Tourism on the North Shore exploded in summer 2020, and although some tourists were responsible by wearing masks and maintaining distance, the number of wild-wild-west tourists was far too high to hold a traditional Hikers Dozen Challenge.
Therefore, this year, Elliott and I decided to visit eleven cemeteries in northern Minnesota (all of Lake County besides Two Harbors, plus a couple in St. Louis County). We assumed correctly that we would encounter no one alive there.
We began on July 2 from Two Harbors and traveled north to Beaver Bay. I’d driven by the Cemetery #1 Beaver Bay Cemetery over a hundred times but had never stopped there. It was fairly wooded, with a small parking space, and was surprisingly quiet for being next to Highway 61.
Just a couple of blocks away was Cemetery #2 Chippewa Cemetery (also called Beaver Bay Indian Cemetery/Burial Ground). This is where famous John Beargrease was buried. Unlike other cemeteries on this challenge, there is simply one plaque of remembrance and the burials are not individually marked. Whether this is on purpose or because the graves are lost to time is unknown.
Cemetery #3 Sawtooth Mountain Cemetery was probably the cemetery which started it all. I’d always thought this was such a beautiful place; I remember driving by countless times and thinking how much I’d like to explore it. Unfortunately, this cemetery is nicer from a distance than up close. It’s in immaculate condition; it’s simply barren and does not feel as parklike as the Beaver Bay Cemetery or others we were to discover.
We had driven around Silver Bay looking for its cemetery only to discover that it is out of town and up a road so steep that I wasn’t sure my car would make it. Once we had finished scaling Lhotse Peak, I figured the cemetery before us would have a view. Or some redeeming quality. Sorry Cemetery #4 Silver Bay Cemetery, there is nothing truly nice about this wasteland. The first thing greeting you upon arrival is a HUGE list of rules. I get it… there need to be regulations… but do you have to be a jerk about it? How about saying “Welcome!” and then giving the rules?
Cemetery #5 Crystal Bay Cemetery near Finland was, in contrast, very shaded with trees and beautiful scenery. We probably spent the most time walking around this cemetery because it was so inviting. I also saw some familiar last names that have been shared with geographic features in the area, which is pretty cool.
We drove to a campsite in the national forest, and the next day resumed at Cemetery #6 Isabella Cemetery. This was harder to find than anticipated, and luckily we got a whisper of reception at the community center to check it out. The ambiance of the cemetery was impacted a bit by a major logging operation on adjacent (presumably private) land. There was a little trail connecting the cemetery to an older cemetery where there are no markings.
Oh boy. Cemetery #7 Toimi Settlers Childrens Cemetery was a rough one. It’s a gorgeous area, where you pull off the road and hike a short and very well-maintained trail to a clearing in the woods. Silver markers show where the graves of children were discovered with ground-penetrating radar. An interpretive sign explains that we know only a few names of who was buried here, but we have no idea which grave belongs to which child. There are many more graves than known children. Uffff.
Nearby, Cemetery #8, Toimi Cemetery, was equally pretty. Well-forested, with many interesting graves and well-maintained, it was a pleasant jaunt around the cemetery. I’m a little amused by their “gate” which connects to nothing. I also thought the Finnish colors blue and white were a nice touch on the sign.
I had often driven by Cemetery #9 Bassett Town Cemetery but had never driven the half mile to check it out. While it is surrounded by nice forest and features one nice tree, it’s another cemetery which thinks greeting people with rules is a nice welcome. At least this sign is small and less bossy.
Not too far away was Cemetery #10 Brimson Cemetery. This is a lovely cemetery on a pretty dramatic hill (not really pictured below). The cemetery has lots of trees and also some intrigue in a couple of fenced-in plots. The fenced-in plots are the only ones not in great condition.
The final Cemetery #11 Silver Creek Cemetery was unique in that it had a chart of every person buried there. I had never seen this in a cemetery before. It added to the experience and I was glad this came last, because otherwise I might have expected other cemeteries to live up to this effort.
After getting home and having some ice cream to celebrate avoiding tourists, we individually made a list of the nicest cemeteries we’d walked through. When we read our lists to each other, they were remarkably close, so we negotiated a bit and came up with a very subjective list of the nicest cemeteries in the area:
- Crystal Bay
- Beaver Bay
- Silver Creek
- Toimi Settlers Childrens
- Sawtooth Mountain
- Silver Bay
Some of these are, of course, in totally different categories — but ultimately what it comes down to is this question: Where would we want to walk around again?