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Bear Head Lake State Park

I was talking to my sister today about her recent camping trip to Bear Head Lake State Park and during the conversation she offered to write up a guest post about their trip for Beyond The Tent. Of course I jumped at that opportunity and they did not disappoint, they wrote up a great post and we are proud to share it with you – Ryan

Hey guys, I’m Jeremy, Ryan and Kelly’s brother-in-law. This is my first guest post here and I hope you can find something useful from my family’s latest camping trip. First off, about my family; my wife Jessica and I are relatively adventurous; we’ve travelled all over the world. We were married in New Zealand, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and have dived in Thailand, the Red Sea, and off of Costa Rica. Now, with young children, we’ve decided spend our vacations closer to home.


We love spending time outdoors, but haven’t really been camping as a family outside of our backyard. I’ve spent a lot of time in the bush while I was in the Marine Corps and Jessica and I spent most of our month in Africa living in a tent. I’ve also been on a survivalist kick, probably due to watching too much Dual Survival and Bear Grylls. I may have gotten carried away when I killed a moose with a rock and then slept in its body to stay warm. Just kidding 😉

We were looking for a place that offered some privacy, good fishing, and within a few hours’ drive. After checking with Google and finding a lot of good reviews, we decided on Bear Head Lake State Park. It’s located just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, between Tower and Ely, MN. Bear Head Lake is a 600+ acre lake that offers good bass fishing and is stocked with walleye. There are also a couple of small lakes within the park that are stocked with trout. It looked like the perfect place to spend three or four days.

MSR dragonfly stove
MSR Dragonfly Stove

We were planning on camping for three days and the weather forecast was perfect–78 degrees and sunny! I was excited to get out on the lake and do some fishing. We brought our own canoe, a 31 year old, 17 foot Old Town Ranger. It’s a little on the heavy side, but it carries our family and all the equipment perfectly. I was also looking forward to trying out my new stoves. Since we aren’t big campers (yet), most of our gear is designed for hiking…lightweight and small. I bought an MSR dragonfly stove last year and still hadn’t tried it out. I also made a couple of pop can alcohol stoves. They are super easy to make, very cheap, lightweight and effective! It took me about 10 minutes to make each one. You can find very good directions on YouTube– here is one that I made . Both the MSR and my pop can stoves worked fantastic. Having multiple stoves made preparing breakfast a breeze. Of course you could just go out and get a nice big camping stove, but I prefer keeping things small and simple.

Pop Can Stove Working Perfectly

Pop Can Stove

When we arrived at the park, we were pleasantly surprised by the location of our tent site. We had gotten the last reservable site available so we weren’t sure if it was the one that nobody else wanted. It was #13, which was kind of an ominous start to our vacation. The sites are cut out of the forest and although they are relatively close together, they are still very private because of the thick underbrush that separates most of the sites. Some are more open than others, but ours was perfect, especially since we have a baby that is breastfeeding. It was also very close to the lake…less than 100 feet!

Ava’s Floating Hand & Head


The Campsite Was Literally Perfect

Bear Head Lake Campsite

The site had plenty of room for our vehicle and tent. There was also a picnic bench and a fire pit with cooking a grate waiting for us. The pad was gravel so you would want to have sleeping pads to keep rocks from poking you. Jessica uses a Thermarest inflatable pad (she needs a little more comfort — she actually wanted to bring a big air mattress!!! That’s not camping :), while Ava and I use old foam military sleeping pads. We also use military modular sleeping bag systems. Each system comes with a lightweight green sleeping bag, a heavy black sleeping bag, and a Gore-Tex shell. Since we were staying in a tent the Gore-Tex shell stayed at home. The nice thing about the modular system is that you can use the green bag in cool temperatures, the black when it gets cold, or you can put the green inside of the black when it gets really cold. It got down into the 40’s, which I think is perfect, but Jess likes to be toasty warm so she stacked both of her bags.

Everett Enjoying The Beach Everett

We took the canoe out right away. Since the lake is wholly contained within the state park, they mandate a 10 mph speed limit which makes it perfect for canoeing and kayaking. Ava and I started fishing for sunnies and crappies. We caught a lot of sunnies, unfortunately they were tiny. I went out again for bass and then another time for walleye, but didn’t catch a thing. This shouldn’t reflect poorly on the quality of the lake, I am NOT a good fisherman. In fact, I was watching a DNR boat net fish to measure their population and I saw walleye after walleye come out of the lake. There are small docks along the shore near the camp ground, so if you do bring your own canoe, you’ve got a convenient place to tie it up.

Ava & Dad On The Canoe


The Result… (because that’s all there was!)

The Aftermath

The park also has miles of beautiful trails and a picnic area with a small, but nice swimming beach. Ava spent hours on the beach playing with all of the other kids. Their primary focus was catching as many crayfish as they could. The kids caught dozens of them! It was nice to see Ava, who at first was very hesitant to grab a creature that has snappers like a lobster, track down the biggest ones and hold them in the air with pride. We were having so much fun we stayed an extra day…three just wasn’t enough.

Showing Off Her Crayfish


Although I didn’t catch any fish, we had great time at Bear Head Lake State Park. The tranquility of the lake and the family time spent around the campfire roasting marshmallows made for a fantastic vacation. We’ve already started thinking about our next trip!

Enjoying The Campfire

Enjoying a warm campfire


Wednesday 21st of August 2013

The lake sounds wonderful. I think Bear Head Lake will definitely be on our campground list for next year!

Tara Ryks

Wednesday 21st of August 2013

Great article, Jeremy! I loved the pictures. Sounds like a great get-away.