. Don’t worry, we picked it up. Leave no trace! The portage into Peterson is to the left of the rapids, it’s rather plain to see. This smooth, flat jaunt is just 12 rods. We encountered other campers making their way to the entry point, they had mentioned good fishing on the north end of Kelly, where they had camped. Yay! That’s where we were headed.

On the other end of the portage, the loading area is a convenient one for a Kevlar canoe. It has space for the canoe to be in the water and rocks to place your feet. After reloading and shoving off, paddle hard. The rapids are strong and the water was high, they might try to suck you in to the rapids that you just portaged around.

**Tip: On your way out, be sure to stick to the right side of the river. Be ready to pull into the portage “bay” just before the rapids. Don’t let your canoe turn broadside!

Peterson Lake & 2nd Portage

Peterson Lake is larger than Baker, but it’s a simple paddle. There is just one intriguing campsite that would have been an awesome option if we hadn’t already had a destination in mind.

At the north end of Peterson waits an itty bitty portage that we didn’t have to take. It was just 3 rods, but with the water as high as it was we paddle right through. Watch for the rocks if you’re taking that chance.

Arriving at Kelly Lake

Kelly Lake is a long skinny lake loaded with beaver lodges along it’s shores. Our destination was on the far north end of Kelly. That means a wonderfully scenic paddle upstream. These lakes are part of the Temperance River system that reaches far up into North Temperance Lake and Brule Lake and flows all the way out to Lake Superior.

Basecamp

As usual with a toddler in tow, we base camped. As we approached the camp, we were pleased to see that it had indeed been vacated. The rapids is just to the west with another little inlet to the east. It’s a beautiful little spot.

The shore has a convenient spot for loading and unloading canoes. We were camping with a party of 6 with a fairly large tent to accommodate an air mattress. The tent pad area is not the largest, we were able to squeeze our monster tent into the space. It did require us to be creative with the rainfly ties but it was worth it for this site.

Our ‘front porch’ was a great space for the kids to explore in the water, watch a baby turtle, and play with sticks. It wasn’t a beach by any means, but it was too cold to swim anyway. Not to mention the current right at this spot would not have been ideal for a toddler to be jumping in anyhow.

This site has trails leading along the shore on either side of camp. To the east, a good spot to hang the food pack. To the west, a nice fishing and peaceful spot to view the rapids. Our toddler, Killian, used the little trails for his ‘Bear Hunts.’ We all took turns taking him on his hunt. He’d say, “Going on a bear hunt… gonna catch a big one… I’m not scared!” Just like the song.

Pests

Bugs. Enough said, right? Spring and fall are great times to avoid the bugs. Our trip was in June. The park rangers informed us of a recent black fly hatch. Lovely. Not only did we have swarms of mosquitoes, but we also had black flies to swat as well. The hammock with bug netting was the safety zone while at camp. We were all very thankful for this piece of equipment. Bug spray helped but it didn’t keep them at bay long. Actually, the greatest escape was being out on the water. They didn’t bother much in the canoes.

Day Trip

The weather forecast looked ominous during our planning stage, but luck graced us with near perfect conditions during the daylight hours. On our second day, we loaded the daypack for a long day away from camp. The loose goal was to make it to Weird Lake and fish our way back to camp.

**Tip: Loose goals are ideal when traveling with toddlers. Having hard set plans and itineraries adds pressure to a trip, taking the fun out of the whole experience when that toddler decides they are done.

Jack Lake Entry: The 69 rod portage at the north end of Kelly leads to Jack Lake. Watch for moose tracks along the portage, and moose poop! We were greeted with a section of lake separated from the rest in it’s own sheltered paradise. The guys spent some time fishing in this area before continuing. There were bass resting on the beds in this area, but we didn’t have any luck until the following day. Still, it was a great place to paddle around and relax as the area is shielded from the wind.

First Stop: Jack Lake Mine. It seems that not too many folks know about this historic gem in the midst of the wilderness. A short trail, just 50 feet long, off the portage on the south side of Jack Lake will take you to this neat step back in time. This is a great day trip whether you are staying in the BWCA or not. For more info on the Jack Lake Mine, read on here.

