Minnesota has 66 state parks and this one has the best beach. If you know of a better Minnesota beach, feel free to mention it in the comments. McCarthy Beach is spacious and sandy. The water is clear and remains thigh-deep for a long way as you walk out toward the bouys that mark the edge of the swimming area. Out in the deepest parts it is deeper than I am tall and so I tread water and have great conversations with my family as they do the same. Others are playing water games or floating on various types of colorful rafts. There is plenty of space for all of us.
My hikes here were all early morning hikes before the rest of my family was awake. 18 miles of trails can be found in a separate section of the park to the north of the beach. Long ago I enjoyed starting my hikes from the campground, but the park sold a plot of land some years ago. Now the same walk involves a quarter mile on the edge of McCarthy Beach Road, a narrow highway with very little shoulder space. Driving to the parking area at the end of Pickerel Lake Road is probably the better option. Beware: There are no public restrooms anywhere on these 18 miles of trails. No pit toilets, nothing. Backpacking rules apply.
Walking all the way around Lake Pickerel is not allowed because of the private property, but the east shore still has a state park trail and is covered in blueberries! It took me 40 minutes to walk 1 km because I stopped to check for ripe berries. Usually by early July the berry harvest is ready, not so this year. They had an unusually cool spring and early summer. I found about 20 ripe berries in a half mile of trail. Still, it is fun to look.
Next I explored a trail called “Big Hole Trail”. It follows a ridge next to a giant indent in the earth. Maybe it used to be a lake, maybe it was carved by glaciers eons ago, or maybe it was a mine. Hibbing Taconite Company is nearby and mining is the main industry of this area historically.
“Red Top Trail” took me further north. This is where I saw raspberries and wild strawberries. Also spiderwebs. It is not uncommon when hiking in the morning to feel a single strand of a web that some acrobatic spider cast the night before. That doesn’t bother me. However…on this trail I must have been daydreaming because I walked right into a massive web. Ick. I made sure I brushed it all off and checked to make sure the architect of that web was not joining me on the rest of my hike. A few minutes later I noticed another massive web stretching across the path. Luckily I saw it in time and was able to step around it. Its owner was camped out in the center. Fascinating creature. After looking at pictures of a few Minnesota spiders, I think it was probably a black Argiope. https://extension.umn.edu/insect-relatives/spiders#web-building-spiders-52360
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