Posts Tagged With: Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway

2017 Trip Five: Northern MN, Aug. 1-2

McCarthy Beach State Park in Minnesota

Grand Rapids, MN August 1, 2017

Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Population 11,000 people and 1,000 lakes. Slightly smaller than last week’s city, Chicago, with 2.7 million. Chris and I are back on our hunt to visit all 76 Minnesota state parks. This trip will allow us to visit three more; our total will be 66.

It has been a gorgeous day. For those of you in hotter climes, the temperature reached a high of about 82, light breezes and mainly sunny skies. Low tonight of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. We spent part of the afternoon and evening sitting on the beach of Pokegama Lake, 6600 acres in size and about 110 feet deep at its greatest depth. Our beach front lodging is at the Green Heron Bed and Breakfast, an excellent facility Chris found on the Internet. While the B & B is named after the green heron found locally, once again it is the sound of the loon that says “Northern Minnesota lakes” to me.

Our drive up to Grand Rapids took us through small towns like Mora, population 3400 which is a county seat and home to the Vasaloppet, a cross-country ski touring event in Minnesota with ties to Sweden which is where many of the Mora European settlers originated. Another community was McGregor, population of about 350 people. We stopped in Mora and had a mid-morning break of pastries from the local bakery. Along the way, summer wildflowers lined the highways; maybe not as overwhelming as our time in Texas but still breathtaking. The latter portion of the drive frequently brought us into contact with the Mississippi River; shallower and slower moving up here than the sections we observed from the Empire Builder last week.

Looking down from the Continental Divide at Savanna Portage State Park

Savanna Portage State Park was our primary destination for the day. Lunch was in the park, next to one of the lakes. Savanna Portage has over 15,000 acres and is named after the Native Americans and the fur traders who used this area as a connective trail between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. “Savanna” refers to the open grassland on the eastern portion of the trail. “Portage” refers to the process of carrying canoes across land areas between water routes.

From about 1760 to about 1830, fur traders were an important economic engine in this portion of the country. They used large canoes on the Great Lakes to bring the beaver pelts to Montreal from Minnesota and places west. To get the beaver pelts to the shores of Lake Superior, they used smaller birch bark canoes. The portage here began with poling the heavily laden canoes through 12 miles of a twisty, shallow river. Then a canal was dug for a portion of the journey, ending with the carrying of canoes across land. The portage took five days through “swamp, bog, blood-sucking insects, and severe weather.”

While the weather was nice today, we did encounter more flies than we wished to see and our hiking was shorter than usual. We made sure though to hike the trail of the Continental Divide. This divide separates rain water coursing eastward to Lake Superior and the Atlantic Ocean and rainwater coursing westward to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. (There is a third continental divide in Minnesota which sends water northward to Hudson’s Bay in Canada.)

View of Green Heron B & B from Pokegama Lake

We arrived early at the Green Heron, knowing we would be treated to refreshments and appetizers at 5 PM. The B & B is impressive and the hosts, Johnnie and Chris Fulton, friendly. Chris, my Chris, that is, is already discussing coming back here next summer, probably with daughters in tow. At various times, we enjoyed the view of the lake from chairs outside and from the screened in patio. I used the library to do most of my work on the blog.

Wednesday, August 2

Four and a half years ago when we started serious travel, I was not excited about staying at B & Bs, nor at the homes of Evergreen Club members. Since then I have come to enjoy the friendliness of the hosts and the breakfasts that vastly surpass those we prepare for ourselves at home. This morning’s breakfast of home-made muffins, bacon, home-made quiche, and a yogurt/granola/fruit dish exceeded the standard breakfast served at a Hampton Inn or Fairfield Inn or at the Heimel-Klejbuk Inn.

Well-fortified, we headed out for the day’s activities. It was going to be a slow pace; we decided bugs would be a problem at any park and we should not attempt long hikes where I would just be cursing (not that I ever curse!!). To be fair, the bug situation at the B & B and in towns has been no hassle.

