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LENGTH 2 mile hiking club trail + a 100 ft fire tower!
DIFFICULTY easy, flat boardwalk
DATE VISITED September 4, 2021
MAIN FEATURES Big Bog State Recreation Area is located in North Central Minnesota, on the ancestral lands of the Ojibwe and Dakota people. “Big Bog State Recreation Area has been called Minnesota’s last true wilderness. This two-part recreation area includes a northern unit and a southern unit. The 500-square-mile peat bog, the largest in the lower 48 states, is located in the northern unit. A mile-long boardwalk, completed in 2005, enables visitors to get a first-hand look at the unique plant and animal life of this rare resource. The bog, which has long been a source of medicinal plants for the Ojibwe Indians, represented a barrier to European settlers who tried in vain to drain it. Today, many of the native plants, including yellow-eyed grass, bog rush and two kinds of sundews, are on Minnesota’s endangered or threatened species list. From orchids to carnivorous plants to rare birds, visitors will see a mixture of fascinating and rare resources. The southern unit includes a campground with 31 campsites (26 electric sites) winterized camper cabins, a sandy beach, picnic grounds, and great fishing.” -Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Know Before You Go
- Plan to be flexible. Explore new destinations and consider mid-week travel. Parks are busy as more people get outdoors, so we encourage you to discover a new favorite this summer!
- Arrive prepared. Buy your vehicle permit, check visitor alerts and campfire restrictions, and download maps before your trip.
- Recreate responsibly. Help conserve these special places for the future by staying on trails and leaving no trace.
Today’s adventure started on day three of our stay at Scenic State Park. Each day, I am daytripping to nearby State Parks to hike the Minnesota State Parks Hiking Club Trails. There are 67 trails and today’s hike makes #54. The great thing about Minnesota State Parks is that most of them are an hour or so away from each other, so it’s easy to visit multiple parks without a lot of driving.
Big Bog State Recreation Area is divided into North and South units. GPS might try to take you to the Northern unit, so watch for the small brown State Recreation sign on the side of the road to make sure you get to see both segments of the park.
The Southern unit of the park is located along the shore of Upper Red Lake and has a nice visitor center and fire tower that is open to climb. The visitor center features a nature center that includes information about the wildlife and fascinating plants that are found in the area. Note: there is NO WATER at the Northern unit, so be sure to fill up at the visitor center if you need water.
I can’t resist a fire tower climb, and this one was the finest I have ever been up – sturdy, slightly wider stairs, and modern construction. It’s 100 ft tall and offers treetop views and a peek at Upper Red Lake. If you would like to read more about other fire towers in Minnesota State Parks that you can climb for some great views, here’s a list – I highly recommend visiting the fall when the colors are popping!
The Hiking Club Trail boardwalk starts at the Northern unit which is 7.4 miles from the Southern unit. The 2 mile loop starts with with a hike around the pond and is a wide clear trail that is wheelchair accessible. There is no shade on this trail so make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection on sunny days. Fun fact: The boardwalk is constructed with a grate design that allows light to shine on the the plants that grow beneath and its structure allows the bog to belch and move in its natural way. (sounds comfy!) It’s also a great walking path for people with limited mobility, kids, strollers, etc. The boardwalk was constructed in 2005 and at the time of construction, was one of the longest wetland trails in the nation.
The bog is bursting with rare and medicinal plants like ladyslippers, cranberry, pitcher plants and sundew. I remember learning about the tiny sundew during our hike at Lake Bemidji State Park last fall and have yet to see one.
In 1889 federal government appropriated a section of the Red Lake Reservation to give to settlers. Settlers tried, unsuccessfully, to drain the bog to use it for farming and you can still see these old ditches in the land today. After several attempts to drain it, unsuccessful farming efforts and a brief time during WW2 as an aircraft training/test bombing area, people started to understand the complexity and significance that indigenous people have known about the bog for generations. The value of the bog’s critical plant life and ecosystem were recognized in the 1970’s and 300,000 acres were declared a wilderness area making it one of the largest undeveloped wilderness areas in the United States.
The midpoint of my hike included a view of the the bog through the big binoculars and a stop to attempt to paint one of the alien-looking carnivorous pitcher plants growing alongside the boardwalk. Not my best painting and I realized how hard it is to paint these alien plants! It was still fun and I always love painting a forest of scraggly spruce trees.
The southern segment includes a campground with 31 campsites (26 electric sites) and 6 camper cabins. Camper cabins have electricity and are heated for use year-round. Check out the park’s reservation site for more details.
I met my husband back at camp. We relaxed around the camper, made a great dinner of chicken tacos and went for a stroll around the park. It felt great to be back “home” and add park #54 to my Hiking Club book.
To read more about our stay at Scenic State Park, our new A Frame camper and the camper we rented at Bemidji State Park, check out my first post in the series. 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!
Have you hiked on a bog? This was my fourth one, and I just think they are so unique and fascinating…it’s like going to another world filled with tiny surprises. Check out my other posts of Quaking Bog, Alfred’s Pond on the Superior Hiking Trail and Lake Bemidji State Park to read more.
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 1 more trip report from our visit to Schoolcraft State Park (with a couple more trips up my sleeve before the year is over). 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!
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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
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