Any regular viewer of Animal Planet knows about “Finding Bigfoot,” the popular program that follows four researchers out to prove that “sasquatches” or “bigfoots” really do exist in the wilds of North America. A 2012 episode focused on Minnesota’s Carlton County, and a quick check of the Bigfoot Research Organization’s website shows that the northeast part of the state is “squatchy” with sightings.
For many folks, the goal of a trip Up North is to relax, unwind, and reconnect with nature. But if you want a little more excitement, or perhaps the best campfire tale ever, consider camping in some bigfoot hot spots in St. Louis and Itasca counties. You won’t be disappointed with the spectacular scenery, either.
St. Louis County
The heart of Minnesota bigfoot country is St. Louis, Itasca and Pine counties, all of which report bigfoot sightings. Sightings near Iron Mountain in 2006 and 2009 describe a large, “silvery gray creature” with a “sense of humanness about it.” The most recent interaction occurred in 2011 at Lake Jeanette in Superior National Forest, where a pair of campers heard “heavy, large footsteps” and felt a rock strike their tent at 4 a.m. (typical bigfoot behavior, by the way, according to Matt Moneymaker, president of the Bigfoot Research Organization).
Glacier-carved Lake Jeanette is about a five-hour drive from the Twin Cities, and the single-loop campground at the lake is surrounded by deep woods and boulder-strewn terrain. The nearest town is Orr, about 30 miles to the west. The chances of running into an 8-foot-tall primate are better at an isolated campsite, so the two hike-in tent sites surrounded by stately jack pines are a good choice. Fishing will likely be more productive than looking for bigfoot — the lake is known for its perch, walleye and northern pike. The islands and irregular shoreline are interesting to explore by kayak or canoe. Astrid Lake Hiking Trail is also close by, with 7 miles of hiking trails and backcountry, wilderness-style camping sites. Another fun day trip from Lake Jeanette is Vermillion Falls, near Crane Lake.
Nine sightings have been made in Itasca County. In 2009, north of Bovey, a driver thought the figure he saw by a ditch was human “until it swung his arms” and leaped the entire ditch in a single bound. “I have hunted in northern Minnesota my entire life and thought this was really strange, that this creature could react with such speed,” he said. Other sightings have been reported near Calumet, Ball Club, Marcell and Turtle Lake.
The most recent sighting occurred in March 2013 at Hatch Lake, near Bigfork. A property owner discovered a line of 16-inch-long footprint tracks in deep snow that measured nearly 7 feet apart. Bigfork is surrounded by plenty of remote country, some of it difficult to access.
Bigfork State Forest to the west is densely wooded with plenty of lakes and black spruce and tamarack bog. The area also contains virgin, old-growth (250 years) white pine-red pine forest that is considered one of the most significant old-growth stands in the state. In fact, Minnesota’s state red pine, “Big Tree Champion” — 120 feet tall with a circumference of 115 inches — is found here. Wilderness camping is allowed.
For white-water adventure, consider the Big Fork River State Water Trail, which has many Class-1 rapids and several challenging waterfalls.
Hatch Lake is a fine place to set up headquarters. If you don’t want to rough it in a tent (which means you’ll miss out on the rock-throwing), try Maple Ridge Resort on Hatch Lake (www.mapleridgeresort.com; 1-877-209-7170) or Arcadia Resort (www.arcadialodge.com; 1-888-832-3852) on Big Turtle Lake — both offer comfortable accommodations and are close to hiking and biking trails, including Plum Creek Trail and the Spur Lake Trail System.
For camping, Scenic State Lake Campground, not far from Bigfork, provides swimming, fishing and tracts of virgin pine along several lakes — all surrounded by deeper forest and wetlands. Electric, nonelectric and remote backpacking campsites (about a 2-mile hike from the parking area) are available. Be sure to visit the scenic lookout and the ranger tower, which is sometimes open to visitors.
While you are out catching walleye and bass, or entranced by bald eagles and loons, don’t forget to look around — you never know who (or what) might be watching.
Mark Crawford is a travel writer based in Madison, Wis.