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Minnesota Scenic Drive: Edge of the Wilderness

Highlights of the Edge of the Wilderness

Fall is an excellent time to drive the Edge of the Wilderness. The birch trees put on a splendid show.
Fall is an excellent time to drive the Edge of the Wilderness. The birch trees put on a splendid show.

What makes the Edge of the Wilderness unique is its rich and wide variety of upper Minnesota terrain, vegetation, wildlife, and history. While some elements are fairly common in other areas, no other route exposes travelers to so much variety in such a short distance along such a beautiful and accessible corridor. The Edge of the Wilderness is definitely a road to take slowly in order to enjoy the scenery of forests and meadows.

On the outskirts of Grand Rapids, the corridor begins to hint at the landscape to come. At first, the route is flat and flanked by mixed lowland meadows, swamps, and lakes. Very quickly, however, the corridor leaves most signs of the city and begins its rolling journey through mixed hardwoods and stands of conifers with aspen. With so many curves and hills, the corridor hides from view many memorable scenes until the traveler is upon them. Seemingly innocent turns in the road yield eye-popping surprises.


The terrain continues in this way for half its length until the town of Marcell, where the terrain flattens slightly and offers more conifers. Between Bigfork and Effie, the corridor's terminus, the landscape introduces lowland wetlands, a flatter landscape that served as the bed of glacial Lake Agassiz thousands of years ago. Surrounding forests continue to contain aspen and lowland conifers such as jack pine and spruce.

A visitor to the Edge of the Wilderness could simply travel the route without stopping to take advantage of its recreational and interpretive opportunities, yet still leave with many vivid memories of the corridor. The byway hugs the terrain, rising above lakes and then sloping down to meet their shores before rising up again through the trees and down into wetlands.

Throughout the southern half of the route, maples, paper birch, and quaking aspen branches provide a canopy that envelops travelers in the lush forest. During the fall color season, the corridor displays bright red sugar maples, warm gold birch and aspens, and maroon red oaks. After the leaves have fallen and the ground is covered with snow, the forest opens up and offers new opportunities to see the terrain and spy on wildlife.

The Edge of the Wilderness officially begins at Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The byway proceeds north with sites of interest marked consecutively as follows.

Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids is in a historic logging and paper-making region. It is named for its strong rapids on the Mississippi River. Other waterways, including lakes, and forests help make Grand Rapids recreational opportunities great.

Lind Greenway Mine: The Lind Greenway Mine is a historic iron mine. Here you can find a mountain-size tailing of rock, soil, and iron ore fragments, reaching some 200 feet in the air.

Black Spruce/Tamarack Bog Habitat: Black Spruce/Tamarack Bog Habitat is one of the largest and most mature bogs in the area. It began forming here some 16,000 years ago when the last of four glaciers covered this part of Minnesota.

Trout Lake and Joyce Estate: The Trout Lake area offers 11 lakes for outdoor enthusiasts. While fishing, visitors are likely to see loons, herons, and beavers. Joyce Estate is an impressive 1920s estate in the Trout Lake area.

Day Lake CCC Camp: Day Lake CCC Camp has a long and varied history of use as both a Depression-era work camp and a German POW camp during World War II.

Laurentian Divide: On the north side of this site, the divide directs the waters to empty into Hudson Bay and on to the Arctic Ocean. On the south, water flows into the Mississippi River and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.

Scenic Overlook at North Star Lake: Years ago, loggers cut down trees around this potato-shape lake during winter then floated them downstream when the temperature rose.

Chippewa National Forest Ranger Station: The Chippewa National Forest encompasses 1.6 million acres of forest and lakes, providing ample opportunities for an outdoor adventurer.

Gut and Liver Line: Make a stop here to view the remnants of old lumbering operations. Locals share several possible tales about this line on the Minneapolis and Rainy River Railroad.

Nature-lovers, take note: the Edge of the Wilderness will give you a taste of the North Woods you're sure to treasure. But don't rule out this route if you're not an angler, a hiker, or a camper -- there's plenty to see and enjoy from the view out your car window, including bald eagles galore and fall foliage that can't be beat.

Find more useful information related to Minnesota's Edge of the Wilderness:

  • Minnesota Scenic Drives: The Edge of the Wilderness is just one of the scenic byways in Minnesota. Check out the others.
  • Bigfork,¬†Grand Rapids: Find out what there is to do in these cities along the Edge of the Wilderness.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Minnesota? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.