The Park: Situations on the shore of Lake of the Woods, a massive 1700 sq. mile lake with 65,000 miles of shoreline and nearly 15,000 islands, Zippel Bay State Park has become a haven for fishermen angling for walleye, muskie, and even the occasional lake sturgeon on this inland sea. If you're not a fisherman, the state park is till worth a visit. One of only a couple parks located in the Aspen Parklands - a distinct ecosystem found only in Minnesota (within the United States, it does extend into Canada) - the park really does seem more like a park than a wilderness. The flora is essentially clumps of white birch with a undergrowth of ferns and poison ivy with occasional open shrubland. It's beautiful, but for one as allergic to poison ivy as myself, it's also treacherous. If you're feeling adventurous, Zippel Bay can also be a jumping off point to Minnesota's most remote state park. Garden Island State Recreations Area is 20 nautical miles out into the lake from Zippel Bay and is a day use only park with no hiking used mostly by fishermen and snowmobilers.
The Hike: This short 1.5 mile hiking club trail was one of the least inspiring I've yet explored. It's essentially a beach walk, following the shore of Lake of the Woods, then cutting into the marshy forest, then coming out again at the boat landing. While the lake is pretty, it can be best viewed just at the trailhead and the path so flooded and overgrown with poison ivy, I had to watch my feet so much, I didn't have time to appreciate the nature around me. The end of the trail leaves you at the rock pier with a little signal tower at the end. Take a minute to walk about and watch the fishermen head out into the lake for the day before retracing your wet and itchy steps back to the trailhead.
The Drive: Zippel Bay is a long way from anything. About half way between the Twin Cities and Winnipeg, the closet towns are the small county seats of Baudette and Warroad. This drive is flat. When I drove out to the prairie near South Dakota, I thought that was flat, but I would describe that as rolly when compared to the unrelieved farmscape of Lake of the Woods county. The only topography is the curvature of the earth. But the sky is big, the clouds were white and puffy, and there was literally no one else on those back country roads. I discovered (accidentally) that my car can go 100 mph without too much trouble. I had to put on cruise control just to keep from accelerating wildly past the speed limit - there is very little to judge speed with outside your vehicle. I won't call this the most boring part of the state, because everything has something entertaining, but it's not scenic byway.
Miles Driven: 3680
Miles Hiked: 69.8
Arbitrary Rating: 3.5/5