Superior Hiking Trail
Basic Info (adapted from the SHTA website)
The Superior Hiking Trail is designed as a footpath only, comprised principally of an 18-inch treadway through a clearing approximately four feet in width. SHTA policy prohibits the use of motorized vehicles, mountain bikes and horses on the Trail. The steepness and narrowness of the Trail in most areas makes it unsuitable for cross country skiing, although snowshoe travel is possible in many areas.
The Trail is routed principally along the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior. At its lowest point, the Trail goes along the lakeshore, which is 602 feet above sea level. At its highest point the Trail is 1750 feet above sea level and more than 1000 feet above Lake Superior. The Trail is characterized by ascents to rock outcroppings and cliffs, and descents into numerous river and creek valleys crossed by attractive and functional bridges. Panoramic overlooks of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains and inland woodlands, lakes and rivers are abundant along the length of the Trail. At many points, the Trail follows rivers and creeks, often for distances of a mile or more, show-casing waterfalls and rapids, bends and deep gorges where thousands of years of rushing water has cut into layers of ancient volcanic rock.
Hikers enjoy varied forest scenes. The gradual transition from oak, maple and basswood to the boreal forest of balsam, pines, spruces, cedar and tamarack is interrupted by re-growth forest of aspen and birch. Wildlife abounds: encounters with deer are common and sightings of moose, beaver, black bear, eagles and grouse. Fortunate hikers will remember many varieties of songbirds. Wildflowers are especially prevalent in the spring, but some varieties are evident through the hiking season. Wild blueberries and raspberries provide a special midsummer treat at many points along the Trail.
The Trail crosses national forest and state park lands, state and county property, and private property. The Trail connects and traverses seven state parks. Many property owners - individuals and corporations, in addition to governmental units - have granted easements or permissions to cross their land for the construction of the Trail. In some areas, special restrictions apply as conditions of the permissions that have been granted on private lands. Please observe and obey all posted restrictions (such as requirements to stay on the Trail through private property, or prohibitions on fires, camping or hunting). The privilege to use these private lands depends upon the cooperation of Trail users and their respect for the special restrictions.
To view photos of and from the SHT, visit the SHTA online photo gallery
The one constant feature of the Trail, and the characteristic that distinguishes it from other forest trails, is the presence of Lake Superior - the legendary lake Native Americans celebrated in song and story as 'Gitche Gumme' (Gi-chee GOO-me). The Trail features many spectacular views of the Lake, as well as many more subtle views through the trees, allowing the hiker an endless selection of spots to rest, lunch and meditate against the backdrop of Lake Superior's many moods and colors. From some vantage points, the Wisconsin/Michigan shoreline is visible on the horizon; other views feature islands - Isle Royale on the northern part of the Trail, and the Apostles on the southern end.
Planning a hike
The Superior Hiking Trail is accessible directly from Minnesota Highway 61, on spur trails accessed from 61, or on many intersecting roads. Seven of the state parks along the North Shore (including Crosby-Manitou State Park, which is inland) are connected by the Superior Hiking Trail and provide access to it. Note: The other north shore state parks include Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, Tettegouche, Temperance River, Cascade River, Judge C.R. Magney, and Caribou Falls State Park Wayside. Along Highway 61, look for the brown signs with the Superior Hiking Trail logo on them. The distance between access points - most from five to ten miles apart - makes the Trail easily divisible into one-way day-hikes, accomplished by leaving a vehicle at the access point destination and shuttling to the next access point to begin the hike. If your party does not have two vehicles, shuttles may be arranged through some of the local resorts, outfitters or the Superior Shuttle.
When planning a hike, allow one hour for every one-and-a-half to three miles. Day-hikers should carry a pack with adequate water (river and lake water along the Trail must be treated before it is consumed), snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, toilet paper, compass, flashlight, and an extra clothing layer and raingear if conditions warrant. Remember that weather conditions can change rapidly; dark storm clouds and chilly winds sometimes move in quickly and unexpectedly on what began as a warm, cloudless day. If you plan to hike more than one or two hours, it is best to be prepared for weather changes.
The Trail is also ideally suited for long-distance hiking. The hiker seeking an extended trip can hike the 200+ miles of the Superior Hiking Trail to its (north)eastern end, then continue along the Border Route Trail, which in turn links with the Kekekabic Trail. (Please note: Both the Border Route Trail and the Kekekabic go through the BWCA. You must obtain a wilderness permit from the Forest Service prior to entering the BWCA.) These connections provide a multi-week adventure of over 300 miles, from near Ely in the west to near Grand Portage in the east, and thence southwestward to Two Harbors on the Superior Hiking Trail.
- The SHTA provides detailed trail section information online and recommends loop hikes, short, "leg-stretching" day hikes, good bike shuttle sections, and has detailed info on the newer trail sections within Duluth and from Two Harbors to Duluth. They also recommend several backpacking sections in the guidebook.
- For the long-distance hiker who prefers more amenities, Lodge to Lodge Hiking hiking is available. You need only carry a daypack, since luggage is transported to your destination each day.
- Also, a unique, fee-based shuttle service is available to SHT hikers...the Superior Shuttle run by Dan Sanders. Note: the Superior Shuttle is NOT affiliated with the SHTA. The shuttle van follows a published schedule every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from mid-May to mid-October. Hikers can use the shuttle to go further up/down the trail and hike back to their car. Note: You should know that if you're planning on catching the shuttle after your hike (to get a ride back to your car) they stay on schedule and it's your responsibility if you miss the shuttle. They may also be able to line up shuttles outside of their normal schedule or on off-days (M-Th). You'll have to pay extra fees and make advance reservations. For more info, contact them at (218) 834-5511 or make your reservation via a form on their website.
For more info...
The Superior Hiking Trail Association publishes an excellent guidebook, the Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail (5th Edition, and currently being updated). If you are planning a long hike on the SHT, you should probably get the guidebook and maps from the SHTA or your local outfitter. Their store/office is located in Two Harbors at 731 7th Avenue (Hwy 61) Look for an olive green house. Hours are M-F 9-5, Sat 10-4 and Sunday 12-4. You can order the Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail and maps by calling them at 218-834-2700 or purchase them online at www.shta.org and click on Store. A complete set of pocket maps that covers the entire trail sells for $2.00. The Guide is $15.95. Or you can order the McKenzie maps (scale is 1;30,000). Each map is $8.25 and a set of 8 maps covers the trail.
Up-to-date trail conditions are available by contacting the SHTA directly or may be gathered from trail users on the Hiker Yahoo group, which requires a free membership to post.
SHT user comments...
** Dave (spring 2008 hike) says "Within the last 10 miles or so to the border, you may encounter a few vague or brushy areas, but nothing significant. A logging company clear-cut the very last mile of the SHT, (I believe some time in 2007) and in 2008 there was no trail, but it was flagged and marked with wooden spikes to the road. Easy."
Border Route Trail
The following is extracted from the Border Route Trail Guide which was published in 1999, was written from west to east and is full of extraneous nature notes. This is being posted by JHY, currently planning a hike of this route. This material definitely needs updating and checking, and that will be done after the hike is completed. Meanwhile, I'm entering it here for editing and commenting by anyone who has insight to add.
Day 4 Swamp River to Pigeon River (BRT Guidebook published 1999)
Ed Solstad says Swamp R. to Stump R. with the exception of approximately the last half mile or so of the western end of the ridge running between the Swamp R. and the junction with the Otter Lake access trail. You should expect to run into brush but probably not too many deadfalls in the section that we didn't get to last fall. - brushing & deadfall removal 2007/2008
Kurt Papke says Piece of cake. I've done this section twice - I can make it to the Fowl Lake overlook (8.2 miles- past our stop) by dinner, starting at 10:00AM.
Dave (spring 2008 hike) says a few sections seem well traveled and were obvious, such as along popular portage routes, then others were a serious bushwack, the first few miles I remember being obvious. Frequently on the BRT there is blue flagging tape marking the route, but it is not obvious and not consistent enough for you to rely on it for navigation, just as a nice confirmation once in awhile. There are VERY few plastic markers which say "Border Route Trail" on them, but these are rare and mostly appear in areas where the trail is obvious anyway. There were definitely times when I thought "This can NOT possibly be the trail" but it was. Some side trails are marked with pinkish or orange tape so watch.
0.0 Otter Lake (Rengo) Rd & Trailhead Parking Lot (0.0)
To continue to the BRT go 0.2 miles W on Otter Lake Rd to the trailhead for the BRT. Cross old logging road, pass through aspen and sugar maple going north along the Swamp River.
1.0 Turnoff (1.0)
[Watch for a turnoff to the right that goes to a lookout across private property. There is a large ledge there to eat or nap (no camping) You can see where the Swamp empties into the Pigeon River.]
2.9 Cross another old logging road (1.9)
Pass by four overviews
4.0 Overview of unnamed lake (1.1)
4.7 Otter Lake Cutoff (0.7)
Trail meanders and descends. Pass through grassy area.
5.3 Portage Brook ( 0.6)
Cross on a bridge that may not be in good shape. Come to campsite with picnic table. Nice view of the hills to the SE. The path may be obscure through the lowland area.
6.7 Stump River Bridge (1.4)
The bridge may not be in good shape.
Ed Solstad - Stump R. to South Fowl Lake ATV trail: Brushing & deadfall removal in 2006/2007 - expect brush and some deadfall
7.0 Trail is near the river (0.3)
Trail ascends away from the river up the side of a hill until reaching the river again
7.2 Right hand bend in river (0.2)
7.8 Campsite (0.6)
Primitive site off trail at the end of a small pond
Day 5 Pigeon River to Pine Lake (BRT Guidebook published 1999)
0.0 Pigeon River
Climb away from the Pigeon River.
1.0 View of South Fowl Lake (1.0) (Kurt says 0.4)
Reach a high viewpoint, the closest the trail comes to South Fowl Lake. See where the Voyageurs lake route began where the Pigeon River enters the lake. Descend steeply. At the bottom of the descent join the South Fowl ATV route, turning to the right. ATV trail has several branches. Not clear from guide which one the BRT takes.
Ed Solstad says South Fowl Lake ATV trail to top of hill going down to McFarland Lake:Brushing & deadfall removal in 2005/2006- expect moderate to heavy brush and moderate deadfall.
1.5 Cross ATV Route (0.5)
The ATV route leads out to the Arrowhead Trail (a road). Climb to another vista.
1.7 Vista with Rock Spire (0.2)
Trail goes down and then up again, beginning to leave South Fowl Lake.
2.4 Vista with Rocky Footing (0.7)
Overlook apparently on open rock, guidebook calls it a good place to eat lunch. Reach another overlook with a view to the north of North Fowl Lake. With several waterways nearby it’s good to orient oneself with the map. Long descent (0.7) mile to the logging road. Should be a very sharp turn to the right somewhere at the bottom of the descent according to the map.