Sharing the Experience: After visiting the mine we returned to the portage to launch the canoes at the lake. We were greeted by some fellow campers. They were amazed that we had a 10 year old and a 2 year old in our group, stating that they too had a child at home. They claimed it would be too difficult to bring their 8 year old son along, they’d consider it when he could carry his own pack. Don’t let this stop you! I am so proud of my family for tackling the challenges together that are brought on by the BWCA. I hope that after seeing our youngsters that couple will reconsider getting their son out there.

Second Stop: Berry Hill. Being early in the growing season, there were no berries to be had just yet. If you find yourself on Jack Lake late-July to mid-August, an abundance of blueberries will be waiting for you on this rocky slope. This hill is on the second point on the southeast side of the lake.

**Tip: Bring plenty of snacks on daytrips with kids. Be a courteous guest by leaving majority of the berries for the animals that live there.

Third Stop: Day trips with kids means having a lot of stops. We stopped at an empty campsite to use the latrine. This site had some storm damage from the wicked storms we had earlier in the spring. Damage aside, the view from this site was great, it had a set of step leading up to the site for a dramatic overlook. This would have been a splendid alternative had our site been occupied, though the tent pad was quite small.

Last Stop: Our final stop on our day adventure brought us to the Weird Lake portage. Just a 12 rod stint around some rapids and falls. Weird things happen on Weird Lake. Scott sent a cast off into Weird Lake and the lure flew right off! We weren’t actually planning to paddle Weird Lake, but the lure had to be retrieved. The fellows grabbled a canoe and found the lure. The journey to this set of rapids was worth it, lure mishap and all.

Fishing Back: As planned, the rods came out and lures went to work. Fishing the way back was a breeze, we were flowing with the current. Too bad the fishing wasn’t the best. Only a few hits.

Evening at on the Water

The best time to fish it seems on this trip was in the evening hours. After our day trip and a camp dinner, the group had split up. My dad and Scott took Sandy out to fish near the rapids. My mom and I tried to get little Killian to bed. This proved to be a futile attempt. I gave up and launched a canoe instead. My mom stayed at camp to rest while I took Killian on a sunset paddle near camp. It was such a great experience.

The fishing crew was catching fish near the rapids. Killian and I paddled around the area near the rapids and camp. He was so happy to be out on the water by the big boys and Sandy. That really made me think about the experience. I was so concerned about him getting his rest for the next day, I almost cost him a precious memory on the water with his family. That’s what it’s all about. Being together in the wilderness making memories. I am so glad that I gave up on getting him to sleep.

Passing the Torch

As I looked at my boy out in that canoe smiling up at the stars starting to appear, I wondered if that is how my dad felt watching me grow up exploring the wilderness. I have so many childhood memories in the BWCA. I know that my childhood is not my children’s childhood, but I sincerely pray that they will come to know and love the wilderness like I do and cherish the memories made here. I look forward to the day that I can hand my kids the map and know that they will successfully lead us through our journey into the wilderness.

November Hiking Tips in Minnesota

The leaves have changed and dropped, leaf peepers have gone home causing crowds to dwindle. It’s the perfect time to get on trail and watch the animals prepare for the winter months. November is hunting season here in Minnesota. Deer hunters have done their work creating game trails, working food plots, setting up stands and blinds. They’ve been waiting all year to get out in the stand, they are ready! And you should be too. Check out these November hiking tips to keep your hiking season going strong in a safe and considerate manner.

Know Before You Go

Deer hunting is all about conservation… and filling the freezer. With the conservation aspect in mind, there will be hunting permitted in some state parks around MN. Check out your destination prior to hitting the trail. Some parks have scheduled closures or limitations in the coming weeks for hunters to harvest the excess deer population.

MN State Park Hunting Seasons

Blaze Orange

Blaze orange is a hikers (and hunters) best friend in November. At a minimum, wear an orange hat, hot pink works too. Even better would be an orange vest. Obviously you don’t look like a deer walking in the woods, but safety first! Wearing orange will keep you visible to hunters and others in the park. If you’re trying to watch wildlife and are concerned about missing out by being too visible; don’t worry, deer can’t see this color. They can, however, see blue. Don’t wear blue if you’re trying to catch a glimpse of deer activity.