Views along the Edge of Wilderness scenic byway from Grand Rapids to Effie MN

Driving the “Edge of the Wilderness” scenic byway was the first item on our agenda. The byway is 45 miles long. We last wrote about it in August 2015 as part of our Northwest MN journey. Chris enjoys the trip along a two lane road, winding through birch and fir trees nestled among numerous lakes. We detoured to several back roads, checking out resorts and homes located along the lakes. Like many other parts of northern MN, small resorts are still in business, although the competition from fancy places has got to be tough. We had to dodge a few logging trucks. Lumbering is still big business in the area with much of the cut timber headed for the Blandin Paper Mill in Grand Rapids. (We plan to tour it tomorrow, a likely rainy day.) This area is for people and families that want to enjoy nature and the outdoors; biking, canoeing, fishing, camping, hiking, etc.

Effie MN: mosquito and cowboy statues, Effie Cafe, and Edge of Wilderness sign

The scenic byway ends in the town of Effie, population 123. We had lunch in the Effie Cafe with a dozen locals. Our waitress (the only one) indicated the cafe had been hopping the weekend before due to the annual Effie Rodeo. This year’s rodeo was their 62nd annual.

From Effie we drove to our first state park of the day, McCarthy Beach State Park. The beach has been highly rated by Highways Magazine and we wanted to scope it out. The air temperature was just reaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so our bodies stayed on the shore. There were only a few people on the beach being mid-week and cool. The beach is not huge but probably ample enough, there is a kiddie’s section and an adult section. Trees surround the lake shore although private residences surpass the public park portion. The water is shallow and one can walk out for a great distance. The clarity was great. We felt relaxed just sitting and watching the day go by.

At the Edge of the Wilderness Visitor Center, there was a nice display discussing clarity of lakes. While swimmers may wish to have swimming lakes with really clear water, these clear lakes do not have enough nutrients to support a vibrant supply of fish. Swimming and fishing are not necessarily mutually compatible.

Mississippi RIver: top St. Paul our origination, middle at Schoolcraft State Park, bottom about fifty miles south of Grand Rapids

For our final stop, we drove an hour and a half to Schoolcraft State Park. Schoolcraft is small, only 225 acres. We only saw two other vehicles there. Schoolcraft is named after Henry Schoolcraft, the European explorer who was smart enough to ask Native Americans for assistance in finding the head of the Mississippi River. Other Europeans lumbered around on their own without finding it.

The Mississippi River flows through the park. It is not well-advertised but there are eight dams on the upper Mississippi River in this area to help control the flow of the Mississippi downstream to keep the 9′ shipping channel supplied with sufficient water during periods of low flow. The US Army Corps of Engineers did this in the late 1800s. Of course, no local permission was sought back then and numerous Native American villages, hunting grounds, and wild rice marshes were flooded.

At the southern end of the park, the Vermillion River flows into the Mississippi. There are at least three Vermillion Rivers in Minnesota. This one. One up by Lake Vermillion and Ely. Finally a Vermillion River close to St. Paul, running through the town of Hastings. Chris and I were canoeing on the Hastings Vermillion last Saturday. We might see the Ely Vermillion on our next Up North excursion in a few weeks. In contrast to the clarity of water at McCarthy Beach State Park, the Hastings Vermillion was cloudy but the fishing was great. We also observed three bald eagles and one great blue heron on that river.

We will head home Friday but the next two days are more likely to be spent viewing logging and mining locations.

Ed and Chris. Grand Rapids MN. August 2nd.

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2015 Trip Five, Voyageurs National Park and NW MN, August 21-23

International Falls MN
Friday August 21

The sound of the calling loons is a clear indication that we are back up north in the land of woods and waters. We have left behind the primary agricultural use of the land and are now in the logging, fishing, and tourist activities. Two of our stops on the way to international Falls were at Minnesota State Parks.

On our way to Zippel Bay we came across this unique deer hunting stand

Road tripping in northern MN, On our way to Zippel Bay State Park, we came across this unique deer hunting stand

Friday morning we left Roseau Minnesota, driving again through Warroad on our friendly two lane roads. Our first stop was to be at Zippel Bay State Park. This park looks out onto Lake of the Woods, in that area of Minnesota that sticks out like a sore thumb at the top of the US border with Canada. Zippel Bay is primarily used for fishing, although camping is also possible. On this part of the lake, there is a sandy shoreline.

Lighthouse at Zippel Bay State Park

Lighthouse at Zippel Bay State Park

We hiked along the shoreline out towards the lighthouse sticking into the waters. The sun is starting to peek through the clouds, where it will remain out for just a brief portion of the day. At this park, as we have been doing previously, and as we will be doing for the remaining days of this trip, we keep looking for moose. Moose are declining in Minnesota although the reasons are not fully known. We keep hoping to see several, even just one, but our hopes are not to be fulfilled.

