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Sunny days, solitude and shoreline - that's what you'll find at Bear Lake. Located in Minnesota's Central Region, little Bear Lake provides them all. This hidden paradise is a lovely place to watch the sun rise, hear the songbirds announce their joy, and delight in the feeding fish dappling the water's surface. Gazing over the waking waters, you'd never believe you are only a few miles from Minnesota's second largest lake, Mille Lacs Lake. Certainly the large, well-known lakes hold their charms. But small water bodies like Bear Lake have the added advantage of less people, less noise and more uninterrupted scenery. Bear Lake is entirely private - no hoards of fishermen on the first day of bass season, no one to disturb the nesting robins, or startle the great blue heron on the shore. A week at Bear Lake rejuvenates the soul.
There used to be more people at Bear Lake. After Native Americans, fur traders and lumbermen, small farmers tried to make a living on the often marshy ground in the area. Most did not succeed. By the 1930s, many farmers had given up and left the area. The town of McGrath, a few miles to the east, lost the majority of its population. Now, instead of hundreds of lumbermen, farmers and trades people, McGrath's population is less than a hundred people. Those that remain appreciate a place where they know everyone in town. The railroad is gone but a sawmill remains. McGrath is the traditional Midwestern small town with a gas station, convenience store, and few other small businesses. Major shopping can be done in Aitkin or Hinckley or Mora. A visit to the big city can mean either Duluth or Brainerd. And the 'Twin Cities' are only a couple of hours down the interstate.
But, there are several golf courses within 10 miles of Bear Lake, a casino, campgrounds, restaurants, resorts and museums. The area is deceptively quiet; all necessary and desired amenities are located close by. The lake itself is filled with the usual fishing fare in the area: black crappie, bluegill, pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, perch along with the usual bullheads and suckers. A remnant of Minnesota's glacial past, Bear Lake has no real inlet and only a small stream as an outlet which eventually joins the Snake River. A few residences dot the southern shoreline, but much of the area is brushy swamp. Canoeing and kayaking are the best ways to explore the shore. At only 131 acres, there isnt much need of a larger boat on Bear Lake. A rowboat or trolling motor will get you everywhere there is to go. The woods around the lake are home to black bear, white-tailed deer, ruffled grouse, rabbits, coyote, fox and squirrels, while the lake itself hosts various duck species and water birds. Most of the local wildlife come to the shore to drink, so binoculars are a must. The west part of the lake has depths to 60 feet, but the eastern part is much shallower. In winter, ice fishing is a favored pastime, and ice skating on the lake will occupy the young members of the family.
The deserted country roads near Bear Lake are ideal for bicycling and hiking. And a trip to Mille Lacs will provide ample room for sailing, wakeboarding, power boating, water skiing, tubing and pontooning. Mille Lacs Lake is known as prime walleye waters and in winter, a large village of fish houses commands the ice. Mille Lacs also supports several resorts, two small State Parks, and Indian Museum operated by Native Americans who live near the lake, organized hiking and birding trails, and all sorts of bait shops, marinas and water-focused businesses. In late summer the museum, in conjunction with the Mille Lacs Lake Historical Society Museum, produces a Rendezvous at the 1930s trading post next to the museum. The town of Aitkin, north of Mille Lacs Lake, holds a great deal of history. From its location as a steamship stop along the upper Mississippi to its position as an important lumbering town, Aitkin celebrates its heritage with the Aitkin Festival of Adventures and Mud River Music Festival. The day after Thanksgiving the famed Fish House Parade takes place to the enjoyment of spectators. Aitkin is worth a visit anytime of year.
Five miles northeast of Bear Lake, Solana State Forest offers primitive camping, canoeing and kayaking, hunting in season and nearly 50 miles of ATV trails. The Park also offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. The Mile Lacs Trail Snowmobile Club provides maps and organized treks for those unfamiliar with the area.
Some private residences are available as vacation rentals at Bear Lake. Other vacation rentals are available around Mille Lacs Lake. Resorts, fishing camps, and bed-and-breakfasts are all located within a 10-mile radius. Real estate may be available near Bear Lake. There is certainly property for sale within Aitkin County, some with lakefront or lake views. So, what are you waiting for? Come and enjoy the solitude of Bear Lake. Refresh your soul!
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