I visited Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely, Minnesota on a hot and windy summer day. I’ve also been to Ely on an extremely cold winter day (like 40 degrees below zero wind chill and then went dog sledding a couple of days later – more on that later).
This post contains recommended links to products and services. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may receive compensation if you purchase these products and services. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. All images taken by kmf are available for purchase via digital download.
Best things to do at Bear Head Lake State Park
When you visit Minnesota, ask someone, “What are you doing this weekend?” The response is often, “Going up north.”
And Bear Head State Park is a true up north experience. Knocking on the door of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW – or Boundary Waters for short), you’ll be treated to a beautiful 675-acre lake with a beach and lots of fishing, easy to moderate hikes, towering pine trees dating back to the late 1800s, and rocky landscapes with pretty views formed by volcanoes, ancient seas, and melting glaciers.
What is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness? BWCAW?
Boundary Waters covers more than one million acres of federally protected wilderness. And is only accessible by canoe – so lots of portage opportunities. Check out Inspirational Travel Adventures’ three-part series on their Boundary Waters experiences – the family’s been navigating the lakes and waterways for more than 20 years.
Bear Head Lake State Park gives off a similar vibe, but isn’t as remote and is more accessible. If you love to fish, then you will love Bear Head Lake State Park. Fishing is abundant here, but please note that the maximum speed on the Bear Head Lake is 10 mph. Common fish at this Minnesota state park include walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, black crappie, trout, and panfish.
You can also rent stand-up paddleboards, rowboats, canoes, and kayaks at Bear Head Lake State Park. Or you can bring your own.
Top 10 things to do at Bear Head Lake State Park
With 4,000 acres, 14 miles of hiking trails, and 23 miles of lakeshore, you’ll find lots of outdoorsy things to do at Bear Head Lake State Park – one of the best state parks in Minnesota. In fact, it won the America’s Favorite Park Contest in 2010.
Curated list of the top 10 things to do at Bear Head Lake State Park
Here’s a curated local’s guide and list of the top 10 things to do at Bear Head Lake State Park.
- Fish from the piers or from a non-motorized boat. Two of the lakes at Bear Head Lake State Park are trout lakes.
- Hike along the beach or more than 14 miles of the steeper trails through the forest or backcountry. Take note that the trails are uneven terrain, much of it very rocky or packed dirt with roots. In the winter, you can cross-country ski (7 miles of groomed trails and ski pass required) or snowshoe (please stay off the groomed trails). Trails at Bear Head State Park also connect with the Taconite State Trail (mountain bike trail and allows snowmobiles in the winter). ATVs and side-by-sides are not allowed in Bear Head Lake State Park
- Rent a stand-up paddleboard, rowboat, canoe, or kayak from the park office, or bring your own.
- Grill out or picnic at the beach shelter.
- Watch for wildlife – yes, black bears do live at Bear Head State Park as do moose, wolves, deer, snowshoe hares, and many other creatures.
- Do some birdwatching and watch for nesting bald eagles, boreal chickadees, nuthatches, and more.
- Swim at the uncrowded beach (no lifeguard on duty, so use caution – it was very windy the day I visited).
- Take in the pretty views overlooking one of several lakes. In addition to Bear Head Lake, you’ll find trails leading to other lakes including Cub Lake, Becky Lake, Blueberry Lake, and Norberg Lake. Eagles Nest Lake No. Three and Beaver Lake (Grassley Lake) also fall within the state park boundaries.
- Go camping – smaller RVs, tent, backpack, and watercraft sites available to rent. You can also rent cabins or a guest house.
- Take advantage of the Trail Center (aka warming shelter) amenities during the winter months including running water, a fireplace, seating (inside and out), a fire pit, and more.
Frequently asked questions about Bear Head Lake State Park in Ely, Minnesota
Where is Bear Head Lake State Park located? What is the address for Bear Head Lake State Park?
Bear Head Lake State Park is located at 9301 Bear Head State Park Road in Ely, Minnesota.
When is Bear Head Lake State Park open?
Bear Head Lake State Park is open year-round, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
How big is Bear Head Lake State Park?
Bear Head Lake State Park is 4,000 acres that features 14 miles of hiking trails, 23 miles of lakeshore, with its namesake lake covering 675 acres.
When was Bear Head Lake State Park established?
Bear Head Lake State Park was established in 1961.
Does Bear Head Lake State Park have a lake, river, or waterfall?
Yes, Bear Head Lake State Park features several lakes including its namesake (with 673 acres) and several other smaller lakes and access to larger nearby lakes.
