By Jim Umhoefer
Beltrami County. On County 20, about 6 miles northeast of Bemidji via Old Highway 71.
Highway map index: F-7.
Regardless of weather conditions, the interpretive center should be your first stop in this park. Upstairs is the contact station, where you can register for campsites and get information about events in Bemidji. The action takes place downstairs, where the naturalist plots fun and (don't tell the kids) educational activities for park visitors. Kids usually make a beeline toward the animal displays and the touch boxes. The boxes are wooden compartments with hand-holes that permit the kids to reach in, feel, and guess the contents.
Perhaps the best feature of the interpretive center is the overview of the park. Clear, colorful diagrams depict the major park environments (lake, bogs, hills). Another graphic depicts Lake Bemidji fish life and the lake's food web (anglers take note).
To supplement the naturalist activities, pick up a park map and select a trail for yoru own exploration. On a boardwalk hike through a conifer bog, for example, you can observe some unusual flora, such as pitcher plants, orchids and insect-eating sundews. Early morning hikers will be serenaded by rose-breasted grosbeaks and a host of other woodland songsters. When the lakeshore is quiet, especially at dusk or dawn, you might notice loons, black terns or even white pelicans. The twilight woods come alive with a chorus of tree frogs, leopard frogs and spring peepers.
Disabled visitors can enjoy a lakeshore stroll on the paved Rocky Point Trail from the picnic ground to County 20. There is also a paved loop along the beach. Bicyclists use these paths, too, but should be aware that people in wheelchairs have the right of way. Rocky Point Trail is a popular one, with many overlooks of big Lake Bemidji (6,765 acres).
In fair weather, Lake Bemidji is a giant playground as sailboats, powerboats (some towing skiers) and canoes share the lake. Fishing for walleye, northern and perch is always popular with park visitors. If you don't have a boat, you can rent one in the park. Ask for details at the contact station.
The park's lakefront is its busiest spot. The large picnic grounds are shaded by some of the big trees that the park is noted for. The enclosed picnic shelter is ideal for family reunions or special group gatherings (check with the manager for reservations). The swimming beach and boat landing are also located along the shoreline.
The spacious semi-modern campground (100 sites; 43 electric) can fill quickly on summer weekends. The park has two group camping centers; one is primitive (near the lakeshore) and the other (at the end of the main campground) features a dining hall. The group centers can be reserved through the park office.
Some visitors plan camping vacations at Lake Bemidji State Park because of the many festivals and attractions is the Bemidji area. The Mississippi River Canoe Route passes through Lake Bemidji and you can drive (or canoe) upriver to the river's headwaters in Itasca State Park. Nymore Beach, on the south shore of Lake Bemidji, was the site of a lumber mill that operated during Minnesota's last logging rush. Scuba divers occasionally discover logging artifacts in the water near the beach.
Outdoor activity at Lake Bemidji Sate Park barely shows down when the snow falls. Cross-country skiers tour on 9 miles of groomed loops designed for all ability levels. Snowmobile trails (3 miles) cut across the hills and lowlands of the park, connecting it with the North Country Grant-in-Aid Trail. There's also winter camping and ice fishing. The Bemidji area is a center for curling (similar to shuffleboard, but played on ice). Interested participants/spectators can call the chamber of commerce for curling dates. If you'd like to learn more about winter outdoors, Lake Bemidji State Park offers interpretive programs designed to change your perspective on Minnesota's most complained-about season. To make sure you don't' miss special programs like the full-moon snowshoe hike, the candlelight ski tours or the March maple sap harvest, contact the park office for a schedule of events.