Walk the Big Bog Boardwalk
Minnesota › Big Bog Boardwalk
Added by Joe Whitson
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.
- Hiking Boots
- Mosquito Repellent and Head Net
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