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Bear Head Lake State Park

Park Info

Bear Head Lake State Park is located in the secluded Northwoods of Ely, MN (just south of the BWCA access points). It is known for its pristine lakes, giving us paddlers and fishers miles of shoreline to explore. There are also trails for hiking that connect to the Taconite State Trail, a beach for swimming, and a picnicking area, and in the winter months, there are snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing areas available. The park offers a park office, boat and paddling rentals, snowshoe rentals in the winter, firewood and ice sales, and an EV charging station.

The trails cut and loop through a forest made up of red pines, white pines, spruce, fir, and paper birch trees on the highlands, as well as tamarack, black spruce, and white cedar in the lowlands. Since this area was made by glaciers (and ancient seas and volcanoes), several different sizes and shapes of rocks are there to admire. Remember to not take any though. Taking stuff from the State Parks is a no-no.

If you’re looking to see some wildlife, you’re in the right place. This area is known for white-tailed deer, black bear, moose, wolves, red squirrels, chipmunks, and snowshoe hares. Birdwatching your thing? You have the opportunity to see red-breasted nuthatches, pine grosbeaks, red crossbills, boreal chickadees, and bald eagles. Fishing, you ask…well, here, you’ll find walleye, bass, crappies, and trout. Bring your gear and prepare your fish tales! You know that it was this [_____________________________] big, no lie.

All of this info came from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, so credit where credit is due. Click here to view the original source.

Accessibility of Facility


Parking by the visitor center is paved and handicapped accessible, with marked spots and a sidewalk to each of the buildings. At the campground, parking is on gravel at the sites and bathroom/showers/drinking water area. It can be a tight squeeze, but it is doable. At the trail center, the parking is also gravel, however, there is plenty of room to maneuver and there are handicapped spots available. The trailhead parking is also gravel, but the one I went to had plenty of room to park and get around.


Both vaulted and modern are available for use. The vaulted ones are the typical style, and look to be okay if you don’t need grab bars and/or need to get bigger mobility devices inside. Located at the campground, the modern bathrooms are accessible with specified stalls. Those stalls are large enough for mobility devices to get inside and have grab bars for assistance. The showers also have seats and both tall and short showerheads.

The latches on the doors are sliding, which is helpful, however, there are no buttons to open the main door. It is a lever-style knob with a door that pulls out. It isn’t especially heavy, but keep that in mind if doors are an issue for you. At the trail center, the bathrooms are accessible with a similar setup to the campground. Sidewalks go up to and around the building.

Trail Access

The trail I saw by the trail center was clearly marked and easy to get to, as was the picnic area, which was a mixture of grass and gravel. There was a sand beach for swimming that was right next to the picnic area. Other trails in the park were also clearly marked with signs and a map at each entrance, so they were easily located.

Trail Info

The Norberg Lake Short Loop Trail is 1.10 miles long and according to AllTrails has 82 feet of elevation. I had to use the navigation to find it, but it is clearly marked so if you’re looking for it you’ll likely find it. It started with a set of stairs made from old railroad ties, which was cool, but my love-hate relationship with stairs is no secret. There was one bench at the beginning (or end depending on which way you started) at the bottom of the first decline, which offered a nice view of the lake. This trail had inclines and lots of rocks, roots, and even a tree to climb over.

The back half of this trail was little more than a wildlife trail and was hard to find at times. I missed it at first, but thanks to AllTrails I didn’t get lost. The bugs were so hungry they tried to feast on Currently Unnamed Cardybear, however, I forgot the bug spray in the car so that didn’t help.

This trail would be rated as moderate for me. I’m not sure if I need to do this trail again, but I got some great shots, and the lake is nice. If you like these types of trails and can do them without figuratively dying like me, you’ll probably like this one a lot. That being said, I have been out of one of my inhalers for a week due to reordering issues (not on me), so that probably didn’t help any. I also, unbeknownst to me, was battling another illness (a really nasty case of shingles) and lady problems, which also didn’t help at all.

