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Welcome to part 2 of our Northwest MN State Park Tour! We covered 974 miles and 7 Parks! Like most of Minnesota’s State Parks, these parks are all between 1-2 hours apart and short hiking distances, making it easy to visit multiple destinations in one trip. Since these are the furthest from our home, we decided to hit them all and make a 5 day trip out of it. In case you missed it, check out part 1, which features Buffalo River, Red River and Old Mill State Parks.
Our trip had its ups and downs, mostly due to extreme weather, but we were excited to be able to explore this part of the state and enjoy the prairie in bloom!
Exploring A New Biome!
The Northwest corner of Minnesota is located in the Tall Grass Aspen Parkland Biome, the smallest of the 4 biomes in MN at around 3 million acres. This unique area extends across three provinces in Canada and is a transitional mix of flat prairie, deciduous trees and is basically an old lake bottom- fascinating! The Tall Grass Aspen Parkland Biome was formed over Ten thousand years ago by enormous Lake Agassiz, the largest lake in North America and larger than all of the Great Lakes combined! You can learn more about it here.
Lake Bronson State Park
LENGTH 3.4 miles
DATE VISITED June 19, 2022
MAIN FEATURES Lake Bronson State Park is located on the south branch of the Two Rivers which fills Lake Bronson. The lake was created by a dam and offers activities such as swimming, fishing, boating, and picnicking. The hiking trails wind through oak savannas, prairie and along the lake. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) built a series of sturdy structures from picnic shelters to a water tower and bathrooms out of beautiful granite and stone that still stand proudly today. A symbol of hard work and beauty created in our parks during the great depression. Bring your sun protection and water bottle, because the prairie can be really hot in the summer. And keep your eye out for the local elk herd!
Lake Bronson State Park lies entirely within the Aspen Parkland Biome. It is home to several species of unique wildlife, including an elk herd! I didn’t see any elk, but on the first few steps of my hike I saw several birds that I have yet to identify. Towards the end of my hike I saw six yellow lady slippers! So many new and unique beautiful things to see here.
The Hiking Club trail starts as a wide mowed grassy trail and it was already 76° at 7 am. The high is forecasted at 96° with an excessive heat warning. Similar forecast back at home, unfortunately it doesn’t seem like we’re going to escape the heat wave by heading to the Canadian border. Planning for a hot, mid-day hike at Hayes Lake and hoping that Zippel Bay will feel nice and cool in the evening as it is the only night on our trip without electricity in the camper.
It’s been windy for three days but we are thankful for the breeze. There has been poison ivy on every trail I’ve been on up here…so it’s important to stay on the trail and be extra careful on bathroom breaks! So many different flowers bloom through the seasons on the tall grass prairie and I appreciate the interpretive signs that identify all of the new (to me) flowers.
The campground was hopping on Father’s day weekend. Sites are well spaced out but also very open, it’s like camping with a WHOLE BUNCH of friends…except you don’t know any of them yet. Site 40 in the Lakeview campground is on the peninsula and looks like a prime spot!
The bathrooms were busy this weekend, so instead of showering, I took a dip in the COLD lake. Whew! Refreshing!
This was the day that we realized that the battery cover had flown off in the wind, our camper fridge had unexpectedly opened, and that and that our food had been baking in a hot sarcophagus of a pop up camper all day. We had to throw almost everything out but the taco meat was miraculously still frozen. Thankfully, the AC and fan kept us cool during our stay, so…Happy Father’s day!
Hayes Lake State Park
LENGTH 2 miles
DATE VISITED June 19, 2022
MAIN FEATURES Hayes Lake State Park officially became a state park in 1967. It is located near Roseau, MN. Like Lake Bronson, it features a lake that was created for recreational use by building a dam on the North Fork river. Some of the popular activities in the park include swimming, boating, camping, hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, and horseback riding.
The hiking club trail loop winds through the thick pine forest and along the lake. The weather on the day I hiked this trail was pretty miserable and I didn’t spend much time exploring or lingering around. The heat and humidity were oppressive and the signs on the trail to watch for ticks kept me chugging water and hopping along quick.
My favorite part of the hike was walking through the great stands of Pine along the lake. There were views through the trees that reminded me of the boreal forests near the North Shore. Despite the conditions, I found beauty as I walked…but again, did not spend as much time exploring as I would have liked.
At the end of my hike, I found my husband standing there waiting for me at the end of the trail, just to make sure I’d made it ok in the heat. What a guy!
This park has a campground with 35 sites, an electric loop, walk in sites and camper cabins. We did not stay in this campground–and everyone that was camping that weekend looked utterly miserable due to the weather…BUT, I hear that if you want to camp in style, grab camber cabin #3 for a beautiful lakeside view! Something to keep in mind for next time!
Zippel Bay State Park
LENGTH 1.5 miles
DIFFICULTY easy (but also NOT EASY)
DATE VISITED June 19, 2022
MAIN FEATURES Zippel Bay State Park is a 2,906 acre park on the Canadian border and on the shore of Lake of the Woods. At 950,450 acres, this lake is the second largest lake in Minnesota (right behind Lake Superior), and 7th largest in the United States. Main activities in the park are camping, hiking, fishing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Like the other parks on this trip, it is also part of the original Lake Agassiz Tall Grass Parkland Prairie Biome. The park was flooded and nearly empty when when we arrived, but the boat ramp had several fishing boat trailers and evidence of people out enjoying the big lake.