VFW fishing lunch for disabled vets

VFW fishing lunch for disabled vets at Zippel Bay State Park, MN


The fishing docks are busy as boaters arrive for the lunch hour. The local VFW post is sponsoring a luncheon. Numerous boat owners are taking disabled veterans out to fish for the day, with lunch provided here at the docks. These boats are much larger than most of the ones seen previously on the other lakes so far in Minnesota. It seems as if everyone knows each other as they yell back and forth as the boats come in. The food smells great.

Zippel Bay State Park

Zippel Bay State Park, lake shore view

This lake is large, the 100th largest in the world, stretches into Canada, and produces heavy wave action.The fishing is evidently quite good here, according to the head ranger who was here visiting with the anglers. He provided us with a luncheon suggestion in Baudette Minnesota, the next town on our way to International Falls.

In the town of Baudette, we came across a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, ANI Pharmaceutical, that employs 100 people. Amazing the variety of small businesses located in these smaller communities. Why we seem unable to get some of these small business locations on to the Indian reservations is beyond my knowing.

Willie Walleye in Baudette MN

Willie Walleye in Baudette MN

Baudette also had its local motto and mascot. “Walleye Capital of the World” and Chris took a picture of the statue of “Willie Walleye”. Every town wants to have some motto or claim to fame. How about “We are just normal”?

International Falls is our home for the next two nights. One of the three main entry points to Voyageurs National Park is located here. As is our custom, we stopped at the park today to check out the area prior to our boat ride tomorrow. Outside of the office is a park volunteer, tending the garden and talking to people like us.

This gentleman has been doing volunteer work here and at other parks for nine years. He lives out of his RV. On this trip, we also met a couple who sold their home and have been living out of an RV for 18 years. A third couple have been living out of an RV for three years. Makes our periodic vacation rambles minor in comparison. The three-year couple were from the Harrisburg, PA area and we knew several people in common.

We asked the Voyageurs volunteer, and have asked several other travelers, their impressions of Big Bend National Park in Texas. All of them have been universally in acclaim for the beauty of Big Bend, if you avoid the hot months. Chris has been resisting traveling there. It really is a long distance from anything else. Now however, it looks like she has agreed to add this to our list.

Looking north into Canada from the Rainy RIver at Franz Jevne State Park

Looking north into Canada from the Rainy River at Franz Jevne State Park

Voyageurs National Park is another water based park. The Minnesota border with Ontario from Lake Superior over to Lake of the Woods is a series of lakes and rivers nestled among land masses. Parks are located on both sides of the border. Due to the vagaries of land, water and international borders, you can view Canada from the Kettle Falls area of Voyageurs by looking south-, yes, south.

Looking SOUTH into Canada from Kettle Falls

Looking SOUTH into Canada from Kettle Falls in Yoyageurs National Park, MN

Lake of the Woods is primarily water, much of the land is privately owned. Voyageurs National Park has 218,000 acres which combine lakes, rivers, and land which is usually only accessible from water. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is further to the east, and is a 1,000,000 acre wilderness within the Superior National Forest. There is a mosaic of green park land and blue water from International Falls to Grand Portage, MN/Thunder Bay, Ontario, a distance of about 200 miles.

Boating on Rainy Lake

Boating on Rainy Lake, Voyageurs National Park

As a national park, Voyageurs allows motor boats. Boundary Waters does not. We watched a constant parade of motorboats traveling along the lakes. Voyageurs National Park has four primary lakes; Rainy Lake, Namakan Lake, Sand Point Lake, and Kabetogoma Lake. Houseboats can be rented here and we saw numerous boats going in and out of port as well as along the various landing points allotted to them. The waters here flow primarily northwestward through International Falls, along Rainy River, to Lake Winnipeg and then out to Hudson Bay.

We are staying for two nights at the Thunderbird Lodge across the road from the Kabetogoma Lake visitor center. We had a great dinner at the lodge Friday night and at Saturday morning breakfast we met two other couples that were going with us on the 6 1/2 hour boat ride to Kettle Falls Hotel.