Dog Safety

I am very pro “Never Hike Alone” and try to take my dog along whenever and wherever I hike. But dog’s have been mistaken for small deer in the past. It is obvious in the picture below that my Xena looks like a deer, especially when she frolics through the woods. Her color is accurately named “fawn.” Whether your dog resembles a deer or not, be sure your furry hiking companion is wearing a vest or jacket of orange or pink.

Follow Signs

With the hunting seasons going on at the state parks, some parks are not closed but limiting areas to the public. Be sure to watch for signs and follow them to ensure the safety of both hunters and hikers. Check in at the park office before hitting the trails, they may have additional/updated information to make your hike a success.

Layers

This time of year we can have some pretty drastic temperature swings. It can be 65 degrees and sunny at the beginning of a hike and drop down to 30 degrees by sundown. Bring layers along and make sure to keep that orange hat on, even if it’s hot.

Sunset

Autumn is the time of year when our sunlight hours diminish and eventually lead to the darkest day of the year, the first day of winter. Check the sunset time on the day you plan to hike. On a clear night, expect visibility for about half an hour after the sun sets. Ensure you’ve planned ample time to complete your hike before sundown. Shooting time also ends 30 minutes after sunset, with the limited visibility exit the woods before dark.

Be Considerate of Hunters

Even if you’re not a hunter, keep in mind that the whole point of hunting in the parks is to promote a healthy population. When deer become overpopulated it can have a devastating effect on the overall health of the deer population, native plant life, and other animals in the area.

Bucks in Rut

If a deer spots you in the woods, it will likely take off. That being said, if a buck does not leave in your presence, Do Not approach it. It could be injured, nevertheless, the velvet is off the antlers and they are in rut. A buck, even a young buck, can be quite dangerous. Give them space and let them go about their natural business. Nobody needs to be gored in the name of curiosity.

Wounded or Down Deer

Spotted a wounded or down deer? If you come across hunters looking for their deer, point them in the direction that you saw the deer. The goal of a hunter is to harvest their animal as quickly and painlessly as they can. Being unable find a wounded deer and end it’s suffering is a real blow to a hunter. Likewise, being unable to find a deer that is down is a waste. Be helpful and point them in the right direction.

Reporting a wounded animal to the DNR is another option. Keep in mind that this is a very busy time of year for the DNR as well and they do not have the manpower to respond to every wounded animal.

Reporting to DNR

See hunters in a No Hunting Zone or outside of the hunting season?

  • Check the dates of the Zone you are in.
  • Some parks in MN have different dates for their designated hunting season; those parks will be closed or limited to the public on those dates.
  • Check with land owners to ensure they didn’t have hunters with permission.
  • Remember that bow hunters can hunt until the end of the year and muzzle loader season starts after shotgun season.
  • Do not approach poachers, this can be dangerous. Leave it to authorities.

If you are sure that you have a poacher on you hands: Report poachers to the DNR.

Enjoy the late autumn hiking season. The animals feel the change and pressure of the incoming cold. It’s the best time to catch wildlife preparing for winter. The deer are on the move, the squirrels are collecting nuts and seeds, some of the birds are heading south. It’s a much more active time of year in the woods than one would think. Simply sitting in the woods this time of year is great entertainment.

Minneopa State Park: Hiking, Waterfalls, and Bison

A sure-fire way to see Bison in Minnesota is visiting Minneopa State Park near Mankato, Minnesota. With a bison herd, waterfalls, hiking trails and overlooks, this park is a gem in the southern part of Minnesota. This small park is the 3rd oldest state park in Minnesota.

Quick Review: 8/10 While lacking miles for hiking this park makes up for it with it’s amazing bison herd and double waterfall with a quiet river to explore.

Side Note: The bathrooms were really nice, so nice that I took a picture of one.

Location

Minneopa is located just west of Mankato off Hwy 169. The unique thing about this parks location is that it’s split in two. A smaller section consists of the visitors center, picnic area and waterfall trail. The larger section, just a short drive away, contains the bison drive, hiking trail surrounding the bison range, historic windmill, and the campground.

