• Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    2 Miles

Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Handicap Accessible
Picnic Area

Explore a usually inaccessible ecosystem and search for rare orchids and carnivorous plants. This is the largest bog in the contiguous United States.

Big Bog, an uninspired name for the 500 sq. mile bog in north central Minnesota (the largest in the continental United States), is sometimes called Minnesota's last true wilderness. The Boundary Water Wilderness is so remote, unvisited, and uninhabitable that all attempts at settlement failed - the bog wouldn't drain, the land couldn't be farmed, and mosquitos drove people mad. Wildlife has trouble in the wet, acidic peatland north of Red Lake. Bog Lemmings might thrive, but most mammals, like moose, deer, and caribou, only visit the bog, unable to make it a permanent home. Plants find the soil so inhospitable that several have turned carnivorous - actually eating insects, amphibians, and even small mammals - to supply the nutrients and energy the ground lacks, and a two hundred year old spruce can look like a sickly sapling, never having the conditions it need to grow to its full potential. Even normal words seem to fail when describing a bog - quagmire, peat, sphagnum, fen, and flark are among the strange vocab that has grown up around bogs. If you've never thought bogs were interesting before, a trip to Big Bog will change your mind.

The Big Bog Boardwalk (AKA the Hiking Club Trail) follows a one mile (2 miles out and back) boardwalk that penetrates into the heart of the Red Lake Peatland. For such a short and easy hike, the bog walk offers an excellent sampling of what you can find in a bog. It's also about as far as you'll ever be able to just walk into a wetland like this - scientists reach the most of the bog only by helicopter. The path starts on a bog island which quickly transitions into a stunted spruce/tamarack forest. You'll get to see where the government tried and failed to drain the bog for agriculture. Keep your eyes on the sphagnum moss and blueberries that carpet the bog for rare orchids (there are over 40 species in the area), carnivorous plants like the pitcher plant and the sundew, or bog lemmings. I'm also convinced that if you were to hike it in the night, you'd see a Will-o-Wisp floating over its surface - although the bog cotton does a good imitation even during the day.

Normally I'm all for exploring off the beaten path, but in this case, I must advise against it. Not only is it damaging to the extremely fragile ecosystem, the bog is filled with hidden holes and flarks that could suck you many feet underground/water like a giant sponge where you would most certainly drown.

While you're in the area, check out Red Lake, one of the largest lakes in the country, and climb the nearby fire tower for a panoramic view of the region. Grab a beer in nearby Bemidji, home of Paul Bunyan and Babe.

Pack List

  • Hiking Boots
  • Mosquito Repellent and Head Net
  • Camera
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Very unique and amazing place but I have a correction for your writeup in regards to caribou. Large peatlands are important year around habitat for Boreal Woodland Caribou. Caribou were not only able to make The Big Bog a permanent home, they lived here for thousands of years until around 1940 when they finally succumbed to a sustained and concerted effort to tame the wilderness. The events that caused their extirpation include but are not limited to decades of overhunting, habitat destruction and alteration, agricultural development (which aided the expansion of the whitetail deer population, bringing with it diseases and additional predation on caribou), massive fires including largest in MN history (The Red Lake Fire), drainage ditch construction which (altered the hydrology allowing predators easy access to the secluded islands in the bog during calving season, brought in alternate prey such as beavers and the predators that feed on them, and effectively functioned as linear corridors that facilitated year around travel and efficient hunting by wolves), logging (which temporarily altered the habitat to favor whitetail deer), River log drives during spring migration (effectively blocking caribou from using rivers as escape habitat during the spring calving migration), agricultural and residential developement along every single River outlet into the Rainy River (genetically isolating the already dwindling herd from other herds north of the border) and the list goes on. Long story short. Caribou were the only large mammal adapted for the harsh life in the Red Lake Peatland. They lived here for thousands of years and the reason they no longer live here is not because life in the peatland is too harsh for them. They are no longer here because humans did almost everything humanly possible to remove them! The bog is now a museum devoid of the one large mammal that was specifically adapted for survival in such an environment. If this recreation area is to serve an educational purpose, the former prominence and subsequent plight of this magnifacent creature, which is now the most critically endangered large mammal in the lower 48, should be a top priority.

4 months ago
4 months ago

This is a super easy, fun stroll on the boardwalk! Inside the Bog is like another world --- the pines smell fantastic in the fall!

10 months ago
10 months ago

Joe Whitson Explorer

Minnesota Native. Check me out on Instagram: @joewhitson and feel free to shoot me an email if you want to talk more about things to do in Minnesota: joekentwhitson@gmail.com

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