The Sax-Zim Bog is prime habitat for bog specialists such as Great Gray Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Connecticut Warbler. Bobcat, Lynx, Pine Marten, Fisher also use this habitat. Mature bogs are also important wintering habitat for Great Gray Owl, N Hawk Owl, White-winged Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, Common Redpoll and Hoary Redpoll.
The best time for the winter specialties is mid December through late February. Migrant warblers move through the bog in the second half of May. Breeding birds are in full song during June and even first week in July.
Located an easy 50-minute drive north west of Duluth, Minnesota, the Bog is easily accessible by many dirt and paved roads (see maps below). Lodging is available in Duluth, Floodwood, Cloquet, Eveleth, Virginia and Hibbing. There are also several local B&Bs.
**WELCOME CENTER IS CLOSED FOR THE SEASON, BUT WILL RE-OPEN MID DECEMBER AND BE OPEN THROUGH MID MARCH**
Our Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center on Owl Avenue continues to serve as a Gateway to the Bog. The Welcome Center is open and staffed daily mid-December through mid-March. The building is open 7-days per week from 10am to 3pm.
The Welcome Center is a place to find out about the latest bird sightings, thaw out, warm up with some hot cider, but a t-shirt or other souvenir, and use the outhouse. Over 20 bird feeders are on the grounds with a great diversity of birds visiting them. Keep your eyes open for Pine Grosbeaks, Ruffed Grouse, Evening Grosbeak, Hoary Redpoll, Brown Creeper or maybe even an Ermine or Gray Fox!
DIRECTIONS TO WELCOME CENTER ON OWL AVENUE (Also marked on our birding map)
The address is 8793 Owl Avenue, Toivola, MN 55765 [NOTE: THIS IS NOT A MAILING ADDRESS…but put this address into Google Maps or Apple Maps instead of just “Sax-Zim Bog” which takes you to the middle of nowhere]
Directions from Cotton, MN on US53…
*Go West from Cotton on CR52/Arkola for 11 miles
*Turn South (left) on Owl Avenue
*Go 1.75 miles (second curve) to Welcome Center
Directions from Meadowlands, on CR133…
*Go East on CR133 to CR229/29
*Turn North (left) on CR229/29
*Go North to T at Correction Line Rd
*Turn West (left) on Correction Line Rd
*Road curves North and becomes Owl Ave
*Go North on Owl Avenue for 2.5 miles to Welcome Center
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is it cold in winter?
Yes, it is cold in winter. But temps can range from 40 above (rare) to 50 below (rare). Average December high is +20, low +4; January avg high is +17, low -2, February avg high is +23, low +3. The average number of days BELOW ZERO is between 30 and 40 per winter. Cotton, Minnesota was THE COLDEST SPOT in the Lower 48 states SEVEN TIMES during the winter of 2018-19, including MINUS-56 DEGREES on January 30, 2019.
- What clothes should I bring for winter birding?
The warmest stuff you can get. Insulated boots are a must. Feet are the appendage most folks have a problem with. Dress in layers. Long underwear works great. Hats and gloves. Some folks swear by hand warmers and even place in their boots. These can be purchased at most gas stations and hardware stores. Remember though, much birding is done from the car…or near the car. Stop by the Welcome Center to warm your toes by our propane heater!
- Are the roads plowed?
Yes, but not always right away. If in doubt, stay off unplowed roads.
- Do I need an S.U.V or 4×4?
No, but it doesn’t hurt either! Many of us bird in all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive vehicles. Snow tires help immensely on 2-wheel drive cars. Remember, this is FLAT country…No hills to contend with. The county does an amazing job of plowing the roads quickly after a snowfall. That said, certain bog roads are LOW priority for the county. Use common sense and don’t drive down a road that you don’t see any tracks on.
- What is the biggest danger in winter?
The biggest hazard is probably getting your car stuck in the ditch. Folks drive too far to the right and when one wheel drops off the edge it will suck the car into the ditch. Also, pulling over too far and getting your wheels stuck in the ditch is a problem. Many folks have had to be pulled out by 4x4s or tow trucks (which are scarce and expensive). And you may not be found for quite a while. And though cell phone reception is good over most of the bog, it is not complete coverage for all carriers. If stuck and you stay in the car, make sure your tailpipe (exhaust pipe) is free of snow. Dig around it to make sure it is not blocked up by snow. TOWING SERVICES IN THE BOG: MRS. MACS TOWING Call 218-393-7377 or website www.mrsmacstowing.com
- Is there cell phone coverage?
Cell phone reception is okay to good over most of the bog, but it is not complete coverage for all carriers. It can even be spotty for AT&T and Verizon customers.
- How do I find the winter birds?
a. First thing to do is to download our Birding Map. This shows all the best roads to drive and feeder locations. We also have a PDF of our Seasonal Bird Checklist.b. Secondly, check our weekly (in winter) “Bird Report” tab on the main page of our website.
c. Also check our Facebook page and the Sax-Zim Bog group for the latest sightings.
d. Mike Hendrickson has begun a “Telegraph” app group that lets folks share up-to-the-second sightings. First add the Telegraph app to your smart phone. Then look for the invite link on the “Sax-Zim Bog” Facebook group (NOT the “Friends of Sax-Zim Bog” group).
e. And of course you can always stop in at the Welcome Center at 8793 Owl Avenue and talk to one of our naturalist/hosts (Heather-Marie, Mark, Amy) and sometimes Clinton, Sparky, (and other volunteers).
- Are there restrooms in the bog?
