July–August 2023

Bucket List

Pick a Bucket of Blueberries

Finding blueberry patches along the Magnetic Rock hiking trail.

Teresa Marrone

With its rocky, conifer-dotted hills and cliffs—marks of good blueberry habitat—the Gunflint Trail is a well-known blueberry hotspot. In 2007, the area was devastated by the Ham Lake Fire, which burned to the bedrock in many places. Nature has a way of healing, though—both itself and the spirits of those who walk through it. 

Knowing that fire renews blueberry shrubs, I started hiking burned areas the following summer. In late July, I hit the Magnetic Rock hiking trail, 48 miles from Grand Marais. A hop across a bubbling stream took me to a large area of fire-swept bedrock. It was packed with blueberry shrubs, looking like a blue-and-green carpet. I was able to easily gather several quarts, leaving plenty for the next folks.

When picking, watch for critters that also enjoy blueberries. You might get a good photo opportunity—or you may decide to move somewhere else! One August afternoon I found a nice blueberry patch in a forest opening near Ely. I had started picking when I heard a rustle nearby. Glancing up, I saw a black bear nosing into the other side of the patch. It was intent on the berries and apparently didn’t see me, but I decided to find another spot. Moose and deer also eat blueberries; in 2020, a biologist with the Voyageurs Wolf Project observed a wolf feeding blueberries to its pups.

Blueberries thrive along woodland paths, gravel roads, and rocky shorelines. Many memorable camping breakfasts have started with a lakeshore ramble to enjoy the sunrise while gathering blueberries. Back at camp, I’d scatter a handful of berries over a freshly poured circle of pancake batter, or serve them in a bowl topped with yogurt and granola. It doesn’t get much better than that. 

Where to Find Blueberries

Minnesota has two native blueberries: lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) and velvetleaf (V. myrtilloides). Both are short shrubs found primarily in the northeastern part of the state, in a zone defined by a line from Marshall County to the southeastern corner. 

Blueberries prefer rocky or sandy areas with acidic soil, habitat that also favors pines. They will grow in the shade, but they produce far more fruit in sunny areas. Forest fires—or intentional burning, traditionally practiced by the Ojibwe—promote new growth.

Berry picking for personal use is permitted in Minnesota state parks, Superior National Forest lands, and state forest lands. Many municipal parks forbid foraging; check with park management.

Berry-Picking Gear

  • Hiking footwear with beefy lugged soles helps you navigate rocky slopes or uneven terrain. Boots provide better support than low-cut shoes.
  • A hat with a full brim shields you from the sun better than a baseball cap. Long-sleeved shirts and pants protect against scratchy brush, sunburn, and mosquitoes. 
  • A one-gallon pail with a handle works well to hold the berries. Unlike a plastic bag, it won’t snag on brush, and you can set it on the ground and use both hands for picking.