Category Archives: Parks

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Nerstrand, MN

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Nerstrand, MN

There is a hidden falls.  That is really about all there is to say about Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.  The loops are fairly small near the center.  It is easy to get to the hidden falls.  It is a good starter park.

Hidden falls at Nerstrand

There is a large area for kids to play while you prepare a picnic for the family.  You can then quickly run down and stand in the falls.

If you take some of the other trails you will see a lot of trees and some beautiful flowers.  Lots and lots of pretty flowers.

white and purple flowers

If you want to ease you family into going to a park and you live near this one check it out.  You can work your way up to the longer trails.

Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, MN

Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, MN

Itasca State Park is probably the best park in Minnesota outside of the north shore area.  It was established in 1979, which was a great year for beginnings.  It is the location of the headwaters of the Mississippi river.  You can actually walk across the beginning of that river via the rock formation that was created or a wooden plank, or both.  There is a plaque that reads, “Here 1475 ft above the ocean the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Crossing the great Mississippi River

Bicycling is a big thing in this park.  You can rent a bike right in the park.  The entire park is a loop, and a good portion of it is one way, which I think makes bicycling safer for those spinning their way around this park.

Chester Charles II Tour Boat

Another thing that you will want to do is take a boat ride on the Chester Charles II Tour Boat.  It is possible to go fishing on the lake.  We took a boat tour.  It was very informative.  We learned all about the wild rice growing on the lake and the history of the Indian tribes fighting over the land, until the white man came along and won the argument.

Loon, MN state bird

We saw several loons which are the state bird of Minnesota.  Their call sounds more like a wolf’s howl than a bird’s song.  You should never disturb a loon while it is nesting, not even by making its call, because it will abandon the nest, and it will only try twice in a season.  We also saw some bald eagles which were amazing.

Bald Eagle in trees

If you travel around the park there are several places to stop and see some impressive trees.  There is a white pine tree that stands 250 feet tall.

Fire tower at Itasca State Park

There is also a fire tower, Aiton Heights Fire Tower, that you will want to ascend it.  The view at the top is great.  You can see everything from up there.  It is all enclosed so you do not need to worry about falling.  None-the-less the climb can be a bit scary.  It is rather high.  I am afraid of heights so my muscles ached when I get back to the bottom.

View from the top of Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Another stop while visiting Itasca State Park should be Douglas Lodge.  There is a great little restaurant inside.  Try the wild rice soup.  There will probably be a wait, but it is something that you will want to do.  The prices aren’t bad and the food is good.

You can see the entire park in a couple of days despite the fact that there really is a lot to see.  Eat at the Douglas Lodge, take the Chester Charles II boat tour, climb the Aiton Heights Fire Tower, hike some of the trails (apply bug spray), find the cabin made of massive logs, stand on the headwaters of the Mississippi, and if you want, bike around the entire park.  It is a great park and I highly recommend it.  It really is one of the best in Minnesota.

Lake Maria State Park, Silver Creek Township, MN

Lake Maria State Park, Silver Creek Township, MN

We booked a cabin at Lake Maria State Park near Monticello, MN.  It is a short drive northwest of the cities.

We parked near the lake and started, what we thought would be, a short walk to our cabin.  Needless to say I miscalculated where we were on the map.  We walked along the lake and directly towards a marsh.  We finally stopped when it looked like the marsh might take us if we went any further.

View of the pond outside of our cabin

Eventually we wound around until we ended up at our cabin.  It was a great spot next to a little pond of it’s own.  There was a light inside that ran on a solar panel just outside of the cabin.  It would run for about half an hour before it turned off on its own.  It was really nice at night.

Outside of the cabin there was a privy off to the side, almost behind the cabin, but close.  It came with a fire pit, a couple of logs to sit on, and a picnic table.  It was perfect.

It turns out our parking space was hundreds of yards instead of over a mile.  We found it when we took a short walk around our pond.  My only other complaint was the wood heat was too much for that little cabin.  That was of course our fault.  We didn’t really need a fire inside at all.  I really liked this cabin setup.

The park was nice.  It is a great place to do some bird watching.  At least one person was there just to catch a glimpse of the larger birds in the area.  I didn’t get a clean shot, but there were some nice looking birds in the area.

This is what I would call a relaxing cabin location and park.

Bemidji Lake State Park, Bemidji, MN

Bemidji Lake State Park, Bemidji, MN

We decided to stay a night at a cabin in Bemidji Lake State Park.  As a child my parents would occasionally take the long drive up to Lake Bemidji for our family vacation and the chance to fish.

The park is on the northeast side of the lake.  The WiFi was surprisingly strong in the park.  It is always so hard to find good WiFi inside a park.

Inside of the Bemidji State Park cabin

The cabin was very cute.  It held four beds, a table, and bench seats.  It was warm enough that we didn’t need to use the heater which looks like it was baseboard.  The bunk bed were low enough that we ended up sleeping on the top bunks in order to avoid hitting our heads.

The trail was mere steps from our cabin.  The crown jewel of this particular park is the bog walk.  It is definitely worth checking out all of the plants.  We found a carnivorous plant on our walk.