4.0 Cross Logging Road (1.6)
Continue and reach a sign on the east side of a parking lot.
Dave (spring 2008 hike) says Pretty rough the last couple miles before you reach the Arrowhead Trail (road) but there was some recent flagging
4.8 Arrowhead Trail (Rd) (0.8)
Parking area, public water access, outhouse on S side of road upslope. Arrowhead road used to be called McFarland Road for John McFarland, an early explorer of the region who built a great deal of the road by hand to bring in his mining equipment. McFarland, John, and Little John Lakes are all named for him. Cross the bridge over the waterway between McFarland and Little John Lakes.
Ed Solstad says, I'm the coordinator for mechanized maintenance outside of the BWCAW so do not have recent personal experience of conditions on the wilderness sections. The feedback that I've received indicates that the sections from McFarland through to the Long Portage at Rove Lake (day 8) are in reasonable condition. You can expect moderate to sometimes fairly heavy brush in the areas hit by the '99 Big Blow.
Steve Brown says, 2.25 hours from here to unknown “Woods Campsite.” easy walking, not too much deadfall.
4.9 Turn R on a road (0.1)
Continue on a private road.
5.9 Trail turnoff into BWCAW (0.9)
Leave private road on trail to the right and enter the BWCAW (permit required- hikers going from east to west will need special permission to get permit more than 24 hours before entering the wilderness). Begin to climb through area that can be muddy.
Ed Solstad says Top of hill going to McFarland Lake to McFarland Lake: Brushing & deadfall removal fall of 2008 - expect good trail conditions.
Reach overview. Open view of South Fowl Lake. Follow ridge for quite a distance between East Pike and John Lake. Descend to East Pike Lake eventually turning left, and follow the shore to the portage. Possible camping here (Ed Solstad). Turn left away from the lake on the portage route to McFarland Lake.
9.2 Leave Portage (3.4)
Turn right off the portage onto the BRT, climbing to the ridge.
Steve Brown describes the “Woods Campsite” somewhere in here... not on map. Overlook of John Lake into Royal River rapids is “very cool.”
12.5 Portage between Pike and Pine (3.3)
This is where we want to turn left and go an extra 0.5 mile to the established campsite on the shore of Pine Lake. Might want to check 3/8 mile to Pike Lake for possible campsite.
Day 6 - Day off
Day 7 Pine Lake to Clearwater (BRT Guidebook published 1999)
Kurt Papke says Should be doable.
Steve Brown says, Pine Lake to Gogebic most rugged and least maintained section
0.0 Portage between Pike and Pine
Return to the trail and turn left (west). Enter understory. Note, the voyageurs did not use these “lower” lakes. Pass two overlooks to the NE and N, not described.
3.5 Vista of West Pike (3.5)
Appears to be at the top of a very steep cliff.
Steve Brown says, no water from here to Gogebic Lake.
4.3 Vista of Gogebic Lake ( 0.8)
View of Gogebic Lake to the west. Diagonal down the hill to the west, cross a low swamp and round the west end of Gogebic Lake.
Steve Brown says, beaver dam to cross at the outflow of Gogebic Lake
5.5 Campsite on Gogebic Lake (1.2)
Good trout fishing. Follow shore then turn left on portage trail between Gogebic and West Pike Lakes. Turn left off the portage. Cross a stream, turn left and join the poorly defined portage between Clearwater and West Pike. Follow this portage for 0.6 miles. Reach Clearwater Lake and watch for a campsite just off the trail on the left on the south side of a point.
Steve Brown says, hiked Gogebic to west Clearwater in 7.75 hours
6.8 Campsite on Clearwater Lake (1.3)
May need to consider camping here? The site I picked may be too far off trail. Climb through pines eventually reaching an overlook of Mountain Lake.
8.2 Portage between Mountain and Clearwater Lakes (1.4)
The campsite I chose is down the portage to the left and then along shore on Clearwater Lake. Not sure if it is accessible on foot or only by canoe??? Extra 0.2-0.3 miles.
Day 8 Clearwater to Rose Cliffs (from BRT guidebook published 1999)
Kurt Papke says Some big ascents/descents on this section
0.0 Portage between Mountain and Clearwater Lakes
Will need to return to the trail- extra 0.2-0.3 miles. Climb on trail with a wide switchback turning to the N, then S and returning west. Virgin pine in this area. Then cross a meadow with views of Clearwater Lake. Turn slightly to the N.
3.7 Cliffs Above Watap Lake (3.7)
Overlooks to the north of Watap Lake. Follow the top of the ridge SW until reaching the portage between Clearwater and Rove Lakes. Descend to the right on the portage.
5.3 Reach Rove Lake (1.6)
Shore of lake is muddy. Turn left and follow the south shore of the lake. Rove Lake was the site of the first overland trail from Grand Marais to the border. Henry Mayhew, mineral prospector had fur trading post somewhere on the lake in 1875. Follow the portage from Rove to Daniels Lakes.
Ed Solstad says, portion of the Long Portage between Daniels and Rose Lakes is probably still flooded by a beaver pond. That portion of trail follows an abandoned logging railroad grade so you should have good footing, I just don't know how deep it is as I haven't been in to check it out for myself.
7.0 Daniels Cutoff Trail (1.7)
Rocks to sit on, view long way down Daniels Lake.
[Daniels trail is a brush-obscured road bed that ends near Clearwater Lodge, in 3 miles, on Clearwater Lake- the largest original whole-log structure in NE MN. Has furniture made of diamond willow]
Continue to follow long portage from Rove to Rose Lakes. It becomes a rocky stream GET WATER. Portage is the former bed of Alger Smith Railroad which took lumber to Two Harbors in the 1920s. Reach the shore of Rose Lake and turn left along the shore. Watch for trail switchbacking down to the campsite.
Steve Brown says, 337 rod portage from Rove to Rose is difficult because of beaver dams and flooding, bushwacking required.
9.8 Rose Cliffs Campsite (2.8)
Day 9 Rose Cliffs to Topper Lake (BRT Guidebook published 1999)
Book says this is the most difficult section.
Kurt Papke says Should be doable, though if you're camping on top of the cliffs then you'll have a descent to the Stairway portage and back up again.
Ed Solstad says, The worst sections are apparently between the Rose Lake end of the Long Portage and Sock Lake. Again, I've not been on that section for some time so do not have personal info. Crews have been working on the sections from Sock through to the Crab Lake Tr on an ongoing basis but I did see a number of deadfalls to the east of the Crab Lake Tr last year so there is obviously work to be done
Steve Brown says, walk along Rose Lake is pleasant.
Todd Williams says, Rose Lake section 2008 was pretty overgrown. Need good map/GPS info.
Dave (spring 2008 hike) Some rough areas around Rose Lake
0.0 Rose Cliffs Campsite
There is an overlook in some red pines. Climb an incline on obscure trail. Follow the ridge through scrub and deadfalls. Apparently there is a loop trail in this section you can accidentally get on and return to where you were.
1.7 Overlook (1.7)
Short side trail to an overlook on a knob with views of Duncan and Rose Lakes (and “entrance to Arrow Lake on the Canadian side”). If you took the side trail take a sharp right when you return. Follow with the edge on your right, descending.
[Caribou Rock Trail leaves to the left to Duncan Lake and beyond. Hilly and difficult- goes to Duncan, Moss Lake and eventually to Hungry Jack Lake Road off the Gunflint Trail.]
Scattered tall white pines. Pass a closed campsite on the cliff edge. Cross directly over some rock outcroppings and cross the stream coming out of Duncan Lake on a bridge. Trail curves on root-bound path and joins the portage trail which comes in from the left. Trail becomes wider.
2.1 Stairway Portage (0.4)
This is the portage between Rose and Duncan Lakes.
[Take 28 steps down to the right and you can see Portage Falls where water from Duncan drops over boulders. 91 more steps down to view Rose Lake. Open area at bottom but no camping allowed. Built by CCC in 1930s]
Trail climbs to an overview of Rose Lake. Switchback down a hill. Cross a land bridge over a stream flowing from a marsh into the deeper water of an unnamed lake. Climb a zig-zag trail to a not so great view of Rose Lake.
Steve Brown says route at Stairway Portage is confusing. He was coming from west, but sounds like after we cross the bridge we should go straight across the rocks and find trail leaving to the west.
4.4 West Rose Lake Over views (2.3)
This set of four overlooks are very closely spaced. The first one is the best with unobstructed views of South, Rat and Rose Lakes. These are part of a chain of lakes used by the Voyageurs for access to the interior. Rat Lake is the smallest and shallowest with a mud and slime bottom with unusual suction.
The second is pretty good with a rock for a backrest if you aren’t afraid of heights. The third looks toward the west, and the final one looks back at part of the cliff face and a spire of rock. There is a 500-foot drop to Rose Lake. Pass a cutoff to a campsite on Partridge lake. Side trail is obscure and goes to the left. Trail is narrow and twisty and descends to a narrow pass between the hills where the South Lake Trail crosses.
Steve Brown says, trail from here to Crab Lake Cutoff (next 5 miles) is easy to moderate with some deadfall.
6.8 South Lake Trail (2.4)
[Trail to the right goes to the east end of South Lake, Trail to the left goes to Partridge Lake with 2 campsites and eventually leading to the Gunflint Trail.]
Pass virgin white pine on the ridge. Some white pine may have blister rust, a fungus (white resin streaks on bark)
7.9 Mucker Lake Trail (1.1)
[Side trail to the left goes to a campsite on Hoat Lake, to the right to South Lake]
Pass through a meadow with asters and pearly everlasting. Trail turns somewhat SW. There may be a broken wooden BRT sign. Mucker Lake will be immediately on your left- filled with cattails. There is a sign marking the lake. Cross a clearing where there are still piles of sawdust. A mill used to be here. Cross a stream on a log. Trail turns to the right. It may be confusing here with moose trails to the lake.
8.2 Meadow (0.3)
Clearing that was a logging camp is a possible campsite. Zig-zag up a hill to a bluff overlooking Mucker Lake.
9.1 Turnoff to Sock Lake (0.9)
May be signpost with a tent
[Turn left to Sock Lake- secluded campsite on a ledge- maybe 0.3 miles]
9.6 Topper Lake Cutooff (0.5)
[Trail to the left leads to Mayhew Lake and the Gunflint Trail], may be a sign. Rocky overlook with glimpse of Topper Lake. Pass trail on left to first campsite on Topper. Pass portage trail to South Lake going down steeply to the right.
10.6 Topper Lake Campsite (1.0)
Short hike from trail down to the campsite. Topper Lake is higher elevation than others nearby, good trout.
