Spirit Mountain

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.

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Chase Point Trail follows the high ridge of an esker at Scenic State Park

Chase Point Trail follows the high ridge of an esker

The park office at Scenic State Park

The park office at Scenic State Park

Scenic State Park was established in 1921 to protect stands of virgin pine

Scenic State Park was established in 1921 to protect stands of virgin pine

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Trails
Scenic State Park’s 14-mile network of trails meanders through the park near Lake of the Isles and Sandwick and Coon Lakes.
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.

Chase Point Trail follows the high ridge of an esker at Scenic State Park

Chase Point Trail follows the high ridge of an esker

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.

Interpretive signs along the trails tell the story of the area at Scenic State Park

Interpretive signs along the trails tell the story of the area

Catch a glimpse of Coon or Sandwick Lakes on Chase Point Trail at Scenic State Park

Catch a glimpse of Coon or Sandwick Lakes on Chase Point Trail

Some trails travel through virgin pine forest at Scenic State Park

Some trails travel through virgin pine forest

Observation platform and lake access at the end of Chase Point Trail at Scenic State Park

Observation platform and lake access at the end of Chase Point Trail

The boardwalk below Chase Point Campground follows the edge of Coon Lake at Scenic State Park

The boardwalk below Chase Point Campground follows the edge of Coon Lake

 

Camping and Lodging
Scenic State Park caters to most camping tastes.
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.

Rental boats wait for visitors on the shores of Coon Lake at Scenic State Park

Rental boats wait for visitors on the shores of Coon Lake

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.

The CCC-era camper cabin was built in the 1930s at Scenic State Park

The CCC-era camper cabin was built in the 1930s

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
There are about 14 types of orchids in the wilds of Scenic State Park.
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.

American Hog Peanut at Scenic State Park

American Hog Peanut

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.

Wild Rose at Scenic State Park

Wild Rose

Winter
No groomed ski trails exist, but snowshoeing is allowed throughout the park.

Visit these trail-friendly sponsors:

Mesabi Trail
Spirit Mountain
Visit Duluth in the winter
Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota

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