Camping in Bear Head Lake State Park

A year ago, we reserved a campsite in Bear Head Lake State Park in late June, but we had to cancel that trip because the shower buildings were closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions. This year, with the campsites filling up much quicker than anticipated, we somehow managed to reserve the same campsite. Voted the “America’s Favorite Park” in 2010, Bear Head Lake State Park is located just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness.

Prior to our departure, the Air Quality Index reached the Orange or Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups category due to the smoke from the wildfires located north of the Canadian border in Ontario and Manitoba. We revisited a few attractions in the Iron Range by driving through several small mining towns such as Hibbing, Chisholm, Eveleth and Virginia. When we told a retired mining worker at Hull–Rust–Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine that we visited this place exactly 20 years ago, he paused in disbelief and I had to gently remind him that we Asians look much younger than our true age.

Our campsite in Bear Head Lake State Park was very spacious and quiet. We spent a full day kayaking and hiking in this lovely park. The loud loon wailing could be heard all day long. Although the ranger warned us about recent bear sightings upon arrival, we didn’t stumble upon one except the bear head logo at the entrance of the state park. On the second full day, due to the forecasted thunderstorm in the afternoon, we started our day earlier and hiked the entire 6-mile Bass and Dry Lake loop located north of Ely. Thankfully, the storm never arrived and we managed to chill out in Ely before heading back to our campsite. Our initial plan is to explore the nearby Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, but we were exhausted from the earlier 5-hour hike. Instead, we checked out several lodges in the vicinity in case we plan to visit Ely during fall season in the future.

As we headed home on the final day, our vehicle began to act up. The “check engine” light lit up on the dashboard, the acceleration jerked as if the transmission was slipping and at times, it lost the ability to accelerate. Given we were still 2 hours away from home, we pulled into an auto repair shop just north of the metro area to run a quick diagnosis, but the mechanics weren’t able to pinpoint the problem right away. We decided to push forward very slowly through the heavy storm just south of the metro, praying that our vehicle wouldn’t stall on us along the highway. We got home safely, albeit a very stressful drive. Apparently, the accelerator pedal position sensor had gone bad and it caused a small fortune to replace it.

Hull-Rust-Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine — the largest operating open-pit iron mine in Minnesota and one of the largest in the world. The drilling rig on the right was in the middle of drilling and planting 75 explosives.
Relaxing at our campsite in Bear Head Lake State Park.
Although it was hazy due to the northern wildfires, we managed to catch some beautiful sunset by the lake in Bear Head Lake State Park.
The idyllic Bass Lake. We were one of the very few hikers who completed the entire 6-mile Bass and Dry Lake loop that day. Some parts of the trail were very rocky.
Hiking and kayaking routes in Bear Head Lake State Park.
Places we explored in Ely, located about half hour drive from the state park.
Road trip map.

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