Scenic State Park
By Jim Umhoefer
This northern Minnesota park lives up to its name: Scenic lake views, lots of wildlife and historic buildings from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) era give visitors a glimpse of what this wild place was like before the area was settled.
Scenic State Park is located in Minnesota’s Itasca County just off the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway.
The Chase Point Trail, which follows the crest of a narrow, serpentine ridge between Coon and Sandwick Lake, is the park’s most impressive trail. The skinny, steep ridge marks the position of a former sub glacial 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. Glaciers also formed many of the lakes in the area. Called kettle lakes, they are water-filled depressions formed by melting ice masses left behind by the retreating ice.
Camping and Lodging
The two main campgrounds have about 93 sites. The 60-person primitive group camp, with hand pumps and a canoe access, is on Lake of the Isles in the southern end of the park.
The 2,900-acre park also has two designated backpacking sites along Pine Lake and canoeists may use five of the lakeshore canoe-in sites on Coon and Sandwick lakes for overnight trips.
There is no horse camp in the park, but a connecting trail takes equestrians to the Togo horse camp in nearby George Washington State Forest.
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. The swimming beach is on Coon Lake near the lodge and northern campground.
Canoeists like the park because Scenic State Park has miles of quiet lakeshore to explore and 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. The lakes are small enough that it’s easy to paddle to shore in case a storm brews.
For a less rustic experience, you can rent a four-person cabin with a kitchenette near the historic lodge. The Civilian Conservation Corps built this log cabin in the 1930s.
Plants and Wildlife
Hikers might spot the Lady’s Slipper, Minnesota’s state flower. Some wildflowers, like moccasin flowers, flourish in conifer bogs. The round-leafed sundew, also common in small marshes, works for its food by trapping insects on a drop of adhesive at the ends of its hairs.
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.