Monday, May 5, 2014

Trail heads past three glacial lakes in Minnesota Northwoods

Norberg Lake. Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR.

Moose, other wildlife can be
seen in Bear Head Lake S.P.

A day hike past three glacial lakes in the heart of the Minnesota Northwoods await visitors to scenic Bear Head Lake State Park.

In 2010, the Bear Head Lake won the title of “America’s Favorite Park” during a nationwide contest sponsored by Coca-Cola and for good reason: 17 miles of hiking trails, one of which connects to the Taconite State Trail, crisscross the 4,000-acre park, which is popular among campers, fishermen and canoeists. The 2.8-mile loop is unnamed on state maps but christened the Tri-Lake Loop here.

To reach the trail, from Ely, Minn., take Minn. Hwys. 1/169 west (From Tower, Minn., take the same road east.). Turn south onto County Road 128, aka as Bear Head State Park Road. Upon entering the park, stay on County Road 128 and turn right/south into the Norberg Lake parking lot. From the lot, take the trail heading east.

The first section of the loop parallels Norberg Lake’s northside. About 5.9 acres in size and reaching a depth of 26 feet, the lake is stocked with rainbow trout. White sucker also is abundant.

Glacial debris
Coming to a park access road, the trail swerves southeast. Most of the trees along the trail are aspen and birch, but stands of red and white pines, as well as fir, tamarack and cedar can, be found. You’ll also likely spot charred pines from fires that swept through this area more than a century ago during 1911-13.

When the trail splits, go right/southwest. This heads around Norberg Lake’s south side. The trail returns to lake’s southwest tip; after doing so, upon reaching the trail intersection, go left/west.

The rolling and rocky hills in the next section of the trail are fairly new at just 10,000 years or so. Called glacial debris, they consist of stones and dirt pushed here during the past ice age and then left as the glaciers retreated. Bear Head Lake itself was created by a melting glacier.

For a good portion of the hike, the trail heads along the northern shore of the lake’s East Bay. The 674-acre Bear Head Lake reaches a depth of 46 feet and is a favorite among fishermen for black crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, panfish and walleye.

Cub Lake
At the next trail intersection, go right/north. This cuts up the peninsula between the lake’s East and North bays.

Keep an eye out for the park’s diverse array of wildlife on this section of the trail. Chipmunks, bald eagles, hawks, loons, ospreys and red squirrel usually are a guarantee, but don’t be surprised if a red fox or white-tailed deer makes a showing.

During summer, watch the marshes along the trail for moose, which often feed on aquatic plants during that time of year. Much less likely to be seen are gray wolf and black bear, though both live in the park.

At the next trail intersection, go right/east. Cub Lake is to the north, on the other side of the park road. Stocked with brown trout, the 7.44-acre lake reaches a depth of 39 feet.

Past the lake, the trail parallels the park road, heading east back to the lot with your vehicle.

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