Lakes by the North Country Trail

Island Lake is one of many beautiful scenes found along the North Country Trail.

Three years ago, while clearing from a blow-down in my section of the North Country Trail, six college age hikers passed me on the trail.

I asked how they found the remote section in the Paul Bunyan State Forest, off County Road 91, 15 miles north of Dorset. They were interns from around the country working at the Target corporate headquarters and wanted to hike a trail with lakes.

There are six named lakes along my five-mile section. They found the route online the night before in the Twin Cities. They went on downloaded maps and scouted out the trail. “The Guide to Hiking the North Country Trail in Minnesota” is also available where books are sold or on-line.

The views are worth the hike. Two years ago, again while working on the trail, I ran into two hikers, one from Crosby, the other from Blackduck who annually hike the trail to see Island Lake’s spectacular fall colors.

My choice is Upper Teepee Lake when a sole birch forest turns yellow.


Beavers, otters, nesting loons and trumpeter swans are found in and on the lakes.

You can shuttle a vehicle between County Road 91 and Steamboat Pass Road for a five-mile hike or hike three miles further to County Road 4 and the Halverson Road Trailhead (2.5 miles south of junction of U.S. Hwy. 71 and County Road 4 in Lake George).

The Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail – 70 miles of the trail in Hubbard and Cass Counties – has built loop trails around some lakes on the trail, making it easier to hike. The Waboose Trail around undeveloped Waboose Lake is a four-mile loop with mature pines, spruce, oaks, maples and birch. The popular trail is north of Nevis. Take County Road 2 north for five miles from State Hwy. 34 to Inner Forest Road veering to the right, follow it 1.8 miles to Waboose Lake Access Road for 0.6 miles.

Nelson Lake and Lake 21 also have a 2.7-mile, figure-eight loop trail around them. The trail is near the Gulch Lakes Campground and can be found north of Akeley. Follow State Hwy. 64 north for 11.5 miles; west on East Gulch Forest Road for 1.2 miles; north for 0.8 miles; sharp west onto Gulch Lakes Road to the campground and on to the Nelson Lake access.

Between Itasca State Park and east to Waboose Lake there are 12 named lakes and over 100 unnamed lakes and ponds along 38 miles of the trail. Prior to the COVID-19 virus, the chapter held monthly guided hikes, some led by Itasca State Park naturalists within the park, including a New Year’s Day hike to DeSoto Lake looking for animal tracks.

Hiking along an undeveloped forest lake allows you to experience wildlife with little human activity, and see lady’s slippers, wild rice and other flora in a natural setting.

Remember, be prepared and aware of ticks when hiking.


Beaver Pond, also along the North Country Trail, offers beautiful fall scenery.

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