The Drive: The drive from Minneapolis was long, but 169 is a reasonably pleasant highway, passing farms (where crops were noticeably late) and forests, small towns and tacky restaurants. It is only after Grand Rapids, when you leave the main highway, that the drive gets interesting. The road winds through Chippewa National Forest, a 700,000 acre forest (400,000 acres of which are actually lakes) in the heart of Minnesota. Largely undeveloped, the forest has some of the largest bald eagle, timber wolf, and (I would argue) mosquito populations in the nation. With no other cars on the road, I meandered through this wilderness, taking a break at the Laurentian Continental Divide. More than any other place I visited on this trip, the forest smelled like wilderness (which to me is essentially dead pine needles diffused into flowing water and fresh air). I could have spent an entire weekend just exploring this two hour stretch of highway, but my destination couldn't wait and I had to get to the park before the office closed at 9:00.
The Park: I picked Scenic State Park for the first hike in this series because it is one of the more remote parks and I was looking for somewhere I'd never been before. The park is the definition of a classic Minnesota get-away. The main lake is pristine, the shores completely undeveloped except for the swimming beach, and it is home to several pairs of loons who take it upon themselves to serenade campers to sleep every night. The red pines are old growth and there are a series of small bogs (!) scattered throughout the park.
The best part of my experience in Scenic, however, was the fireflies. I don't know if it always like this, or if I just happened to be there on a night of a wild mating frenzy, but the park was alight with fireflies. Not a moment passed when at least half a dozen glowing lights weren't suspended in the air, the scene perfectly reflected on the surface of the lake. And because the fireflies were all in pairs, burning as one, the lights were brighter than I'd ever seen them, an ever changing constellation that blended seamlessly into the night sky above.
The Hike: The Minnesota Hiking Club trail range from 1 to 6.2 miles, so at 2.9 miles, Scenic's hike was right in the middle. The hike consists of two part. The first was a loop through a low lying forested area, part of which was a boardwalk over a bog. This may have been pleasant on a cooler day with fewer mosquitos, but I was anxious to get it over with. Despite soaking myself in repellent, the mosquitos still swarmed (not as bad as in other parks, but bad enough).
The second part of the hike is Chase point (hint: the password is on this section) and it was cool, open, beautiful, and bug free. Following the ridge of a long peninsula, the trail passes a small bog, where the pitcher plants were in bloom during my trip, then continues through a red pine forest with little undergrowth. It ends at a great overlook with a panoramic view of the lake (a great lunch spot as I found out). You then double back and follow the trail to your car. It was because of Chase Point that the Scenic hike got a 4 on my (admittedly arbitrary) Hiking Club scale.
Cumulative Miles Hiked: 2.9
Cumulative Miles Driven: 234
Hike Type: Forest, Lake, Bog
The Mosquito Route