More than scenery at Minnesota’s Scenic State Park

(Last Updated On: July 5, 2020)

Scenic State Park, located in northern Minnesota’s beautiful Lake Country, features glistening lakes surrounded by forested hillsides. It has a bit of all the things that make this part of Minnesota special.

Exploring Scenic State Park

We first visited Scenic State Park on a search for fall leaves. However we quickly discovered that this particular park doesn’t need colorful leaves to be beautiful!

road into Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota

Scenic State Park protects the virgin pine shore surrounding all or part of six lakes. Uncut pine forest like this is relatively rare in Minnesota, as logging crews removed most of the state’s pine around the turn of the previous century.

Local residents saved this little patch of the northwoods from the logging companies by organizing to preserve the stands of pine and birch around Coon and Sandwick Lakes.  In 1921 the Minnesota State Legislature protected the area as Scenic State Park.

Historic buildings at Scenic State Park

We start our exploration of Scenic State Park at the beach and picnic area. This is the most visited part of the park.

It’s also the site of the park’s original visitor facilities.

The largest of these is the picnic shelter or lodge.

Historic picnic shelter in Scenic State Park

The work of Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corp crews, the log structure is a classic example of the rustic style popular for recreational buildings at the time.

Inside, the beautifully preserved lodge includes a large stone fireplace, original furniture constructed by CCC workers, and modern interpretive displays.

Historic picnic shelter in Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

It even has a series of paintings created for the building by the CCC workers!

The picnic shelter isn’t the only CCC building here either.

A cozy cabin that once housed the park’s naturalist is nearly hidden amid the trees on one side of the picnic shelter.

Historic cabin in Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

Today visitors who are quick enough to nab a reservation can stay there for a few days.

Other buildings, including a shower house and toilets, stand to the other side of the picnic shelter.

All of these, along with a number of service buildings, were constructed for the park by the CCC. This made Scenic State Park the first in Minnesota to have a full range of facilities constructed by the CCC.

Today these buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The CCC in Scenic State Park

President Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps during the depths of the Depression in 1933. The program had two goals: employing idle men and restoring degraded lands and natural resources. In Minnesota, camps were quickly established around the state under the program.

In June 1933 Scenic State Park became the site of Minnesota’s first CCC camp located within a state park. (Additional camps were later located in Jay Cook, Gooseberry, Itasca, and Sibley state parks.)

Along the water at Scenic State Park

With six lakes, Scenic State Park offers a variety of opportunities to get close to the water.

The park’s beach has a nice strip of sand and still, clear water. It looks like a great spot for getting in the water on a hot day. However, it is also a pleasant place to enjoy a view of the lake without getting wet!

Beach at Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

As part of the park’s original landscape design, the beach is located near the picnic shelter and amphitheater. There is lots of shade and additional picnic tables and benches make this a good spot to relax.

Scenic State Park also has several boardwalks and docks for fishing or just enjoying the lake. Those are on my list to test out the next time I visit!

Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

High above the water on the Chase Point Trail

We were advised that the best fall color could be found along the Tell Lake Trail. However, as much as I wanted to see fall leaves, I wanted to see lakes even more.

And it was clear from the trail map that the Chase Point trail – a narrow finger that pokes up between two lakes – would provide plenty of views of the water.

So, instead of taking the recommended trail, we headed out to Chase Point.

Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

Although the Chase Point Trail is high above the lake today, this was once a river channel flowing beneath a glacier. Known as an esker, this stony ridge was left high and dry when the glaciers retreated.

Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

Like much of the park, the trail is heavily forested with birch and pine.

Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

pine cone Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

However, this exposed rocky ridge is a tough place to live and the effects of recent windstorms are all around us as we move farther out toward the point.

blow-down Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

(The trail continues all the way to the end of the point and down to the water, but it was being re-built when we visited. It’s done now and should provide a spectacular view.)

Chase Point Scenic State Park in northern Minnesota - www.ExplorationVacation.net

Plan your visit to Scenic State Park

Location

Scenic State Park is located in northern Minnesota’s lake country, just southeast of Bigfork in Itasca County. Grand Rapids is 40 miles to the south and Big Falls is an equal distance to the north. The area is about a four-hour drive from Minneapolis.

Fees

A Minnesota State Park vehicle permit is required within the park. Both annual and daily permits are available on arrival.

Trails

There are 14 miles of hiking trails in Scenic State Park. All are easy to moderate.

Both the Tell Lake and Chase Point trails are short (under 2 mile roundtrip) and easy. Interpretative signs along the way explain the park’s geology, history, and wildlife.

In winter the entire park is open for snowshoeing. In addition, 10 miles of trail are open for snowmobiling.

On the water

Besides the beach, the park has a lakeside boardwalk and two fishing piers. There are also two boat landings and several watercraft campsites.

Boats, canoes, paddle boards, and kayaks are available for rent through the park office.

Scenic State Park picnic shelter

Not a lodge the way we would think of it today, the historic lodge in Scenic State Park is a picnic shelter. As such, it has a fireplace, original tables and benches, artwork, and a few informative displays.

It holds up to 225 people and can be rented for private events.

Lodging in Scenic State Park

Camping is available in Scenic State Park from April through November. Park campgrounds include 93 drive-in sites, 21 pull-through sites with electricity, two backpacker sites, five canoe or backpacker sites, a group site for up to 60, and trail access that connects to the nearby Togo horse camp.

Scenic State Park has one camper cabin available near the historic lodge and beach. Like the lodge, the cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Unlike many state park cabins, this one has a fireplace and very basic kitchenette.

All lodging in Minnesota State Parks must be booked through the state’s online reservation system.

For visitors interested in a slightly less out-doorsy experience, there are a number of small resorts and rental cabins available in the area. The best selection of hotels and larger resorts will be found in and around Grand Rapids. Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor. (Affiliate link)

Resources

As is true of all Minnesota’s state parks since a recent update, the website for Scenic State Park is light on in-depth information. However, the downloadable park map (PDF) contains a bit more on the park’s amenities, resources, history, and geology.

Within the park, signs provide context for the park’s features, natural resources, and history.

forest trail with text "Scenic State Park"

Check my travel guide for exploring Minnesota for more ideas! 

All Minnesota posts:

forest and lighthouse with text "Minnesota" small boats on a lake shore with text "Minnesota State Parks" fog over a lake with text "Minnesota's Northern Lake Country and the Iron Range"

 

forest trail with text "Scenic State Park"
forest trail above water with text "Scenic State Park"
forest trail with text "Scenic State Park"

2 thoughts on “More than scenery at Minnesota’s Scenic State Park”

  1. Thanks for introducing me to a new travel destination, Cindy. I didn’t know about Minnesota’s Scenic State Park and that’s because I am not acquainted with Minnesota at all. It looks very “scenic” indeed. A perfect place for relaxation and hiking. I’d love to visit it someday.

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