Friday, September 5, 2014

Hike one of U.S.’s best beaches – in Minn.

Sturgeon Lake off of McCarthy Beach.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR.

Scenic half-mile lakeshore
found at McCarthy Beach

When you think of great beaches, “Hibbing, Minnesota” probably doesn’t come to mind. But one of America’s best beachwalks can be found only a few miles out of town at McCarthy Beach State Park.

A hidden gem of the Northwoods, the half-mile sugar sand beach on Sturgeon Lake makes for a nice mile-long round-trip. Be sure to bring a towel (more on that later).

Among continent's top 20
To reach the beach, from Hibbing take U.S. Hwy. 169 north to County Road 5. Drive north for about 16 miles; after crossing the Sturgeon River, turn left/west onto Hwy. 65 (aka McCarthy Beach Road), which curves around the southern shore of Side Lake, becomes Hwy. 915 in doing so, and then heads onto an isthmus between Sturgeon and Side lakes. Once on the isthmus, turn left/northwest onto the park road and follow the pavement as it curves north to a parking lot. McCarthy Beach is due west of the lot.

Highways Magazine, a popular RVing publication of the latter 20th century, many years ago rated McCarthy Beach one of the top 20 beaches in North America. Once you reach the lake, take off your socks and shoes and see why – the warm beige sand sifts between your toes, as the perfectly clear water shimmers in the sun.

In fact, hike up your shorts a bit and venture out into the lake. The water remains shallow for about 100 feet or more from the shore. Don’t be surprised to see park visitors playing Frisbee and volleyball in the calf-high water. Of course, you’ll want to dry off after stepping out (That’s why you needed a towel.).

The shallow water makes for extremely safe swimming where children are concerned. There is a marked-off swimming area and a changing building north of the parking lot, so this is a perfect after-the-hike activity.

Ice age lake
Sturgeon Lake is one of five interconnected waterbodies that formed at the end of last ice age when thousand-foot high glaciers gouged into the bedrock. In fact, one of the glaciers stopped right about where McCarthy Beach is now located. To the north of the beach are moraines, or rolling hills of boulders, stones and debris left by the retreating glacier.

Today, fishermen ply Sturgeon Lake’s waters for walleye, northern pike, bass, and panfish. Should you be lucky enough to visit during the early morning or at dusk, you’ll get to enjoy the song of loons over the waters.

A northern boreal forest with stands of red and white pine, as well as leatherleaf-black spruce in the lowlands, surrounds the lake and beach. With those aromatic trees and the lake view, McCarthy Beach long has been a favorite of picnickers. So in addition to that towel, don’t forget a basket brimming with food; picnic tables line the beach, many under the shade of a red pine, offering plenty of places to sit and eat.

While McCarthy Beach is a great summer escape, be aware that June-August still can be cold in northern Minnesota; some days, highs only hit the mid-50s. Always check the weather before venturing out.

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