Getting from one park to the other: After a quick stop to the visitor’s center, exit the park and go right. It’ll be the first left hand turn onto 547th Street, then another left onto MN-68. The bison filled side of the park will be on the right. It’s a short 1 mile drive with signs to follow.

Waterfalls

Our first stop at this park (after the visitors center to purchase firewood) was the water falls. The trail begins right at the parking area with a concrete sidewalk and bridge going over the first falls. There is a great area just up the river to play in the water and hunt for crayfish. The kids did not catch any, but they sure had fun finding them. Xena loved dipping her paws in as it was quite warm on our visit.

After splashing around in the water we continued out hike to the lower falls. The lower falls is visible from the concrete path that leads around to the other side. To access the lower area, follow the stairs and cross a bridge at the bottom. The path becomes dirt at the bottom of the stairs. The trail leads along the side of the river, but of course, my kids can’t take the trail like normal kids. They ditched the shoes and walk in the river instead. It was a great little “hike”, with a beautiful reward at the end.

Tip: Wear a swim suit under your clothes. At the end of this short hike, if the water levels are right, you may get a chance to swim in the waterfall!

Trails

This park only has 4.5 miles of hiking trails. That’s significantly less than other parks in the state. But really, with all of the things to see, an abundance of milage isn’t necessary. You’ll end up spending more time observing the area rather than hiking anyhow.

The water falls trail is less than a quarter mile long one way but that trail took us the most time to traverse. When water is involved, my kids can spend all day playing in it.

The bison loop that leads around the bison encloser is about 4 miles in length. Along this trail you’ll encounter the Seppmann Mill site and an overlook of the bison area. There is also a parking area near the overlook and mill if you’re not up for the full hike. We were running low on daylight and took advantage of this feature. The parking area is on the other end of the bison drive, a convenient place to view the bison after the drive.

Tip: Bringing a pair of binoculars is helpful in seeing the herd from above. And watch for poop on the drive. There is so much poop! Of course the two-year-old was excited about it.

With a sufficiently high fence and cattle grates at the entrance, the bison are contained to a 331 acre enclosure. They may be contained but they should still be considered a large and dangerous animal. Stay in your vehicle at all times. We did see someone exit their vehicle to get a better photograph with a tripod while the bison were at a greater distance. Don’t do that.

Bison Drive Hours: The drive is open from Thursday-Tuesday 9am to 7pm, closed Wednesdays for maintenance. Be watchful of time changes with the season changes.

Best Viewing Times: In the evening the bison were farther away from the road. We could see them from a distance enjoying the fading sunlight. The range is large and the bison are not always easy to spot. In the morning as soon as the Bison Drive opened up they were right at the gate and road. We got a very up close look at the herd, the calves were adorable! Be courteous of the bison and other drivers. We had someone get frustrated with us stopped on the road, they darted around us almost hitting the calf we were stopped for. Be patient, the bison cross the road at their own pace.

Camping

Not all of our State Park trips are camping trips. We took advantage of a rare slow Monday and Tuesday to camp at Minneopa. We chose a campsite close to the restrooms due to potty training but found that it was still a quiet spot. The site are relatively close together but the spaces at the far end of the loop offer more privacy. Watch for spiders, we were surprised by a big one in the morning.

Firewood is available at the visitors center and this wood burns well. We’ve had some difficult to start logs in the past, so this was a wonderful. Perfect for hot dogs and s’mores with the kids.

Other Activities

Summer

  • Hiking (4.5 miles)
  • Birding (many songbird species in the park)
  • Wildlife observation
  • Waterfall viewing

Winter

  • Snowshoe (rentals available at visitors center)
  • Candlelit Hike/snowshoe (watch the events calendar)

Winter in Minneopa is a sight to see. We were fortunate enough to join in on a candlelit snowshoe event. The path was illuminated by candles on a clear starry night. At the end of the hike, participants can warm up by the roaring fire. We brought hot chocolate and listened the the Park Rangers tell stories about the park and learned more about the bison herd. If your are interested in winter hikes, read more here.

