Hidden Minnesota: 5 underappreciated state parks and recreation areas to visit this year

Northwest Minnesota – Big Bog State Recreation Area

Big Bog State Recreation Area // Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Hailed as Minnesota’s “last true wilderness” Big Bog State Recreation Area stretches over 9,121 acres and features the Lower 48’s largest peat bog (500 square miles).

Big Bog State Recreation Area’s preserved peat bog, conifer, and hardwood swamp forests are home to moose, gray wolves, black bears, bobcats, spotted blood salamanders, snapping turtles, and even the carnivorous sundew plant. More than 300 of Minnesota’s bird species can be found in the area, with the great grey owl and Connecticut warbler being of particular interest to birders.

The recreation area’s namesake “bog,” technically part of the Red Lake Peatlands, which began forming over 5,000 years ago in the ancient glacial lake bed. The peat, or brown soil-like material of partly decomposed plant material, accumulates at a rate of one-and-a-half inches to three inches each century and has been measured at depths of two to 20 feet above the water table in this area.

Peatlands are hugely important in reducing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and can hold large amounts of water. Experts contend that Big Bog’s bog holds 27 times its dry weight in water—enough water to cover the entire state of Minnesota.

Visitors to Big Bog can explore a mile-long boardwalk across the bog, camp at one of the five rustic year-round camper cabins, climb the 130-plus steps up the fire tower at the visitor center, snowshoe across the area in the winter months, and enjoy the sandy beaches of the Upper Red Lake in the summer.

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