Day 10 Topper Lake to Gunflint Lodge (BRT Guidebook published 1999)
Dave (spring 2008 hike) Some very vague and totally overgrown sections mostly East of, and around the Gunflint Lake area where you're in the area very badly damaged by storm a few years ago- All the tree cover is gone and the undergrowth is just nuts. (But without big trees you have good visibility which helps you navigate here.)
0.0 Topper Lake Campsite
Possibly pass a sign that calls Topper Lake Round Lake. Pass through some birch.
1.5 Crab Lake Trail (1.5)
Best guess is begin east section Ham Lake Fire (2007) Damage near here
[Crab Lake Trail to the right, NE, leads to the west end of South Lake. The portage between N and S Lakes is the Laurentian Divide. Voyageurs who crossed this for the first time were sprinkled with water from the lakes in a ceremony similar to that for sailors who crossed the equator for the first time. Crab Lake Trail to the left, SW, leads to Crab and Loon Lakes, Loon Lake Lodge and the Gunflint Trail.]
Pass through balsam forest.
Ed Solstad says, Junction with Crab Lake access trail to North Gunflint Road: Brushing & deadfall removal in 2008 - expect to pay attention to blue flagging in burn areas and signage at intersections. North Gunflint Rd to Crab River bridge: Brushing & deadfall removal in 2007 - Pay attention to flagging and signage. (Not sure exactly where this is- on the BRT or the Crab Lake Trail? -or does he mean Cross River at west end?)
2.1 Crab Lake Cutoff (0.6)
[This cutoff goes to meet the Crab Lake Trail and is better for skiing.]
Leave the BWCAW (if you are hiking west to east, a permit is required, and can be purchased at Gunflint Lodge. Permits must be purchased within 24 hours of entering the wilderness unless you get advance permission from the Forest Service). It is very easy to accidentally take this cutoff when you are traveling west. You have to make a turn to the right in a low lying Cedar Grove after coming down a hill to continue on the BRT. Note that the cutoff trail climbs a hill after the jct, so pay attention in a valley that you find the right trail out.
Go down a small hill and turn left, follow the remains of a logging road and take a sharp right. Pass a small pond on your left. Terrain will now be rolling and relatively open.
Steve Brown says, Crab Lake Trail to some route from Heston’s resort is easy- a jeep road.
2.7 Clearing (0.6)
Pass a clearing on your right that is a possible campsite. Cross rock before reaching a bridge. Low land on the left is a likely place to see moose.
2.8 Bridal Veil Falls & Bridge (0.1)
Best guess is end east section Ham Lake Fire (2007) Damage near here
[Cross former Gunflint and Lake Superior RR line, a 3.5 mile feeder line to the PAD&W RR (Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway), also known as the Pee-Dee, also known as the Poverty, Agony, Distress & Want. The former rail bed can be skied.]
Stream flows from Crab Lake north over a series of rocks, ending in Bridal Veil Falls. Pass through virgin pine and past a small overlook.
Steve Brown says, the area near Bridal Veil Falls is confusing
4.6 Former Power Line ROW (1.8)
Continue straight west then turn SW and descend over rocky places along the north shore of Loon Lake. Loon Lake used to be Millar Lake named for Cook County’s first auditor and an original investor in the Paulson Mine. Pass an unmaintained spur trail on the left, climb gradually, bending to the right. Go around a large pine a make a sharp turn left. Skirt a swamp, angle left, go under a power line, pass through an open area and reach Loon Lake Road.
5.2 Loon Lake Road (0.6)
Roughly parallel the road and the contour of the hill. This is also the route of the Gunflint to Loon Lake portage.
5.6 Abrupt Angle Turn (0.4)
Trail turns 135 degrees to the left. Pass a ski caution sign (for the other direction so I assume we are climbing here). Make a sharp turn right in another 300 feet. Climb through thimbleberries and ferns. Follow edge of ridge through tall pines and views of Gunflint Lake. Pass junction with Brice-Breon Trail going down left to Loon Lake. Reach an overlook with a small ledge just off the trail that is in line with the Gunflint Narrows. Next overlook is in line with tree signs including one for Heston’s Resort. Reach short spur to the right to the best overlook on a ledge. These overlooks are on what is called the Gunflint High Cliffs.
8.7 Leave Gunflint High Cliffs (3.1)
Descend on steep, rocky trail. There may be a sign that says “Junction at bottom of hill.” Turn right at bottom near the Shore of Loon Lake. The Brice-Breon trail goes east along the shore. Loon Lake Landing is 0.3 miles off the BRT on this route. There are ski trails through this area and it may be difficult to pick the correct route. Pass a yellow caution sign for the other direction (so we must be climbing)
Dave (spring 2008 hike ) says Loon Lake to Gunflint Lodge is easy.
8.8 Ski Trail (0.1)
Ski trail comes in from a marsh. Take the right fork. Continue past a high rock outcropping with a paper birch growing in a crevice of the rock. Turn left at a long flat rock covered with reindeer moss. Pass a cliff face. Cross a drainage on logs (if those are still there, ha!) Look to the right and you will see the ridge you are going to climb to. Loop around a marsh and continue to climb. Climb with switchbacks, one going around a low boulder. Make a left turn at the top of the ridge. There are views to the Gunflint High Cliffs a pond and two lakes. Angle to the right and follow a ridge. Pass a Y with a ski trail going down to the left. Trail twists and descends with glimpses of Gunflint and Magnetic Lakes. Turn right and pass through a berry patch.
9.4 Cross wide ski trail (0.6)
Supposed to be a boulder with a cairn where the wide ski trail loops around from the left and joins the BRT. Descend with glimpses of Gunflint Lake. Middle Cliffs Trail angles off to the right.
9.6 Turn Right (0.2)
Trail angles right in the middle of a raspberry patch. There is confusing language about possibly following a ski trail which loops to the right and the descends steeply to rejoin the BRT. Reach an overlook where you will make a sharp left. Reach another rocky overlook (marked by a long white log?) where you can see the Narrows between Magnetic and Gunflint Lakes. A trestle bridge once crossed the narrows to carry a railroad to Paulson Mine. Gunflint City was just west of the narrows.
9.9 Dogsled Trail (0.3)
Cross a dogsled trail. Climb past another sign “Caution junction at bottom of hill.” Angle up the hill.
10.2 Overlook Trail (Road) (0.3)
Leave the trail to reach the lodge (an extra 0.5 mile) Turn right on Overlook Trail, and the right again on Old Pine Trail to reach Gunflint Lodge.
Day 11 - day off
Day 12 - Gunflint Lodge to End of BRT (BRT Guidebook published 1999)
Steve Brown says, about 3 hours from Gunflint Lake Road to Kek TH
Dave (spring 2008 hike) says Gunflint Lodge to Magnetic Rock, it's obvious and more people get out on this section.
0.0 Overlook Trail Road
Need to walk 0.5 miles to rejoin the BRT off the road. Leave the road via ski trail and BRT together. Take a right off the ski trail where the BRT leaves it. Go under a power line. A wide ski trail will cross and recross the BRT several times in this section.
0.1 Large Virgin Pine (0.1)
Turn right at the pine. A ski trail also comes in here. Descend a hill working around to the left through birch.
0.4 Join Ski Trail (0.3)
Ski trail comes in from the left. Trail may be wet in the next section. Cross ski trail again in 0.1 mile. In another 0.1 mile make a 135 degree turn to the left. Good view of Gunflint Lake to the right. Lots of raspberries. Pass a gravel pit on the left.
1.1 Cross a road marked #1346 (0.7)
Ski and bike signs at the road crossing, also “no snowmobiling.” Cross the road and in 0.1 mile converge with a wide ski trail coming from the left. Turn right. Pass West End Trail sign. Pass a ledge on the left above spruce lowland. Descend gradually westward, then climb to a ridge.
1.6 Cross River Valley Overview (0.5)
Near a slanted, sawed off tree there is a short spur to the overlook at the end of the ridge with a ledge next to spruce trees. Follow a low ridge.
2.2 Power Line (0.6)
Cross under power line and a ski trail comes in from the right. In 0.1 mile there is a sign on the right saying “P7 Gunflint Emergency.” Turn downhill
2.4 Cross River Bridge (0.2)
At the bottom, cross the bridge and follow the road. Turn left on BRT. The road continues to the Borderland Lodge.
Ed Solstad says, Crab River Bridge to Warren's Rd: This is an easy to follow ski trail - might be a bit muddy in some spots. (Does he mean Cross River?)
3.3 Warren’s Road (0.9)
Cross Warren’s Road (the former RR line to Paulson’s Mine).
Ed Solstad says, Warrens Rd to Magnetic Rock: Brushing & deadfall removal in 2007 - Pay attention to flagging as much of this was burned in the Ham Lake fire.
4.6 Magnetic Rock (1.3)
Reach Magnetic Rock a 40-foot glacial monolith covered with orange lichen. There is a smaller rock nearby with a niche to hide in. Shortly after that turn left. Also a stand of birch (not sure if it’s before or after the turn). Trail descends. Pass several ponds and exposed granite of the Canadian Shield.
Ed Solstad says, Magnetic Rock to Gunflint Trail: Brushing & deadfall removal in 2007 - heavily used so no problem .
6.3 Gunflint Trail Parking (1.7)
Reach road and parking area. Turn left, S, on the road
The Kekekabic Trail (or "Kek" for short) is a true wilderness footpath. It traverses through the Superior National Forest's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for about 40 miles from the Snowbank Lake Rd. trailhead (located about 20 miles northeast of Ely, MN) to the Gunflint Road Trailhead (located about 47 miles northwest of Grand Marais). The Kek is a rugged and very primitive path through a very remote and harsh landscape. It offers a unique way to experience the BWCAW as only about 1% of the area's use is from hikers.
Thru-hiking the Kek should NOT be attempted by inexperienced backpackers or those not skilled in wilderness travel. Cell phones do NOT work out there so you're on your own! Map and compass (as well as knowledge on how to use them) are as essential on the Kek as good rain gear and sturdy footwear.
For detailed info on the Kekekabic Trail, contact the Kekekabic Trail Club (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Boundary Waters Advisory Committee (email@example.com), or the [http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/superior Superior National Forest-Kawishiwi Ranger District (218-365-7600, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The following trail description is partially based upon information extracted from the Kekekabic Trail Guide, which was published by the Kekekabic Trail Club in 1996. Unfortunately, some of the information is badly outdated due to the 1999 blowdown and resulting forest fires. The trail info was modified for this description format based upon recent (5/09) hikes by NCTA volunteers. Photos from one of those hikes may be viewed online while photos from a November 2008 hike by Martin Kubik may be found online. Check out the photos as they give a good idea of what the trail is really like.
Important Note: Permits are required for both day and overnight use of the Kekekabic Trail within the BWCAW. For more info on permits, visit the Superior National Forest website guide.
The eastern trailhead parking area for the Kekekabic Trail is located 47.4 miles up the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais and is marked by a Forest Service sign. There is a self-issue permit station at the trailhead kiosk for use between October 1 and April 30.