Minnesota State Parks to Visit for Late Season Leaf Peeping

Miss the peak colors of the North Shore? Don’t worry, Lake Superior isn’t the only place to go ‘Leaf Peeping.’ Take a look down South! These parks can still scratch that autumn itch without the long drive north.

Within 1 Hour of the Twin Cities

1. Wild River State Park: Stunning trails along the St. Croix river, through prairie grasses and forests of mixed tree species. Keep the camaras ready, while visiting this park. We happened to cross paths with deer, hawks, and eagles. For great river views, check out the Old Military Road Trail and Walter F. Mondale River Trail. While hiking along the rivers edge, keep an eye out for beavers and otters.

2. Interstate State Park: Dramatic cliffs, pot-holes, unique landscape, stunning leaves, and a plethora of activities. Can’t really miss with this park. While there is a lack of mileage for hiking (just 4 miles in the park) the trails make up for distance with rugged terrain. Rock climbing, boat tours, canoeing/kayaking, and overlooks are other ways to enjoying the leaves in this park.

**Pro-tip: Arrive early at this park. Due to it’s awesome features this park fills up fast, get an early start to avoid the crowds and land a parking space.

3. William O’Brian State Park: William O’Brian State Park is home to a variety of views. The 12 miles of hiking trails will take you to prairie overlooks, oak covered hills and to riverside scenery. Majority of the trails are not by the rivers edge. If hiking doesn’t quite sate that autumn wanderlust, hop in a canoe and paddle your way to satisfying autumn bliss. Watch for waterfowl and beavers along your way.

4. Afton State Park: 20 miles of hiking trails cover prairie restoration, creeks, rivers edge, wooded hills and ravines. This park also has 5 miles of horse trails and 4 miles of paved biked trails. Along the waters edge, birdwatcher can glimpse the waterfowl and raptors.

5. Lake Maria State Park: The previous 4 parks mentioned lie east of the Twin Cities. Lake Maria rests an hour to the west. This park has a different feel to it. More “off the beaten path”. The old growth forest changes the hue of the forest floor and adds a mystical edge to the air. The hiking trails lead to numerous small lakes and tranquil ponds giving chance to come across the rare Blanding’s Turtle. If you prefer birds to reptiles, then keep your sights on the 200+ birds species that live in or pass through the park.

Within 2 Hours of Twin Cities

1. Minneopa State Park: Minneopa is one of the few parks in Minnesota to host a bison herd. Catch these beauties in the autumn colors. Not only does Minneopa have majestic beasts, it is also home to a double waterfall. Be warned, the waterfall is more of a water trickle at this time of the year, but it is still beautiful! The parks only holds about 4.5 miles of hiking, but there is also the Bison Drive. This Bison Drive is a road that goes through the bison enclosure. Stay in your vehicle!!

2. Whitewater State Park: For majestic views that compare to the North Shore, head to Whitewater. With drastic elevation changes on trail, you’ll catch some incredible overlooks. With this park’s 10 miles of hiking trials, you’ll pass along rivers edge, bluffs, and deep ravines. This is a park you don’t want to miss this fall and it doesn’t take a trip to the North Shore to see it.

3. Charles A. Lindbergh State Park: If you are looking to miss the crowds of the busier parks, check out this little park. The 7 miles of well maintained trails will lead you through a variety of colors, over streams, and the open space of a meadow. Up the road from the main park lies a little sections called Little Elk, this area holds a short trail along the Mississippi River.

4. Banning State Park: The beauty of this park is astonishing. Taking the Quarry loop to Hell’s Gate Trail passes along the Kettle River, passed the old ruins, and to a section of falls. The burnt orange and yellow leaves falling over the ruins and falls make for a picturesque scene. With 17 miles of trails and adventure, this has become one of my favorites.

It’s not too late to get your leaf peeping in. The North Shore isn’t the only gorgeous place in the state to see autumn’s glory. Get your hiking shoes and hit the trails before the autumns leaves decorate the forest floor.