Does Bear Head Lake State Park have a beach? How big is the beach at Bear Head Lake State Park?
Bear Head Lake State Park features a small and uncrowded swimming beach right on the lake – easy access from the parking lot. Use caution as there is no lifeguard. You can also picnic nearby.
Is Bear Head Lake State Park buggy? Mosquitos? Ticks?
I hiked on a very hot and humid day, and I didn’t find it buggy with mosquitos or ticks. Although, the Minnesota DNR site does say to watch for ticks and poison ivy. So I highly recommend using picaridin spray and Aunt Fanny’s DEET-free mosquito wipes before hiking any of the Minnesota state parks.
Can you fish at Bear Head Lake State Park? What kind of fish are in Bear Head Lake?
Absolutely! Bear Head Lake State Park is a fishing paradise where you’ll find walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, black crappie, and panfish. Bear Head Lake State Park even offers two trout lakes.
Does Bear Head Lake State Park offer a boat ramp with trailer access?
Yes, Bear Head Lake State Park does offer a boat ramp with trailer access.
How long and how difficult are the hiking trails at Bear Head Lake State Park?
You’ll find several hiking trails at Bear Head Lake State Park ranging from the easy 0.25-mile Beach Trail to the more rugged 6-mile Becky and Blueberry Lake Trail loop. The Hiking Club trail (aka Norberg Lake Trail) is a 3.5-mile loop and features steep hills. I found the trails to be a bit challenging as there are lots of rocks and roots.
Are hiking poles needed on the trails at Bear Head Lake State Park?
I did bring my hiking poles, but don’t recall using them at Bear Head Lake State Park. Although there are some steep and rugged hills on a couple of the hiking trails. I didn’t notice the steep climbs as much as I did the rocks and roots on the trails.
What are the best views at Bear Head Lake State Park?
I found the best view right at the main beach overlooking Bear Head Lake.
Does Bear Head Lake State Park have a visitor center? Modern restrooms?
Bear Head Lake State Park features a trail center or warming shelter. However, it was closed when I visited due to the pandemic. So I’m not sure if it has a modern restroom. The campgrounds at Bear Head Lake State Park offer three modern restrooms. You’ll also find vault toilets throughout the park.
Can you camp at Bear Head Lake State Park?
Yes, Bear Head Lake State Park offers a campground with RV sites (up to 60 feet), tents, van/car camping (some sites with electricity), as well as backpack and water-accessible sites and a group campsite. Additionally, Bear Head Lake State Park features five year-round camper cabins as well as a guest house you can rent (sleeps 10). The cabins come with a fire pit and picnic table.
Are there bears at Bear Head Lake State Park?
Yes, although I didn’t see any bears when I hiked at Bear Head Lake State Park. This wilderness area is also home to grey wolves, deer, moose, eagles, and more.
Is Bear Head Lake State Park dog-friendly?
Yes, leashed dogs and pets are welcome at Bear Head Lake State Park (and all Minnesota state parks) except in the swimming beach area and inside buildings (with the exception of service dogs). Leashes must be six feet or less.
How far is Bear Head Lake State Park from the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul (MSP) airport?
Bear Head Lake State Park is about 250 miles northwest of Minneapolis – St. Paul (MSP) International Airport.
What’s nearby Bear Head Lake State Park? Things to do near Bear Head Lake State Park?
You’ll find additional recreational areas near Bear Head Lake State Park, including:
- Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is just north of Bear Head Lake State Park – this federally protected area covers more than 1 million acres of wilderness.
- A trail from Bear Head Lake State Park connects with the Taconite State Trail (mountain biking and snowmobiling)
- Lake Vermillion – Soudan Underground Mine State Park is only about 17 miles away (highly recommend taking the underground mine tour – it was fascinating!). And Lake Vermillion is the fifth largest lake in Minnesota (not counting Lake Superior). It covers more than 40,000 acres.
- The charming town of Ely reminds me of the show Northern Exposure and is about 17 miles from Bear Head Lake State Park.
- We visited in the winter and I went on a dog-sledding adventure. You can find a few reputable family-run organizations that offer these experiences in Ely.
- My husband and I also visited the International Wolf Center in Ely, which was fascinating.
- While closed in the winter, you can also visit the North American Bear Center in Ely.
- And while Ely can get dangerously cold in the winter, Embarrass is known as the coldest town in Minnesota. It’s located 27 miles away from Bear Head Lake State Park.
If you have any questions about hiking at Bear Head Lake State Park – or any of Minnesota’s beautiful state parks – leave a note in the comments or contact me.