There are several but they are few and far between. Our Welcome Center on Owl Avenue has one that is available 24/7/365. There is an outhouse at the Stone Lake public landing and at the McDavitt Recreation area (walk between the hockey rink and the pleasure rink to find the outhouses on left side of trail). Otherwise, you’d need to go to Cotton, MN where there is a gas station and a cafe. There is a Victory Coffeehouse that is open ONLY TUESDAYS & THURSDAYS 8am-3pm that has a bathroom. Outhouses/Restrooms are marked on our birding map. Plan accordingly!
- Where can I eat or get coffee?
There is the Wilbert Cafe in Cotton that is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In Meadowlands, there is the Trailside Bar & Grill which opens at 3pm on weekdays but before lunch on weekends. You can also get food at the gas station in Cotton. The Victory Coffeehouse on the main drag in Meadowlands is open limited hours (Tuesday & Thursday 8am-3pm). Free will donation for coffee and good treats (muffins, breads, pastries, etc.)
- Where can I get gas?
The only nearby gas station is the one in Cotton, MN along US53 (four-lane). Plan accordingly!
- Do you guys run the festival?
Friends of Sax-Zim Bog organizes the field trips and speakers for the festival. The Sax-Zim Winter Bird Festival was started by guide Mike Hendrickson but is now run by the town of Meadowlands. We support this fantastic event and help however we can.
- Are there any places I should avoid?
Yes, please avoid birding the very north end of Stickney Road just south of Sax Rd (CR 28). If at all possible, use CR7 to get from the south part of the Bog (Arkola/CR52) to the north part (Sax Rd/CR28). The gentleman that lives there does not appreciate folks stopping near his home at the north end of Stickney just south of Sax Road. If you do encounter him, just keep going. If you have a problem with him, call 911. If you tell us, we can’t do anything. You must call the Sheriff via 911.
- What else can I do to be a good birding neighbor?
The Sax-Zim Bog is home to many residents, good folks who live there year-round. Please respect them by doing the following:
- Don’t stare into someones front yard or house with binoculars.
- Watch your rear view mirror! Folks need to get to work or home and can be frustrated by us birders/photographers driving slowly as we look for birds. Move over when you see someone coming up behind you.
- Respect private property and only leave the road in areas that are public lands and not posted as private.Also see our BIRDING & PHOTOGRAPHY ETIQUETTE REMINDER (scroll down linked page to see)
- Where are good places for bird photography?
The feeding stations are great places to start…Try the Welcome Center feeders, Admiral Road feeders, Mary Lou’s feeders and others. Occasionally interesting mammals may come to the feeders too…Ermine, Gray Fox, Red Squirrels, Pine Marten.
- Where can I go snowshoeing?
You can go snowshoeing/hiking on any county/state lands in the Sax-Zim Bog. If you don’t have a plat book, you may want to stick to the obvious locations: Welcome Center has snowshoe trails and the McDavitt/Admiral Road corridors are all public lands in the bog sections.
- Are the mosquitoes bad in May/June?
They can be, but often late May and early June birding is early when cool temps may keep them down. They are MUCH WORSE off the roads and back in the bog. Bring bug dope! The best bug dope is one with a percentage of DEET.
- Is it worth visiting the bog outside of winter?
Most winter birds head back north in the first two weeks in March…So what is a birder to do? Check out our Monthly Wildlife Calendar to find out what else you can see at the bog. The second half of May is great for warbler migration. June and early July are the peak of bird song, but birds are not as visible. Orchids and other wildflowers are a draw in summer too.
Hire a Guide
Interested in hiring a guide? The Friends of Sax Zim Bog recommends contacting:
Clinton Nienhaus (Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Naturalist)
Judd Brink (Aitkin County, Brainerd Lakes area, Sax-Zim Bog)
The only lodging in the Sax-Zim Bog is Alesches Accommodations outside of Meadowlands, MN.
Many folks stay in Duluth (45 minute drive to Sax-Zim). The Days Inn/Miller Hill Mall offers a “birder’s discount.” It is a flat rate of $69 for ANY type of available room!
If you’re looking to stay at a hotel in the heart of the Duluth waterfront within walking distance of many restaurants and shops, you can check out the hotels in Canal Park. The South Pier Inn in this location offers a “birder’s discount” of 15%.
If you’d like to stay a bit closer and North of the Bog, the Eveleth Super 8 is a good choice. Another option near Eveleth, and even closer to the bog, is to rent a birder-friendly guest home on 21 acres through AirBnb.
The Super 8 in Cloquet is about a half hour from the south end of the Bog. But **Call direct for “Birder/Photographer Discount” of $59.95 plus tax 218-879-1250 (good in Winter and until late May)
An option for unique (and green!) lodging is Green Gate Guesthouses near Biwabik…BUT it is about an hour north of the Bog.
Looking for a rustic experience? Adorable new cabin with detached sauna. 10×16 ft with loft. Outhouse (no running water in winter). Electricity via generator. Sleeps 2. Only 1.5 miles from Cotton on the Whiteface River. See the AirBnB listing here.
Spring, Summer, Fall Camping/RV parking in the Bog
JCA Environmental Group has a camping spot/RV spot near Zim, Minnesota and close to the Bog. Site is level and 100 x 300 feet. It is open from mid-April to mid October (depending on snowpack). NOT OPEN IN WINTER. Friends of Sax-Zim Bog has not seen the site yet. Call David Cook at 218-879-4736 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Facebook search “JCA Environmental Group”