- Damage from the 2007 Ham Lake Fire is visible here
0.0 - The Kekekabic trail leaves Gunflint Trail Road heading SW, climbs a short distance, and continues west on well-graded and defined trail. Pass an obscure trail (marked by a USFS sign) that leads north to the site of Gunflint Lookout Tower vacated in 1956 and dismantled in 1979. Pass a Paulson Mine shaft contained by a wooden railing and filled with water. Before reaching the east end of Mine Lake, about 50 yards S of the trail is another abandoned shaft of the Paulson Mine. Cribbing may still be visible, along with parts of boilers and hoses, and piles of waste rock. The Paulson Iron Mine was the western terminus of the PAD&W RR. The joke is that there was more iron in the mining equipment than was ever extracted from the mine. Pass Mine Lake on your left. Several steep cliffs were exposed by the 1987 Mine Lake fire.
** Steve Brown says "Easy stroll through mining valley past Paulson Mines. Hiked here to Bingshick in 1.5 hours."
** Mark Strange says "Eastern 1/3 of Kek has not had cairns replaced since Cavity Lake Fire. Due to be replaced summer 2009."
** Dave says (spring 2008 hike) "The Kek is pretty similar to the BRT. Conditions are hit or miss, some nicer sections at each end which are more well traveled and bushwacky stuff in between. It crosses a beaver dam or two, and these are somewhat prone to shifting or crumbling. I don't remember many specifics because honestly, the conditions were horribly wet and stormy, the bugs were awful and I admittedly rushed through it."
2.5 - Enter by passing BWCAW sign hung on burned 4x4 wooden post(2.5).
3.5 - Come to Bingshick Lake east Campsite, which is accessible via a short side trail. Beautiful campsite on little rocky peninsula jutting out into Bingshick Lake. Can accommodate large groups easily as there is plenty of tent spaces. The name comes from the Ojibway word Pingoshag, the sand fly. It became Bingoshick over time and mapmakers in the 1950's dropped the o, making it Bingshick.
** Steve Brown says, "Both campsites are nice with plenty of tent space." ** Al Ringer (1997) reports says, “North site is nice and large. Room for 3-4 tents. Easy water access. Fiberglass latrine. Appears to be heavily used by hikers and canoeists. Trail located between lake and tent sites in cedars with possible bug concerns. Point site is an excellent large site. Room for 5-6 tents. Easy water access and sitting rocks. Fiberglass latrine across trail from camp site area. Appears to be heavily used by hikers and canoeists. Good open area for bug breeze.”
** A North Country Trail Association group hike spotted a cow moose with two calves browsing vegetation on the ridge above the lake's south shore just before dusk.
After crossing a stream between Honker Lake and Bingshick Lake, you'll pass by Bingshick Lake west Campsite, which is located right on the trail.
Pass Bingshick’s north shore which is brushy and skirts the edge of a beautiful bog. Trail joins the Bingshick to Glee portage trail. Lots of labrador tea plants along the trail. Cross two portages between Fay and Glee Lakes. East crossing of the Chub River coming from Warclub Lake is in a scenic valley but may be a challenge. Watch a YouTube video of this crossing . Steve Brown says, "Nice log bridge."
Skirt the south shore of Warclub Lake and make the west crossing of the Chub River (on rock scramble, not the old crossing which was flooded out by beaver dam). Notes: The southeast side of the crossing features a beautiful rock which is a great spot to sit and soak your feet. This section from Seahorse Lake to Chip Lake passes through tall wetland grasses and can be a little hard to follow but does offer great views of wildlife. Remain north of the river for 0.5 mile and cross the river again north of Seahorse Lake. Pass Chip lake on your left and cross several ridges through burned black spruce forest. Trail angles NW and passes the east end of Howard Lake. Note: The Cavity Lake Fire burned down to the edge of the lake in places and in others a narrow band of white cedars is the only trees that survived. On the north side of Howard lake was the sign carved in a lopped off white cedar, “Kekekabic Trail cleared by Senior Scouts, August 1949.”
- More information is available on the Cavity Lake Fire online.
Cross another stream on logs and pass a scenic rock face. Pass through more dead black spruce. Cross another stream and 1 mile after that make a sharp turn to the west.
9.5 - Reach Gabimichigami Lake Campsite, which offers limited tentsites but is located in a grove of surviving white cedar.
** Steve Brown says, "I found White Lady Slippers at Howard Lake. Very wet."
Lake Gabimichigami is Minnesota’s deepest at 209 feet. An island used to obscure the view of the large body of the lake, but event the island burned. White Cedars line the shore. Campsite had tall red pine and balsam fir before the fire but now is surrounded by burnt forest. The name comes from Ojibway Gabimidji-gumug, for “lake which the river flows directly across.” Lake Bemidji in NW Minnesota has the same situation with the Mississippi flowing across the middle. (The trail before 1968 followed the shores of lakes Gabimichigami and Agamok.)
Continue west through a narrow depression with wet, slippery rocks and fallen trees. Climb to 1850 feet, the second highest location on the Kek. This section offers great views through the burned landscape and the trail is marked with blue flagging tape. The trail tread can be obscure in places and is evident in others. Immediately after leaving the burned area, descend to a muddy stream crossing.
12.0 - Reach side trail up to a campsite located 50 yards east and 100 yards south of the scenic Agamok River bridge. The other, much larger site is located west of the bridge and a rocky overflow channel in the river. This site has ample room for multiple tents and works well for a large group.
The Agamok River Gorge is a series of waterfalls surrounded by majestic white pines. The River drains from Gabimichigami into Agamok Lake and finally through several smaller ponds north toward Mueller Lake and ultimately Ogishkemuncie Lake. Agamok means "ash tree" in Ojibway. The bridge is 32 feet long and was built shortly before 1996. The parts were all brought in by dogsled in the winter and the bridge assembled in the summer.
** Al Ringer's 1997 report says, “West site is nice and large. Room for 3-4 tents. Easy water access. Fiberglass latrine. Near bridge with rapids where Agamok River murmurs its lullaby. Appears to be heavily used by hikers and canoeists. Agamok East is a higher site above the lake in hardwoods. Room for 1 tent. Easy water access down trail to lake. Fiberglass latrine. Appears to be more secluded site, still Agamok rapids sing.”
** Steve Brown says, "The blowdown and deadfall on this section (Agamok to Strup Lake) aren’t as bad as the next one. Hiked Strup to Agamok in 8.5 hours."
After leaving the west Agamok River campsite, begin a long ascent after crossing the Mueller to Agamok Lake portage trail. Pass large boulders climbing and falling sharply with lots of polypody fern and occasional cairns. Many rocky ledges are covered with lichen and some weather-beaten and stunted trees remain following the blowdown.
Climb up to a ridge at 1950 feet, which is the highest elevation on the Kekekabic Trail. This rock outcrop above Travois Lake offers fabulous views to the south and a partial view toward the Twin Peaks (to the SW) where the Trail goes. The Twin Peaks are two of the highest elevations in the area at just shy of 2,000'. Also note that the view contains a lake-studded landscape. Descend steeply and skirt the base of the north slope of a greenstone mountain one of the Twin Peaks with a view of scenic Bushwah Lake to the north.
15.5 - Cross a 200-foot beaver dam and climb to the Harness Lake Campsite and scenic overlook. The campsite offers a great rocky ledge down to the lake (actually located right off the trail before getting to the campsite), limited tent space, and a great view of the small lake. The Harness Lake Fire occurred here in the late 1970's. You can see a couple dead white pine towering high above the younger jack pine which regenerated following the fire. After leaving the campsite, ascend a rocky ledge with a bog on one side and black spruce on the other.
Continue through hilly terrain through remnants of mature upland forest before heading NW twisting and turning through a muddy, rocky area. After a long sometimes steep climb, reach a high point where the trail turns abruptly SW. Here, you'll find a spur trail heading N to Kekekabic Lake and a USFS ranger cabin (no public access). There was a 200-year old white pine here and the site was nicknamed "McDonald’s Arches" by Martin Kubik for two pines that seemed to form a gateway. Near Kekekabic Lake, the trail used to climb up and down through old growth white pine, of which some remains. Hikers will see the rest laying down on the ground as t his area suffered some of the worst damage from the infamous July 4, 1999 blowdown storm. For more info on the 1999 blowdown, visit .
20.5 - Cross a small stream that flows from Strup to Whist Lake. Reach spur trail south to Strup Lake Campsite, which is not visible from the trail. There is a cairn marking the spur, which is located about 200 yards east of the well-worn portage trail between Strup and Kekekabic Lakes.
** Al Ringer's 1997 report says “Nice lake site. Room for 2-3 tents. Good rocks for lounging an pumping water. Fiberglass latrine. Should be good site during bug season.”
** Steve Brown says, this section (Strup Lake Campsite to Drumstick Lake) is not easy. Trail twists and turns through huge piles of tree trunks and brush with deadfall obstacles ever 100 feet. Sweaty, achy and pooped - 9 mile day felt like 15.
Less shrubby vegetation on this section of the trail. Mosquito Lake will be visible to the south only when the leaves are not on the trees. Beaver dam obstructs the trail- may be difficult to find. Next are easy miles through lowland area for 4 miles. There may be a couple of cairns. Reach an obscure connecting spur trail to the Thomas Lake Campsite (south) which is marked by a campsite signpost. Cross the well worn Thomas Lake portage trail. There is a great waterfall located at the south end of the portage trail only a short distance off the Kek. Hikers must ford the Thomas River exercising caution as in spring the water may be deep over slippery rocks.
** Steve Brown says, "May 2008 water here 2 feet deep and 15 feet wide. A canoeist helped them ferry across."
** The NCTA group encountered safely crossed above the beaver dam and above the trail crossing in May '09. The water was 2 feet deep and 50' wide but very refreshing!
Climb away from the portage with lots of Beaver activity in the area. Hikers may need to cross a beaver dam and an intermittent stream.
27.0 - Reach Medas and Moiyaka Lakes, where two campsites are located. The one on Medas Lake is located on a side trail off the Old Pines Trail. It is larger and features a rocky ledge extending down into the Lake facing southwest. The campsite on Moiyaka Lake faces north and is smaller but has a great view across the Lake. Hikers will cross a beautiful stream between the Old Pines Trail intersection and the side trail to Moiyaka Lake.
About 0.5 mile to the Lulu Lake beaver dam complex which must be crossed. About 1 mile more and there may be a cairn showing where the Old Pines Trail used to leave to the south. Forest is black spruce, paper birch and red maple.
29.5 - Reach side path to Drumstick Lake Campsite, which is marked by a rusty band saw blade that gives a hint of the area's rich logging history.
** Steve Brown says, "Lots of 1999 blowdown damage here." He camped at Drumstick Lake Campsite in May 2008, and said "it was wet."
