The Owl Avenue Welcome Center is open daily for the winter months (early Dec – mid March) and the summer months (June 1-August 31) from 10 am to 3 pm. Closed spring and fall.
The Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center serves as a Gateway to the Bog. It is a place to learn from our naturalists, thaw out, warm up, buy a t-shirt or other souvenir, grab a map, and use the outhouse. You can also call our phone line at 218-209-2266 to get the latest information.
Much information including birding maps and our recent bird sightings board are also located outside the building. Our outhouse is open year round.
Directions to the Welcome Center
ADDRESS: The address is Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center 8793 Owl Avenue, Toivola, MN 55765
[NOTE: THIS IS NOT A MAILING ADDRESS…but put this address into Google Maps or Apple Maps.]
Directions from Cotton, MN on US HWY 53:
*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
Preparing to Visit
Most first time visitors are surprised by the scale of the Sax-Zim Bog! This place is over 300 square miles and contains many diverse habitat types. To best navigate the Bog, pick up a copy of the Birding Map at the Welcome Center, Birding Kiosk in Meadowlands, or download a copy here. The map gives great suggestions on where to start and information at the Welcome Center can help refine your search and gives a chance to ask questions to staff (in the winter and summer).
Understanding the habitat needs of birds or critters can also help make your trip a success! The Sax-Zim Bog has prime habitat for bog specialists such as Great Gray Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Connecticut Warbler and these mature bogs are also important wintering habitat for Great Gray Owl, N Hawk Owl, White-winged Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, Common Redpoll and Hoary Redpoll. Some species, like Sharp-tailed Grouse, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike, or Black-billed Magpie prefer grassland type habitats found on roadsides or in agriculture fields and pasturelands.
Depending on the season, you may need to prepare for very cold winter conditions or bugs and humid summer conditions. We offer a few suggestions to these questions in our Frequently Asked Questions Section below. Checking Friends of Sax-Zim Bog’s Facebook Page and Instagram accounts can also be useful for recent sightings, road conditions, or field trip announcements.
One final consideration to make is that the Sax-Zim Bog is a remote landscape. There are very few options for restrooms, gas stations, or dining options. Suggestions for each of these are listed on our Birding Map. Please plan accordingly and pack in what you pack out.
Timing your visit
Over 85% of our birder/photographer visitors come in winter. But when visiting the Sax-Zim Bog, there are a couple of considerations to make prior to your visit. Most visitors are interested in a chance at seeing and photographing Great Gray Owls, which are resident in the Sax-Zim Bog. Often winter is the best time to see this iconic species of the boreal forest and bog habitats, though you still could see one during the summer! So how do you choose when to visit? The below should help those visiting the Sax-Zim Bog for the 1st or 101st time.
Winter specialties, like Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, Common and Hoary Redpoll and resident species that are easier to find during the winter like Boreal Chickadee, Canada Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Great Gray Owls are most reliably found from early-December to the beginning of March. Wintering species tend to start arriving in mid-late November and can linger into April (especially Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Shrikes).
Summer breeding birds start arriving as early as mid-March (American Woodcock, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Northern Harrier), but the bulk of our nesting species begin arriving in May. Warblers are typically on territory starting mid-May and sing through June. Wildflowers have three or four distinct blooming seasons, with peaks of diversity in most obvious in mid-May, June, and late-July. Orchid diversity is typically seen in late June, with Pink Ladyslippers beginning to bloom as early as late May and continuing through July. Butterfly diversity is best in late-June to July. Dragonfly and damselfly diversity peaks in mid-June. To highlight some of this diversity, our BioBlitz is usually mid-late summer.
Fall is a fine time to visit the Sax-Zim Bog, as well. Maples and aspens begin changing color in mid-late September, with tamaracks changing color in November. Bird migration is tricky in the bog, as there is so much good habitat for birds to rest and refuel on their way south. Migration in northern Minnesota typically begins in mid-August and continues through November!
What to do in the Bog?
The Bog is a large area with many opportunities to explore! Use the Birding Map to navigate your way and call our Sax-Zim Bog phone line 218-209-2266 to hear the latest flora and fauna sightings.
Stop by the Welcome Center to chat with Naturalists, pick up a map and checklist, hike the trails, and use the outhouse. The Welcome Center is open daily from from 10 am – 3 pm. mid-Dec through mid-March and June -August. The Welcome Center is closed spring and fall.
Drive our Winter Auto Tour and keep your eyes open for birds.
Hungry? Check out our Birding map for restaurant and cafe locations in Meadowlands and Cotton.
If you have an interest in scheduling a field trip for your organization, school group, or small group during your visit to the Sax-Zim Bog, please contact Head Naturalist Clinton at firstname.lastname@example.org for scheduling availability and rates.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is it cold in winter?
Yes, it is cold in winter. But temps can range from +40F (rare) to -50F (rare). Average December high is 20F, low 4F; January average high is 17F, low -2F, February average high is 23F, low 3F. 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 -56F on January 30, 2019.
- What clothes should I bring for winter birding?
The warm jackets, snow pants, and layers are best when visiting cold climates. Insulated boots with very low temperature ratings (-20F or -40F) are great, as cold feet is never a good thing. Wool socks and under layers are also important and much better suited for cold climates than cotton. Hats and gloves are also important and even buffs and scarves can be helpful against wind chill. 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, so do not dress too warm where you are sweating in the car en route to feeders. You can always stop by the Welcome Center to warm your toes by our propane heater if you get too cold when out and about!
- Are the roads plowed? Do I need an S.U.V or 4×4?
