Adventure Report: La Salle Lake State Rec Area
The first time I visited Lake La Salle State Rec Area I was a support driver for Bicycling Around Minnesota (BAM). It was a brief stay, just long enough to visit the rest stop for the tour and get back on the road. All I remember was a beautiful picnic area with gorgeous views of the lake and it’s stayed with me since. Jen and I decided to finally pay this place a visit and found that we’d been waiting too long.
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We accessed the trail right from the campground bathroom building and began working our way around the lake, but not without using the boot scrubbing station to keep invasive plant seeds in check. The trail was very narrow and intimate and it really did feel off the beaten path. The campground noises soon disappeared and we started getting deeper into the woods. What had been a light sprinkle turned into an actual rain after a while, but we were sheltered from the worst of it by a dense canopy of trees as we walked along a high ridge that allowed only occasional glimpses of the lake.
The DNR website describes the habitat at LSLSRA as having “high and outstanding biodiversity significance”. To us it meant a constantly changing landscape. One minute the trail was lined with maples and other deciduous trees, reminiscent of Maplewood State Park. Then it changed to a nearly impenetrable palisade of young aspen trees, followed by stands of huge pines that looked more like nearby Itasca State Park. Some shady ravines had lush mounds of waist-high ferns, moss-covered rocks and logs full of fungi. In the open areas, the sun had burned vegetation to a crisp. This kaleidoscope of mini-landscapes kept randomly changing throughout our hike.
We continued on as before, sometimes climbing up a trail littered with slick rocks, sometimes squeezing through the woods on a narrow track no wider than a deer trail. Our footsteps thumped on the ground like on a hollow log in some spots and crunched with sticks and acorns in others and there was always the faint sound of wind in the trees and the constant hiss of the rain as it hit the canopy. Like the landscape, the smells varied, too. In the beginning I noticed a sweet odor that was hard to figure out. Then came the tannic musk of decaying oak leaves, the scent of fresh pine and the funk of slimy mushrooms growing in the cracks of rotten logs. The sights, sounds and smells were constantly changing as we made our way around La Salle Lake.
Towards the latter half of the trip the sun came out and we dried out as the temperatures climbed. After the second river crossing, which was only a tiny stream we could easily step across, it was a short, straight up hike. Then, we walked on a wider, grassy trail for a while. Suddenly, we had reached the end of the Challenge Trail. Our Avenza app told us we had hiked about six and a half miles, but there was a little bit left to go to get back to the campground. We popped out of the woods on some mowed-grass prairie trails, just to duck back into a variety of hard and soft woods with some open, grassy areas thrown in. This was the Hunter Waking Trail. Soon we reached the picnic area. We stopped and checked out the nice, big shelter, natural play area and views of the lake. Next was the fishing pier, then the boat landing and a steep hike up past the camper cabins back to the campground.