Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fire tower, small lake await hikers in forest

The Cromwell Lookout Tower.
Photo courtesy Minnesota's Historical
Fire Lookout Towers blog.

Minnesota's Rogers Lake Trail
runs for 7 miles across brushland

Families with older children will enjoy a hike past a fire tower and around small Rogers Lake in Minnesota’s Fond Du Lac State Forest.

The Rogers Lake Trail – a lollipop route in which the stem is far longer than the loop – runs about 7 miles round trip. A plethora of unnamed trails can be found throughout this corner of the state forest; for convenience, we’ve named the route after its destination.

To reach the trail, from Cromwell, take Minn. Hwy. 73 north. Turn right/east onto County Road 122 and then left/north onto County Road 120. Finally, go right/east onto County Road 223 (aka State Forest Road). The trailhead is in about a third of a mile, on the road’s right/south side. Park far off the road’s shoulder.

From the road, the jeep trail passes through a small clump of evergreens and then past the Cromwell Lookout Tower. Built in 1949 by the state forest service, the tower reaches 100 feet high.

Fires are common in the 64,505-acre state forest that stretches across Carlton and St. Louis counties. In fact, one of Minnesota’s deadliest forest fires occurred in what later would become the state forest: The 1918 Cloquet Fire, sparked during a drought, left 453 dead and burned 250,000 acres.

After a road gate, the trail heads south into open brush country. Alder and willow trees tend to dominate most of the state forest’s brush areas.

In about a quarter mile from the fire tower, the trail veers northeast and parallels a long, narrow stretch of marsh. If hiking in spring or summer, be sure to wear mosquito repellent.

About a mile from the trailhead, you’ll come to a tree farm. There’s a small shelter here for resting. The trail briefly passes through the plantation. With younger children, this marks a good spot to turn around; you’ve gone 1.5 miles for a 3-mile round trip.

If doing the full hike, the jeep trail crosses a narrower walking path then turns north, going by wetlands that usually are more blue than dry. This is an excellent place to watch for waterfowl, especially ducks.

Rogers Lake
The trail then continues northeast, coming to a junction for a logging road heading south; go straight/northeast, however.

Next the trail reaches a T-intersection. Go left/north; within a few dozen feet, turn right/east. The trail to this point has been a stem to this small, 1-mile loop that circles Rogers Lake.

Go left/north (or clockwise) on the loop. Rogers Lake covers six acres and so is among the smallest of Carlton County's 114 lakes. The terrain around the lake does head up and down a little, but most of the trail is flat and even.

Once the loop reaches the main stem trail, return the way you came.

Read more about day hiking Northeast Minnesota in my Headin’ to the Cabin: Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.