The Itasca Moraine Chapter is responsible for the segment of the North Country Trail in Hubbard County between the Chippewa National Forest and Itasca State Park on the west. While their segment offically begins on the east at the Cass-Hubbard County line (where westbound hikers leave the Chippewa National Forest and enter the Paul Bunyan State Forest), chapter members help out significantly within the Chippewa National Forest as well.
The Itasca Moraine is the dominant landform in this area. It is where the last continental glaciers left end moraines – basically large piles of sand and gravel with a lot of small, kettle lakes and wetlands. The forest was dominated by oaks & pines before the cutover and now features a lot of aspen-birch with mixes of other northern hardwoods and pines.
The NCT segment in Hubbard County passes through a working forest that is managed intensively for forest products and also used intensively for outdoor recreation. Hikers will definitely see evidence of logging along and across the trail and other motorized recreational trails. Despite this, the section is very enjoyable to walk and features many scenic spots. These include:
- The views from Thorpe Tower, “picnic rock,” and the bridge over the Schoolcraft River
- The campsite on the peninsula sticking out into Waboose Lake
- The scenic loop trail around Nelson Lake
- The chain of lakes west of Co. 91
- The Schoolcraft River valley, which is dominated by conifer forest and features a boardwalk through a bog
- The mile stretch from the Itasca State Park South Entrance trailhead to the Ozawindib Trail features old-growth white and red pine
Winter is a great time to get out and enjoy the NCT in the Itasca Moraine Chapter area, especially on snowshoes. The trail here receives little use during winter…mostly because it is pretty inaccessible. Many of the forest roads that the NCT intersects are not plowed in the winter. Points at which you can access the NCT in the winter include:
- St. Hwy 64 trailhead in the Paul Bunyan State Forest – while not plowed, E. Steamboat Forest Rd. is used for snowmobiling, and so the trailhead just off Hwy 64 is usually accessible to 4WD vehicles. The western boundary of the Chip is 4.5 miles east of the trailhead and a good day trip is to Cass Co. Rd. 12, another mile past.
- Co. Hwy 4 trailhead just south of Lake George – while not plowed, Halvorson Forest Rd. is used for snowmobiling, and so the trailhead just off Hwy 4 is usually accessible to 4WD vehicles. A good day trip is to hike west to the Schoolcraft River and back, a distance of about 5 miles. Another one is to hike east to Steamboat Pass Forest Rd. and back, a distance of about 6 miles.
- U.S. Hwy 71 trailhead at the South Entrance to Itasca State Park – This trailhead is plowed by the Park and limited parking is available. Good trips include snowshoeing west to the Ozawindib Trail (2 miles round trip) or heading east to the pipeline corridor, a distance of about 2 miles round trip. Note: State Park admission regulations apply for parking here.