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LENGTH 3 mile hiking club trail
DIFFICULTY easy , hilly
DATE VISITED September 3, 2021
MAIN FEATURES  McCarthy Beach is a State Park in North Central Minnesota, located on the ancestral lands of the Ojibwe and Dakota people. Established in 1945, the park encompasses 2,471 acres of northern boreal forest with red and white pine, leatherleaf black spruce lowlands, birch and aspen. More than 175 species of birds visit the area. The park features two accessible, paved multi-use trails, 9 lakes, and has many activities including hiking, camping, backpacking, swimming, fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and boating.


Its tradition! Every year, since our kids were little, we try to squeeze in one last hurrah to celebrate the end of summer with a family camping trip. This tradition almost always falls on my husband’s birthday, who is not a fan of tent camping. One year ago, we rented a brand new pop up camper through Outdoorsy (which is kind of like and AirBnB or VRBO for campers) and had fun glamping at Lake Bemidji State Park. Now we have a sweet A Frame camper of our own!

This was our second voyage in the new camper and we’re loving it.  We have owned various campers over the years, from musty canvas pop ups, to a fussy VW camper van, and this little camper has just enough comfort and bells and whistles to keep everyone happy.  I still enjoy backpacking, and dream of a bikepacking trip one day– but I have to admit that having some creature comforts have made it a great place to rest, relax, paint and catch up on writing.  If you’ve ever wanted to try camper camping, Outdoorsy has some great rigs varying from tiny, lightweight teardrops to full size RVs that you can rent from private owners. It’s a great way to mix up your adventures and try before you buy. Hope this post inspires you to get out on the trail and enjoy the outdoors in the way that you like the best!

We arrived at Scenic State Park on Thursday night and set up our camper in the dark.  My plan was to hike 4 nearby Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trails in the mornings and let my husband get some rest. Friday morning started slow with a cold, soaking rain, in a cozy camper and hot coffee.  It reminded me of our trip to Lake Bemidji State Park last year.  I wasn’t in a rush to drive to Mc Carthy Beach State Park and stayed in my flannel pajamas until lunchtime.

Featured Hike

My drive to today’s hike took me through the George Washington and Big Fork State Forest along the Scenic Highway. The great thing about Minnesota State Parks is that most of them are an hour or less away from each other, so it’s easy to visit multiple parks without a ton of driving. There was a road construction detour that took me 7.5 miles down a dirt road, followed by a minimum maintenance road to the trailhead, making it feel like a remote adventure!

Visitors are advised to check in with the park office for directions to the hiking club trail. It’s a little hard to find on the map, and the rangers are always willing to assist. I drove around and explored the Sturgeon Lake side of the park just to see what it looked like. It had a nice, paved multi use trail that is wheelchair/stroller/bike friendly and had some nice views of the big lake.

To get to the the Hiking Club Trail, visitors will need to either drive down McCarthy Beach road to the Minimum maintenance road, or take country road 5 to the parking lot with a .5 mile spur to enter the trail. I took the minimum maintenance road, and parked at the small hiking club parking loop right off of ski trail road.

The trail is densely wooded, has a smooth packed dirt surface with gentle turns and rolling hills. It was a delightful walk in the drizzling rain with the fragrance of damp pine needles. The forest canopy is just starting to show the first signs of fall with a couple of yellow and red leaves dotting the forest floor.  I brought my hiking sticks since I’m still recovering from my knee injury but I don’t think I needed them. There are a couple of steep hills, but totally manageable. The Ranger said that there had been an increase in bear activity this summer due to the drought, and that these smart bears had figured out how to get into the dumpsters – but they have not been seen for couple of weeks.

I entered the trail at the Big Hole Trail Loop, which intersects with the ski trail rd, Pickerel Lake Trail and the Red Top Trail. Signage is great at this park and the ranger recommended hiking it clockwise to get the best signage navigation. Just as I rounded the corner to get a view of Pickerel Lake, I heard the wooshing sound of a bald eagle taking flight right in front of me! I watched it fly over the lake and off into the pine trees, mesmerized by its beauty. It was a gift to have the trail all to myself and see this wonderful eagle, and especially cool to have the silence that allowed me to hear the sound of its wings! Definitely my favorite moment of the hike.

The hike ended with a walk through some very tall shrubs that left me singing out loud and keeping an eye out for one of those dumpster diving bears…and before I knew it, I was back at the parking lot. I made a swing through the Side Lake Campground for a view of the lake and to check out the sites. There are 59 traditional campsites that line the lake shore of side lake, another 30 at Beatrice Lake and one group campsite. The campsites at Side lake are thickly wooded, so, even though they are fairly close together, they felt private. I took a picture of the ONLY piece of trash I found in 4 days of hiking these trails…and it was on the shore of Side Lake…a can of fizzy lime candy.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors, Moleskine Watercolor Notebook, Isabey Travel Paintbrush

Back at camp, I painted a little memory of my day in my adventure journal and got comfy in our cozy camper. It felt great to be back “home” and add my 53rd Minnesota State Park to my Hiking Club book.

Final Thoughts

Fall is a time when I feel like a little red squirrel…. out of routine, running around storing up the garden, my creativity shifting into high gear and my body trying to adjust to waking up in the dark.

Winter is coming.

As the leaves start to change, Im reminded that this is a time to listen, slow a bit, adjust/readjust and be gentle with myself and others.

I’m excited to get back to my goal of hiking all of the the Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trails, and am working on 2 more trip reports from my visit to Big Bog and Schoolcraft State Parks (with a few more up my sleeve). Be sure to hit subscribe and share if you want to stay up to date, see more paintings from the trail and read where we’re off to next! How are you celebrating the end of summer and the start of Fall Hiking Season? Drop me a note in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy trails!

~ WP

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Gear Used on This Trip

Goal Zero Torch 250 Flashlight, Kuhl Klash Pants, Wright Socks – Cool mesh tab, Zensah Compression Sleeves, Altra Timps , Altra Gaiters, Leki Micro Vario Trekking Poles , REI Rain Jacket, InReach Mini, Granite Gear Hip Wing, Kula Cloth, Purple Rain Adventure Skirt, Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors, Moleskine Watercolor Notebook, Isabey Travel Paintbrush

Copyright Wandering Pine 2021


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4 thoughts on “Hiking McCarthy Beach State Park

  1. I grew up in Chisholm and used to spend summers at the lake. Great hiking trails. I would also recommend the trail that goes around Pickerel Lake. It actually connects with the Big Hole and Red Top. If you want a truly amazing hiking experience go to the Redhead Trails in Chisholm. It’s a mountain bike park, but many of the trails are also designated for hiking. The trails wind through and around the old mine pit just outside of town.

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