Big Bog State Recreation Area – Waskish, Minnesota - Atlas Obscura

Big Bog State Recreation Area

Waskish, Minnesota

Journey through the largest remaining peat bogs in the contiguous United States to see the wilderness as it once was. 


Big Bog is a wondrous and serene place to visit, a peat bog 5,000 years in the making located in a quiet area of Northern Minnesota. Considered “Minnesota’s last true wilderness,” it boasts landscapes that have remained unchanged for thousands of years and a habitat for endangered species.

Not all local residents remember the bog as a serene untouched place, and in fact the park was only officially opened in 2006. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, the bog was used as a training site for the military to practice bombing and gunnery training. Following WWII, fear of a Russian nuclear attack on the country resulted in the United States testing their own nuclear capabilities. To mimic the extreme frigid temperatures of the USSR, the U.S. Air Force dropped inert Mark IV bombs on the site in what they called “Operation Deep Freeze.” These seemingly unannounced explosions light up the night sky 70 miles away, and shattered nearby windows. This military history was uncovered when two ecologists noticed an unnatural lake formation in the bog and set out to understand what had happened.

Other efforts have been made over the years by early European settlers to drain the bog or harvest the peat, but were unsuccessful. During the militarily inhabited years of the Cold War, the Naval Reserve and the Minnesota Department of Conservation partook in “Operation Woosh” in an attempt to build a moose habitat with bug-free wallowing holes by dropping 50 bombs on the bog. Aside from those unusual efforts to exert control over the watery landscape, the land otherwise remains as it has been since the time when the Anishinaabe gathered blueberries, fished, and hunted game.

Today, the bog features an accessible boardwalk that covers over a mile of the bog. With sustainability in mind, it is also perforated, allowing for natural light to shine through and encourage plant growth under the bridge. Several rare plants (some carnivorous) and animals can be seen along the walk, especially for the most patient of visitors. The Big Bog is a rare opportunity to experience a largely untouched piece of natural history in a safe and non-destructive manner. 

Know Before You Go

Visitors will need either a Minnesota State Parks pass or day pass. Day passes can be purchased at the visitor's center which is located offsite from the bog. 

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