We investigated impacts of harvesting on soil disturbance and vegetation in the aspen cover type of northern Minnesota, United States. The soil disturbance (resistance to penetration) and understory vegetation were characterized for 19 sites on five 60-m2 plots placed along a disturbance gradient: landings (high harvesting traffic), skid trails (intermediate harvesting traffic), and areas off skid trails (low to no harvesting traffic). Penetration levels were quite variable, but they still indicated that within-site responses to disturbance patterns created by clear-cut harvesting were not uniform. In general, soil disturbance and understory species composition within landings were similar to those with skid trails. The soil disturbance and vegetation composition of these two levels differed from those of the low-disturbance plots (off skid trails), indicating that removing trees alone did not affect vegetation composition as much as creating an established skid trail, regardless of harvest timing. However, sites with more variable species composition (winter-harvested sites) and lower disturbance levels were less altered than sites with likely lower initial diversity (summer-harvested sites). The results suggest that it is important for recovery of understory plant communities to not only limit the amount and level of disturbances but also consider the spatial layout of harvesting, thus maintaining a spatially connected network of remnant forest patches large enough to contain interior forest species.