BWCA Jack Lake Mine

Have you heard of the Jack Lake Mine? I hadn’t either until my dad showed me an article about it in an issue of the Boundary Waters Journal. This was an intriguing adventure! After doing a bit more research, the decision was made. Jack Lake was to be our next excursion into the BWCA.

This “mine” was actually a test pit for iron ore. When the test samples came back lacking, the mine was abandoned. What was left behind is a sizable whole and numerous artifacts. I’m not sure how aged items must be to gain the title of “artifact” but these sure felt like artifacts to me. These are still strewn about the entrance of the cave. Thankfully visitors have been respectful and left the area as it is. It looks like the miners were simply on a lunch break, a long lunch break.

Finding the Mine

I wasn’t sure about finding this mine. The resources I had found weren’t too clear. It all seemed too simple, I was expecting this to be a hard to find and overgrown trail head lost in time with downed trees and brush. Or that it would be so long that we wouldn’t be sure it was the right trail at all, it wasn’t marked on any map I could find, so maybe it wasn’t really there. None of these things happened. Finding the mine really is that easy, I over thought it. Don’t overthink this one. It’s right there!

Entering from Baker Lake Entry Point #39 is an easy access point. Whether you’re traveling for an extended trip or for the day, this is a very doable adventure. It’s basically a straight shot. Baker lake is a quick dip in the water then it’s already portage time to Peterson Lake. Peterson, though longer than Baker, still isn’t that large of a lake. The paddle went quick, Peterson leads right into Kelly. With higher water, we skipped the 3 rod portage and opted to traverse the flowing water. It was a breeze. Kelly Lake is longer but a beautiful paddle up river with many beaver lodges to view along the way. You’ll know your at the next portage when you find yourself at some breathtaking rapids. The portage is at a rocky edge to the left of the rapids. Take the 69 rod portage to Jack Lake. Now here is were I over thought it. At end of this portage there is a small foot path to your left as you are looking at Jack Lake. That’s it, it’s right there. So obvious. The path is about 50 feet long and you’re there, can’t miss it.

Note: There is good fishing at the rapids on the north end of Kelly and in the sheltered entrance to Jack Lake.

Tools and Artifacts

Approaching the mine off the trail, you’ll be greeted with pieces of the past. Chains, rusted metal and tools are scattered about. At first glance, this seems like someone left a dirty campsite and it needs to be cleaned up and taken care of. Please leave these things as you found them. Treat it like a “Leave No Trace” situation. This little bit of history is a wonder for others to find.

Watch Your Step

I know this cave is intriguing and you’ll want to dive right in, but hold your horses. There are slippery rocks, ice on the cave floor, even the walls are damp and slippery in places. Proceed with caution, be sure to have steady footing and maybe hold onto that slippery wall. Take your time, the cave isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Ice in the rear of the cave is a marvel in the heat of summer. Even in early June, with the heat we experienced, I was surprised to find the thick cold slab. I would be curious to see if the ice remained by the end of August. I suppose that means another trip is in order. Yay!

It’s quite dark near the back of the mine, bring a flashlight or headlamp along. You’ll not want to miss any details hiding in the darkness. Speaking of things hiding in the darkness, that brings me to my next point… Wildlife.

Wildlife

As we all know, bugs in the Boundary Waters are horrendous and it can sometimes be muggy and hot in the summer months. The cave is an amazing escape from both of these things! The animals are aware of this too. On our first visit to the cave, we found a moose track in the ice. It was so unexpected, it had warn it’s way into the still melting ice.

Our second trip to the cave the following day was a bit more alarming. So much so that we did not attempt to enter the cave at all. At the mouth of the cave was a rather fresh bear track leading into the mine. So cool! But the problem was, we couldn’t find the tracks leading out. There is no other way into or out of this mine. That bear was still in there somewhere. We calmly vacated the area and decided to fish in the little bay leading into Jack Lake instead. A fruitful choice as my dad caught a nice bass off a bed near the small rapids leading into the larger part of the lake.

The Jack Lake mine is an easy addition to this already exciting area of canoe wilderness. It’s thrilling additions like these that can add a twist to an already exemplary trip. Especially when you have your children along. Having kids off on these grand adventures and treasure hunts creates memories that will last a lifetime and a sense of adventure that will carry on into adulthood.