There are a lot of pretty flowers in this park.  Try to spot all of them.  If you get tired of this park you are just a short drive over to Lake Itasca State Park.  You could even go fishing.  I hear it is kind of fun.

Banning State Park, Sandstone, MN

Banning State Park, Sandstone, MN

On our way back to the cities from the Soudan Mine we decided to stop at Banning State Park and it was not a disappointment.  This park used to be a quarry along the Kettle River.

The high path is the nature path

There is a high trail and a lower trail.  The lower one is where all of the action is along the river.  If you don’t think you will walk all the way to the waterfall than take the lower path.  If you want to see as much of the park and as many of the paths as possible, take the higher path.  We of course, to the higher path down to the waterfall and the lower path on the way back.

Waterfall at the end of the path

This waterfall is interesting as it isn’t very tall.  The water behind it is very shallow.  When we arrived there was a family playing in the stream that leads to the fall.

Kettle River

It took me a while to figure this out, but this river runs brown, and reminds me of root beer.  The reason for this is the iron that is coloring the water.

I didn’t capture the cutting in the rock walls that surround the lake, but if you go you can see where they placed the explosives.  The quarry sliced away at the rock and left it scared, but beautiful at the same time.

Take the journey along the river and read the historical information along the way.  I liked this park with its waterfall and the nice stroll along the river.  The high path is a take it or leave it path.

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely, MN

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely, MN

I am glad I didn’t see any bears while visiting Bear Head Lake State Park.  Of course, it would be a black bear, which are small and easily scared off.  Just don’t come between them and their cubs.

We ate lunch at Bear Head Lake State Park.  There was this building which had a fireplace inside and a fire pit outside.  There was running water and a microwave.  It was all very nice.  Once we heated our food we sat out on the picnic tables next to the swimming beach.

Picnic table and swimming area at Bear Head Lake State Park

There were two paths around the lake and let me tell you there was one path less traveled.  On that path we came across this little guy.  This turtle was scary.  He watched us intensely as we kindly made our way around him.

Scary Turtle

The lake was really pretty, and look, stairs!  I love stairs.  No, really, they mean you can climb or descend a path without the Earth crumbling beneath you.

Stairs down to the lake

Just look at that still water.  The next day was a little windier and sunnier.  I loved looking at the reflections on the still day and the brilliance of the lake on the sunny day.

Trees reflecting on the lake
Look at those trees trying to hide that beautiful lake

Overall I would call this a great nature park.  You have the swimming area if you enjoy that.  The building with the fireplace and microwave was very convenient.  The hiking was beautiful and allowed us to see that prehistoric turtle.  That guy looked like he was straight out of history.  If you are looking for hiking or swimming I would say this is a good park for you.  It also made a nice place to eat a meal.

Lake Vermilion State Park, Soudan, MN

Lake Vermilion State Park

We sneaked onto Lake Vermilion State Park while it was still under construction.  We were greeted by the most interesting turtle, not cute, but interesting.  I tried to get a selfie with it and then we moved it off the road so that no one would hit it.

I have to say that the lake itself is beautiful.  There are a few docks and you can fish from them.  We stayed at the Vermilion Park Inn and one of the other temporary residents said that he caught a fish there.

View from on of the many docks on Lake Vermilion State Park

Like I said, the park wasn’t open when we started walking the trails.  The unfinished trail was still fairly nice.  We walked until we reached a point that we clearly couldn’t pass, or shouldn’t pass.

I think this park could be pretty much whatever you want it to be.  It is just a really pretty place to visit.

If you plan on visiting this park than you also need to make sure you stop in and see the Soudan Mine.  It really is a must see.

Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Soudan, MN

Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Soudan, MN

A miner for a day!  Ok, about an hour, maybe less, but they gave me a hard hat, and that is what I appreciate about the Soudan Mine.  I am not sure anyone over eighteen has ever been so excited about riding down an elevator shaft, deep into the ground, to take a cart further into the Earth, and walk around a hollowed out piece of rock.

Somehow it isn’t that scary.  Even though you are deep in the Earth, it’s probably one of the safest mines that you could go into.  They call it the Cadillac of mines.  The ore is high quality and there aren’t those dangerous patches of gases and such that you have to watch out for in other mines.

A look inside the Soudan Mine, it’s a dark one

The underground tour is a must see.  It is super informative.  If you have kids you should definitely take them for this educational tour.  They have small hats for the little ones.  You do have to give the hats back at the end of the tour.  You can reserve your spot so that you don’t have to wait, or at least know that you will get onto the tour.  We reserved a spot and then ended up swapping it for an earlier tour.

Once you finish the tour, or before you go, you need to explore the above ground operation at the mine.  You can observe the cable operator at work.  He is the guy that will raise or lower you into the mine.  They use a system of clicking to know how far down to send you.  The machine is amazing to watch.

Going Down?

Once you see the cable at work you can follow it outside and view the large cable that heads up over your head.  There are a few other buildings around the property that you will want to see.  You can see where they break up the ore and pile it below.

