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Discover the North Country National Scenic Trail

Being open to foot traffic only, Minnesota’s trail holds unimpeded travel for hikers, berry pickers, mushroom hunters, geocachers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

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Hiking the North Country Trail is a wonderful way to see autumn colors. This is Beaver Pond.
Contributed/Eric Haugland
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A hidden gem meanders through lake and pine country.

It’s called the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT).

It’s one of 11 national scenic trails in the U.S. and the only one in Minnesota.

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The Laurentian Lakes Chapter maintains over 60 miles of the NCT through Becker and Clearwater counties.
Contributed/Jim Sinclair

NCT is a footpath stretching over 4,800 miles – from central Vermont to central North Dakota.

Being open to foot traffic only, Minnesota’s trail holds unimpeded travel for hikers, berry pickers, mushroom hunters, geocachers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

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Short day hikes or overnight hikes are possible.

Maps, events and suggested hikes are available at www.northcountrytrail.org .

Anyone walking this trail is in for a treat as it meanders through forested hills and valleys interspersed with rivers, lakes and numerous wetlands.

At most locations, there is a kiosk or signboard with information about the trail. Hiking distances to the nearest kiosk are also provided.

A “Guide to Hiking the North Country Trail in Minnesota” guidebook is available in bookstores in Park Rapids, Itasca State Park, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and online.

Get involved with local chapters

The NCT is administered by the National Parks Service, managed by federal, state and local agencies, and built and maintained primarily by the volunteers of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) and its partners.

The 28 chapters of the NCTA, its 3,200+ members and each affiliate organization have assumed responsibility for trail construction and maintenance of a specific section of the NCT.

Do you enjoy hiking and are you looking for a group to hike with on a regular basis?

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Join these area NCTA hiking groups: Laurentian Lakes or Itasca Moraine.

The area’s segments of the North Country Trail are maintained by these two chapters.

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Members of the Laurentian Lakes Chapter pause for a photo along the divide.
Contributed/Jim Sinclair

Bob Becklund is president of the Laurentian Lakes Chapter.

“The Laurentian Lakes Chapter maintains over 60 miles of the NCT through Becker and Clearwater counties, using only volunteers and donations,” he explained. “We currently have about 125 chapter members and a small subgroup of them volunteer to maintain the trail with mowers, chainsaws, hedge clippers, pruners, snowblowers and the many hours of walking it takes to cover those 60 miles of our section. We are always looking for more help!”

To join the Laurentian Lakes chapter, volunteer for administrative or trail work, or donate funds, contact Karen at 218-841-2857 or LLC@northcountrytrail.org.

The Itasca Moraine Chapter maintains 75 miles of the trail in Hubbard and Cass counties.

Since formation in the spring of 2002, the chapter has been engaged in extending the NCT from the west boundary of the Chippewa National Forest through the Paul Bunyan State Forest and Hubbard County’s tax-forfeited forestlands toward Itasca State Park.

Itasca Moraine Chapter meetings are held in Akeley, Bemidji, Hackensack, Laporte, Park Rapids, Walker and other towns in northern Minnesota.

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For more information on the Itasca Moraine Chapter, contact president Ed Ranson by email at itm@northcountrytrail.org.

Rewards along the trail

Eric Haugland, a member of Itasca Moraine chapter, says, “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.”

Later in the summer, Haugland said hikers are rewarded by finding wild strawberries, raspberries and blueberries along the trail.

Small wild plums are a late seasonal fruit found on the trail in high, dry areas.

“These are some of the extra bonuses when maintaining or hiking the trail,” he said.

Mushrooms and fruits can be picked along the trail and within the state park for non-commercial and personal use.

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An Itasca Moraine chapter member recommends hiking the trail by Upper Teepee Lake when a sole birch forest turns yellow.
Contributed/Eric Haugland, Itasca Moraine Chapter

One of Haugland’s favorite hikes 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,” he said.

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, located 2.5 miles south of junction of U.S. Hwy. 71 and County Road 4 in Lake George.

Popular hikes

In 2004, the Itasca Moraine Chapter developed a spur trail to a backcountry campsite on Waboose Lake. The campsite has two tent pads, a fire ring and a wilderness latrine.

The Waboose Trail is a four-mile loop around the undeveloped look, with mature pines, spruce, oaks, maples and birch. This 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.

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.

Nelson Lake and Lake 21 also have a 2.7-mile, figure-eight loop trail around them. The trail is near the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ 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.

More resources

Due to a recent windstorm, the NCT is currently closed between U.S. Hwy. 71 and Spider Lake Road.

Matthew Davis, regional director of the NCT, said, “We're always looking for additional volunteers to help us do routine maintenance in addition to responding to these natural disturbances.”

According to Davis, folks interested in hiking can find more information about the NCT here:

Walker celebration

The Itasca Moraine Chapter is hosting a multiple-day event in Walker, Minn. on Oct. 5-9.

The celebration offers opportunities to explore the NCT in unique locations, network with trail enthusiasts from North Dakota to Vermont and beyond, attend skills workshops and volunteer training, and participate in engaging evening presentations.

To learn more, visit northcountrytrail.org/annual-events/celebration . The deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Laurentian Lakes Chapter fall hikes 2022

  • Sept. 14: 9 a.m. – 400th Ave. Trailhead. Trailhead location is near Island Lake.  From State Hwy. 34, turn north on Becker County 37 for 2.3 miles; west on Becker County 126 for 2.6 miles, then north on 400th Ave for 1.2 miles. This hike will be in the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and features a 1,000 foot puncheon across a spruce bog. This is a 4.5-mile hike.  
  • Sept. 21: 9 a.m. – Greenwater Trailhead. Trailhead location from State. Hwy. 34 is north on Becker County 37 for 9 miles; then west on Becker County 35 for 1.2 miles. This area crosses many wetlands and follows the Laurentian Divide. This is a 4.5 mile hike.
  • Sept. 28: 9 a.m. – South entrance of Itasca State Park. This hike is 7.2 miles across the southern part of Itasca. See the backcountry campsites along Hernando De Sota Lake, along with old-growth majestic Norway pines.  
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Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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