Day Seven: Destination Lake Bemidji and Schoolcraft State Parks
One of the things I love about planning a road trip is to have set places to stay, but also to leave some time for distraction to get the best of me. While this trip had a definite goal, I was open to serendipity to take hold and lead me astray. Today did just that. Its name was Roy. A chance meeting with a gentleman on the riverfront before my departure from East Grand Forks planted a seed that I had worked hard to dismiss the night before because I knew it would had a few hours to my day and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take on more than I might be able handle.
But there it was. I’d spent an hour or so pouring over the last of my route. It would take me solidly past Itasca State Park and on to Lake Bemidji State Park. I’ve never, in my 50+ years, with more than 35 of those years living in Minnesota, been to Lake Itasca. In looking over the map it would take me a solid two additional hours of driving to add it to my route. Additionally, the park has so much to offer and I decided it would be best to forgo the park until my next parks road trip. It would make a great start to the next portion of the state to cover.
Then, as I was checking out one last interpretive panel that had peaked my curiosity on the riverfront, I happened to strike up a conversation with Roy, a friendly gentleman on his bike. As we chatted, I noted he was wearing a shirt for The Frog Pond restaurant in Halma, MN. It had been recommended to me by the ranger at Lake Bronson the morning before as a potential place to get a burger and fries. I went by Halma to early in the day so hadn’t eaten there, but the reviews online looked pretty good. Turns out Roy’s daughter owns the restaurant. As we chatted further and I shared my road trip plan for the day, he suggested that I “couldn’t miss going to Itasca”. The seed was set though I had said I wanted to give the park it’s due with my time, which today would not allow. We parted ways and I headed to Bully Brew for a coffee for the road. Side Note: Go there. The coffee is really good!
Itasca State Park
Well that conversation kept nagging at me. I really didn’t have time. (It’s not that far.) It’s off my trip plan that I left with family. (Just text them.) Really I shouldn’t. (Why not?) There was the exit and, much like the days of my childhood where the car “took over” while Dad was driving that landed us at Dairy Queen, here I was heading toward the park I was going to pass.
I entered Itasca State Park via the north side of the park and followed the signs the short distance to the Headwaters. It’s a bustling place with a huge building, the gift shop merchandise spilling onto the area outside. People everywhere. I passed it all up and headed the short 600 foot walk to the headwaters. Again, people everywhere vying for a picture. It was too much for me. Cool to see where this mighty river starts its route down the middle of the U.S.? Yes. But it was just too many people for my liking. Especially after many days of having little interaction with anyone other than park rangers and staff.
I’d decided at that point that I’d tackle the Hiking Club Trail as well, which required a drive to near the eastern entrance of the park to find the Ozawindib Trail, named for the Ojibew tribe member who guided Henry Schoolcraft to the location of the headwaters of the Mississippi. The entrance to the trail is near the Douglas Lodge. It heads immediately into a mix of old growth pine and heads up and down past Mary Lake, Myrtle Lake and Deer Park Lake.
Much like other trails, there were sections of heavy mud and the mosquitos were thick and hungry. I moved quickly over the 3.5 mile trail only stopping briefly to take a few pictures all the while pondering how I felt about the man who had lead another to this place sealing it’s fate as a place of pilgrimage of sorts.
#34hike of my 52 Hike Challenge bagged!
Lake Bemidji State Park
#35hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
As I drove the hour or so further to Lake Bemidji State Park, I continued to ponder the questions that swirled in my head about both Ozawindib and Schoolcraft. The age old questions of leaving a place untouched versus the desire to explore. I was no further along to an answer to my musings when I arrived at my next stop. I checked in for trail details with the ranger, glad that I had done so because the Hiking Club Trail here is accessed via a secondary trail they admitted was not well marked.
With that tidbit I found the parking area and changed back into my hiking boots. As I was getting my things gathered, I noticed a woman and her dog walking by. As she passed I saw the Women Who Hike patch on her pack and called out. It turns out Shelly and I had been sharing our plans via the Minnesota Chapter Facebook page. I just hadn’t realized we would be in this park today at the same time. She was looking for the trailhead too so we decided that a hike together was in order.
Shelly and her dog, Charlie, were awesome companions. We enjoyed conversation about my adventure, her long drive, our plans for the coming days and about hiking solo. The trail we followed lead to an out and back board walk to Big Bog Lake. I told her all about Big Bog State Park, the flowers I’d seen there and was able to point out many of the blooming plants for her. I tried getting photos of several including a Dragon’s Head Orchid, with mixed success.
As we headed back to where my car was waiting she shared that she was camping with her camping trailer. It sounded really sweet and I asked if she’d tell me her campsite location so I could take a peak. Buying one is on my longterm goals so I take advantage of every opportunity to look at options. She was kind enough to tell me her campsite number and we parted ways. I did a swing through the campground and saw her sweet Escapade Camper Co. trailer which was sporting a Women Who Hike sticker!
Schoolcraft State Park
#36hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
My final stop on my adventures was Schoolcraft State Park, named for Henry Schoolcraft. This park has no park office, just a self-serve kiosk where you pay fees and buy wood, which I decided was in order to cook dinner and celebrate the end of my journeys. Once I located my site and set up my hammock for a final night of sleep I decided that dinner would come before hiking. As I took my time getting things ready, it was clear I’d not be hiking this evening. The hike could wait until morning.
I spent a bit of time talking with another woman camping nearby before enjoying a fire and climbing into my hammock to relax. There were few bugs thanks to a cool breeze coming off the Mississippi River. It was the perfect evening after a busy, but lovely afternoon hiking with Shelly.
Day Eight: Schoolcraft State Parks
After a wonderful night sleep in my hammock, I woke to the sun flickering on my rain fly and the breeze that had rocked me to sleep still present keeping the bugs at bay for another day. I didn’t want to get up, let alone leave. But there were miles to cover to get home and I still had my last hike to complete before leaving. I took my time getting breakfast and packing up the car getting things back in order so that when I got home unpacking would be quicker.
Once I was satisfied that I was set to go when I finished my hike (the trail was right across from my campsite), I set out. The lone trail here wraps around the park with just under 2 miles total. It follows along the Mississippi then turns into pine forest, crosses the entrance road and wraps back around to the campground.
As I entered the campground I had yet another lovely surprise – Shelly and Charlie! I called out again and we laughed about how wonderful it was to meet again. She was inspired to hike Schoolcraft and LaSalle State Park (UGH I missed it on my way to Lake Bemidji!) and possibly even visit Hill Annex Mine while she was in the area. Once again, we parted ways sooner than I’d have liked to and I started the journey home.
As I drove home I reflected on all that I’d seen and learned. On how important flexibility is within a plan. That a choice to do something off plan can lead to the most wonderful surprises. It was hard to not stop at the additional parks in my path home. I’d fallen into a routine that felt right. But for the moment there are responsibilities calling and I needed to heed their call.
GEAR: Columbia Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Granite Gear Blaze 60 Backpack, Marmot Kompressor Pack, ENO Double Nest Hammock/Guardian Bug Net/Profly Rainfly, Paria Thermodown 30 Down Quilt, MSR Pocket Rocket, MSR Dualist Cookware, Slumberjack Trial Tent, REI Co-op Flash Insulated Air Sleeping Pad, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.
Next Post Preview: What’s this 52 Hike Challenge I keep mentioning? It’s one of several reasons #WhyIHike. Look for my next post to find out more (or visit www.52hikechallenge.com to explore if you can’t wait).
*To find out more about Leave No Trace (LNT) principles,
check out the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
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