A winter weekend at Lake Vermilion State Park

Using GPS to navigate Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park in winter, all photos by Holly Scherer for Quetico Superior Wilderness News

Even for those Minnesotans who love winter and claim it as their favorite season, there are moments when it seems to drag on way too long. It’s easy to notice these moments on social media, when we start posting summer paddling photos and longing for sunsets over the water.

By nature, I am not one of those people who love winter. If I can be honest with you, I find winter to be a bit of a pain. Having to start your car and let it run a bit before driving and taking extra caution on icy trails, only to wipe out anyway, are not things I look forward to. I spent many years dreading Minnesota winters and complained my way through them. And then one year I decided that I might be happier if I simply embraced it.

From that point forward, my husband and I have made it a point to explore new winter adventures. While I’d still prefer an endless summer, there are things about winter that I look forward to each year. One of the things I look forward to are the trips we take up north each winter when we play in the snow, relax by the fire, and enjoy the quiet beauty of winter in the northwoods.

There are so many wonderful winter getaways in Minnesota, it’s easy to return to the same one again and again. We try to challenge ourselves to try a new place each year. On top of our winter bucket list: the new camper cabins at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. And I’ll let you in on a little secret—our stay there far exceeded our expectations. Before we even checked out, my husband was online, looking for open weekends in the coming months. Between you and me, this park is a Minnesota winter hidden gem.

Why go?

There are many reasons to visit Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park in any season, but especially in the winter. The first thing we enjoy about heading up north in the winter is the quiet. All of the summer crowds have gone home and many campgrounds and businesses have shut down for the season. The next thing we love is that it’s unbelievably beautiful. The boreal forest is breathtaking any time of year but is arguably the most stunning with a fresh layer of sparkling snow. In addition, it’s nearly impossible to run out of things to do in the area. There’s great hiking and snowshoeing in the park and nearby. You also have access to skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.

How to find Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park

Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park is located along the southeastern shore of Lake Vermilion and connects to the Soudan Underground Mine site about 10 miles to the west. Be sure and schedule enough time to explore both sections of the park. The state park is located about 15 miles west of Ely and 12 miles east of Tower. Coming from the Twin Cities, expect to travel around 250 miles or about 4 hours.

Wherever you’re coming from, it’s a beautiful drive. If you have the time, you might consider taking a different route there and back. On our last trip to the area, we drove up along the North Shore past Duluth. After passing Tettegouche State Park, turn left to follow Highway 1 toward Finland and Ely. When you reach Ely, turn left on 169 and follow that until you reach the park entrance. Slow down and enjoy the sights and sounds of these idyllic small towns. On our way back, we continued down 169 toward Virginia, Eveleth, and Cloquet. Don’t miss more hidden gems as you travel this way.

New camper cabins

The camper cabins are located in the northern portion of the eastern section of the park. There are eight cabins featuring two distinct layouts, and while they sleep six, it was also perfect for the two of us. Camper cabins at Minnesota State Parks can accommodate up to six people and no pets are allowed. The cabins at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park have heat and electricity, but no running water. Cooking inside the cabins is prohibited except for coffee pots, electric tea kettles, and slow cookers. Each cabin has an outdoor kitchen area and fire pit. Firewood is available onsite, and outside firewood is strictly prohibited. You can find more information here.

Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Map via Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Trails in the park are still under development and many are unmarked. Be sure and grab a map from the self-service kiosk or restrooms before you head out. A GPS app may also prove helpful if you know how to use them. There are more than a dozen miles of trail to explore. We love the Onamani Overlook Trail paired with the Lakeside Trail in the eastern section of the park. We’ve hiked the entire western section over several trips. Last time we hiked the Swedetown Loop along with the Miners Trail. Keep your eyes peeled for wolf tracks.

Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park is a wonderful park to explore any time of year. Still under development, you’re likely to be delighted with new discoveries upon each visit. We’ve visited this park in every season and I have to admit, winter is my favorite. That’s quite to compliment coming from a “winter convert.”

Wolf tracks on the trail at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park

More Information

Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park – MN DNR

Holly Scherer is a Minnesota-based writer, photographer, outdoorswoman, and guide. She’s most at home in the great outdoors; camping, hiking, paddling, cycling, and gardening. When she’s not on an adventure, she and her husband live in the Twin Cities where they’re fond of saying, “home is where we store our outdoor gear.”

Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap