10 Reasons Why Bear Head Lake State Park is the Best State Park in Minnesota

It’s a bold statement, I know. But I stand by it firmly. Bear Head Lake State Park is the best state park in Minnesota. While all the state parks along the north shore of Lake Superior get all the hype, this gem sits quietly in the Minnesota north woods just outside of Ely. 

This park is meant for those who love hiking, paddling, wildlife, fishing, and enjoying all the beauty that northern Minnesota has to offer. Here are ten reasons why Bear Head Lake State Park is among the best state parks in Minnesota!

Bear Head Lake State Park in Minnesota with photos of the lake lined with tall pine trees, my feet on the side of a boat at sunset and red pine trees.

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Where is Bear Head Lake State Park?

Bear Head Lake State Park is located about 20 minutes southwest of Ely. Ely is known to be one of the gateways to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts in northern Minnesota. 

Map showing Ely Minnesota relative to Duluth and Minneapolis, along the Canadian border.
Bear Head Lake State Park is just 20 minutes southwest of Ely in northern Minnesota.

The park is about 4 hours north (235 miles) of the Twin Cities, making it a great option for a weekend road trip in Minnesota. The drive will take you through a portion of the Minnesota Iron Range with stunning scenery and cute small towns to explore along the way.

Where to stay at Bear Head Lake State Park?

From roughing it to a rustic-but-modern cabin, there are many options for places to stay near Bear Head Lake State Park. 

Norberg Lake Trail at Bear Head Lake State Park in Minnesota
Norberg Lake Trail is a great loop trail for a day hike at Bear Head Lake State Park.

Bear Head Lake State Park Campground

The park has 73 campsites, with 45 of those having electrical hookups. What I love about the campsites here is that most of them are set back and secluded by trees. This natural privacy makes the campsite feel like a little sanctuary. Click here to make MN State Park reservations.

Pro Tip: Remember you are in bear country, so be sure to practice bear safety at the campsites.

For an even more remote experience, stay at one of the park’s backpacking campsites or canoe-in sites. These come with a bear bin, fire pit, picnic table and latrine. 

Pro Tip: Read my camping 101 tips and gear list for a beginner’s guide to camping essentials!

Bear Head Lake State Park Camper Cabins and Guesthouse

The park has five all season camper cabins and a guesthouse for groups. These are a great option for those that want a roof over their heads with the convenience of being right in the state park. 

Ely Log Cabin

Looking for a few more creature comforts? Ely Log Cabin is just minutes away from Bear Head Lake State Park! This rustic log cabin has modern touches and comfy finishes. Read my Ely Log Cabin review for all the details!

Check pricing and availability for Ely Log Cabin now! Use code WILDWORLD10 for 10% off your stay when you book directly through their website.

Top 10 Reasons Bear Head Lake State Park is the Best State Park in MN

I could go on and on about this park, but here are the top ten reasons to visit!

1 | Bear Head Lake State Park hiking trails are stunning!

Bear Head Lake State Park is home to some of my favorite hiking trails in all of Minnesota. The park embodies what I envision as the Minnesota north woods experience. My favorite trails include:

Norberg Lake Loop | A 3.1 mile loop that takes you through the forest and wraps around a small pristine lake and along the East Bay of Bear Head Lake. Hop on the trail across from the park office or near the beach. There are some great spots for picnics along Norberg Lake.

Blueberry Lake Trail | A 4.3 mile out and back trail with a loop around the lake takes you further into the forest to a larger and more remote lake. This is also where the backpacking campsites are located. This trail starts from just outside the park entrance from a small parking lot along the roadside near Norberg Lake. However, you can easily add this onto the Norberg Lake Loop for a longer day hike (~7.5 miles).

Pro Tip: In mid-summer, wild blueberries grow along the Blueberry Lake Trail for a tasty trailside treat!

Be sure to purchase a Minnesota State Parks Passport and earn a stamp during your visit to Bear Head Lake State Park!

2 | Paddle around the park by kayak or canoe.

Metal canoe turned upside down next to the shore at Bear Head Lake State Park.
Rent a kayak or canoe at the park office at Bear Head Lake State Park.

Bear Head Lake State Park is made to be explored by water! The lake is quite large with lots of bays that are fun for paddling by kayak or canoe. Go for a paddle in the early morning or just before sunset for peaceful and stunning views. This is also a great time to see wildlife along the shoreline.

Pro Tip: The park office has kayaks and canoes for rent if you don’t have your own. Visit the park website for more info.

3 | Enjoy an afternoon of Bear Head Lake fishing.

The fishing in Bear Head Lake State Park is incredible! Here you can fish for walleye, large mouth bass, and northern pike . There are two designated trout fishing lakes in the park. Trout fishing in Minnesota requires a special fishing license, so be sure to purchase one beforehand. If you’re new to fishing, the park office has fishing rods you can borrow!

Pro Tip: Minnesota residents are exempt from purchasing a fishing license to fish in Bear Head Lake State Park since the lake is entirely encompassed within the state park. Out of state residents, will need to purchase a fishing license. They can be purchase online, at outdoors gear stores, bait shops and many gas stations in the area.

Motorized boats are allowed at Bear Head Lake State Park. There is a boat launch with parking for trailers and several docks. 

4 | Spend an afternoon swimming at the beach.

Just a short walk from the Bear Head Lake State Park campground is a nice sandy beach near a picnic area. This is a perfect spot for a swim on a hot summer day. Bring a beach chair, towel and sunscreen and enjoy the lake life for an afternoon.

5 | Enjoy the wildlife.

Bear Head Lake State Park has some of the most beautiful Minnesota north woods in my opinion. The combination of red and white pine, birch, and aspen trees nestled among the lakes is just magical. On top of that the park is home to some of Minnesota’s most well-known and loved wildlife, including black bears, wolves and moose. Don’t forget to look up too – the park is home to bald eagles (I’ve seen several on my visits). 

Always appreciate wildlife from a safe distance and be mindful of bear safety practices so that you can both appreciate this beautiful place. 

6 | Stay up late for some stargazing.

Unlike the nearby Boundary Waters, Bear Head Lake State Park is not a designated International Dark Sky Park but the stars are still an incredible sight at night. Grab your camping chairs and head down near the water after dark to enjoy the view. I was able to see the Milky Way with my bare eyes from there!

7 | Enjoy a lakeside picnic with a view.

Clouds perfectly reflected in the lake just before sunset at Bear Head Lake State Park.
Enjoy a quiet moment or a picnic for sunset at Bear Head Lake State Park.

Who doesn’t love a picnic with a view? Just past the beach area is a picnic shelter and several picnic tables right near the water. Alternatively, sit on one of the many docks throughout the park and dip your feet in the water while you enjoy your picnic. 

Remember to leave no trace by packing your trash out in ziploc or other scent proof containers. 

8 | Go on a day hike in the Boundary Waters.

Bear Head Lake State Park is located just south of the Boundary Waters access points, making it a great destination for day hikes! I recommend exploring the Dry Lake and Bass Lake Loop Trails. 

For a shorter hike, the Dry Lake Loop Trail is about 3.7 miles. The trail takes you along the rocky shores of Dry Lake and through forest. The best part of the hike is where the trail connects with Bass Lake at Dry Falls. This small waterfall creates cascading pools of water and a perfect swimming hole for a warm summer day.

For a longer hike, combine the Dry Lake and Bass Lake Trails for 6.3 miles. Shortly before the swimming hole at Dry Falls, the trail turns to make its way around Bass Lake with a short stop at nearby Low Lake. 

There is a small parking lot at the trailhead and both of these trails start and end here.

9 | Explore the nearby town of Ely.

Ely is one of two gateways to the Boundary Waters and is known as an outdoor lovers destination. The streets of Ely are lined with outfitters and bait shops as well as some wonderful restaurants.

Grab a cup of coffee at Northern Grounds or, if you’re in the mood, head to the back of the shop to grab a glass at their wine bar. Enjoy a tasty meal from Insula or The Boathouse Brewpub. Both feature classic Minnesota dishes with their own twist.

Ely is also home to the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center. Both facilities focus on wildlife education, designed for adults and kids.

10 | Relax at your campsite or cabin.

Making dinner over a camp stove while my dog, Hank, explores the campsite behind me at Bear Head Lake State Park.
Making dinner on a camp stove while Hank explores the campsite at Bear Head Lake State Park campground.

One of my favorite things to do in Bear Head Lake State Park is just relax at the campsite. While not all of them are, many of the campsites are naturally secluded by trees making them the perfect place to relax with a good book or just listen to the sounds of nature.

Enjoy One of the Best State Parks in Minnesota – Bear Head Lake State Park!

I first stayed at Bear Head Lake State Park on a whim during the pandemic. I’d never heard of it, but found an available campsite and spent a couple of days there with my dog. The park immediately drew me in and I knew I’d be back. On my return trip, I fell even more in love with this place.

The park offers a wide variety of things to do and beautiful scenery. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Related content to read next:

10 Outdoor Adventures for Your Minnesota Bucket List

Best Sleeping Bag Alternative: Rumpl Nanoloft Blanket Review

What to Wear for Hiking in Summer: A Prepared Girl’s Guide

How to Avoid Getting Eaten Alive by Mosquitoes & Ticks (for Hikers)

Check out my Minnesota travel page for even more inspiration and tips!

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Best State Park in Minnesota? Red pine trees in Bear Head Lake State Park.

21 thoughts on “10 Reasons Why Bear Head Lake State Park is the Best State Park in Minnesota

  1. This Big Wild World says:

    You’re welcome, Bea! Sounds like you’d love Bear Head Lake State Park as much as I do 🙂

  2. This Big Wild World says:

    Yes! This is a perfect spot to beat the summer heat down in Arizona. You can take a dip in the water to cool off! I had a pretty fortunate day fishing – I think caught like 7 fish!

  3. This Big Wild World says:

    Time for a return trip! Bear Head Lake State Park is a great place to recharge and relax.

  4. This Big Wild World says:

    You’re welcome! Yes, they’ve got a nicely sized campground, with relatively secluded campsites – some with electric hookups.

  5. This Big Wild World says:

    Thanks, Lasma! It’s such a peaceful picnic place… maybe even a picnic while kayaking! 🙂

  6. This Big Wild World says:

    It’s a perfect place for kayaking! The biggest things for bear safety are to make noise when you are hiking (so you don’t surprise them) and to keep toiletries (with a smell) and food out of your tent and contained.

  7. This Big Wild World says:

    Have a great time exploring all that Minnesota has to offer! I hope Bear Head Lake State Park and Ely make your list. It’s such a beautiful area.

  8. This Big Wild World says:

    Ha ha yes, but I stand by it! I love that they rent out some of the gear like fishing rods so visitors can try new things!

  9. Bea Pinnegar says:

    Yes, yes and yes to every reason you listed here! I would love some hiking around – and paddleboarding or kayaking as well! Thanks for this lovely posting – surely saving for later 🙂

  10. Brittany says:

    There’s nothing better than lakeside living! I would love to check out Bear Head Lake State Park. Especially this summer to escape the heat in Arizona! Fishing sounds really fun – that’s a huge fish you caught! 🙂

  11. Gail says:

    Looks awesome! What a great place for hiking. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your tips and I love the pictures!

  12. Erin says:

    I haven’t been to Minnesota in years. I forgotten how beautiful it is! Bear Head State Park sounds perfect for a getaway, and stay in a lovely cabin. This park seems to have it all!

  13. Jill says:

    I had no idea there were so many campsites around Bear Head – it looks absolutely peaceful. Thank you for sharing this great spot, I’d love to camp there!

  14. Megan says:

    This definitely deserves the rating of best state park in Minnesota! It’s gorgeous! I love National Parks, but I find there is so much beauty in State Parks too. Minnesota is definitely not short of beautiful state parks!

  15. Lasma says:

    Wow, I really like those views! And a picnic there would be perfect 🙂 Kayak looks fun as well! Saved for my future travels!

  16. Leah says:

    Wow your photos look amazing! I’d love to visit one day and go out on a kayak, although I should probably learn some bear safety first!

  17. Linda (LD Holland) says:

    We are going to have to make plans to visit Minnesota and explore the great parks. Bear Head Lake State Park looks like one that should be on our list. Ely Log Cabin may be the perfect spot for us to settle in and enjoy a longer visit. We would certainly enjoy all there is to do. And star gazing in the wild would be awesome. What a gem you discovered during the pandemic!

  18. Josy A says:

    Wooah from you that is a strong statement as you show us soooo many fab state parks! But Bear Head Lake State Park does look fantastic, especially for hiking and camping. I am totally novice when it comes to fishing, but if they rent out rods, that might be the best way to try without spending a bunch on equipment!!

  19. MK Dymock says:

    I love state parks! I find them more diverse and less crowded than the national parks. This one has everything!

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