Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hike runs through Itasca SP’s backwoods

DeSoto Trail, courtesy Minnesota DNR.
Day hikers can head into the heart of the backcountry on the DeSoto Trail at Minnesota’s Itasca State Park.

While most visitors to the state park stop at the famous headwaters of the Mississippi River, the DeSoto takes hikers into wilderness. The trail runs 5.8-miles round trip. It also is part of the North Country National Scenic Trail.

To reach the trailhead, from Park Rapids, Minn., take U.S. Hwy. 71 north. Turn left/north onto Minn. Hwy. 200 then south onto County Road 122, using the park’s North Entrance. Go right/west on County Road 117. The road becomes Wilderness Drive. Follow Wilderness Drive south and then east through the park; the road eventually becomes a narrow albeit scenic one-way. After passing Elk Lake, watch for a small parking area on the road’s left/north side. The trail heads south from the road’s right side.

Heavily wooded, the trail begins by passing a small, unnamed pond. The next couple of miles or so, it skirts wetlands at the edge of Clarke and McKay lakes to the east. Between the two lakes, heading east from the DeSoto, is the Crossover Trail, which connects to the Deer Park Trail.

A variety of trees grow along the trail, including oak, maple and red and white pine. Because of this mix, autumn marks a good time to hike it. The wetland areas also will be drier and the bug population down.

The route turns hilly as passing between Radisson Lake to the west and McKay Lake to the east. The intermittent Ga-Gwa-Dash Creek runs to the trail’s west but really isn’t visible along the walk.

With few people using this area of the park, the DeSoto is a good spot to look for common Northwoods animals. Expect to see squirrels, chipmunks, a variety of songbirds, and at least some signs of white-tailed deer.

As coming upon the wetlands near the Picard Lakes, the trail nears its end, which is the junction with Eagle Scout Trail at the head of a pond bordering Hernando DeSoto Lake.

Upon reaching the trail junction, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Maps (from north to south):

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.