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Few people have heard of the Northeast Minnesota destination of Cut Foot Sioux Lakes. Connected to neighboring Lake Winnibigoshish, the Cut Foot Sioux Lakes share in all of the fun and attract less of a crowd than their larger neighbor. This makes the lakes an ideal place for a vacation filled with fun, sun, fishing and solitude. Big Cut Foot Sioux is connected to Little Cut Foot Sioux by an easily navigated channel called Williams Narrows. The Narrows is one of several features of the large, joined lakes that meander into bays, channels and backwaters. Numerous points jutting into the lake form hidden coves of quiet water. Over 100 miles of shoreline are perfect for exploring the watery margins of Chippewa National Forest. This is the stuff vacation dreams are made of-for both fishermen and paddle sports fans.
Cut Foot Sioux Lakes was a resort destination before higher water levels joined it to Lake Winnibigoshish. The area was home to a tribe of Ojibway Native Americans until their village was flooded by the dam built in 1884. The lakes gained their unusual name from a battle that occurred here between two warring Native American tribes about 1750 AD. While being pursued by the currently victorious Ojibwa, the fleeing Sioux warriors paused temporarily on one of the small islands that used to exist at the 'First River' outlet to Lake Winnibigoshish. Curious, the Ojibwa went to the island when the Sioux left and found there a dead Sioux warrior with shortened feet that had apparently been severely damaged by frostbite sometime in the past. In retelling of the battle, he was called the cut-foot Sioux. The name stuck-and is forever attached to both the battle and the lake.
A natural lake, the surface area has been enlarged by the Lake Winnie Dam trapping Mississippi River water to stabilize the flow of the river for navigation. Today, a wide passage allows free access to Lake Winnibigoshish. Fur traders and loggers found the area highly attractive even before the dam enlarged the lakes. Walleye fishing was found to be superb, and fishing resorts soon followed. Some of the several resorts still doing business on the lakes have been in operation for nearly a hundred years. Many downstate families have rented a cabin or camped along the shores for multiple generations. There are few private homes at the water's edge, and the area is fully enveloped by the Chippewa National Forest.
The US Forest Service provides three campgrounds for eager visitors. Most standard amenities are provided, and reservations may be necessary. Most have boat ramps, fishing docks and swimming beaches. Primitive campsites are offered along Little Cut Foot Sioux Lake and are often used by kayak and canoe campers. Because much of the shoreline is wetland, long stretches of the irregular lakefront hold stunning views of nature. All of the animals and bird life that inhabit the Chippewa National Forest may be seen near the lake and along the many miles of hiking trails that meander through the heavily-wooded area. Loons, osprey, herons, pelicans, ducks and geese are often seen on the water. Songbirds are numerous along the wooded shoreline. And deer, black bear, moose, wolves, small mammals and woodland rodents all live in the surrounding woods. The area holds one of the largest populations of bald eagles in the Midwest, which are often seen fishing in the lakes. Chippewa National Forest is considered prime hunting area for grouse, allowed in some areas with proper license.
The 25-mile Cut Foot Sioux National Recreational Area Trail can be accessed directly from the Deer Lake Campground on Little Cut Foot. This and other trails provide many miles for hiking, mountain biking and bird watching. There is an equestrian camp nearby with facilities to accommodate horses with miles of riding paths. Certain areas are open to snowmobiles, and cross-country skiers frequent the trails near the campgrounds. Several privately-owned resort camps and lodges await guests on the shores of Big Cut Foot Sioux.
The resorts are suited for family fun, with a variety of cabins and cottages, motel-style rooms and large lodges located near the water's edge. Some of the resorts have marina facilities which rent fishing boats and motors, pontoons, canoes, kayaks and water sports equipment. Most allow private boat launching from their facilities, but charge a fee for those who are not resort guests. Six public boat launches on the 2800-acre Big Cut Foot Sioux Lake provide plenty of access. All boats must be legally registered. Water skiing is permitted, as are most water sports. All of Lake Winnibigoshish's attractions, including a water park and an amusement park, are only a boat ride away.
Little Cut Foot Sioux Lake is appreciably smaller (619 acres) but stretches out into several lobes of water most suitable for fishing. This smaller lake is the site of walleye egg harvesting by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) each spring. The eggs are transferred to a nearby state hatchery, and the young fry are used to stock surrounding lakes, with a portion returned to the Cut Foot Sioux chain. The spring walleye run is a magnet for walleye fishermen who arrive each year to try their angling luck. Spring and early fall are best for walleye, but other seasons all have their fans for other species. The lakes hold crappie, bluegill, sunfish, cisco, jumbo perch, northern pike and many large muskies. The perch are usually the target of ice fishermen; several resorts stay open to cater to winter sports fans. Because of the lakes' importance as a walleye collection point, special fishing regulations are often put in place. Special rules will be provided wherever fishing licenses are sold. Guides can also be engaged to help newcomers find the best fishing holes and catch a trophy fish their first trip to Cut Foot Sioux Lakes.
Off-water attractions are located nearby. A casino offers gaming at the nearby town of Deer Lake. Grand Rapids is 35 miles to the south and is close enough for a round of golf, a visit to one of the arts centers or the many historical and educational venues in the area. The last three weekends in July, the Mississippi Melodie Showboat performs dockside with a show reminiscent of the days of floating entertainment. The Forest History Center is a living history logging camp with exhibits on forestry and its past and current practices. The Children's Discovery Museum provides hours of fun on a rainy day with science experiments, art projects and just plain fun. And Judy Garland fans won't want to miss the Judy Garland Birthplace Historic House and Museum. The White Oak Fur Post interprets the fur trade era in yet another 'living history' setting. And the City of Grand Rapids has all kinds of lodgings, including hotels, motels and bed & breakfast establishments, along with shopping and plenty of restaurants.
So whether it's muskie or moose, walleye or wolves, there is something to hold every family member's interest at Cut Foot Sioux Lakes. You can be there in less than four hours from the Twin Cities.
*Statistics are for Big Cut Foot Sioux Lake.
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