Camping Experience

I stayed at Bear Head Lake in an electric site. I am pretty sure I was the only tent in my half of the campground. It was a nice site, bigger than the last couple I stayed at, so I had plenty of room for my giant tent. The setup went smoothly this time, so things were done fairly quickly. I was two sites down from the modern bathrooms/showers and drinking water, which was planned and appreciated.

I was surrounded on all sides by campers, most of them with children, so things weren’t as quiet as I’d hoped but it was all right. Everyone seemed nice and one even offered me extra blankets because it was still getting into the low to mid-40 degrees Fahrenheit at night and I froze the first night. More on that later though. The vampire in me liked how dark and quiet it was during quiet hours. There was little to no traffic and while things were lit for safety, it wasn’t bright enough to keep me awake.

Firewood is sold at the visitor center for $8/bundle and there is an option to buy it through Yodel. I didn’t use the app, so I can’t speak to how it works or anything. I got two bundles, and it lasted me my whole stay since I didn’t end up cooking over the fire because I didn’t feel well. The pit has a decent grate for cooking that turns easily, so fire cooking is a great option.

The bugs were around, but not horrible. The red squirrels on the other hand…assholes. I don’t know if it was one or multiple, but one tried to steal my jar of almond butter (I forgot it out, so my bad, but the audacity. It came back several times after I scared it off) and my tent got ran into and scolded at least three times. Later in the evening, I legit saw it jump up on the cooler and look at the clean plate set on it, before jumping down and running away when I told it to leave.

It should try to steal food from the kids. They’d probably have more luck. Mean, I know, but I yell and throw rocks. There is likely a chipmunk involved too, but they were more skittish. One tried to sneak by me three times around breakfast time.

As I said earlier, it got COLD! If you go this time of year, bring extra blankets, layers, a ceramic heater, or whatever you need to keep warm. I drove 40 minutes to town to pick up some long underwear/thermals/base layer, and no one had any since it was “out of season”. In Northern Minnesota, it is never out of season.

Where I live (still in Northern Minnesota) it’s 60’s at night, so I was unprepared. I did solve the issue (mostly) by layering my extra clothes and curling up in my sleeping bag the best I could. If I wasn’t special and didn’t need to sleep with a pillow under my knees I could have zipped up in my sleeping bag and probably would have been fine because it’s for weather down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Learn from my mistakes and bring stuff to keep you warm and toasty so you can sleep at night.

Keep in mind that cell phone service is spotty at best, so make sure to download anything you may want to use like music, movies, books, podcasts, etc. I got one to two bars on average, but zero happened more often than not.

Kayaking Experience

I was supposed to go kayaking while here. It was the main reason I booked this site, but due to the undiagnosed shingles, I felt like crap and couldn’t lift my arm. That ruled out lugging my boat around and paddling, so I just went home the last morning instead of dipping my paddle in. While I was bummed I didn’t get to do the thing I went there to do, I can go back another time since it’s only two hours away. Another day trip in the making.

Stay tuned for the second half of this adventure! Lake Vermilion-Soudan Mine State Park

We are going to continue playing a game of I Spy with my new hiking buddy, Currently Unnamed CardyBear. See if you can spot him and put it in the comments.

Be safe out there! REMEMBER YOUR MAPS AND PASSPORT STAMPS!! Seeyalaterbye <3

Also, if you feel called to help a sista out with her travels, check this out!

4 thoughts on “Bear Head Lake State Park”

  1. Sorry you didn’t get to go kayaking, but it sounds like a nice place to visit again.
    And the bear is in the chair…and the back of his head is in another pic 🤣

  2. Get well fast 😁.
    This campsite looks very nice.
    I did see the bear in a couple of your photos.
    I have use the website before to buy the wood, It is very easy to use.
    Thank you again for sharing your experiences. It is very much appreciated and needed.

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