MNDNR license plate

Bear Head Lake State Park

by Jim Umhoefer
For many visitors Bear Head Lake State Park is a stopover on the way to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) or the millions of acres of Lakeland woods and streams in northeastern Minnesota. But you may discover that this 4,400-acre park has just the recreational elements you’re looking for.

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An early spring hike on Norberg Lake Trail at Bear Head Lake State Park

An early spring hike on Norberg Lake Trail

The ice is slowly melting on Norberg Lake at Bear Head Lake State Park

The ice is slowly melting on Norberg Lake

Norberg Lake at Bear Head Lake State Park

Norberg Lake

Bear Head Lake State Park is located 18 miles east of Tower in Minnesota’s St. Louis County.

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Wildlife
Moose may be seen in the marshes and ponds of the park, where they like to feed on aquatic plants during summer. Black bears and timber wolves live in the region, but aren’t commonly spotted. Canoeing along the secluded shores of Bear Head Lake or hiking on the park’s isolated trails offers the best chances to observe wildlife. Look overhead, too, for eagles, hawks and ospreys. Backpackers who hike into the site on Becky Lake or one of the three on Blueberry Lake often report sightings of deer and occasionally moose or bear. Bring plenty of insect repellent if you plan to camp during the height of midsummer fly and mosquito season.
Fishing
674-acre Bear Head Lake is mostly known for bass, panfish and walleye fishing. Eagle’s Nest Lake No. 3, touching on the northwestern corner of the park, is larger than Bear Head Lake and also has a boat landing. You can rent boats or canoes for use on Bear Head Lake at the park contact station. The lake has a large body with two bays that look like antlers. The ‘antlers’, North Bay and East Bay, are fun to explore by canoe because of the many small islands, inlets and coves. The fishing on other park lakes is also good, but requires a hike. The longest hike is down to Blueberry Lake to try for Northerns and panfish. You can also try the action on Grassy Lake by taking the shorter portage trail from County 128, the entrance road. Cub Lake, nestled in a forested bowl just a short hike from the road, is fished for brook trout, while rainbow trout are taken in Norberg Lake. Follow the trail from the roadside parking lot to this lake, which is also protected by a ring of hills. Some anglers like to stream-fish for brook trout near Grassy Lake. The park lakes attract scores of winter ice anglers, especially to Cub Lake, one of the busier fishing spots.
Camping /Lodging
The 73 semi-modern sites at Bear Head Lake are well separated from each other, preserving the quiet atmosphere of the campground. The 50-person primitive group camp at the head of the East Bay can be reserved through the park office. There is a boat access for use by the groups in the primitive camp. For those seeking to experience even more solitude, Bear Head Lake State Park has four backpack campsites and two canoe-in sites. For a little more luxury rent one of five camper cabins or the three-bedroom, two-bath guest house which sleeps up to ten.
Landscape
The rolling hills here are actually accumulations of glacial debris. Volcanoes and ancient seas produced the bedrock of the area, which the glaciers later sculpted into today’s landscape. Before European settlement, the forests were mostly white and red pine, but expansive lumbering and forest fires destroyed the tall trees. Most of the forest cover today consists of aspen and birch, but there are also stands of white pines, tamaracks and cedars.
Trails
Most of the park’s development is on the peninsula that separates North and East bays. The park’s 14-mile trail system weaves among the lakes and connects with the Taconite State Trail. Horseback riding and hiking are the main summer uses for this trail.
Winter

Some of Bear Head Lake State Park’s hiking trails are transformed into ski trails to satisfy everyone’s taste. Skiers can start from the picnic area parking lot and explore seven miles of groomed trails and warm up at the heated trail center. Snowshoeing is permitted throughout the park except on groomed trails.
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