New Trail Center at Bear Head State Park

Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely, Minnesota is simply perfect. It’s got all the ingredients of a great state park in one compact package. Not too long ago, voters from across the country named this out-of-the-way park as “America’s Favorite Park.”

Fall hiking overlooking Bear Head Lake

Park hiking trail overlooking East Bay of Bear Head Lake

My only complaint about the park had been that it’s not very welcoming to day-use visitors. It’s perfect for car camping or even an overnight backpack trip, but there was nowhere to get out of the rain, no real sense of a place to land before heading out on the park’s great trails.

Years ago, we used to stop at Bear Head Lake State Park on our way to Ely in the winter. We’d pull our young boys out of the car, wrestle them into snowsuits, fumble with their skis, and then, with the little energy and body heat still left, head off on the ski trails. The park felt remote and solitary; it did not feel safe and cozy. At the end of the ski jaunt, it would be a race against sunset and our growing chill to get the kids and equipment back into the vehicle and on our way before cold chaos set in….and before the kids became really unhappy with the experience.

That’s all changed. Last fall, the park opened its new Trail Center nestled in the pine forest and near the beach on scenic, wild Bear Head Lake. The building is bright and welcoming, with running water, an indoor fireplace, and even little cubbies for stashing your ski boots. Just outside the huge glass windows is a welcoming fireplace patio ringed by rugged furniture made from recycled plastic.

The new Trail Center is both cozy, with leather chairs and a wood stove, and has floor to ceiling views of the surrounding pines.

New Trail Center is inviting with floor-to-ceiling views of the surrounding forest.

The new Trail Center got its start when the park won the national contest as “America’s Favorite Park.” That win came with a $100,000 award from Coca-Cola. The award worked its wonders, matching other state and federal funds and resulting in a terrific new facility.

A lovely patio with fire pit sits just outside building.

A lovely patio with fire pit sits just outside building. It’s just a short stroll to the beach.

With this new trail center, a winter visit is safe and comfortable. I can just imagine taking some time indoors to change into my ski boots, then heading out on the trail around Norberg Lake. After a few delicious kilometers of skiing, I’d head back to trail center and dry out by the fireplace. Then I’d head back to Ely or back home relaxed and warm.

The new Trail Center will make your day.

Getting there

To reach the park from Tower, go east on MN Highway 169 for 9 miles to County Highway 128. Follow this road south 7 miles to the park.

If you’re coming from Ely, go west on MN Highway 169 to County Highway 128. Follow this road south 7 miles to the park. You’ll need a state park vehicle permit, available on the entry road into the park.

Starting the 2015 season, all campsites at Bear Head Lake State Park will be reservable.


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