BREITUNG TWP—Since the creation of the Lake Vermilion portion of the new state park here back in 2010, it’s often been seen as a park under development. That’s true enough. The park remains years away from fully meeting the vision set by the community and the Department of Natural Resources.
“When all this gets built out, it’s really going to be something,” said state Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, during the recent groundbreaking for the new Vermilion Ridge Campground.
Plenty of improvements remain in the works, including additional hiking trails, new camper cabins, a lake lodge visitor center, expansion of the new campground, as well as construction of a new camping area, south of Hwy. 169, that’s geared towards cyclists and ATVers.
But the focus on the future shouldn’t obscure the fact that there is already a lot to do at the park, and that portions are currently under-utilized. Whether you’re interested in hiking, biking, fishing, camping, wildlife-watching, or exploring the history of the Soudan Mine, there’s no shortage of reasons to take advantage of the park now.
Here are just some of the things to do currently available at the park:
Hiking— There are enough miles of hiking trail in the park right now to put blisters on the feet of almost anyone. Longstanding trails in the Soudan Mine portion of the park are among the nicest, with many passing through extensive areas of old-growth red and white pine. These trails have been mostly overlooked by park users for years. But the new portion of the park also offers miles of hiking opportunities. The two main trails, the Crescent Trail and the Wawa Way, begin along the south edge of the park and head north generally toward the new campground. These trails are pretty long and a number of loops are in development right now that will give hikers a wider range of options, but these existing trails can easily be hiked out and back. The Crescent Trail has some nice offerings along the way, including a picnic table site on Lily Lake, which is a nice spot to sit and makes a good turnaround point. A bit further to the north, the trail is currently underwater due to beaver activity. You can access the trail north of the beaver flooding by a connecting trail from the Soudan portion of the park. From there, you can access the Mattson Bay overlook, which gives you a stunning view of Lake Vermilion and much of the park.
The best trails are actually coming soon. Later this year, watch for the opening of the Lakeside Trail, the Vermilion Ridge Trail, and the Onumuni Overlook trail, which will access the spectacular rock outcrop on Cable Bay, an iconic portion of the park. This trail will include about 180 feet of boardwalk through a marsh bordered by cedar. These will be major additions to the hiking options in the new portion of the park.
Remote camping— For anyone looking to get away from it all, remote, hike-in campsites are now available. You won’t find them on the park reservation system just yet, but they’re open on a first-come, first-served basis and most have yet to see a single visitor so far— so you could be the first! The sites are located about a half-mile north of the park entrance road and are accessed by Wawa Way, which begins just across from the park’s electronic pay station and information kiosk. These sites come with a picnic table, fire ring and grate, a bear locker and an elevated gravel tent pad, and each one is tucked well away into the woods.
The park also offers at least one boat-in campsite, located on the west end of Stuntz Bay and more are in the development phase.
The underground mine tour— As the DNR’s State Parks and Trails director Erika Rivers noted, the Soudan Mine tour is “probably one of the four or five drop drop-to-your-knees incredible experiences you could have in a state park and you really owe it to yourself and your children to go there and educate yourself about the history of this special place.”
The mine tours, which take you a half-mile underground, are offered daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through September and on weekends in October. A tour is a great thing to do during rainy weather or on a really hot day. Just remember that with a constant temperature in the low 50s, you might want to have a light jacket or sweatshirt with you for the underground tour.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss this tour, which includes a train ride underground.
And when you’re done with the underground tour, don’t forget to poke your head inside the Engine House and watch the huge hoist in action.
There’s no doubt that there is going to be much more in the future at this incredible park. But there’s already more than enough to do to justify a visit soon.