Yes, but not all roads are plowed at the same time. When in doubt, stay off unplowed roads. As far as needing an SUV or 4×4, they are not totally necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to have rent/drive a vehicle like that during the winter in the Bog! 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. Be sure to not drive too close to the shoulder, as the ditch lines are sometimes difficult to find. If you get too close to the edge, one wheel drops off the edge your car will be sucked into the ditch. Pulling over too far and getting your wheels stuck in the ditch is a problem. It is important to pull over far enough to keep roads clear, but not too far to get stuck. 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: Eagle Towing 218-879-0095; Mrs. Mac’s Towing 218-393-7377; or Jack & Don’s Towing 218-263-3426
- 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?
The first suggestion would be 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. Next, check our weekly (in winter) “Bird Report” tab on the main page of our website. When you are in the Bog, stop by the Welcome Center at 8793 Owl Avenue to check out the sightings board hanging outside.
- 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. The Victory Coffeehouse is open ONLY TUESDAYS & THURSDAYS 8am-3pm and 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?
The festival is no longer taking place. Friends of Sax-Zim Bog formerly organized the field trips and speakers for the festival. The Sax-Zim Winter Bird Festival was started by guide Mike Hendrickson and was run by the town of Meadowlands. No plans to resurrect the festival as of now.
- 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.
- 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 someone’s front yard or house with binoculars.
- Watch your rearview 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.
- Can I use my drone in the Bog?
Yes, but please do so very cautiously. Best used to get a view of the landscape. Do not fly over people; Do not fly where it would disturb other visitors; Do not harass birds and mammals (some are tolerant of high-flying drones, some are not); Do not fly up to, or close to, a bird or mammal.
- Can I bring my dog to the Bog?
Yes, absolutely. But dogs must be leashed when on boardwalks, and should be leashed everywhere when out of the car. Why? There are serious dangers to dogs in the Bog: Porcupines and Wolves being the main threats. Pick up after your dog as well.
- 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 trails at the Welcome Center or any of our FOSZB Properties that have trails. The South Logging Road west of McDavitt Road (labeled on the birding map) is public land and can be good snowshoeing as well.
- 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 following are guides who provide services in Sax-Zim Bog:
JUDD BRINK (Sax-Zim Bog, Aitkin County, Brainerd Lakes area)
Availability: All seasons for Sax-Zim Bog. Aitkin County, Brainerd Lakes Area available upon request year round. Guiding experience: 12 years with the birding festival and private guiding at Sax-Zim. Feeding and watching birds/wildlife for over 30 years in Minnesota! Have a B.S. in Natural Resources Management, Owner/Guide of MN Backyard Birds (Birdscaping), President of Bee-Nay-She Bird Council, Board Member of Brainerd Audubon Society, Master Naturalist, Minnesota Ivory Billed Woodpecker Research Team in 2011, involved with a National Geographic filming project on Great Gray Owls for their Voyagers series. Traveled/Birding ( Alaska, Costa Rica, Iceland and Ecuador in 2022!) Attended the World Owl Conference (first time to be hosted in the USA) LaCrosse, WI. October 2023.
**Video link below of Judd in action guiding in the Sax-Zim Bog [starts at 6:56 in the episode]:
**10% of Erik’s gross from guiding in Sax-Zim Bog will be donated to Friends of Sax-Zim Bog
CLINTON DEXTER-NIENHAUS (Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Head Naturalist)
Limited guiding availability; Larger groups (5 or more) only, with 4 hour minimum.Guiding not limited to birds! All parts of the natural world considered. Contact Clinton at email@example.com for rates, field trip options, and availability.
GREGG SEVERSON (Sax-Zim and Twin Cities; Birding Bike Trips, Birding & Beer Bus Trips)
Gregg loves birding, and also spending social time with other birders and naturalists. He is excited to share the exceptional birds and other wildlife of Sax-Zim and the rest of MN with his clients. He was a guide for the Sax-Zim Winter Birding Festival for many years and loves to vicariously experience other birders’ lifer highs! Gregg mostly guides Friday-Sunday, in every season. He takes lots of photos with his Canon P900 and has a special interest in audio recordings of birds. Gregg co-organizes MN Global Birding presentations and happily discusses international birding. Feel free to ask about recommendations for good breweries, cideries, and distilleries in the area, as well as other cultural or natural attractions. Fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
612-568-5272 (call or text)
KYLE TE POEL—Next Bend Birding Tours
Professional naturalist-led tours in Minnesota and nationwide since 2008
Year-round tours in the Sax-Zim Bog, throughout Minnesota, and nationwide. I’m a professional naturalist with a Masters in Education, whose resume includes the Sierra Club, Minnesota Audubon, National Audubon Society, Project Puffin, Minnesota State Parks, National Park Service, and guiding at bird festivals around the country. My knowledge and interests are wide-ranging, ensuring tours are informative and fun for all ages and experience levels. Communication and customer service are top notch from first contact to the end of the tour. Next Bend was awarded “Gold” status (the highest certification) by the Green Business Directory for personal and professional sustainability practices. I support several conservation organizations, and donate 10% of my gross income from Sax-Zim tours to the Bog’s “Acres for Owls” land preservation project. I’ll work with you to create a customized tour based on your wish list and schedule, while providing several perks free of charge. Featured in local, regional, and national publications and television. I am fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.507-358-8810 (call or text)
https://kyletepoel.crevado.com/minnesota-birding-guide (reviews at bottom of page!)
Trip Advisor and Google profiles (search Next Bend Birding)