Saturday, August 22

Our boat for the trip to Kettle Falls Hotel at Voyageurs National Park

Our boat for the trip to Kettle Falls Hotel at Voyageurs National Park

This boat ride was much smoother and more comfortable than the ride to Isle Royale back in June. A park ranger accompanied us and provided information about the park and the history of this area. If you have read this blog previously, you may recall the history of the French-Canadian voyageurs. This park is named after them. The French-Canadian voyageurs were active in the 1700s and 1800s; collecting beaver and other animal furs and sending them back to Montreal to be shipped to Europe. Europe was in the midst of a beaver hat frenzy. The voyageurs brought European made products to trade with the Native Americans who hunted beaver and other animals. The route they followed also became part of the border between Canada and the U.S.

Mine shaft dug for gold rush in 1893 in Voyageurs

Mine shaft dug for gold rush in 1893 in Voyageurs

The Voyagers were not settlers, however. Settlement by European immigrants came late to this area. There was a brief gold rush in 1893 which did not last long. The Klondike gold rush started in 1896 and attracted most of the miners who came to this area with a greater promise of wealth.

Logging was the next economic driver for the area. The red and white pine would be cut down and sent along the lakes and rivers to International Falls where the hydropower drove saw mills and paper making plants. Some of that industry continues to this day. We were told that the paper plant in Fort Frances, the city across the Rainy River in Ontario, had shut down, while the plant in International Falls was operating, but on a reduced basis.

Kettle Falls Hotel

Kettle Falls Hotel in Voyageurs National Park

Commercial fishing was the third business in the area but was prohibited beginning in the 1930s. Tourism took over along with recreational fishing. The lumber industry wanted to build more dams but this was denied and in the 1970s, Voyageurs National Park was created as the 36th US National Park. Our boat ride mainly went through Rainy Lake to Kettle Falls Hotel. The hotel was begun in 1913 and continues to this day. Overnight lodging is still available here during the summer months. We had looked at that option but decided to pass on it. Instead the boat ride and lunch at the hotel took up our Saturday.

Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake


While Rainy Lake is large, we were normally in view of islands or the Kabetogoma peninsula. So land was normally a reassuring visage. People were out fishing and the houseboats here are tied up to trees or iron rods driven into the ground. None of that hole digging for anchors that we had to do at Lake Powell. The morning ride was generally with sunny skies. By the time of our afternoon return journey, the skies were dark, some rain came down, and the wind and waves had picked up, but still at a tolerable level.

Starting to get stormy

Starting to get stormy in Voyageurs National park

Houseboat heading out into stormy weather

Houseboat heading out into stormy weather

Sunday August 23

Driving the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway

Driving the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, MN

International Falls is 300 miles from Saint Paul so our Sunday journey was able to allow us a few stops along the way. Chris wanted to stop at Scenic State Park. On the way there, we drove a scenic byway that was one of the first 20 created in the country. It is called the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway. To be honest, we had driven this 47 mile route once before and while it is a pleasant drive, it is not spectacular.

Local history displayed at Bigfork MN

Local history displayed at Bigfork MN

It is well-marked and has story boards in several of the small towns along the route. Of course, the mosquito statue in Effie MN is always worth a look and a few comments. Again, lumbering and modest agriculture rules the area. Railroads used to come through here to transport the lumber, but they are long gone. Much of the road goes through the Chippewa National Forest and there are a plenitude of lakes on either side of the road, normally hidden by the forest of trees.

Scenic State Park shelter constructed by the CCC in the 1930s

Scenic State Park shelter constructed by the CCC in the 1930s


Scenic State Park is located just a few miles east of the road. It was created in 1921 after local residents asked the state to preserve the remaining pine and birch trees. The Civilian Conservation Corps created beautiful wood structures here in the 1930s which are still standing and in great shape. Our hike here was not long, Sunday was continuing the overcast, windy, and rainy conditions of Saturday afternoon. We had stopped at the park office and in talking to the ranger, learned that the clothing merchandise offered for sale was primarily created by a local guy who goes around to numerous local parks and businesses and creates unique designs for them. It was refreshing to hear that local business was involved; we were impressed with the designs available. However, there were no T-shirts with pockets being offered.

A late lunch in Grand Rapids, home of Judy Garland and Blandin Paper Mills, and then St. Paul by 6 PM. A pleasant visit to parts of our state we had not visited previously. We were able to obtain several more park stamps to add to our collection to eventually complete the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources State Parks Passport Club.

Ed and Chris
Saint Paul, Monday 10 pm

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