Column: Explore the North Country Trail year 'round
North Country Trail: Laurentian Lakes Chapter
Note: Trails built by LLC begin with County Road 39 to Highway 113. Itasca trails were built by park staff. The Anchor Matson Trail was built by Bad Medicine Lake Association volunteers.
Itasca State Park
Hwy 71 South Entrance Trailhead to 540th Avenue
540th Avenue to Anchor Matson Road
White Earth State Forest
Anchor Matson Road to County Road 39
County Road 39 to Hwy 113
Hwy 113 to Elbow Lake Road
Becker County Forest
Elbow Lake Road to Camp Six
Greenwater Lake SNA
Camp Six to County Road 35
County Road 35 to County Road 26
Becker County Forest
County Road 26 to 400th Ave.
Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge
400th Avenue to Blackbird Drive
Blackbird Drive to Tamarac Lake Access
Tamarac Lake Access to Boundary Road
Hubbell Pond Wildlife Management Area
Boundary Road to Highway 34
South of Highway 34
A combo of private land and public land.
The National Trails System Act, enacted in 1968, created the National Scenic Trail System and a segment of it runs through northern Minnesota.
Many know the trail system by famous trails, such as the Appalachian Trail that provides access to the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, or the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast and featured in the book "Wild."
However, the longest trail of them all is the North Country Trail (NCT) that stretches approximately 4,600 miles from eastern New York to central North Dakota, passing through seven states including Minnesota.
Readers may be familiar with the NCT trail in this area from highway signs located at trailheads or from hiking the trails.
What you may not know is how fairly new these trails are. While the NCT was organized in 1980 to create the trail system, its local chapters (made up of volunteers) actually build and maintain the trails.
In our area, the Itasca Moraine Chapter was created in 2002, the Laurentian Lakes Chapter in 2007 and the Mn Waters and Prairie Chapter in 2016.
The Laurentian Lakes Chapter (LLC) celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2017 and is responsible for 72 miles of the trail — from within Itasca State Park to the Becker/Ottertail County border near Frazee.
Going north to south, LLC trails cross Itasca State Park, White Earth State Forest, Greenwater Lake Scientific and Natural Area, Becker County Forest, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Hubbell Pond Wildlife Management Area and then cross Highway 34 to a combination of private and public land before reaching its southern border.
The LLC is named after the Laurentian Divide that separates waters flowing north to the Hudson Bay and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Trails follow the divide from the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge to Long Lost Lake. Historically, the LLC trails include old railroad beds used for logging, evidence of the first settlers, work of the CCC and life of the Ojibwa.
Group hikes on the trails are offered in most months, led by LLC members and volunteers. They're advertised in local newspapers, the chamber and "Meet-up." The trails are accessed in winter months with snowshoes and cross-country skis.