Lady Slipper Scenic Byway goes “over the river and through the woods,” just like the song says. The river is the Mississippi River, where it passes out of Cass Lake as a wilderness stream, close to the beginning of its long journey. The woods are the pines, aspen and birches of the Chippewa National Forest, which covers a wide expanse of north central Minnesota. This rustic route is one of the 22 Minnesota Scenic Byways.
The byway itself is a 28-mile drive that follows County Road 39 between the small, north woods town of Blackduck and Highway 2 east of the town of Cass Lake. The largest nearby city is Bemidji, about 20 miles west of the byway.
Along with scenic views of the forest, the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway brings you to campgrounds, beaches, trails and an interesting piece of our country’s history. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp Rabideau, located 7 miles south of Blackduck, is the most intact CCC camp in the United States and in now a National Historic Landmark.
This byway was recently renamed in honor of the state flower, the showy lady’s slipper. These lovely orchids, with pink pouches and white petals, grow in abundance along the byway’s roadsides in late June, especially just north of Pennington. All summer, watch for eagles, ducks, herons and pelicans near the rivers and lakes the byway passes. Take the time to stop and listen for the haunting call of loons, which will be found on most of the area lakes.