Sunday, December 14, 2014

Voyageurs trail heads through boreal forest

Blind Ash Bay Trail. Photo courtesy of Voyageurs NPS.
Map of Blind Ash Bay trail, courtesy Voyageurs NPS.

Great views
of lake, bay
await hikers

Day hikers can explore a boreal forest via the Blind Ash Bay Trail at Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park.

The 2.9-mile round trip trail sits at the southern tip of North America’s vast boreal forest. The best time to visit is June through August when temperatures are warmest, though carrying a sweatshirt whenever this far north is never a bad idea, even during summer.

To reach the trail, take U.S. Hwy 53 north from Duluth, Minn., or southeast from International Falls, Minn. Turn east onto County Road 129/Ash River Trail then go left/north on Mead Wood Road. Park at the Kabetogama Lake Overlook near the Ash River Visitor Center.

Spruce, fir and aspen
A stem to the main trail leaves from the lot’s west side. It runs about 0.1 miles through the boreal forest.

Boreal forests – which account for a quarter of the planet’s remaining forests – largely consist of spruce, fir and aspen trees. Because they exist in a cold climate, the decomposing of pine needles and other dead plants on the forest floor is slowed considerably, allowing for the storage of carbon that if otherwise released would heat up the planet.

At the first trail intersection, go left/west onto the main trail. The trail winds through the forest atop a rocky ridge. After crossing a maintenance road, you’re entirely in the wilderness.

As traveling through Voyageurs, you’ll spot basswood, maples, oaks, paper birch, and pines common to the Northern hardwood forests of the Upper Midwest and New England. The national park marks the transition zone between the two ecosystems.

This far north in Minnesota and given the boreal forest, the types of animals you’re likely to see also shifts from the temperate woodlands. Bald eagle, beaver, black bear, gray wolf, loon, moose, and a variety of owls and warblers inhabit the park. Any one of the birds can be heard if not seen on the Blind Ash Bay Trail. Look for tracks of the mammals.

Water views on loop
About a mile from the stem trail, you’ll the reach the loop. Go right/northwest on it.

Kabetogama Lake soon appears between breaks in the trees to the northwest. The massive lake boasts a surface area of 62 square miles. The Kabetogama is just one of four large lakes in Voyageurs; in fact, 40 percent of the park is water.

As the trail loops south then east, most of the water views are of Blind Ash Bay.

After 0.7 miles, the loop rejoins the main trail. From there, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

With so much water in Voyageurs, you definitely will need to don mosquito repellent before hitting the trail. Be sure to carry the repellent with you in case it sweats off.

Learn more about the park’s day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at Voyageurs National Park guidebook.