Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hike Solana State Forest trail to see wildlife

Solana State Forest. Photo courtesy Minnesota DNR.

Eagle, deer, grouse common
sights in popular woodlands

Day hikers are likely to spot a variety of northern Minnesota wildlife on the Solana Forest Road Trail west of Rutledge.

The 1.5-mile round trip out-and-back trail actually is located in Aitkin County. Late summer and early autumn mark the best time to visit, as the trail will be drier and the bug population lower.

To reach the trail from Rutledge, take County Road 39/Rutledge Road west. Turn right/north onto Maple Road. At County Road 41, go left/west; the highway curves north to become Jones Road then swerves west and becomes County Road 2 or 220th Street. About 1.5 miles into the state forest, turn onto a dirt road on 220th Street’s right/north side. In about 100 feet, you’ll come to a dirt parking area on the left.

Wildflowers and berries
Walk the dirt road north. A path circles around a gate for preventing unauthorized motor vehicles from using the road.

The road curves northwest through what at one time was a paper birch forest. As the woodlands grows back, this is an excellent area to look for a variety of ground plants that call the state forest home; among the flowers are trilliums, lady’s slippers, and Jack-in-the-pulpits as well as ferns. Several bushes sporting wild berries, including blueberries, chokeberries, highbush and wild cranberries, and raspberries, also grow in the state forest. Fernsare abundant, too.

About 700 feet from the gate, the trail enters a sparsely wooded area, then a quarter mile in thicker tree groves appear east of the trail.

Tamarack, black spruce, black ash, and lowland brush prefer the state forest’s lower elevations. The higher ground attracts red pine and white spruce.

Migrating moose
Which animals you might see largely depends on which trees dominate the area you’re passing through. While white-tailed deer are ubiquitous, black bears and gray squirrels prefer oaks for their acorns while ruffed grouse tend to hang around aspens. In more open areas, watch for bald eagles hovering above as seeking a meal.

At about 0.43 miles, a wetlands sits east of the trail. Migrating moose sometimes are spotted in the state forest, and small ponds like the ones here are among their favorite habitats.

In a little more than 0.75 miles, the trail curves east with an intersecting path heading northwest. This trail junction marks a good spot to turn around. More than a century ago, this area was heavily logged. A forest fire in 1925 ended that, however, and the land was sold to the government then eventually became a state forest, which has since expanded. Solana State Forest now stretches more than 68,000 acres across Pine and Aitkin counties.

Be advised that Solana Forest Road also serves as an ATV trail. For safety purposes, always yield the right-of-way to a motorized vehicle when hiking.

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