Old-growth forest comes in a variety of types, changing from south to north across the state and also according to the most common types of trees found in the forest. To sample the intriguing variation in old-growth forests, visit any of the following easily reached protected areas open to the public.
Locations of some old-growth forests you can visit
This old-growth consists of 115 acres of mostly sugar maple forest, with white cedar, white spruce, white pine, and yellow birch. Former use of the forest as a sugar bush reduced the variety of trees, but several rare plant species only associated with northern hardwoods grow here (Chilean sweet cicely, blunt-fruited sweet cicely, and Carolina spring beauty).
Within the state park are found a 166-acre northern hardwoods forest and a 196-acre upland white cedar forest. Ancient trees grow here: yellow birch are 400 years old; white cedar 300; and sugar maple 200, years old.
In the park occur 294 acres of northern hardwoods, 142 acres of upland white cedar, 74 acres of black ash, and 94 acres of oak forest. Small patches of old white pine also are found here, but do not by themselves constitute old-growth forest. Yellow birch has been aged at 290 years, sugar maple at 225, and white cedar at 220 years. Fall color is spectacular viewed from the ridgetop overlooks along the Superior Hiking Trail. Black bears congregate here in the fall to eat acorns, hazelnuts, and berries.
Ancient white pines over 300 years old grow in a mostly red pine forest of 28 acres next to an 18-acre old-growth forest of white spruce and balsam fir. Wildflowers abound, especially in June and early July. A surveyor's error in 1882 classified this area as wetland and it was never cut.
Itasca State Park
Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is Minnesota's oldest state park. Today, the park totals more than 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes. Walk across the mighty Mississippi as it starts its winding journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Stand under towering pines at Preacher's Grove. Visit the Itasca Indian Cemetery or Wegmann's Cabin, landmarks of centuries gone by. Camp under the stars, or stay the night at the historic Douglas Lodge or cabins. Explore Wilderness Drive past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota's seven National Natural Landmarks.
Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary Scientific and Natural Area
The Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary was the state's first public sanctuary (1938) for the protection and study of nature. Not surprisingly it has some of the best old-growth forests in Minnesota. The tally is impressive: 1,804 acres of red pine, 529 acres of white pine, 1,741 acres of mixed red-white pine forest, 92 acres of northern hardwoods, and 32 acres of lowland hardwoods. The pines are 100–300 years old and occasional controlled fires are being used to clear out the underbrush and stimulate a new generation of pines. Two rare plants bog adder's mouth and matricary grape-fern as well as the uncommon northern goshawk can be seen. May and June are most spectacular for wildflowers including calypso orchids.Map and location of SNA
A piece of the 5,000 square mile Big Woods—now virtually gone—in south-central Minnesota, this forest of red oak, sugar maple, basswood, and American elm towers over a delightful May wildflower show. Few other Big Woods remnants contain so many large diameter trees.
This is one of the best examples of the Big Woods—a nearly obliterated forest region in south-central Minnesota once covering 5,000 square miles—where large sugar maple, red oak, basswood, and white oak reside. Because woods are so rare in the area, this old-growth forest is an important stop-over for migrating songbirds from late April to early June.
Located just a few miles east of Minnesota's Prairie Region, this old-growth forest was influenced by frequent fires over the centuries. As a result, ancient oaks are the most common trees, and prairie plants grow along the area's roadsides and railroad lines.