** Al Ringer's 1997 report says “High camping area at site of old logging activity. Room for many tents. Swampy lakeshore, not so convenient for filtration of rootbeer colored water. New fiberglass latrine”
Hikers may see rusted tools and logging junk just before a large cairn which marks the turnoff for the Disappointment Loop Trail which leads north along Disappointment Lake. Trail now passing through white birch stands and you will see piled rocks covered with moss beside the trail which were placed to support trail tread. Cross a small stream.
Another side trail leaves to the south from the Kek trail. This is a 2-mile loop trail that passes by Becosin & Benezie Lakes and offers multiple campsites on each of those lakes.
36.5 - Pass another turnoff on the right. This is the Snowbank Lake Trail which heads north to the Parent Lake Campsite (0.25 mile north on the lake shore) and ultimately around Snowbank Lake back to the same Snowbank Lake Trailhead parking area shared by the Kek. Trail now passes over sphagnum moss. Skirt the toe of a hill through wet area with black spruce and jack pine. Ascend side of hill and get views of Snowbank Lake to the east.
In another 0.25 miles the Becoosin & Benezie Loop trail comes back in. There may be a small pool here and a chewed-up signpost. Cross a small creek that flows from Becosin to Parent Lake. In 0.2 miles leave the BWCAW (not marked by a sign as of 5/09). Forest is birch, poplar, jack pine, and black spruce.
You'll come to a boardwalk which may be partially submerged during wet periods. South of Snowbank Lake, the Kek goes through some recently clearcut areas (state and private lands) where the trail is marked by blue flagging tape. Great views to the south are of short rugged hills, which the Trail will eventually climb up to a vista that offers filtered views out onto the landscape around Snowbank Lake.
Descend steeply through “Ambush Alley” named for the large rocks beside the trail which offer good hiding places. Look for large white pines growing right out of the rocky cliffs. Cross a beaver dam before the Kek turns to the north and follows a low ridge.
38.0 - Trail comes out to Snowbank Lake Rd. and the trailhead parking area. This last part of the trail is well marked, well-maintained, and well defined (as of late May 2009).
The Arrowhead Re-route Gap area
From the western end of the Kekekabic Trail, the trail route enters the large gap area within the Arrowhead Re-route area. In this section, the NCT's exact route has not been finalized yet but options are laid out in the NPS' Draft Northeastern Minnesota Route Assessment and Environmental Assessment. The newly-formed NCTA Arrowhead Chapter is tackling this section and has just begun trail scouting within the City of Cohasset and around the City of Grand Rapids in Itasca County.
In general, the NCT route will head southwest from Snowbank Lake towards Ely within the Fernberg Rd. corridor, passing by the Kawishiwi (River) Falls, International Wolf Center, and Dorothy Molter Museum on the way. Ely affords hikers ample opportunities to take in the Boundary Waters area via one of the more traditional ways - via a canoe, dogsled, XC ski, or guided fishing trip. From Ely, the trail will head southwest towards Bear Head Lake, McCarthy Beach, and Scenic State Parks before entering the Chippewa National Forest near the St. Louis - Itasca County border. Within Itasca County, the proposed route will head south through the Chippewa National Forest and either the Suomi Hills or Trout Lake non-motorized areas.
South of the Chippewa National Forest boundary, the trail will cross the Prairie River, skirt around some of the Iron Range's historic mining areas, and follow the Mesabi Trail on the way into and through the City of Grand Rapids. South of Grand Rapids, the proposed route will follow the City of Cohasset's Tioga Trail to a large block of UPM-Blandin Paper Co. and public lands that will take the trail to the Cass County line near the historic Willow Lake wayside rest area. From there, a 7-mile stretch of new trail is proposed to link up with the existing NCT segment in the Chippewa National Forest near Long Lake north of the City of Remer.
For long-distance hikers, an alternative exists to piecing together a road walk between Ely and Grand Rapids. This is to hike on the Mesabi Trail, a paved multi-use trail that runs between Ely and Grand Rapids traversing Minnesota's famous Iron Range. This is an area of huge tailings piles and even larger mine pits - many of which are now popular recreational lakes. Along the trail, you'll have the opportunity to go on an underground mine tour (2,300' below the surface), skirt around the largest open pit iron mine in the world - what people refer to as the Grand Canyon of the North, and come close to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Currently, 102 miles of the 132-mile trail is completed and walkable with more added each year. The existing gaps can be easily bypassed by roadwalking from Ely to Soudan on St. Hwy 169 and Tower to Giant's Ridge ski area on St. Hwy 135. For more info, contact the Mesabi Trail at 218-254-0086.
The existing Chippewa National Forest segment
Starting near the community of Remer is the original segment of the North Country Trail built within Minnesota - the 68 miles within the Chippewa National Forest. In general, the NCT heads west from Remer paralleling State Highway 200 all the way to just southwest of Walker, MN where it crosses State Highway 34 before entering the Paul Bunyan State Forest in Hubbard County. Below is the text of the Guide to the North Country Trail in the Chippewa National Forest, MN written by the late Rod McRae, a long-time NCTA leader, and published by the NCTA (1991).
There are more than 16 vehicle access points to the NCT within the Chippewa National Forest, therefore hikes of various lengths can be easily arranged. With adequate advance notice, shuttle services can sometimes be arranged with local motels and resorts or NCTA members. Note the contacts listed at the end of this segment. No permits or reservations are required for hiking or camping on National Forest lands except in developed campgrounds when they are open.
The NCT is, generally, smooth walking and suitable for the novice hiker if distances are kept in mind. The trail has been cut mechanically to about 8-10 width to enable motorized equipment to maintain the treadway. Note: the NCTA and Chippewa National Forest are altering the maintenance so as to make the trail less inviting for ATV riders. Officially, the NCT is a non-motorized trail. However, hikers should understand that the Chippewa National Forest allows mountain bikers and horseback riders to also use the trail as long as they don't cause damage. The trail is criss-crossed by numerous small forest roads, some maintained, others not. The trail is posted at each road crossing, no matter how obscure. because of the multiple-usage in this area, Carsonite posts, NCT blazes, and trail markers are occasionally damaged or missing. Animals will also sometimes damage signposts.
The topography is rolling and meanders up and down, although there are few steep hills and no truly strenuous climbs. The land has been heavily glaciated and the trail often follows small glacial ridges. While the views are seldom dramatic or far-reaching there are numerous pleasant lookouts and viewpoints.
This area has been heavily logged over the past century and much evidence of old stumps from the first growth timber remain on the forest floor. WHile once dominant in White and Norway Pine, the second growth forest is quite mixed. Stands of maple/oak, birch, aspen, andn pine form a constantly changing cast of characters to make a friendly and pleasant forest walk. the forest is currently being managed for aspen, a popular paper-making tree, and hikers will pass cutover areas. These areas regrow quickly with aspen.
Surprisingly, water access can be a problem for hikers in the "Land of 10,000 lakes." While ponds, lakes, and streams abound in this area, most have a marshy shore and are difficult for hikers to access. Water access points convenient to hikers are noted in the text. It is essential that all drinking water obtained along the trail be treated before consumption. Giardia and other unpleasant critters are common. Because of possible contaminants and debris, a filter pump is strongly recommended.
Trail camping is permitted anywhere along the NCT on National Forest lands. No open fires are permitted except in designated fire grate sites. Many potential campsites must be bypassed because of the lack of water access. Currently, there are nine developed campsites suitable for hikers. Hikers are encouraged to practice Leave No Trace camping techniques when using any of these, or other sites.
Weather and Wildlife
Weather is generally pleasant at this latitude. Spring and fall days are warmish but can have cold nights. Hikers should be prepared for night-time frost in early May and late September. June through August may have warm days but nights will cool off moderately. April and May will possibly be muddy on the trail following spring breakup. Rain can occur in any month between April and October. Contrary to popular opinion, snow only sticks around between November and April!
Mosquitoes can be a problem from late May/early June through September, depending greatly upon water conditions for breeding. Black flies and gnats can be an occasional pest in the spring/early summer. The Woodtick Trail Road is aptly named and May through June can yield phenomenal numbers of ticks. Unfortunately, this area does contain deer ticks, which are carriers of Lyme Disease. Most large game common in northern forests are here, although you'll rarely see game unless you are very quiet. While black bear are common here they do not normally cause a problem for campers, except at heavily used campgrounds. Raccoons and porcupines pose a greater challenge for overnight trail camps and food should be secured for the night (either placed in a bear canister or hung from a tree).
The Chippewa National Forest, including the NCT, is open to hunters during the regular Minnesota hunting season. Grouse, duck, and small game hunters in September and October pose little problem for hikers. Hikers should make their presence known if they believe hunters are nearby. The November deer hunting season does pose potential problems for hikers. Hikers should wear blaze orange clothing and remember that hunters also appreciate the outdoors.
The North Country Trail in Winter
Winter is a great time to get out and enjoy the NCT in the Chip, especially on snowshoes. The trail receives little use during winter...mostly because it is pretty inaccessible. Many of the forest roads that the NCT intersects are not plowed in the winter. Points at which you can access the NCT in the winter include:
- St. Hwy 64 trailhead in the Paul Bunyan State Forest - while not plowed, E. Steamboat Forest Rd. is used for snowmobiling, and so the trailhead just off Hwy 64 is usually accessible to 4WD vehicles. The western boundary of the Chip is 4.5 miles east of the trailhead and a good day trip is to Cass Co. Rd. 12, another mile past.
- Shingobee Winter Rec. Area trailhead - The NCT can be reached via a 1-mile side (groomed XC ski) trail from the trailhead kiosk at the top of the sledding hill. A good day trip is out and back to the Anoway Lake Bridge, a distance of about 2.5 miles, most of which is groomed for XC skiing. Shingobee Winter Recreation Area is a family-friendly winter destination with the XC skiing, sledding, and historic warming chalet. The Chippewa National Forest hosts a variety of Saturday outdoor events there regularly during the winter months.
- St. Hwy 371 trailhead - The Lake Erin picnic area is plowed in the winter and the NCT crossing of Hwy 371 is located just south of the parking area. A good day trip is out to the Woodtick Impoundment and back, a distance of 5 miles. There is also the 1-mile loop trail around Lake Erin.
- Milton Lakes boat landing trailhead - located at the end of FR2324 (Milton Lakes Rd.) north of Remer, this area is plowed in the winter. A good snowshoe hike trip is an out and back on the esker, which runs for about 0.5 mile heading east from the parking area.
- The Goose Lake XC Ski trail system trailead off Co. Rd. 5 - Located just west of Longville, this XC ski trail system trailhead is accessible in the winter. The NCT can be reached after a 1.5 mile walk on the XC ski trails. Note: the NCT may also be reached by driving west on the plowed Woodtick Trail (The Woodtick Trail/FR2107 is plowed west only to Moccasin Lake) and parking along the side of the road or in the (unplowed) trailhead parking area where the NCT crosses.
