Scenic Drives at Lake of the Woods
Scenic Drives are abundant at Lake of the Woods. While most come to Lake of the Woods for the fishing, it’s also enjoyable to take excursions around the area and enjoy the natural resources here. One of the activities whether you are fishing and go for a drive in the evening or actually come up to enjoy less traffic and a plethora of wildlife is to go for that scenic drive. There are many to choose from.
Did you know the Lake of the Woods area is absolutely full of a variety of wildflowers? It is estimated that more than two million orchids along throughout the area. One of the most popular of course is the showy lady slipper. Named the state flower of Minnesota, the showy lady slipper is very rare throughout other parts of the state, but abundant around Lake of the Woods.
There are a number of scenic drives around this beautiful area and the Wildflower Route is certainly one of them. In 1990, Governor Rudy Perpich declared 81 miles of Highway 11 a Minnesota Wildflower Route, in honor of the hundreds of thousands of Showy Lady’s-Slippers growing within sight of the road. The state put up signs depicting the Showy Lady’s-Slipper to mark the route, and pledged to expand the highway only to the south, protecting the masses of Showy Lady’s-Slippers on the north side of the road.
Another of the beautiful scenic drives in the area is the Rapid River Forest Road which is singled out as the best place to enjoy the fall colors. The segment between County Road 7 on the east and Peet’s Bridge on the west parallels the South Branch of the Rapid River for much of its length.
This is the area of Beltrami Island State Forest. Here you will see such varieties of trees such as: birch, aspen, silver maple, black and green ash, Balm of Gilead, bur oak, and basswood. The original Rapid River Road was formed when the south branch of the Rapid River was channelized with a dredge. The dredged soil was leveled and used for a road for the next 60 years. This portion of the road was rerouted in 1986 because the river was nibbling away at the road base. The old road segments make great walking trails along the river. These segments form loops that begin and end on the present road. This is a prime opportunity to view wildlife.
The bog drive follows the Pitt Grade Forest Road from Cty. Rd. 3 on the north to the Rapid River Forest Road on the south. The Pitt Grade was built by leveling the spoil heap left when a drainage ditch was dug through the heart of the bog about 1915.
The Pitt Grade forest road crosses the North Branch of the Rapid River at the Lundeen Bridge and the South Branch of the Rapid River at the Schuh Bridge. The bridges are named after the people who homesteaded the land near the bridges.
Birdwatchers should watch for Spruce Grouse and Great Gray Owls. Fishermen may wish to try for trout on the north end of the Pitt Grade. The ditch adjacent to the road is a designated trout stream in that area. Bog plants provide a visual feast at certain times of the year. During June there are numerous wildflowers and flowering shrubs that bloom along the road.
The red or Norway Pine will continue to grow vigorously for 100-120 years before its growth slows. It’s valuable for saw timber and poles when mature. Red pine stands are thinned periodically starting at about age 40. Thinning the stand reduces competition for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients for the remaining trees. Old homestead fields throughout the forest were planted with Red Pine by CCC and WPA workers in the 1930’s.
The lure of free land drew people to the Lake of the Woods area after the turn of the century. For the “proving up.” Drive the Faunce Road between the Stoney and the Spina Forest Road to see what those plantations look like today.
The blueberry is a favorite wild summer fruit. It is found as part of the plant community growing on the sandy beach ridges that glacial Lake Agassiz left behind as it retreated northward 10,000 years ago.
Travel the openings along the Bankton Forest Road where there are vestiges of the farm fields left by the homesteaders. The location of the homesite is often marked with a willow tree or lilac bush planted by the settlers. Two cemeteries established by the homesteaders remain along the Bankton Forest Road. Lake of the Woods being so far north creates special opportunities to see variety that you may not see at home. For some, this is a highlight. For others, perhaps a break from fishing. Whatever the case, be sure to bring your camera!
Now, let’s not forget a couple more areas of beauty. Travel to the east along Highway 11 and you will come to Clementson Rapids. It’s a sight to behold. Our local Rotary Club has invested time and monies to beautify this area and make it a great place to picnic or bird watch. Spring brings the arrival of the beautiful white pelican. They show up by the hundred and navigate the waters of the rapids and the bay it flows into. If you continue to travel to the east the view of the Rainy River is incredible as it twists and turns towards International Falls.
Now let’s go to the furthest point on the continental US. I’m speaking of the Northwest Angle. To reach this area you must travel into Manitoba, Canada and travel through some beautiful country. When the road turns to gravel, you know you’re not far from re-entering the US and soon will see the beautiful opening to Lake of the Woods…..a site to behold. Waters there are pristine and you won’t be disappointed with the hospitality of the people who live there.
To learn more about Lake of the Woods, check out the Lake of the Woods Tourism website.
To find lodging, check out our lodging page.
Check out our FaceBook page at: www.facebook.com/lakeofthewoodsmn