Chippewa National Forest Overview
The glaciers that sculpted northern Minnesota's landscape 10,000 years ago left behind quite a few puddles in their wake. The Chippewa is a water world of wild wetlands, more than 1,300 lakes, and nearly 1,000 miles of trout stream.
Chippewa National Forest is located at the crossroads of Minnesota's three major ecosystems: the aspen, birch, spruce-fir, and pines of the northern boreal forest; the maple-basswood hardwood forests typical in the southern part of the state; and the prairie just west of the forest. To Minnesotans, though, it's all "Up North."
The Chippewa was the first national forest established east of the Mississippi. Created in 1908, it was initially known as the Minnesota National Forest. The forest's name was changed in 1928 to honor the Chippewa Indians who first inhabited the forest.
Hike an Indian Trail
As half the forest is water, you may want to put on your waders to explore the Chippewa. There is land, we promise; in fact, you'll find 160 miles of trail that should keep your hiking boots dry. You can follow the Continental Divide (rainfall either flows north toward Hudson Bay or south to the Mississippi River) along the 22-mile Cut Foot Sioux Trail, which leads to Turtle Mound—a sacred turtle effigy built in the 1700s by the Dakota and Ojibwa. The Cut Foot Sioux was named after a 1748 Sioux-Chippewa battle. Along the way, you can stop at Farley Tower-an old fire tower where rangers once perched high above the forest to scan the horizon for wildfires.
Tackle the Fighting Muskies
Muskies, or muskellunge, are solitary fish that average seven to ten pounds but can grow to as long as five feet and weigh as much as 54 pounds. We recommend you use large plugs and spoons, jerk baits, and bucktails when tackling muskies. Muskies like to wallow in the same waters as walleye and northern pike. In the Blackduck ranger district, try fishing Whitefish, Blackduck, Moose, and Big Rice Lakes. If you're going to give it a go in the Deer River ranger district, drop your hook in Winnibigoshish, Little Cut Foot Sioux, Bowstring, Sand, and Six-Mile Lakes. Marcell Ranger District offers sweet fishing in Jessie, North Star, Little Jessie, Turtle, and Spider Lakes. Try Ten-Mile, Inguadona, and Steamboat Lakes in the Walker Ranger District.
Canoe the Chippewa
The canoe is the best mode of transportation in this wild water wilderness. It is the traditional way early explorers penetrated the forest's vast interior, and before them, the aboriginal Anishinabe Indians. The 16-mile Turtle River is an easy paddle that offers excellent opportunities for eagle and waterfowl viewing. Along the 14-mile stretch of the North Branch of the Turtle River, you can glide past several beaver dams below Pimushe Lake.
Tour the Wilderness Edge
The Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway is a 47-mile magical mystery tour that meanders through Minnesota's pine and hardwood forest, rolling hills, and along the shore of hundreds of steel-blue lakes. The Scenic Byway (aka Highway 38) snakes its way north from Grand Rapids to Effie.
Camp by a Lake
The forest's 23 campgrounds offer lakeside lodging in the great Minnesota tradition. In the Walker Ranger District, the Stony Point Campground offers 44 highly developed sites with electricity, showers, and a fish-cleaning shed. An old-growth forest of oak, elm, maple, and ash skirts the open grassy campground. Some of the trees are 200 years old. Other convenient perks include developed boat access, two boat harbors, a swimming beach, and a picnic area.
Hunt for Virgin Forest
Virgin forest can be seen at Lost Forty—this stand of old-growth red and white pine remains untouched thanks to a logging map error that incorrectly marked it as being underwater. Too bad there weren't more such errors. More virgin timber can be seen on Elmwood Island, within Island Lake, where huge upland cedar reign. Mature red pine can also be viewed at Ten Section Area and East Lake Pines.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication