There are not many old growth forests remaining in the state of Minnesota, but we’re lucky enough to have three of them that can be easily accessed near Lake Superior’s North Shore in Minnesota.
An old growth forest is a forest that has not undergone any unnatural changes or major disturbances (e.g. logging) for at least 100 years. These forests contain young, mature and dead standing trees and have a multi-layered canopy. They tend to recover from natural damage like wind and fire faster than disturbed forests and create a habitat that is ideal for diverse wildlife. Old growth forests are also known as primary, virgin, primeval or late seral forests.
Three old-growth forests that are easy to access on the North Shore can be found at George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park, Tettegouche State Park, and Spring Beauty Northern Hardwoods SNA.
George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park is designated as a state park with limited development. Inside its borders are 166-acres of northern hardwoods and 196-acres of upland white cedar that make up an old-growth forest. In addition, there are yellow birch as old as 400 years, white cedar as old as 300 years and sugar maples as old as 200 years.
To access the park from Finland, take the Cramer Road/County Road 7 east of town for 8.5 miles. The park entrance will be located on the right side of the road.
To get to the park from Schroeder, take the Cramer Road (County Road 1) north/west of Schroeder for 6.1 miles. Continue following Cramer Road (County Road 1) as it turns into County Road 8 for 3.9 more miles. At the intersection, turn left onto Cramer Road and follow for 4.1 miles. The entrance to George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park is on the left side of the road. Although the route from Schroeder is only 15 miles long, you will want to allow about 45 minutes for travel on the beautiful, winding gravel roads.
Tettegouche State Park, located near Silver Bay, has a large area of old-growth forest. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it is made up of northern hardwoods (294 acres), upland white cedar (142 acres), black ash (74 acres) and oak (94 acres) forests. The yellow birch is estimated to be an impressive 290 years old, sugar maple 225 years old, and the white cedar trees are up to 220 years old.
This park can be easily accessed along Highway 61 four miles east of Silver Bay.
Spring Beauty Northern Hardwoods SNA is located outside of Hovland. Within the forest are old-growth sugar maples and lower-growing species of maples that cover about 115 acres. Other trees like white cedar, white pine, yellow birch and white spruce can be seen scattered around the forests. Since many of these tree species were logged and the area was used as a sugar bush years ago, maple primarily makes up the forest canopy. Rare plants can be found growing in the area, as well. They include blunt-fruited sweet cicely, Carolina spring beauty, and Chilean sweet cicely.
To access Spring Beauty Northern Hardwoods SNA from Hovland, drive 2.4 miles north on County Road 16, then take a left onto Hovland Tower Road. Drive 1 mile and stay left at the Tom Lake Road junction. Drive 0.3 miles and park at the gate. Hike west to the site.
The Superior National Forest is a large (almost 4 million acres) forested area located in the Arrowhead region of northeast Minnesota. It is part of the United States Forest system and offers unlimited recreational activities year-round. The forest encompasses the greater Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) which is sandwiched between the Canada-United States border and the North Shore of Lake Superior.
Land (and Air)
Over 2,000 miles of trails are designated for recreational use such as hiking, hunting, fishing, birding, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and snowmobile and ATV riding. Canoeing, biking and hiking are the most popular activities in the forest. Most biking trails are along gravel surfaced forest roads, but there are also two dedicated single-track areas: Britton Peak (Tofte) and Pincushion Mountain Trail System (Gunflint Trail outside of Grand Marais). Those who like to keep both feet on the ground enjoy taking advantage of the 400 miles of hiking trails within the park, ranging from easy to difficult.
The park is home to many birds. Look into the air, especially during the spring or fall season, and you may spot one of the 318 different species of birds that are found within the park. Species include various raptors and 24 different types of warblers!
Some of the oldest rock on the surface of the earth is exposed in the forest. Granite from the Laurentian Shield formed more than 1.1 billion years ago and created the Sawtooth Mountains. Also found within the park are iron ore and fossil cyanobacteria mounds called stromatolites that were formed 2 billion years ago. The forest is home to the tallest natural peak in Minnesota, Eagle Mountain, which is 2,301 feet tall and offers spectacular views over the vast forest.
The Superior National Forest’s most treasured resource is its lakes and water resources. Within the forest boundaries, there are over 445,000 acres of the world’s cleanest and clearest water resources. About one third of the forest lies within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) which includes over 1,500 miles of canoe routes, nearly 2,200 designated campsites, and more than 1,000 lakes and streams seemingly untouched since the glaciers melted. The lakes and rivers also offer an abundance of fish species including walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and trout.
This northern forest thrives with its numerous pine, fir and spruce trees which are home to many wildlife species including moose, wolf, and black bear. The area is the last stronghold of the gray wolf in the lower 48 states with approximately 400 wolves that continue to roam within the boundaries. As the seasons progress, you will be treated to different images of the forest. The deep summer greens change to a spectacular reds and golds in the fall. Fall is then followed by the crisp white solitude of winter and broken by the sound of running water and icicles melting in the spring.
If you’re looking to find some of the largest and oldest trees on the North Shore, the Upper Manitou Forest Preserve is the place to go. It includes one of the best remaining examples of what the North Shore forest was once like. The 2,450-acre preserve is full of sugar maple, yellow birch, white spruce, and white cedar that are estimated to be more than 300 years old. Some of the trees growing in the area are more than 5 feet in circumference, which is significant for a maple tree, especially along the North Shore where maples tend to grow slowly due to the climate.
The Nature Conservancy owns this site and selected it because they felt that people should be able to experience the one-of-a-kind North Shore forest in its self-sustaining condition. As one tree dies, another grows, creating a circle of life effect. Without it, the migratory songbirds and other species roaming the area would not have such a healthy forest to call home.
The Conservancy is doing something unique with the Upper Manitou Forest Preserve that is fairly new to Northeast Minnesota. They are working with key landowners in the area to acquire environmentally sensitive lands to preserve, maintain, and restore. Currently, the Conservancy is compiling a forest inventory for the entire preserve that will include a map of all forest types, as well as different data on the many ecosystems that are found in the preserve.
The preserve is located in Lake County, northeast of Finland, Minnesota. From Finland, visitors should drive on Lake County Route 7 past the Crosby-Manitou State Park entrance (the entrance is 8.5 miles from Finland) then take a left two miles past the state park entrance (or about 10.5 miles from Finland) onto Earl West Road. Drive 3.5 miles to the area marked with a TNC preserve sign.
Note: Earl West Road passes through private property – please be respectful. It is also impassable to vehicles most winters and during the spring thaw and periods of heavy rain. So, don’t hesitate to pack your snowshoes or hiking boots if you are visiting during the winter. We assure you that the incredible experience of being in such rare old-growth forest will be worth the extra work!