|Distance||3.5 miles roundtrip|
|Terrain||A few hills|
- Boundary Waters-esque wilderness in a family friendly setting
- Fun rocky trail
- Beautiful lake views
I've seen this park on many top lists for Minnesota State Parks but have never heard anyone mention it in conversation, so I had to visit to understand why so many people I've never met like it. What I discovered is that this park gives you that wilderness feel without having to paddle deep into the Boundary Waters or trek far into the Superior National Forest, partly thanks to Bear Island State Forest surrounding the park on three sides, amplifying its size. The terrain here is more rugged and rocky, and the lakes have a deep blue color. Despite a lack of "jaw dropping" views, overlooks, or crazy rock formations, the scenery here makes you sit back and say, "Mmm, this is nice." This hike to Norberg Lake is the most popular in the park and gives you a sampler of what the wilderness has to offer.
Dogs are allowed on leash but are not allowed near the beach. Hiking Club trails are present in most Minnesota State Parks and are generally shorter, family friendly hikes with some of the best scenery in the park. This particular hike is longer than many other Hiking Club trails, but should be doable for children if you take your time. As a shorter alternative, you can park at the lot on the side of the park road past the park office as you exit (you probably noticed this lot on your way in) and do a 1.1 mile loop around Norberg Lake. You can hike this trail in all four seasons, but stay off the groomed portions of the trail in the winter. The trails here are rockier than you might be used to, so be sure to wear sturdy yet comfortable shoes or boots. You can also access this hike from the campground (the connecting trail has many excellent spots to watch the sunset), though note this adds an extra 1.4 miles roundtrip to the hike.
Before you start your hike, check out the lovely views of Bear Head Lake from the beach near the parking lot (pictured below). Head back toward the parking lot and look for the blue Hiking Club sign at the start of the trail. Shortly, the trail splits; since this is a loop hike, you can go either direction: stay left to continue into the forest or go right to stay closer to the lake. I chose to go left, saving those lakeside views for the end of the hike.
This next section of trail follows a dirt road used only by backpack campers. There won't be much traffic if any at all, but be aware of your surroundings. Turn right again at the intersection ahead. The road turns into the trail after about a third of a mile, and the trail begins to follow the top of hills near the East Bay of Bear Head Lake. Large pines line the trail here blocking most of the lake views, but even the little peeks you get through the trees are nice -- see the picture below. Continue straight for the rest of the hike, enjoying the lakeside meander through the forest. The loop ends ahead, and you will recognize the trail back to the parking lot. Now that you're done, you can relax on the beach or go for a swim if you've worked up a sweat. A great hike in a great place! Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Instagram and Twitter!
From Virginia, MN take U.S. Highway 53 north, then take the exit for Minnesota Highway 169 towards Ely. Continue straight as the highway merges with Minnesota Highway 1, driving through the towns of Tower and Soudan. Look for the sign indicating Bear Head Lake State Park, then turn right on Bear Head State Park Road (County Road 128) and continue straight to the park office. Pay your fee, then continue down the park road, turning left before the campground. There is a dirt parking lot at the end of the road.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). This is the primary day use area in the park, with the trail center building, bathrooms, covered picnic areas, a fishing pier, and a swimming beach. If the lot is full, you can also access this trail from the lot near the park office or from a small parking area on the right side of the road as you exit the park.