Chew them up and spit them out, Soudan Mine Grinder building

I like the machine shop sign.  It seems very appropriate.  It reads, If you are injured, no matter how little, tell your foreman, right away.  There is a little sign under it that reads, Save your eyes, wear goggles.

If you are injured sign at the Soudan Mine

There are some beautiful flowers around the property as well.  Really, head up the Soudan, MN and visit the mine.  Take the tour and enjoy.


Split Rock Lighthouse, Two Harbors, MN

Split Rock Lighthouse, 3713 Split Rock Lighthouse Road, Two Harbors, MN 55616

Split Rock Lighthouse is a historical site and part of the Minnesota Historical Society.  As a site that is part of the Minnesota Historical Society there is a fee to see the lighthouse even if you have a pass for all of the state parks.

You drive in, park your car and enter the visitor center.  There are plenty of things to see in the center and purchase.  One of the items you will need to purchase is a pass to go through the doors that lead out to the lighthouse itself.  It is worth taking a look.

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The lighthouse is right behind the visitor center and there isn’t any scary walks along a long and narrow path like many lighthouses.  It is a rather beautiful lighthouse.

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You can walk around the building next to the lighthouse or wonder through the other area with all of the other buildings.  There is information inside the building next to the lighthouse.  Cover your ears when the fog horns go off.

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Stand back and take in the lighthouse itself.  It is a pretty amazing sight to see.  The best part is that you can go inside and climb to the top.

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The lower part of the lighthouse is rather neat.  There is a stove and a desk for the caretaker to use.  They have people dressed up as caretakers walking around.  I believe there is also a tour that you can take.

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The mechanics of the lighthouse itself are really incredible.  It truly is a beautiful work of art.  The fact that it has a functional aspect as well is just a bonus.

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Climb the staircase to the top and take in the view.  It is rare that you get to climb a lighthouse so that fact that they let you go up into this one makes it very exciting.

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The light at the top of the lighthouse spins around so that boats can see it.

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The view is also quite spectacular from the lighthouse.  Here are a few shots of what you might see when you visit here.

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If you get a chance to visit Split Rock Lighthouse it is completely worth the fee.  The lighthouse is beautiful and  the fact that they let you go inside makes it very exciting.  It is also very accessible from the standpoint that you do not need to take a scary walk to get to it.  There are stairs to get up to it so keep that in mind.

I highly suggest putting Split Rock Lighthouse on your list of things to do if you are in the Twin Harbors, MN area.

After you view the lighthouse you can take a hiking trip into the park itself.  We were just passing through so we skipped the hike, but it looked like it would be fun.


Temperance River State Park, Schroeder, MN

Temperance River State Park, 7620 West Highway 61, Schroeder, MN 55613

Along the north shore in Minnesota there is a little town called Schroeder, and just north of this town is the Temperance River State Park.  The park entrance is on the east side of the road, but the trails we took were on the west side of the road.

We parked along 61 and took the superior hiking trail along the northern part of the river all the way up to Carlton Peak.  It is a beautiful journey.

The trail starts near hidden falls, which, if this is all the further you get you still have a lot to see.  It isn’t far the to first looking point.  You get a glimpse of the falls hiding behind some rocks.

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A better view is just a little ways further, but you will need to walk up some rock stairs.  They did a great job making the path look almost natural at times, like the stairs where crafted by the Earth and not placed by man.

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The river is this beautiful, powerful, twisting, turning thing at this point in the river.  It carves its way through the rocks and creates whirlpools along the way which is way there is so much foam in the river.

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About a mile or so in you will come across a sign stating Carlton Peak 2 miles and Britton Peak 3.6 miles.  Take the journey up to Carlton Peak if you have the time.  There is quite a bit of walking up hill, but the view is amazing.

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A view from the bottom looking up at Carlton Peak will make you take a pause, but it really is worth it.  I believe there are shorter journeys up to the top from another trail head if you only want to see the peak.

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There is a place where you can write in a journal about who you are and why you are there.  We were going to attempt to go up from there, but if you walk a little further an easier path will present itself.  Luckily someone saw us and pointed this path out to us.

The view of Lake Superior from here reminds you just how big that lake really is because you can’t see all of it.  It almost looks like it isn’t a lake, but instead the sky shining blue and touching the trees.

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The view away from the lake is just this ocean of trees.  It seems to extend forever.

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On our trip back to our car a squirrel posed for a picture.  I swear he chased us down and waited for me to get this pic.

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Camping near the Temperance River in the State Park by the Lake looked like it might be pretty amazing.  You are pretty close to your neighbors, but the view is great and the trails down to the Lake and beach area are pretty sweet.

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We walked along the beach just as the sun was setting and the moon was rising.  We knew we needed to get back to the car, but it was hard to walk away from these fantastic views.

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If you get a chance to see Hidden Falls, Carlton Peak, or any of Temperance State Park take the opportunity to see it all.  It is part of the Superior Hiking Trails and a piece of the trail that you will  not want to skip.