By Anna Jauhola
Lake Bronson State Park is the hidden gem of northwest Minnesota, often surprising new visitors with its expanse, trails system and historic value.
This year, Explore Minnesota – the state’s tourism promotion website – named Lake Bronson State Park on its 10 Fall Hikes list for the northwest corner. Zippel Bay State Park is also named.
“We’re excited to be featured this year,” said Andrew Kieffer, assistant park manager at Lake Bronson. “Tourism is an important part of Kittson County.”
The 10 Fall Hikes web page notes that Lake Bronson State Park features the Around the Lake and Meander trails, the possibility of seeing an American elk, “ample fishing,” historic sites and boats for rent. The park’s unique prairie and aspen-parkland biome is also mentioned.
Kieffer said that description is only a taste of what the park has to offer.
There are approximately 14 miles of trails, from short half-mile or less hikes within the park to a full 7-mile hike around the lake.
The landscape varies as well.
There is a paved 2-mile path stretching from the Visitor Center around the northwest corner of the park, past the dam and along County Road 10.
This path is a part of the Around the Lake Trail.
“You get a good experience of the woods and the prairie on any trail in the park,” Kieffer said. “People will usually choose a trail based on how far they want to walk or bike.”
The Meander Trail is a popular 2-mile loop in the more wild part of the park. It is located east of the Two Rivers and is designated for horseback riding as well. The Aspen Parklands Interpretive Loop circles the Two Rivers Campground, which is situated at the east end of the lake.
The diversity of the park is its best hiking feature, Kieffer said.
“It goes from oak savannah to prairie to poplars. It’s very diverse,” he said. “Very few areas in the state get that diversity. And the scenery is nice. You can walk along the river and the lake on many trails.”
Most trails are easily navigated, while some are a little hilly and more challenging. As hikers head east beyond the Two Rivers Campground, they’ll find more rustic trails that lead to interesting historical points, including two pioneer cemeteries, a former sheep ranch and a sand dune area left behind by the great Agassiz glacier. On the Hiking Club Trail, which intersects with the Aspen Parkland Interpretive Loop, hikers can view where the South Branch of the Two Rivers meets the beginning of Lake Bronson.
Within the main portion of the park, trails take hikers past many Works Progress Administration structures built during the Great Depression, including the tallest observation and water tower in the state park system. The tower, which offers a birds-eye view of the unique aspen parkland, is currently closed as a contractor is set to begin repairing floorboards on the observation deck, Kieffer said.
“Hopefully it will be back open by mid-October, weather permitting,” he said. The tower is closed during the winter, he added.
On the western edge of the park is a historic loop on the site of Camp Bronson, the camp where WPA workers lived while building the dam at Lake Bronson. The dam itself, a historic structure, is about a half-mile walk from the Camp Bronson site.
Although Kittson County doesn’t offer such vibrant fall colors, the state park does feature bright red sumac this time of year while the poplars and ash are starting to turn their bright yellow.
To round out a good hike through Lake Bronson State Park, visitors can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle the lake or the river. Whether they’re hiking or on the lake, visitors will also get their fill of abundant wildlife, so be sure to bring a pair of binoculars. Visitors can see otters and mink, herons, ducks and other waterfowl, as well as white-tailed deer, black bears and American elk.
Lake Bronson State Park’s expansive trail system, unique biome and rich history certainly make it a worthwhile stop on anyone’s list for a fall hike.
By Anna Jauhola