The stunning 4,373-acre Bear Head Lake State Park is in northeastern Minnesota not far from the Canadian border. Voted America’s Favorite Park in 2010, this peaceful paradise boasts the 670-acre Bear Head Lake, as well as three other lakes, majestic granite cliffs, pine and spruce forest, and 17 miles of trails.
Besides hiking, you can also enjoy biking, fishing, boating, and swimming right at the park. Wildlife is everywhere from the tiny ruby hummingbird to the large black bear, so bring a camera to take pics of what you see. And with 23 miles of lakeshore, you are sure to find the perfect spot for the family to spend the day enjoying a picnic, splashing in the water, and trying to catch some tasty bass to cook up on the grill.
If you didn’t bring a boat, the park office rents them as well as paddleboards, kayaks, motorboats, and loans fishing poles to those who want to fish. During the winter, you can rent some snowshoes and take a hike on the fresh powder on the trails or try some cross-country skiing. They also have birding kits and GPS units for those who want to try geocaching. Park the rig at one of the 73 campsites in the campground so you can enjoy some more fun the next day.
Surrounded by the George Washington State Forest, Kabetogama State Forest, Finland State Forest, and Bear Island State Forest, you will not even notice that you are only 17 miles from the city of Ely and 34 miles from Babbitt. You can get to Bear Head Lake State Park off of MN-128 by taking MN-1, US-53, or MN-135. Most of your traveling will be major roads that are wide and level, but some may be quite curvy.
Most of the park roads are easy to maneuver and the turns are not bad. However, you may have some trouble on the gravel roads depending on what time of year you visit. In the busy season, the roads can become pockmarked from all the traffic and rain, but if you drive the posted 15 miles per hour, you should be okay. Just park the RV at your campsite and walk or ride bikes around the park wherever you want to go.
While you are in the area, stop by Purvis Ober State Natural Area just a couple of miles to the east. This fun 140-acre hiking park is popular with photographers, snowmobilers, snowshoe enthusiasts, and skiers. If you want to try something different, check out the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park just 11 miles to the west. This unique park takes visitors on a tour through Soudan Mine, Minnesota’s first iron ore mine. You’ll put on a hard hat and get into the trolley or you can just take a walking tour and learn about the life of a miner.
In the northwestern corner of the park by the North Bay of Bear Head Lake, the 73-site family campground has 45 sites with electric hookups that have water taps nearby. The sites can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 60 feet long. Many of the sites are mostly level gravel or natural surfaces with a large picnic table and fire pit with a grill to cook on. The comfort stations located nearby have modern flushable toilets and hot showers available from May through September. If you need to dump the black tank, the RV sanitation station is just up the road by the park office.
If you want to go fishing, there are several docks and a fishing pier right next to the campground, and boat docks for those who want to get out onto the water. Several of the trails begin at the campground as well so you and the kids can take a hike anytime you want. Pets are welcome so go ahead and bring your furbabies -- just make sure they are leashed or restrained at all times. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance.
If you are looking for something different for your camping experience, try one of the five camper cabins at Bear Head Lake State Park. Each of these cozy log houses can accommodate you and up to five others with two bunk beds that have twin beds on top and full beds on the bottom. Although there are no bathrooms or running water, there is electricity and heat as well as a barbecue pit and picnic table outside.
Restrooms and water spigots are available nearby as well as showers at the campground. You will need to bring your own bedding and cookware. All of the cabins are right next to the lake and have a beautiful view. The dock and fishing pier are also nearby as well as a boat ramp. You can book a reservation up to 12 months in advance. Unfortunately, your furbabies are not allowed in the cabins, so they will have to stay home for this trip.
For those with large families who would like to do some glamping, reserve the guest house at Bear Head Lake State Park. This two-story home with a basement has three bedrooms and sleeps up to 10 people. One bedroom has a full bed, the other two have two twin beds, and there are two sleeper sofas with full beds. The kitchen has full appliances, and cooking and eating utensils are included as well.
You won’t have to worry about the heat or the cold either because the guest house has air and heat. You can cook indoors or outside on the large deck or in the yard on the fire ring. The dining room has a huge wood table that seats you and nine others. The basement also has a second living room and a small table and chairs. You will need to bring your own bedding and towels but everything else is waiting for you. Sorry, no pets allowed.
For those who have a large group of up to 50 people, you can leave your rigs in the parking lot and hike into the group campground on the East Bay of Bear Head Lake. Just off of the Norberg Lake Trail, you will also be close to Norberg Lake, which is an annually stocked trout lake. With 10 picnic tables and barbecue grills, you will have no trouble cooking and eating with the gang.
Pets are welcome so you can bring your furry family members too. Just make sure you bring their leashes as well. It is just a short walk to the vault toilets, but you will have to hike to the family campground if you want to take a shower. Bring your own water as well. You can make a reservation up to a year in advance and with only one group camp, it is a good idea to do it as early as possible.
If you are coming to Bear Head Lake State Park between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, bring your swimsuits and beach toys in the motorhome because the beach is fabulous. The park offers a large sandy beach just south of the family campground where the day-use area is. Play in the water with the kids, soak up some sun, or cook up some dinner on the grill for a picnic before heading back to the campsite for the evening. Don’t forget to pack the sunscreen in the rig before heading to the park.
Be sure you pack the fishing gear in the motorhome before heading out so you can get in on some of the fishing at the lakes here. Bear Head Lake offers crappie, bass, northern pike, walleye, catfish, and more. Toss in a line from the bank or hop in the boat to get further out. You can also fish one of the trout lakes, Cub Lake or Norberg Lake, which are stocked with trout for those who enjoy fly fishing. Make sure you have a Minnesota fishing license and a trout tag with you at all times when fishing.
Don’t forget the boat. Bear Head Lake allows all kinds of boats on the lake but there is a 10 mile per hour speed limit. If you don’t have a boat, don’t worry. You can rent a kayak, canoe, or motorboat from the park office. No matter whether you want to go fishing or just want to go paddle out on the water, the lake has been named part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is a popular place for paddleboarding as well so don’t forget the sunscreen.
Who cares how cold it is when you are zipping along on your snowmobile through the fresh white wonderland? The Cub Lake Trail in the northern section of the park will take you to the Taconite State Trail, which stretches over 165 miles from Ely to Grand Rapids. The whole trail is open to snowmobiling as long as the snow is deep enough to use. However, you will need to practice proper trail etiquette at all times, but especially in the first six miles where hikers and equestrians may be found using the trail.
If you did not pack any snowshoes in the rig, head to the park office and get some so you can get out there in the white stuff for a while. The winter is the best time to see many of the wildlife that is usually hiding during the busy season. Keep your eyes peeled for whitetail deer, rabbits, and you may even see a moose or two. Trek along the 3.5-mile Becky Lake Trail to see Becky Lake as well as the wooded areas where you are likely to see more critters. The Norberg Lake Trail meanders along the Norway pines by Norberg Lake and has a beautiful view of Bear Head Lake’s East Bay.
If you have never been geocaching or don’t even have a cell phone, the park office at Bear Head Lake State Park will loan you a GPS device to help you out. All you need to do is get the GPS coordinates online or from the park office and let the GPS device tell you how to get to the treasure. The treasure is typically a waterproof container like a plastic box with a logbook and small toys or trinkets inside. Sign your name and leave a trinket of your own if you plan to take one. Just make sure you put it back exactly where you found it so others can find it too.