My wife and I had a wonderful time at a camper cabin in Bear Head Lake State Park in February. Please read on to find out about our trip and learn a bit about camping in one of these cabins if you are interested in a great way to get out in nature in the winter, even when the temperatures are subzero.
We reserved three nights at the White Pine camper cabin in Bear Head Lake State Park. This cabin sits by itself and feels a bit more remote than any of the other four cabins, which are together in a loop nearby. Each of the five cabins are named after types of trees from the area (aspen, birch, red pine and cedar). There was hardly anyone at the park since the only place to stay were these five, heated camper cabins. I’m not sure if every cabin was filled, but we did see a couple other cars.
The cabin felt quite spacious at 12×16 feet. It could sleep five and had a table with two benches, and a propane heater in the wall. We brought our lawn chairs, which really helped provide more comfortable seating than the benches when just hanging out and reading.
Bear Head Lake State Park was established in 1961 and is 4,000 acres surrounding the 674-acre Bear Head Lake. In the early 1900s, logging was the major activity in the area, and apparently there was a sawmill on the southern end of the lake. The lake is beautiful with its various bays and remote camping locations around the lake. Also, there are some wonderful stands of white pines and red pines as well as birch, aspen, cedar and fir trees throughout the park. If you are looking for a place to relax with that up-north feel, this is it.
The park’s lakes were formed from glaciers, and according to the DNR website, the bedrock is made up of granite and Ely greenstone. The park is about 25 minutes southwest of Ely.
In the summer, and when there isn’t COVID, you can rent a paddleboard, canoe and kayaks, even a boat and motor. They also have fishing gear to check out. Did you know you don’t need a fishing license to fish in state park lakes? Really, check it out. In the winter you can rent snowshoes. The amenities in the park make it a great location for year-round recreation.
Hiking and photography
My wife and I arrived on a Thursday night (happened to be our 32 anniversary). I have to say, is that a great woman who will go camping with me for an anniversary! We did have a great meal our first night in Ely at the Boat House. They have amazing burgers.
The first night, the temperature dropped to about -10, making the snow very crunchy (see my video). In the morning, we went exploring on the lake. It was dead calm, so it really didn’t feel that cold. If you kept moving, you could keep your toes and fingers warm. My wife walked on a snowmobile trail across part of the lake, and I had snowshoes on, so I walked across the East Bay, taking some pictures as I went. That day it warmed up to about 15 degrees, but was mostly cloudy until sunset.
In the afternoon, we went snowshoeing and walked a couple of miles, blazing our own trail in some places. For the evening sunset, we went to the dock on North Bay, two minutes from our cabin. I took some silhouette shots of the trees as the sun was setting. Since we didn’t have a fresh snow while we were up there, it was tough to find much pristine snow to capture. The park seems to get used a lot, so there were lots of footprints and snowmobile tracks on the lake.
That evening after building a fire for dinner, I did some photography of our cabin and the evening sky. I pulled out my Rokkinon 20mm, f. 1.8 which is really good for night photography. I tried multiple shots showing the stars, cabin and fire pit. The half-moon was just out of the frame, but you can see the glare from the light coming into the picture on some of them. I combined a few images together for a final shot, which is one of my favorites from the weekend.
The next morning was even colder and guess who stayed in the cabin. I don’t blame her. I went trudging through the woods with snowshoes on and it was -15 degrees. Again, there was no wind, so it really wasn’t that bad. I decided to hike up the Norberg Lake Trail from the Trail Center parking lot. It was a nice quiet walk through the woods. Well, at least when I stopped. Snowshoes are anything but quiet on a packed trail when it is so cold. As I got to a place where I could see east across a little marsh area, the sun was starting to come up. So I clambered down the hill, bushwhacked through the woods and across the marsh so I could get a clean photograph of the sun, just as it peaked over the horizon, framed by pine trees. It was calm and beautiful as I stood their experiencing the moment. Once I got back to the main trail, I found a connector trail that is only open in the winter. That led me toward the main park office, but then the main trail took me back through tall, majestic pines. I believe these are some of the trees that have been growing since 1895, according to the DNR. It was in this location that I got a shot a few summers ago that I absolutely LOVE. I had been looking for this grove and thought I might get something similar this time. However, the light wasn’t right, and the snow wasn’t fresh; it was just not meant to be this time. I got back to the car, very frosted up, but it had been a good morning.
In the afternoon, we snowshoed around Norberg Lake. It was a beautiful, bright sunshiny day and about 20 degrees. This is a nice trail that is just over one mile. The walk was easy. Don’t let the climb from the car to the trail scare you. That was the steepest and hardest part of the entire walk. We had a great walk and got a few pictures along the way. We saw someone on the tiny Norberg Lake ice fishing, which is a trout lake.
The next morning before heading home, we made our favorite meal, learned during my Boy Scout days, called gunk. It is basically a potato omelet. We fry up potatoes, then add onions and mushrooms and sausage. When those are ready, you pour scrambled eggs over it and add cheese at the end. Oh, it is so good. While I was cooking that up, I was swarmed by black capped chickadees. Literally. A dozen or so flew about like crazy looking for food. They landed on me and even on my spatula at one point. I must admit, I did share some with them. They were too cute, and it was obvious that someone else had feed them before. I know a person shouldn’t, but it’s not like feeding a black bear who is going to possibly maul you or future campers for food.
Let me talk just a bit about the logistics in case you are interested in checking out one of these cabins in the winter. As I’ve said in an earlier blog, I love tent camping, so I would probably not rent one of these in the summer. However, for the winter, it is wonderful, and I’d certainly do it again. Since we couldn’t cook in the cabin, we planned meals that didn’t take too long to cook outside (well except for gunk, but it was warm then) or were in the crockpot inside. You can use crockpots, electric water pots and coffee pots inside the cabin. For breakfast, instant oatmeal was fast and easy using our electric water pot to boil water.
We also planned meals so we had minimal dishes and washing to do. We just wiped our utensils with a bit of water and called them good. Some dishes we used just once and left them to clean when we got home. We brought in water, and we were glad we did. The website said there was running water at the Trail Center. Well there was, but it was just in the sinks. There was nowhere to fill our large water container. We found a spicket on the outside of the park office, but the water was rusty. So, we got by on the water we had brought along. I guess we could have melted snow but didn’t need to. The Trail Center had heated bathrooms and flush toilets but that was about three-quarters of a mile away. Fortunately, there is a pit toilet within a stone’s throw from the cabin, but I can tell you that at -15 below, a pit toilet sit feels really cold. That is until you can’t feel it any longer because you are numb.
I would highly recommend trying out a camper cabin in the winter at one of our wonderful state parks. We had such a good time. Even though it was -15 below at times, we stayed wonderfully warm inside our comfortable cabin.
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