Monday, January 2, 2017

Enjoy Voyageurs National Park scenery without heading deep into backcountry

Tilson Bay Trail map. Courtesy of Minnesota DNR.
Wild strawberry blossom.
Casual visitors to Voyageurs National Park often worry about hiking deep into the backcountry, where getting lost among black bears and gray wolves always is a possibility. One solution that allows you to enjoy the region’s scenery without straying far from civilization is the Tilson Bay Trail, located just outside of the park’s Rainy Lake area.

The 1.6-mile round trip trail consists of a side trail and a loop at one end. It’s near a major highway and surrounded by a housing development but is nestled far enough away from both to give you that back-to-nature feel, especially as part of it is in the Koochiching State Forest.

To reach the trail, from International Falls, take Minn. Hwy. 11 east. Immediately after crossing Tilson Creek, turn left/south into parking lot. Walk to the other side of the highway into the boat launch area for the trailhead.

The trail quickly climbs, crossing rock outcroppings to an overlook of the surrounding forest.

At the first junction, go left/northeast onto a side trail. You’re now officially in the state forest. At 567,985 acres in size, the state forest crosses three counties.

You’re certain to find a variety of trailside wildflowers. In spring, the white blossoms of wild strawberry and blueberry flowers as well as violets are common, and the bright green glow of new aspen leaves are particularly impressive.

The next junction rejoins the main trail. Go left/east onto it. You’ll then cross a few small boardwalks that’ll keep your feet dry in wet areas.

After that, the trail crosses County Road 137 and parallels that road, passing a Little Free library along the way, and re-enters the woods. The trail then splits to form a loop. Which way you go on the loop doesn’t much matter; from either direction, the woods opens up to a view of Tilson Bay on Rainy Lake.

Upon completing the loop, retrace your steps back to the junction for the side trail. Rather than go on the side trail, though, continue left/straight west. You’ll soon pass the first junction for the side trail.

The trail again climbs past the first set of rock outcroppings you went over then descends to the parking lot.

The trees, flowers and rock formations along the trail resemble much of the rest of Voyageurs National Park’s Rainy Lake area. An entry to the national park is just a mile to the east.

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