- When the snow is not deep, other NCT parking areas may be accessible to 4WD vehicles, including: Co. 12 & Co. 50 by Walker; St. Hwy 84 by Longville; W. Macemon Rd.; St. Hwy 200; and Co. 4, Co. 52, and FR2101/St. Hwy 6 by Remer.
Mileage Data (East to West)
0.0 -- The trail begins in a mixed cutover forest at the eastern boundary of the Chippewa National Forest. This spot can be reached by 4-wheel drive vehicle, but hikers might rather park at FR 2101 trailhead and hike the 3.5 miles back to the eastern terminus.
1.5 -- Pass Sailor Lake, the first of many small marshy lakes. Water can be obtained at the bridge over the flowage at the west end of the Lake. There is an undeveloped and unmaintained campsite location just off the trail at the northwest corner of the lake. There are adequate tent sites here and water source is nearby.
2.0 -- As the trail begins an ascent, hikers have a choice of routes. The main NCT route bears left along a marshy area and begins to follow the narrow bed of the old Pine Tree Railroad logging grade. Note: Specifically, this is Spur #309, which took logs down to Pinetree Lumber Co. mills in Little Falls, MN from 1911-1913. This is a pretty 1/2 mile section. The trail to the right is a short-cut which rejoins the main NCT within a short distance. The rejoined NCT track continues through mixed forest.
3.5 -- Come out to a grassy field before crossing FR 2101 (also designated as Cass Co. 132). There is a parking area for 6+ vehicles at this point. Continue northbound through mixed forest.
4.2 -- Trail passes through an extensive birch forest for about 0.75 miles. This is a lovely walk, especially in the fall when the light and airy nature of a birch grove exudes good feeling.
5.5 -- Trail enters a lowland area and crosses a long earthwork beaver dam. the trail may be wet at this point. Continue through mixed hardwood and conifer forest.
7.0 -- Cross FR 2743 (maintained gravel) and enter second growth pine forest.
8.0 -- Take note of a grove of virgin (old growth) pines at the "Al Dots Camp" location. Note: This is an abandoned logging camp run by logging companies working for lumber baron T.B. Walker dating back to the 1870s. Continue north through cutover aspen area. Hikers should take note as there are several old road crossings at this point and NCT markers may be missing at some points.
9.0 -- Cross the Willow River bridge with water access at this point. There is also an NCT parking area at FR 2101. Note: The Willow River was the first area river used to transport timber and there used to be a logging splash dam near here.
9.5 -- Cross MN Hwy 6 (paved) which is lined with a mature plantation pine grove. The trail changes character dramatically at this crossing and hikers will encounter steeply rolling terrain and some mature pine forest. The community of Remer is located about 4 miles southwest and contains a grocery store, Post Office, bank, laundry, several restaurants, hardware store, and coffee shop.
10.3 -- Pass Loon Lake, another small marshy body of water, and continue northwest through hilly terrain and pine forest.
11.5 -- Enter an area of extensive cutting of aspen forest. the forest is regrowing and the terrain begins to flatten out at this point.
12.5 -- Trail joins FR 2321 for about 200 yards before re-entering the forest.
13.0 -- Cross FR 2321 (the trail has been parallel to the road for a short distance) with parking available. Continue northwest through an open meadow and mixed second growth forest. Hikers will have a nice view of ridges to the west.
14.0 -- Begin a gentle ascent of an esker (a long, narrow glacial ridge) and enter mature forest of mixed hardwoods and conifers. the ridge becomes narrow at the crest, with views of Milton Lake and other small ponds. Descend steeply to Milton Lake boat landing, passing a short side trail to a small designated campsite. Water is accessible from the lake.
14.5 -- Trail now joins FR 2324 for about 0.5 miles passing by private cabins.
15.0 -- Trail leaves road to the northwest and ascends through aspen forest and skirt the edge of an old meadow. Continue westward over hilly terrain.
16.0 -- Cross County 52 (maintained gravel) with a small parking area. Continue westward over moderately hilly terrain and mixed forest and field.
18.5 -- Cross County 4 (blacktop) with an NCT trailhead parking area here. The trail has now begun a marked directional change and is now heading southwest. There are numerous crossings of small forest roads in the next 9 mile section but most not maintained.
20.3 -- The trail comes out to and follows part of an abandoned Soo Line rail grade siding. Notice the level trail cut into the high banks on either side.
20.5 -- NCT crosses the main rail grade This route is the (part of the Soo Line ATV trail that runs from Moose Lake to Cass Lake) and returns to the woods in a southwesterly direction. The next three miles are gently rolling, mixed hardwood cover with occasional open meadows. A designated backcountry campsite is located above No-name lake, where water may be found.
23.0 -- Trail crosses FR 2117 (gravel, also referred to as the Speaker Truck Trail) with small parking area. Note: This road used to be a spur for the Tobique Railroad Line in the logging era.
23.2 -- Trail joins County 53 (maintained gravel) and follows it for about 0.25 mile. The trail follows it over a stream, around a corner, and then takes a left heading south onto FR 2104. Note: This is a potentially confusing intersection...pay attention to the Carsonite posts and blazes.
23.5 -- NCT re-enters woods in a southwesterly direction. FR 2104 leads south at this point to the Forest Service's developed campground at Mabel Lake, about 2 miles away.
24.0 -- Stop and rest on a bench at the side of the trail. Set in a spruce grove overlooking an open marshland, this seemingly capricious act by trailbuilders was intended to be a campsite. Unfortunately, there is no water source nearby. Continue southwest with occasional pleasant views from open hillsides.
27.5 -- Pass a large trailhead parking area and emerge from forest at MN Hwy 200 by the Boy River. NCT joins the highway heading west and crosses over the Boy River. Water access and parking is available here. Note: The Boy River has been an important travel route for thousands of years. From 1875 to 1918, it floated logs for T.B. Walker's Red River Lumber Company. Now it's a popular canoe route that comes alive in September for the wild rice harvest.
28.0 -- Trail leaves the road on the south side with a small parking area available here. The trail is now headed westbound through mixed forest. Note: An un-designated campsite on the bank of the Boy River may be found by following the side trail (heavily used by ATVs) heading south 0.1 mile west of Hwy 200. The campsite is actually an old homesite in an open grove of pine trees and features steps down to the Boy River.
28.5 -- Note marshy pond on north side of trail with tall dead trees. Osprey nests and activity are frequently sighted here.
29.5 -- Cross FR 2875 (maintained gravel).
30.6 -- Pass small pond. Possible undeveloped campsite and water access here.
31.0 -- Trail briefly joins FR 2875, which serves private cabins at the north end of Long Lake and returns to the woods shortly. Continue westbound through mixed forest.
32.5 -- Trail passes Crown Lake, another pretty small pond. There is a designated campsite located here with water access.
34.0 -- Cross County Hwy 126 with parking available. Possible water access at small pond here. Continue westbound through pine plantation.
34.5 -- NCT crosses MN Hwy 84 (paved) with a parking area. The Town of Longville is about 3 miles south and features the full array of services (lodging, banks, restaurants, hardware store, internet cafe, laundromat, and library).
36.0 -- After passing fenced fields, the trail takes a marked turn to the south. Continue south through mature aspen forest.
37.5 -- Trail returns again to its generally westbound direction.
38.5 -- Cross County 125 (maintained gravel). Between here and Hazel Lake the trail passes through stands with immense Red Pines. These are beautiful trees that produce valuable timber and may live up to 300 years.
39.0 -- Pass small beaver ponds with possible undeveloped campsite and water access. Continue through a low, marshy area where trail follows a built-up grade.
39.7 -- Cross FR 2100 and continue westbound over moderately hill terrain.
41.5 -- Cross small, unmarked forest road. Hazel Lake is about 150 yards north of this junction. There is a pretty campsite on a birch knoll overlooking the lake. Water access here. Rejoin NCT and continue westbound through hardwood forest.
43.0 -- Cross the Woodtick Trail (a scenic forest road, designated as FR 2107). Nearby is a parking and a water pump. Hikers are now entering the Goose Lake Trail network, frequented by hunters in the fall season and XC skiers in the winter.
43.3 -- Pass a small marshland surrounded by tall trees. This is a heron rookery. Hikers may stir up quite a fracas among the birds during late spring and early summer nesting season. Keep your hat on!
44.0 -- Pass Goose Lake where a designated campsite and water may be found.
44.5 -- Cross the Woodtick Trail a second time heading northwest. Continue westerly through mixed hardwood and conifer forest. Early summer hikers will discover that the Woodtick Trail is aptly named.
45.5 -- Pass north of Moccasin Lake.
46.5 -- Cross FR 2108. This intersection may be a bit confusing and hikers should take note of the route. The NCT crosses old logging trails.
47.0 -- Pass north of Stocking Lake, where a campsite with water may be found. Continue westbound over rolling terrain and mixed forest.
48.2 -- Pass the pretty little Long (may also be shown as Gut) Lake, where a nice campsite on a rock shelf at the lakeshore. This site is reminiscent of the BWCAW. Water access here.
49.0 -- Cross FR 3790 with trailhead parking at this point. Continue westbound through rolling hills and forest.
49.5 -- Pass south of Hovde Lake, with campsite and water. Continue westbound over rolling terrain and hilly forest. Hikers will pass several ponds with good campsite potential and possible water access.
52.0 -- Cross the Woodtick Trail heading southwest.
53.5 -- Pass the Woodtick Impoundment, a man-made lake that was created in 1976 to provide shallow water habitat for waterfowl feeding and nesting. There is a nice campsite at the sound end of the lake located on a small knoll. Water access here. Note: The water control structures are no longer working and the dam is scheduled to be breached in 2009. Hikers will still be able to cross this area.
54.0 -- Cross your old friend, the Woodtick Trail, for the last time with trailhead parking is located at this spot. NCT proceeds northbound. The ensuing mile and a half are largely through open fields that were tended pastures associated with homesteads from the early to mid 1900s.
56.0 -- Cross MN Hwy 371 (paved). The Lake Erin Trailhead and parking lot is located 200 yards north of this juncture and offers parking, picnic facilities, a 1-mile loop trail around the lake, and a water pump). The town of Walker is located about 6 miles north but motels, cafes, and other services begin about 2 miles north and continue into town. The town of Hackensack is located about 5 miles south with many services. Rejoin NCT and continue west into mature forest.
56.1 -- Pass a small pond in mature oak forest near the Paul Bunyan State Trail which is on an old railroad grade. Possible campsite (not designated) and water access at this point.
56.2 -- Continue northbound along a ridge overlooking valleys in both directions.
