Bear Head Lake – a wilderness experience with the comforts of a state park

Bear Head Lake State Park MN
Bear Head Lake State Park MN (all photos by Holly Scherer)

As I’ve shared in much of my writing, I didn’t discover the great outdoors until later in life. When I finally did, however, I couldn’t get enough. I remember seeing photos and hearing stories about people’s adventures in the Boundary Waters and longed for the day I’d have the gear, skills, and knowledge to explore the wilderness on my own.

My introduction to the great outdoors was slow and steady. We started by renting cabins and went on lots of day hikes, pushing further past our comfort zone on each trip. Several years later I felt the pull to try camping. Not wanting to go all-in on equipment I might only use once, we decided to book a camper cabin at what was soon to become one of my favorite Minnesota state parks. That trip was everything I needed to inspire me to camp in a tent the following season. We’ve returned to Bear Head Lake over and over and it will forever hold a special place in my heart as the park that made me a camper.

A great Minnesota state park to get that wilderness feeling

Bear Head Lake State Park is located just south of the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Its 20 miles southwest of Ely and 16 miles east of Tower make it convenient to get supplies you may have forgotten when you’re first starting out. Just 240 miles from the Twin Cities, Bear Head Lake State Park is a great location for an extended weekend.  

Park visitors have easy access to five lakes that are entirely within the park boundaries which adds to the wilderness feel. If you hit the park on the right day, you might even feel like you have it all to yourself.

This park is the perfect destination for both beginners and experienced outdoor explorers. If you’re new to the outdoors, you’ll enjoy the ease and security of one of the park’s four camper cabins. More experienced outdoor enthusiasts might enjoy the wonderful backpacking and canoe-in campsites. There are also two campgrounds, one that features 23 non-electric tent sites, and the other with about 70 electric sites, some of which offer a lake view.

What to do

Although this park is convenient for a long weekend, there’s so much to do that you’ll wish you had stayed longer. The hiking trails in the park are challenging and beautiful. The Hiking Club Trail is breathtaking and the easier of the park trails. It’s wonderful year-round, whether on foot, skis, or snowshoes. The trails around Blueberry and Becky Lake are more challenging and offer plenty of quiet and solitude. If you’re new to the area, be aware that sections of the trail are covered in rocks and roots. Wear proper footwear and watch your step.

You can rent boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and snowshoes from the park office. This is an inexpensive way to learn which watersports are best for you. Bear Head Lake is a large lake. Pay attention to where you are at all times as it’s easy to get lost. It’s okay to stay close to the shore and campground if you’re just starting out.

The fishing in Bear Head Lake is usually quite good. After you catch a few fish, watch your stringer. Snapping turtles are known to take advantage of the easy meal. After you catch what you need for the day’s dinner, the state park offers a convenient fish cleaning house so you can keep a clean campsite and avoid attracting hungry critters.

Nothing beats a dip in the clear and cool northern waters on a hot summer day. The beach and picnic area are a great place to spend an afternoon and watch the sunset. The beach itself is more rocky than sandy, so those with sensitive feet might enjoy a pair of water socks.

While out on your day’s adventures, keep your eyes and ears open for wildlife. I’ve already mentioned the fish and snapping turtles, but you’ll likely see deer, beavers, loons, and eagles too. At night, listen for wolves and coyotes.

Here are more insider tips for your first trip.

The drinking water has a high level of iron that you can taste. You may want to bring your own drinking water.

If you’re new to the region, keep in mind that there can be a big range in temperatures and weather. It’s not uncommon for me to don a swimsuit and base layers on the same trip. Pack layers that will allow you to feel comfortable in a variety of temperatures.

The bugs can be extra hungry at times and it’s quite unpredictable. With such short Minnesota summers, I never miss an opportunity to play outside which means that I’ve had trips when the bugs have been almost unbearable. Be prepared with bug repellent, head nets, screen houses, or whatever you need to feel safe and comfortable. Don’t forget to do a daily tick check.

Bear Head Lake State Park is a wonderful destination year-round. It offers amenities and experiences for people of all skill levels and abilities. While it’s a great destination for a long weekend, there’s enough to do for a week or two. If you haven’t visited this park yet, be sure and add it to your Minnesota bucket list.

All photos by Holly Scherer

More information:

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