Last weekend I drove up to Scenic State Park, about 2 hours northwest of Duluth, with my dog to bask in the glory of peak-season fall colors. I had checked the Minnesota DNR’s website to see where the best colors were happening and was pleased to find out one of the state parks I hadn’t been to yet was smack-dab in the middle of it.
I have to say, I was expecting a bit more “wow!” than there was; it’s a little tricky to claim your fall colors are at their peak when most of the trees in the area are evergreens, but there were plenty of bright red and yellow leaves in between. Pup and I arrived around 2:30pm and hiked until 6 when the sun was beginning to set, the wind picked up, and the temperatures began to drop. What a beautiful day for a hike, too! Blue skies above, not a hint of precipitation, and a bright, shiny sun setting the canopy on fire.
I wasn’t the only one who’d heard about the colors, though. Cars were lined up along the road and the office was packed with day-hikers like me, getting their vehicle passes and maps. When I got up to the counter, they told me the most popular hike was the Chase Point trail, which went one mile to the point of the peninsula separating Coon and Sandwick Lakes. My idea of a hike is solitary so I decided to hike the other way and come back to Chase Point just before I left, hopefully giving the crowds time to scatter. From the office I crossed the road and headed south on a 1-mile loop that cuts back east to the road and intersects with the Chase Point trail, which headed north. I took the trail less traveled going south along the west bank of Sandwick Lake for about 1.25 miles. The trail is somewhat challenging, with steep ups and downs but the path is wide and generally even with few rocks or roots in the way.
At about the 2.3-mile mark in my hike it was going on 4 o’clock, I was averaging 2mph and had told Husband I’d be off the trail by 6. If I wanted to do the Chase Point trail I needed to turn around. I had wanted to make it all the way around Sandwick Lake to the canoe/hike-in only campsites and see what they were like, but there just wasn’t enough time. So turn around we did.
Have you ever noticed that a trail or road or any route you’re traveling looks completely different when you turn around? This trail was no different. The sun had been at my back, but now was shining through the trees, illuminating their leaves and sending long shadows out from their trunks.
We made it to the Chase Point trail with plenty of time to spare so I made sure to stop at every interpretive sign and read what they had to say. The signs along this trail are all about the trees, which I found to be fascinating. I always am wondering what types of plants I’m seeing when I’m wandering about outside so it was a little exciting for me to learn about the different trees along this trail.
I’m not sure why the Chase Point trail was the most popular one, if people were coming for the colors, since most of the trees along this sandy peninsula are coniferous. It’s a short hike, and easy, so a good one for non-hikers, and it still is beautiful with the lakes on either side, but definitely not the one to take for a view of peak fall colors. But I suppose I should be grateful to the office staff for pointing everyone down this path so I could take in the beauty of the other trails the way every hiker should: completely alone.
Don’t get me wrong, though, Chase Point is still a beautiful trail and I’m glad I did it. By 5 it was still pretty crowded, for my standards, passing people every 2 or 3 minutes, but for those minutes it was quiet, save for the red squirrels making it known I was not welcome.
After we finished hiking we drove around the park to check out the campsites, beach and docks before heading home. This is definitely a park I’d like to come back to for camping next year. We’ll bring our canoe and camp in the secluded sites across the lake… if we can get the dog to stay in the boat.