Be sure to check park conditions before you go, at the time of writing this, the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods areas are experiencing long-term flooding conditions, closures and temporary re-location of the hiking club trail and password. We joked about swimming to the Hiking Club Trail Password sign and at the time of writing this, an alternate Hiking club trail has been routed between beach road and group camp.
Temperatures were climbing by the hour. We expected it to cool off the further north we headed, but the opposite was happening.
After our trip down to the lake, we headed to our campsite in the Lady Slipper loop. We quickly realized that our big pop up camper was NOT going to fit into site #1 and that most of the sites in this loop are sized for tents. I called Lake Bemidji, the closest staffed park, and they said we could pick any spot in the park and call back to switch our reservation.
We drove around the empty park and saw that the Anglers Campground had larger sites. We called Bemidji to switch our reservation and got our camper set up…and by this time, the heat index had reached ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN DEGREES! Add the incessant deer flies and you’ve got yourself a party.
We’ve camped in some pretty hot conditions over the years, but we were not prepared for this. So, after about 30-40 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to cool off the inside of a camper made out of metal with tiny windows and no fan (see earlier Lake Bronson sarcophagus comment)…we came to the conclusion that this was a potentially dangerous situation that did not need to be endured and decided to bail.
Huzzah! The incredibly helpful staff member at Lake Bemidji, who I was on a first name basis with after already calling twice, answered a 3rd time, reserving a spot for us at Lake Bemidji. She was so nice… and helpful and … whew….goodbye dumb heat, goodbye hangry deer flies. Hello Paul & Babe!
All of this being said, Zippel Bay had some nice looking campsites and seems like a wonderful park under more hospitable conditions. Uffda!
Lake Bemidji State Park
DATE VISITED June 19-21 2022. You can read our full trip report from our visit to Lake Bemidji State Park in the Fall here. It’s a wonderful park year round and it was my favorite park of the trip. It was significantly cooler than Zippel and felt like a haven after the dust, heat, flooding, voracious flies… I just about kissed the ground when we got there. Plus, I got to meet my new park staff friend and thank her in person for her kindness.
Right in line with the rest of the trip, our stay at Lake Bemidji had its ups and downs. On the positive side, we set up camp, got some rest, blasted the little AC in our camper and enjoyed a nice evening together. We also enjoyed a little trip to town to see Paul and Babe and our old college campus.
Ah…this finally started to feel like the vacation we had planned.
Right after dinner, we received a weather alert…which escalated into a BIG NOISY cell phone alert telling us to take cover immediately…which THEN escalated into a BIG NOISY SIREN in the park and a quick hike down to the bathrooms for shelter. A handful of trips to the storm shelter during my time as a Scout Leader prepared me for this little adventure.
The automatic toilet, flushing repeatedly, brought laughter and levity to being jammed into a hot, sweaty mens bathroom with a large church youth group and the ranger as the storm passed. Thankfully, the campground didn’t receive any damage, but there was word of an overturned semi trailer and trees nearby, so we were glad to have a place to shelter.
Our last day of the trip ended on a high note with the official start to summer, a hike along the bog walk and seeing 4 varieties of Lady Slippers! The park staff signed my Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trail Book and I left Bemidji with the satisfaction of completing my goal…and surviving our trip!
Have you ever been on a trip, where you just wanted to pack up and go home? Yeesh, this one was a doozy, but we have many stories that we can laugh about now and were happy to be able to see this part of the state. Maybe we’ll visit in the winter next time.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but those trips often make the BEST stories and draw you closer together. And, yes…we went camping again. We got a do-over on Lake Superior’s North Shore over the 4th of July!
It was also fun being able to paint in the car in between hikes. I haven’t gotten to do that since our big roadtrip to Idaho in 2021.
The MN DNR Hiking Club and Passport Clubs are fantastic ways to challenge yourself to explore new parts of the state while earning mileage patches and free camping certificates along the way. It took 8 years to complete my goal and I can’t say enough about the programs! I am grateful that this challenge gave me a way to see the breadth of beauty and diversity that Minnesota has to offer and I learned much along the way.
Having a goal like the Hiking Club Trail and pairing it with the 52 hike challenge also helped build the skills and frequency that led to longer and more challenging trips. In 8 years, I completed 3 thru hikes, several other backpacking trips, the 52 hike challenge 4 times (and then stopped counting) and started this blog. If you haven’t signed up yet, check these programs out, it’s totally worth it!
Do you have a trip that was the best/worst? Have you explored the Northwest corner of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trails? Drop me a note, I’d love to hear about it!
Before you go, here’s a little shout-out to some of my gear faves from this trip – much of it sun/bug/extreme weather related! Whew, get some shade and stay hydrated everybody!
- Sahara Sun Hoodie (I wore this for 5 days straight, the hood was really nice to have!)
- Purple Rain Adventure Skirt (wore this everyday- nice and breezy, wonderful pockets)
- Wright Socks – Cool mesh tab
- Zensah Compression Sleeves
- Altra Gaiters
- Outdoor Research Sun Gloves
- Sun Umbrella
- InReach Mini
- Kula Cloth
- Goal Zero Torch 250 Flashlight (for the camper)
- Field Watercolor Kit
- Hike Goo Foot balm
- Sea to Summit Head net
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