A year of wonderful wildlife, superior splendor in northeast MN

BWCA trips year in review
All photos by Holly Scherer.

As each year comes to a close and winter starts to set in, I often find myself daydreaming about the outdoor adventures in northeast Minnesota the new year will bring. This year feels a bit different though. There were so many instances when I was in the right place at the right time and experienced the most remarkable natural wonders. So rather than jumping straight into planning and offering advice for the year ahead, I would like to share some of this year’s highlights and tips to help you experience them too.

Top outdoor experiences in northeast Minnesota and how you can experience them too

Wonderful Wildlife

What is going on, I wondered, as the sixth dragonfly landed on me as I was relaxing in the sun on a solo BWCA backpacking trip. I glanced out over the lake I was camping on and briefly questioned whether what I was seeing was real. A swarm of Ladona Julia (Chalk-fronted Corporal) dragonflies gleefully danced over the lake in perfectly choreographed synchronicity. I got up to take a closer look and noticed hundreds, if not thousands, of now-empty shells of dragonfly nymphs attached to every plant along the shore of my private lake. I’d read about this in the book, A Year in the Wilderness: Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters, by Amy and Dave Freeman. But I never thought that I would experience it firsthand. That afternoon was nothing short of magical and something I will never forget.

That wasn’t the only incredible wildlife experience I enjoyed this past summer though. On that same trip I came nearly face to face with a young bull moose within the first few miles of my hike. Although it was a bit too close for comfort, I will always remember that moment as feeling like I was truly one with nature. Later that month, while floating in our canoe on a glass-like lake, my spouse and I watched another young bull plop into the water and swim across the bay, barely noticing us, before slipping back into the Superior National Forest from which he came.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy an abundance of moose sightings during the two decades I’ve been exploring the outdoors of northeastern Minnesota. My spouse, however, hasn’t always been so lucky. A gregarious extrovert, I always teased him that he’d have to learn to be quiet before he would see one. And then one day, while paddling down the western arm of Rose Lake, it happened. He spotted a cow and two calves making their way along the shoreline, undisturbed by our presence.

Fabulous Fishing

If you’ve been reading my stories for a while, you might know that neither my spouse nor I grew up exploring the great outdoors of northeast Minnesota. Thus, we’ve had to learn everything on our own and it wasn’t always easy—especially when it came to fishing.

“I know you don’t want to do this,” my husband pronounced while fishing one day, “but I think we need to start carrying live bait into the Boundary Waters.” “There’s no way,” I argued. “Listen,” he said. “Everyone raves about how great the fishing is, but we seem to struggle.” I defended my position by recounting all of the times we had decent luck in the past.

Moments later I reeled in a perfect eater-sized walleye and that incredible fishing luck continued all summer long. We lost track of how many walleye we caught and ate. Later this summer, we had a hard time leaving one of the lakes we camped on during this year’s 16-day BWCA trip due to all of the wonderful lake trout we caught and cooked over the fire.

We’ve spent a lot of time studying and practicing fishing over the last decade in particular. And while both of those were important—especially the practicing—I am starting to believe that fishing takes a lot of patience and luck. So, if you’ve been struggling, like we did, keep calm and give it one more cast.

Expect the Unexpected

“That was so cool,” we exclaimed in unison. We had just gone for an afternoon swim on Vera Lake during our annual BWCA trip. We were drying ourselves in the sun and looking out across the bay behind our campsite. Out of nowhere, a waterspout formed, whirled across the bay, and dissipated. For moments we were speechless. Then we excitedly discussed our shared experience, grateful we weren’t out in the canoe when it happened.

At the end of September, I completed a long-time goal of thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail. When I planned my hike, I set aside some time after to reflect and recover. I found a nice quiet spot near Ely in the Superior National Forest. On the last night, after settling in for the evening, I remembered that I had forgotten something inside my vehicle. I got up and noticed faint pillars in the sky. I grabbed my phone, opened the camera, and confirmed that I was witnessing the aurora borealis dance across the October sky.

I bundled up, grabbed my tripod, and made my way down to the shoreline. As I sat down to enjoy the show, I heard a pack of wolves sing in the distance. They continued to serenade me as I watched the show—grateful for this awe-inspiring end to another exceptional camping season.

Once I saw someone in an online aurora group compare seeing the northern lights to seeing Big Foot. This made me smile because it’s been the story of my outdoor life in northeast Minnesota. We’ve been camping under these dark skies during countless epic aurora shows and have slept through most of them. There are apps, like SpaceWeatherLive, that send notifications when the conditions are right for the northern lights. But even if we’re not off the grid, we tend to sleep the notifications as well. So, if you’re anything like me, consider getting outside during the long nights that accompany the fall and winter in Minnesota.

Plan your own northeast Minnesota outdoor adventures

I hope these stories have inspired you to start planning your own adventures in northeast Minnesota. You can find more inspiration and how-to resources here. Then all you need to do is show up, be present, and let nature unfold in front of you.

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.”

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