57.7 -- Pass north of Cyphers Lake and cross the Paul Bunyan State Trail, where the trail returns to a westerly course at this point. This is high rolling terrain with mixed forest and open fields. Hikers will see cabins and farmsteads and many beaver ponds are found in this area. Hikers are entering the County 50 trail system The NCT will cross numerous trails maintained for walkers, hunters, and cross-country skiers. Hikers should take note of the NCT markers.
59.0 -- The Shingobee River Valley will appear to the north as the NCT follows a ridge overlooking the valley. Pass through a pretty spruce grove with a small trickling brook.
61.0 -- Descend steeply to the County 50 trailhead, join the road heading north and cross the Shingobee River bridge with water access before re-entering the woods westward heading up steep hill. Trail follows along the north shore of Shingobee River for about a mile and a half.
62.5 -- Descend forest ridge and pass south of Anoway Lake on locally famous "troll bridge" with water access here.
62.7 -- Ascend hill and hikers are now on the "Shingobee Vista" which used to be one of the most dramatic lookouts in the Chippewa National Forest. Unfortunately, the trees have grown up to block the vista in the last 20 years. There is a designated campsite in a pine grove at this point. Hikers are also entering the Shingobee Trail System, a network of XC-ski and hunter walking trails. Take note of NCT markers and blue blazes.
63.5 -- Cross MN Hwy 34 (paved) with parking at the Shingobee Recreation Area about 0.6 mile southwest on a spur trail. Note: This is a popular spot in the winter as it has an extensive XC-ski trail system, a historic lodge, and a sledding hill. The sledding hill was one of the original downhill ski areas in MN. The town of Walker is located about 5 miles northeast. The trail re-enters woods in a northerly direction on the north side of Hwy 34.
64.0 -- Trail passes north of Ten Lake with possible campsite and water access here. Trail proceeds northbound through mixed forest.
64.5 -- Trail comes out to the Six Lake Rd., climbs, and then crosses the Heartland State Trail (paved), an old railroad grade trail that extends 49 miles from Cass Lake to Park Rapids. Note: This was one of the first rail trails developed for recreation in the U.S. NCT proceeds northerly through pine plantation groves.
65.5 -- Cross Co. Rd. 12 (paved) with limited trailhead parking here. Trail continues in northwesterly direction through mixed forest cover. There are scattered groves of old growth Norway Pines in this section. These trees, along with the White Pine, were the staple of the lumberman's trade a century ago.
68.0 -- The Chippewa National Forest NCT segment ends at an obscure forest road in heavy woods at the Chippewa National Forest's western border, which is also the Cass - Hubbard County line. The trail continues on within the Paul Bunyan State Forest in the Itasca Moraine Chapter segment.
HIKING MAPS: This section is shown on NCTA Hiking Map MN-09.
The Itasca Moraine Chapter segment
Paul Bunyan State Forest / Hubbard County Forest / Itasca State Park
The Itasca Moraine Chapter is responsible for the segment of the North Country Trail between the Chippewa National Forest and Itasca State Park on the west. While their segment offically begins on the east at the Cass-Hubbard County line (where westbound hikers leave the Chippewa National Forest and enter the Paul Bunyan State Forest), chapter members help out significantly within the Chippewa National Forest as well.
The North Country Trail in Winter
Winter is a great time to get out and enjoy the NCT in the Itasca Moraine Chapter area, especially on snowshoes. The trail here receives little use during winter...mostly because it is pretty inaccessible. Many of the forest roads that the NCT intersects are not plowed in the winter. Points at which you can access the NCT in the winter include:
- St. Hwy 64 trailhead in the Paul Bunyan State Forest - while not plowed, E. Steamboat Forest Rd. is used for snowmobiling, and so the trailhead just off Hwy 64 is usually accessible to 4WD vehicles. The western boundary of the Chip is 4.5 miles east of the trailhead and a good day trip is to Cass Co. Rd. 12, another mile past.
- Co. Hwy 4 trailhead just south of Lake George - while not plowed, Halvorson Forest Rd. is used for snowmobiling, and so the trailhead just off Hwy 4 is usually accessible to 4WD vehicles. A good day trip is to hike west to the Schoolcraft River and back, a distance of about 5 miles. Another one is to hike east to Steamboat Pass Forest Rd. and back, a distance of about 6 miles.
- U.S. Hwy 71 trailhead at the South Entrance to Itasca State Park - This trailhead is plowed by the Park and limited parking is available. Good trips include snowshoeing west to the Ozawindib Trail (2 miles round trip) or heading east to the pipeline corridor, a distance of about 2 miles round trip.
Below is a rough guide to their trail section.
0.0 -- Immediately upon entering the Paul Bunyan State Forest, the trail enters School Trust lands and goes through a recent clearcut on a logging road for a short distance. The route may be somewhat difficult to follow. Continue west climbing onto a short ridge with towering red pine trees and views down onto a small lake to the south. The trail passes through several recent clearcuts that are regenerating and offer hikers excellent raspberries in the late summer. Before coming out to Parkway Forest Road where a small parking area is located, the trail skirts over an old beaver dam, passes through a wildlife meadow, and passes by a kettle lake. West of Parkway, the trail goes through gentle hilly country before coming out onto a dirtbike trail which it follows for a short distance out to the East Steamboat Forest Road trailhead parking area.
4.5 -- The trail crosses State Highway 64 (paved) about 4 miles north of the community of Akeley, which offers a campground, post office, restaurants, and a great ice cream shop across the street from a famous Paul Bunyan statue. The trail quickly turns south to parallel the highway in a red pine plantation before heading west towards a power line that affords views to the south. Past the power line the trail descends through mixed woods before crossing an old logging road and ascending up a hill to a maintained vista that looks south. Much of the next 5 miles passes through a large area intensively managed for aspen so the hiker will not see a lot of variety in the forest cover but will see different aged stands of aspen.
9.7 -- The trail crosses to Akeley Cut-off Forest Road (gravel) where a small parking area is found. A short distance west of Akeley Cut-off Forest Road the NCT passes by a spur trail to the Waboose Lake primitive campsite. This site is situated on a beautiful peninsula that sticks out into Waboose Lake. It features a latrine and fire ring. Just a little west of Waboose Lake the trail turns direction heading north, passing Spur One Forest Rd. and climbing up to the old Thorpe Tower site, where a parking area and vista are found.
15.0 -- The trail comes out to and crosses Steamboat Forest Rd. North of Steamboat Forest Rd. the trail crosses Refuge Forest Rd. and then enters a designated non-motorized area. Eventually, the Trails comes out to Nelson Lake, where two spur trails lead around Nelson Lake to three campsites that are part of the Gulch Lakes State Forest Campground (see inset map, fee required). The two spur trails form a great 1.5-mile loop hike for campground users. Note: the campground pay station and water well are located north of the boat landing on the entrance road.
21.2 -- The trail comes out to Hubbard Co. 91 (gravel) where a small parking area is located just south of the trail crossing. West of 91, the trail passes right by several lakes, including Crappie, Robertson, Island (where a campsite will eventually be located), and between the two Teepee Lakes on the "Teepee Lakes land bridge."
26.1 -- The trail crosses Steamboat Pass Forest Rd. before climbing up a short knob with large red pines, skirting around a wetland with a small patch of open water, a small bog, and a wet meadow. The trail cuts across a steep side slope on sidehill trail and then reaches what used to be a logging railroad grade and that now serves as a logging road and snowmobile trail. After this, it skirts a pond and climbs up a ridge, past the "Lake George Hilton," and through a young aspen stand out to an ATV trail that it follows a short distance out to Halvorson Forest Rd., where a large parking area is located.
29.1 -- The trail follows Halvorson Forest Rd. and crosses Hubbard Co. 4 (paved) about 3 miles south of the community of Lake George. There, hikers can find a post office (maybe the smallest one in Minnesota?), a convenience store, restaurant, and motel. To the west of Co. 4, the trail drops down into the Schoolcraft River Valley on newly finished sidehill trail. A view to the west is found through an opening in the jack pine. Near the valley, many more conifer trees (e.g. white spruce, black spruce, balsam fir) grow than further east and the forest is a scenic mixture of hardwoods and conifer trees. Note: Eventually, the NCT will pass by the remains of an old trapper's cabin and go out into a wet meadow along the Schoolcraft River on a boardwalk. The Itasca Moraine Chapter is currently planning this project with an estimated completion date of 2012. For now, the NCT follows a wide snowmobile trail for about 0.2 miles heading north (be sure to follow the blue blazes and look for Carsonite posts giving directions) before re-entering the woods as a footpath. More dark, conifer dominated woods are passed before the NCT comes out to a recent clearcut re-planted with red pine seedlings.
32.6 - The NCT comes out to a small gravel road and follows it heading west to cross the Schoolcraft River, a tributary of the Mississippi River which passes underneath in two large culverts. While at the river crossing, get water and enjoy the view which includes an osprey nest and a good view of the river valley in both directions. The NCT leaves the gravel road and enters a dark, conifer-dominated forest before crossing the same gravel road and heading west towards scenic Gage Lake (where water is accessible and a campsite will be located). Shortly past Gage Lake, the NCT crosses over a wetland boardwalk before ascending onto a ridge with a mixture of conifer trees above floodplain wetlands. Once upon the ridge the trail heads southwest passing through mixed forest and by two grassy wildlife openings on the way to Spider Lake Trail.
36.0 -- The trail crosses Spider Lake Trail and then heads west towards Itasca State Park passing by several un-named lakes. Before reaching the Itasca Park boundary it crosses a large buried crude oil pipeline that extends to the Twin Cities from Canada. Hikers will skirt the edge of a large wildlife opening just before entering into the park. Since camping is only allowed at designated sites within Itasca State Park the Chapter will be developing a primitive campsite just outside of the park in the near future.
40.1 -- The trail descends to and crosses U.S. Highway 71 (paved) just south of Itasca State Park's South Entrance. The trail climbs back up the road embankment and then drops down to the old Highway 71 (now a snowmobile trail) before reaching a short (0.2 mi.) spur trail that heads north to the South Entrance trailhead parking area. The Itasca Junction Cafe is located about 2.5 miles north on U.S. 71/MN-200 and offers meals, ice cream, and groceries. The Trail continues heading west, passing by several beautiful lakes along the way before reaching patches of old growth pines.
41.2 -- The trail reaches the intersection with Itasca State Park's Ozawindib Trail. This trail may be followed to the north to Douglas Lodge and the Park's Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. Meals and lodging are available at Douglas Lodge. At the intersection with the Ozawindib Trail the character of the North Country Trail changes greatly from a simple footpath to a wide, multiple-use trail used for hiking and XC skiing. The NCT follows the Ozawindib Trail a short distance south before intersecting with the Eagle Scout Trail, which it follows west for the next 2.6 miles to the intersection with the Nicollet Trail. This marks the end of the Itasca Moraine Chapter segment. Along the way, it passes by Gilfillian Lake, which contains the Park's Iron Corner Post designated backcountry campsite (note: reservation & fee required).
