Turtle Mountains

Late afternoon light falls on Lake Bennett along Lake Loop Road.

Late afternoon light falls on Lake Bennett along Lake Loop Road.

Ripples move across the surface of Sand Lake.

Ripples move across the surface of Sand Lake.

A sunrise greets the still waters of Lake Metigoshe.

A sunrise greets the still waters of Lake Metigoshe.

A raindrop clings to a tall coneflower along Lake Metigoshe State Park's Eagle Loop Trail. 

A raindrop clings to a tall coneflower along Lake Metigoshe State Park's Eagle Loop Trail. 

Waters are clear enough to see right down to the bottom in Strawberry Lake in the Turtle Mountains. 

Waters are clear enough to see right down to the bottom in Strawberry Lake in the Turtle Mountains. 

It took three trips to the Turtle Mountains before I felt I had any sense of the place. 

Stretching 40 miles along the North Dakota-Manitoba border, the landscape is a forested plateau with lakes, trees and most notably, the International Peace Garden. I had visited the latter in August 2015 after my first trip weeks earlier. I spent an 84-degree day in a sweatshirt walking the peace garden's paths, smelling the flowers and seeing the Peace Towers, set to come down before summer 2017. 

I breezed around Lake Metigoshe and saw Mystical Horizons again, both popular destinations in the Turtle Mountains, but on my most recent trip, I found what I had been missing. 

The Turtle Mountains are a glittering jewel of a landscape, littered with small, lonesome lakes and carpeted with a gorgeous forest. Driving State Highway 43 through the rolling rural hills, Alison Krauss and Union Station's "Lonely Runs Both Ways" album on, I was blasted by the beauty of the Turtle Mountains, its clear waters and colorful trees and plants. 

Two nights at Lake Metigoshe State Park were all I had to spend in the region, but I put my time to good use. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the sunrise an hour later over the still, glassy waters of Lake Metigoshe. Driving west to Strawberry Lake as the sun began streaking across the sky. A short hike in the Turtle Mountain State Forest as the morning sunlight hit the yellow sunflowers, blazing stars and shimmering grass. 

And that was all before 7:30 a.m. 

I spent the day driving and seeing many lakes (i.e. Carpenter, Upsilon, Hooker, Gravel), traveling the backroads of the Wakopa Wildlife Management Area and capped my Saturday with a three-mile hike along the state park's Old Oak Trail, through more aspen forest and alongside more mirrorlike lakes. 

Light rain greeted the canvas of my Eureka tent on Sunday morning. Despite the wet, I still hiked some trails along the park's northern boundary, less than 300 feet from the Canadian border. Leaves of all colors were in full show despite autumn still being weeks away; green, gold, red, purple, all on full display along the hiking trails where I saw no one else that morning. 

I would go back again to the Turtle Mountains in a heartbeat. That landscape is truly something special. Wading in Sand Lake, hiking the Eagle Loop Trail, driving Lake Loop Road and more, that region has so much to offer. And I'll be back in autumn for the trees changing color.