A friend of mine, Diane Woodard of Frazee, wrote the following on her Facebook page:

“The North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) was someplace I’ve wanted to walk since realizing it was just a few miles from my house. The NCT crosses Minnesota for 840 miles and is the longest hiking trail in the U.S., spanning 4,600 miles and seven states. However, today my hiking partner, Sharon Trieglaff-Jons, and I scaled it back some to take a leisurely walk, going south from the trailhead right off Hwy 34. We crossed through woodlands, wetlands and prairie fields (better described as cow pastures)! The local wildlife was a diverse mixture of domesticated cows, so not exactly ‘wild,’ and sandhill cranes who loudly objected to our presence. The local wood tick colony crawled at the chance to have visitors! An enjoyable couple of hours reminding us of the pleasure of living in an area surrounded by nature!”

How lucky we are to have this gem of a national hiking trail in our backyard!

Like Diane, I had heard that the NCT passed by our area. I knew just enough to daydream how fun it would be to traverse the trails through fields, roads, and especially, deep into the northern woods. Walking almost every year in September/October into the woods with my husband as he checked out his deer hunting area, the crackle of the leaves, glimpses of wildlife and whispering winds brought me such peace.

In the summer of 2015, I read about a NCT hiking event scheduled in Itasca State Park. To my great fortune, I shared the information with a friend of mine, and she was enthusiastic to join me.

At Itasca, we met up with a group of 50 some hikers. There were so many attending the event that we had to be divided into two groups.

As the hike started out, it was a sunny warm day. Somewhere along the trail the sky clouded over and the rain poured on us. Funny how that rain became a bonding experience for all the hikers! It was a very fun day.

That evening in Itasca State Park, during a program following the hike, I met several other hikers from the Laurentian Lakes Chapter of the NCT. One of the Laurentian Lakes Chapter leaders, Karen Stenberg, invited hikers to join her group, along with the Itasca Moraine Chapter, in hiking 165 miles of the NCT – from the Hwy. 34 trailhead in Detroit Lakes to Remer, Minn. – over a period of weeks.

And so began my adventure in hiking 4- to 8-mile segments of the NCT, usually two times a week, across northern Minnesota, and earning a “165 Mile” NCT hiking patch!

I have been hooked ever since on getting out on the trail and into the woods.

Per the book “Forest Bathing” by Dr. Qing Li, “As a society we suffer from nature deficit disorder … studies have shown that spending mindful, intentional time around trees – what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing – can promote health and happiness.”

Forest bathing is good for both physical and mental wellbeing. It is proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness and free up creativity as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness.

So, if you want to soak up all the treasures of shinrin-yoku, come out and enjoy the healing benefits of hiking through the great woods of northern Minnesota on the North Country Trail.

NCT is governed and managed by the National Park System. For more information, go to https://northcountrytrail.org.