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park: A Park Above the Treetops

For a park that isn’t as well known as others, it sure is a beauty! It’s a great spot for a day trip or a breath of fresh air if your staying in the Mille Lacs area.

Quick Review: 7/10 This park has one amazing highlight, easy trails that are maintained well, a rich history, and bugs. Swampy areas on some of the trails brought on bugs, bring the spray.

Observation Tower

The observation tower is really the main draw to this park. I had originally planned on going to Mille Lacs Kathio last fall thinking that we would be able to see the leaf changes from the tower. Unfortunately, the tower was closed at the time of my planning, we opted to go to Crow Wing State Park instead and save Kathio for when the tower was open. The tower is open during the summer but closes for fall/winter due to icy, unsafe conditions.

Get there early! We made the decision to hit this highlight right away after entering the park. We had a little one along and when that is the case, hitting the highlights first is important. It was a good thing too, we had the Tower to ourselves for a very short time. It became crowded rather quickly. There are rules posted at the base of the tower. It clearly states that you should not climb if there are six people up there. People do not heed the warning. Please follow the posted rules, safety first!

The view from the top of the tower is fantastic. Another perk of experiencing this attraction first, is getting a panoramic view of the area yet to be explored. It’s a unique experience only available at 5 state parks in Minnesota.

History

If you are a history buff or have an interest in Native American history or archeology, this is a park for you. With numerous places to stop along the Landmark trail there is plenty of opportunity to catch a bit of information. The most interesting thing that I learned was that the name “Kathio” basically came from poor handwriting. Haha!

There are at least 30 archeological sites in the park alone. This area was the homeland of historic Dakota tribe and Ojibwe tribe. Pretty cool! Stop and read about the history of these peoples at different locations along the trail. This would be an ideal spot to explore for scouting groups learning about Native American history.

Landmark Trail

This trail is relatively short, just 1.5 miles. Once you’ve reached the last informative sign, it’s been 3/4 of a mile, turning back would make it 1.5 miles. The Landmark Trail is well cared for with a mowed picnic area near the Rum river and Ogechie lake.

Hiking Club Trail

Once passed the Landmark Trail and onto the hiking club trail it becomes more wild and secluded. Along the way, you’ll experience steep hills and marsh/swamp areas. This landscape has created the perfect environment for moss and fungi to grow. We encountered some rather unique mushrooms and plant life. Ferns galore!! I couldn’t believe the amount and variety of ferns growing along the hiking club trail. By completing the landmark trail and the hiking trail together, you’ll have covered about three and a quarter miles.

Other Park Activities & Amenities

While we chose to do a day trip at Mille Lacs Kathio, there are other options for enjoying the park. Whether you are staying at the park or just near by, it’s open year round with a multitude of activities.

Winter

  • Sliding hill near the Trial Center
  • Warming House- also the Trail Center
  • Snowshoeing and snowshoe rentals ($6/day)- just under 8 miles of trails
  • Skiing and Cross Country Ski rentals ($10/day) -about 20 miles groomed trails
  • Snowmobile Trails- Connects to Grant in Aid Snowmobile Trail
  • Lantern Ski- Check the events calender for event date & time (A magical experience, check out #5 on 6 Minnesota State Parks Not to Miss This Winter. Same thing, different park. )

Summer

  • Swimming Beach
  • Picnic Area
  • Hiking
  • Horse Trails
  • Canoe Access -no rentals (BYOC)
  • Educational programs (events calender)

Camping

  • Drive-in
  • RV
  • Backpack
  • Walk-in
  • Horse Camp
  • Group Camp
  • Camper Cabins- Open year round, no pets
A Bite to Eat Post Hike

While we always bring snacks and water along for the kids and ourselves. It’s always a special treat to get a good meal after a day in the woods. This little spot on Mille Lacs Lake is just outside of the State Park. Actually as you are leaving the state park, go straight across Hwy 169 and you’ll find yourself at The Launch. It’s an okay place to eat. We sat indoors but the patio area looked really nice. We visited during Covid times and had some interesting service. It was difficult time, so we weren’t too concerned.