Beth D.
Reviewed Sep. 3, 2021

5 Nights 5 Stars - Minnesota Bucket List

One of the Greatest MN State Parks - put it on your list!  I'll try to keep comments brief here, but pictures/descriptions plentiful.  We chose Bear Paw campground to be walkable to the water.  Highly recommend Site 2 for nice privacy, walkable proximity to water, close to pit toilet and extra parking.  After exploring Pine Ridge Camp by car, we did find other more private camp sites, but we were quite happy in Bear Paw.

To do:

 - walk to hidden beach

 - short drivable drop in for kayaks

 - rent a pontoon at Itasca Sports

 - walk the headwaters (and geocache!)

 - bike on LOVELY paths, thru UofM research area, to headwaters, etc

 - visit Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center for a GREAT interpretive museum (really quite good)

 - have an early dinner and explore around at Douglas Lodge

 - explore short or long hikes in the park, many short walks accessible from Wilderness Drive include the biggest old red and white pines

 - climb the fire tower for incredible views (NOT ME!!!)

 - explore many other historic sites from pioneer days in the area

  • setting up at Bear Paw #2.  Tight, but was perfect in the end.  Maybe the most private drive in site in Bear Paw -- fishhouse/parking to the south.  Extra wooded "lot" to the North.  Woods to the East.  Drive entry to the West was across from bigger RV sites, but we felt tucked away!
  • Sunset over one of the lake views down a little trail on the West side of Bear Paw camp.  Fires in Canada made the air super hazy in July 2021.
  • Info near the bike trail on the West side of Bear Paw camp.
  • Site 2 at Bear Paw camp. Looking North/Northeast from the first loop drive.
  • Coming into Bearpaw #2 on the private trail from the pit toilet by the fishouse
  • The pit toilet by the fish house.  If you need a secret power boost while tenting nearby, there is a power outlet on the upper front corner of the outside East wall of the fish house.  I may have plugged in my phone once.  :|
  • the fish house!  We never caught anything big enough to keep. Nice running water, and it was cleaned daily in the early AM.  Never smelled fishy at all!
  • Here is our prep table at Bear Paw #2.  This private path leads to the pit toilet near the fish house.  As in the whole park, do watch out for the Poison Ivy.
  • Inside Itasca Sports.  We rented a pontoon one day.  You can get them (or fishing boats, bikes, etc) for a couple hours or a whole day!
  • We brought our own kayaks, and had a lovely float!  It was actually super windy.  Always paddle into the wind first!
  • Inside my kayak--we had a lovely float!  It was actually super windy.  Always paddle into the wind first!
  • Made it on our yaks from Bear Paw area to the swimming area, and came ashore nearby (hopefully not TOO close to swimmers)!   Nice beach area with modern beach house.
  • We found a small launch with dock on a dead end road just south of Bear Paw Cabins 1-6.  It's off the bottom of the C-shaped road that leads to the Brower Trail near Bear Paw camp.  Power boat launching might be a little tough here (but might work for really small/shallow boats).  Informal parking available in some onsite gravel spurs/pulloffs worked great for leaving the jeeps. ;)
  • Headwater interpretive center.  Walk it after the lodge there closes for fewer crowds.
  • Across the headwaters of the Mississippi!
  • when you walk across the headwaters of the Mississippi, make sure to go to the site and screenshot your experience from the webcam!  ;D
  • Rent a pontoon (or fishing boat) and explore the lake on your own.
  • Sunset begins over the lake - Fires in Canada made the air super hazy in July 2021.
  • A view across the walking path at Bear Paw camp.  This is looking West from the West site of the "far" loop.
  • Just a little info from Bear Paw.
  • Outside of a REALLY nice shower house at Bear Paw.  We were delighted.
  • Inside of a REALLY nice shower house at Bear Paw.  We were delighted.
  • One of many shower stalls at a REALLY nice shower house at Bear Paw.  We were delighted.
  • looking South down the main loop road at Bear Paw.  Camp host and shower are to the right from this pic, and plenty of firewood on site to purchase.  I think it was $6/bundle.
  • A visit to the Pioneer Cemetery on the East side of the lake, looking West.  There are also some Indian Burial Grounds in another part of the park.  I did wish there was more information and interpretive notes within the park on the Native tribes from the area.
  • A reconstructed structure to show an original store within the pioneer community.
  • On the Blowdown Trail.  Very rustic!  Not a top suggestion if you only have a little time for just a few trails while driving the Wilderness Drive, but a few pretty flowers and wooded scenes of wind destruction of this area from a past storm.
  • DO stop along Wilderness Drive to see some very big trees! They are not the MN chart toppers any longer, but the short walk to visit them was worth it on our driving tour.
  • Climb the fire tower - it's about a 0.5m walk from the parking along Wilderness Drive (you can imagine the way there is mostly UP!).  Not for me, I cheered them on from below.  ;)
  • Path down to the water from Douglas Lodge.  Gorgeous.
  • Quite a change in the amount of old growth forests in MN over the years.  Thankful that those left are preserved for (hopefully) generations left to come.  The interpretive museum at the Jacob V. Brower center is REALLY GOOD!  Carve out 45m to visit there to learn about the history of the area.
  • I'm sure it's not called "hidden beach," but it might as well be.  South of the Bear Paw camp, you will find this idyllic place down to the water from several paths from the bike trail (one is best, but I could never recall which).  A long time visitor showed us the way, and this magical little beach and wading area was such a delight.
  • Bear Paw...  water on site.
  • This is the non-shower-bath-house.  This one is further south than the shower house, and although more rustic, it's very nice (with flush toilets and running water).
  • Rolling out from Bear Paw #2 on our last morning.  We fit snugly, and it was a GREAT site!
SiteSite 2, Bear Paw

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