By Jim Umhoefer
Itasca County. About 7 miles east of Bigfork on County 7. State highway map index: 1-7.
At Scenic, the indoor interpretive programs (films, discussions, etc.) are held in a beautiful, sturdy lodge on the shores of Coon Lake. The lodge was built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The forest murals were painted by a CCC artist. Outdoor activities include hikes under the park's tall pines, campfire programs and wildflower walks.
There are about 14 types of orchids in the wilds of Scenic State Park. Hikers might see several varieties of lady's slipper, Minnesota's state flower. Some wildflowers, like moccasin flowers, flourish in conifer bogs. The round-leafed sundsew, also common in small marches, works for its food by trapping insects on a drop of adhesive at the ends of its hairs.
The Chase Point Trail, which follows the crest of a narrow, serpentine ridge, is the park's most impressive trail. The skinny, steep ridge marks the position of a former subglacial river. Water flowing in an ice tunnel deposited sand and gravel on its floor, leaving the long ridge, or esker, when the surrounding ice melted. Many of the lakes in the area were also engendered by glaciers. Called kettle lakes, they are water-filled depressions formed by melting ice masses left behind by retreating glaciers.
Besides loons, watch and listen for pileated woodpeckers and songbirds while hiking. Bald eagles, ospreys and hawks can often be seen soaring overhead. Deer are plentiful in the park and can be easily observed by quiet hikers. In the northern section of the park along the backpack trails, campers occasionally report spotting a moose or black bear. On rare nights, the howl of a timber wolf pierces the stillness of the forest.
Scenic State Park caters to most camping tastes. The two main campgrounds have about 120 semi-modern sites (with 20 electrical hookups). The 150-person primitive group camp, with hand pumps and a canoe access, is on Lake of the Isles in the southern end of the park. Ask the park manager how to reserve the Sandwick Chalet, a four-bedroom rental unit overlooking Sandwick Lake.
The 2,900-acre park has 12 backpacking sites. The northern ones, along Pine Lake, have a couple of Adirondacks (three-sided shelters) and a nearby hand pump. If you're backpacking or hiking up to Pine Lake from the lodge parking lot, you'll pass a forestry tower, recently reopened.
Canoeists may use six of the lakeshore walk-in sites (some with Adirondacks) on Coon and Sandwick lakes for overnight trips. Water must be hauled in or treated; there is no hand pump at these sites. Canoe or backpack groups can reserve a site by contacting the manager ahead of time.
Boat accesses for Coon Lake, which connects with Sandwick Lake, are located near each of the park's two campgrounds. You can rent boats and canoes in the park. Water-skiing is not permitted on either lake and speeds are limited to 10 mph. Fishing is mostly for walleye, northern, bass and pan fish. The swimming beach is on Coon Lake near the lodge and northern campground.
Canoeists like the park because they can either "rough it" at the primitive shoreline campsites or enjoy the amenities of a semi-modern site in one of the main campgrounds. Scenic State Park has miles of quiet lakeshore to explore. The lakes are small enough that it's easy to paddle to shore in case a storm brews.
Campsites with electrical hookups are available for fall sportsmen and winter campers by prior arrangement with the manager. (The campground is not usually plowed unless there is a special request for a site.) You can get water from the hand pumps. Ski-in camping is possible at the park's backpack sites, most of which have adirondacks.
The parking lot by the lodge is used as a winter trailhead. Scenic has over 12 miles of snowmobile trails that connect with local trails to Bigfork and to extensive routes in the George Washington State Forest. There are other snowmobile trails in McCarthy Beach State Park, the Chippewa National Forest and nearby Big Fork and Koochiching state forests. The towns of Marcell, Bigfork and Effie provide access to miles of Grant-in-Aid trails.
Scenic State Park's 10 miles of cross-country trails are designed for beginner and intermediate skiers. You can circle Coon and Sandwick lakes on skis, using the adirondacks for rest stops. A hand pump is available near the forestry tower north of Coon Lake. The Chase Point Trail is perhaps the most scenic ski path in the park. You can also cross-country ski in George Washington State Forest and McCarthy State Park.
Ice fishing on Scenic's lakes is mostly for northerns (spearing) and crappies. The lodge (with fireplace) stays open all year.