43.8 -- The NCT passes the intersection of the Eagle Scout and Nicollet Trails, the end of the Itasca Moraine Chapter section and the start of the Laurentian Lakes segment. Immediately west of this intersection lies the DeSoto Cabin ruins and just past that the fabulous Hernando DeSoto Lake, which also has two Park designated backcountry campsites. Contact Itasca State Park (218-266-2100; email@example.com) for more details.
HIKING MAPS: This section is covered by NCTA Hiking Map MN-10.
The Laurentian Lakes Chapter segment
Itasca State Park / White Earth State Forest / Clearwater County forest / Becker County forest / Tamarac NWR / Hubbell Pond WMA / Private lands
The Laurentian Lakes Chapter is responsible for the NCT between Itasca State Park and the Becker - Otter Tail county line south of the community of Frazee. For more information on the Chapter, visit their website or contact their President Ray Vlasak (his contact info is found here).
The North Country Trail in Winter
Winter is a great time to get out and enjoy the NCT in the Laurentian Lakes Chapter area, especially on snowshoes. The trail here receives little use during winter...mostly because it is pretty inaccessible. Many of the forest roads that the NCT intersects are not plowed in the winter. Points at which you can access the NCT in the winter include:
- U.S. Hwy 71 trailhead at the South Entrance to Itasca State Park - This trailhead is plowed by the Park and limited parking is available. Good trips include snowshoeing west to the Ozawindib Trail (2 miles round trip) or heading east to the pipeline corridor, a distance of about 2 miles round trip.
- Co. 39 Headquarters trailhead - This trailhead is plowed in the winter. Good trips include snowshoeing west to the St. Hwy 113 trailhead, a distance of 4 miles and heading east to Anchor Hill Rd. and back, a distance of 4.2 miles.
- St. Hwy 113 trailhead - This trailhead is plowed in the winter. Good trips include on an out and back heading north (trail east) along the Laurentian Divide or heading south (trail west) as far as you want to go.
Here is a trail description for their section:
0.0 -- From the intersection of the Nicollet and Eagle Scout Trails near Hernando DeSoto Lake within Itasca, the NCT heads west past the DeSoto Cabin ruins and past the two DeSoto Lake campsites (fee charged, reservations accepted). West of the campsite the trail traces the scenic north shore of DeSoto Lake and goes through a beautiful old-growth mixed forest with large red and white pine. On the west side of DeSoto Lake the trail swings to the south and climbs up a short ridge. Here the hiker will notice damage from a June 2010 windstorm that toppled many trees. At the ridgetop, hikers will find a great view west out onto a medium sized wetland. Moose tracks have been recently seen in this area. The trail continues on west through old growth pine forest passing over a land bridge between Horn and Morrison Lakes. Water is abundant on this stretch as the trail is often surrounded by water on two sides and the lakes are connected with portage trails. Eventually, the NCT comes out onto an old park road which it follows heading west.
3.1 -- The hiker will reach a "Y" in the trail. Turn left heading south for 1-mile on a gated park road for the Gartner Farm trailhead off of State Hwy 113. This is the former site of the Gartner family farm but is now part of the Park, which is attempting to replant the fields with pine trees. The NCT turns right heading north and swings around Kirk Lake still on an old park road. Past Kirk Lake the trail heads northwest passing by many swampy areas and eventually passes by an un-named lake and a short side trail leading to a backcountry campsite is located (no fee charged, reservations not needed) with a toilet. Immediately past the campsite trail is a potentially confusing intersection where the NCT turns to the west leaving the old road for simple footpath. Just past a beautiful stand of old-growth hardwoods, the NCT reaches the Park's western boundary which it follows north for a short distance. After leaving the park, the trail enters the White Earth State Forest and White Earth Reservation and joins an old logging railroad grade which it follows out to the Anchor Matson Forest Rd.
7.6 -- The trail crosses Anchor Matson Forest Rd. and enters a trailhead parking area large enough for a half dozen cars. This trailhead contains a kiosk with a trail map. West of Anchor Matson trailhead the trail begins a climb onto a ridge and passes through an old clearcut that is slowly regenerating. Skirting around another recent clearcut the trail eventually reaches the summit of Tim Don Del hill (Elev. 1800'), which is topped by pines and offers good views to the north and to the south. West of a second high spot located partly in the recent clearcut, the trail descends to the north end of Gardner Lake and follows along the shore to the western edge. A designated campsites is located on Gardner Lake, which is also accessible by vehicle. On this section, the trail crosses private lands so please stick to the trail. Major relocations are being planned for this section in the near future to avoid the private lands and to minimize illegal use of the trail by ATVs. West of Gardner Lake the trail swings to the northwest heading towards E. Bad Medicine Lake Trail. The Chapter has recently rebuilt a boardwalk on this section that had been damaged by beavers and ATVs. Before reaching Anchor Hill Forest Rd. the trail comes out to and follows an old Nichols-Chisholm Logging Co. railroad grade. Where trestles once helped trains loaded with white pine logs cross the numerous wetlands, the trail must skirt around the edge of the wetland before rejoining the old grade.
12.8 -- The trail crosses Anchor Hill Forest Rd. (gravel) where a small parking area is found. West of Anchor Hill the trail heads west through some private lands passing by a large wildlife opening and through some regenerating aspen and replanted red pine stands. Right before reaching the side trail to the Headquarters Site trailhead (Co. Hwy 39), the trail comes out to an old road which it follows for a short distance. Where the NCT leaves the road, a new (2010) campsite can be accessed by continuing on the road heading east for about 0.1 mile. The campsite features a bench, wilderness toilet, two tent pads, and a fire ring with grill. The campsite is located on part of the old logging railroad grade. Water is available from the small pond downhill through the pines.
14.9 -- The NCT reaches a short side trail to the Headquarters Site trailhead, located right off of Clearwater Co. Hwy 39 (paved) about 3 miles north of its intersection with Becker Co. 37 and State Hwy 113. This area was once the Headquarters for the Nichols-Chisholm Logging Company that cleared the virgin pines from 1908 - 1917. Their isolated railroad network delivered the logs to the Commonwealth Landing on Elbow Lake, which is the headwaters of the Otter Tail River (a major tributary of the Red River of the North). From there the logs were floated down the Otter Tail River to a large sawmill in Frazee. When completed, the NCT route generally will parallel the Otter Tail River to Frazee. Across Co. Hwy 39 off of Chimney Rd. is a historic marker that provides some more info about the Headquarters site. Past the side trail to the trailhead, the trail continues west and crosses Co. Hwy 39 and enters a young red pine plantation.
15.2 - The NCT crosses an old logging railroad grade and crosses McKenzie Rd. for the first time. After crossing McKenzie Rd. the trail continues west through a recently logged site, passes nearby a couple lakes (a faint side trail leads south to one where water and camping is possible), and then abruptly turns to the south. It is here that the Trail first reaches the Laurentian Divide, which it will follow for several miles. The Laurentian Divide is the dividing "line" between the Arctic Ocean drainage (to Hudson Bay via the Red River of the North) and the Atlantic Ocean drainage (via the Missisippi River to the Gulf of Mexico). Needless to say, the topography is nowhere near as dramatic as the East-West Continental Divide out west. Along the way south the trail crosses several old logging railroad grades, traverses lots of past logging activity, and goes over a short clearcut knob that offers great views to the east (including Tim Don Del Hill) and to the south (includes the Smoky Hills). The trail also passes over a narrow ridge covered with jack pine before descending to Pine Island Lake where the hiker will find a backcountry campsite, located on a short (0.1 mile) spur trail heading west. The campsite features a tentpad, fire ring with grill, and a wilderness toilet. Water is available from Pine Island Lake down the hill. Between Pine Island Lake and a small wetland, the trail passes through a scenic spruce-fir forest.
18.0 - South of Pine Island Lake the trail climbs up to and follows for a short distance an old logging railroad grade before crossing McKenzie Rd. for the second time and then enters a pine forest which it stays in until reaching the State Hwy 113 trailhead, which is located right off the NCT. South of the State Hwy 113 crossing, the trail continues on through a pine forest that was recently thinned. After crossing a power line, the trail transitions into a hardwood forest studded with beaver ponds before reaching the shores of beautiful LaFleur Lake, where a backcountry campsite is located. The campsite features a tentpad, fire ring with grill, and a wilderness toilet. Next the trail climbs up through a beautiful northern hardwood stand that turns a vibrant yellow in the fall before crossing SE Juggler Lake Rd.
23.7 - Between SE Juggler Lake Rd. and Elbow Lake Rd. the trail passes through a nice northern hardwood forest and some mixed pine stands. A new trailhead parking area has been built under the power line a short distance west of the NCT's crossing of Elbow Lake Rd.
28.0 - Leaving Elbow Lake Rd. the NCT descends through young aspen growing below large spruce trees to a low spot where a boardwalk has been built. After climbing out of the low spot, the trail passes a cleared (but not finished) side trail that will head west to the Many Point Scout Camp property. The trail passes through areas affected by a 1995 straight line windstorm which ravaged this area. Hikers will notice lots of trees rotting on the forest floor that are all laying in the same direction. The NCT comes out to an old homestead featuring tall pines and spruces before reaching Old Many Point Rd.
29.5 -- Just past Old Many Point Rd. there is a small beaver pond on the west where water can be found. The NCT has been completed to about 1.5 miles south of Old Many Point Rd. but the trail has been cleared all the way south to Greenwater Lake SNA's northern boundary. From there, an old road can be followed heading south out to Co. Hwy 35.
The Laurentian Lakes Chapter is currently developing the route south of Old Many Point Rd. all the way down to State Hwy 34 about 10 miles east of Detroit Lakes and further to the City of Frazee, MN. Along the way, the trail will pass through or near Greenwater Lake Scientific & Natural Area, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, and Hubbell Pond Wildlife Management Area. South of State Hwy 34 to the City of Frazee the trail will pass through a variety of private and public lands.
The chapter is always looking for volunteers to help build and maintain its section of the Trail. If you are interested, please contact Ray Vlasak (his contact info is found here).
HIKING MAPS: This section is covered by NCTA Hiking Map MN-10.
City of Frazee to Red River of the North & North Dakota
From the City of Frazee, the NCT route heads south towards the City of Vergas, Maplewood State Park, and City of Fergus Falls before heading west into the agriculturally rich Red River Valley and through the City of Breckenridge. Here, hikers can visit the confluence of the Otter Tail and Bois de Sioux Rivers which forms the mighty Red River of the North.
Currently, no segments of trail have been developed in this stretch and very few NCTA members or NCT supporters live in this large area.
For long-distance hikers, places to visit on your road walk from Frazee to the Red River and North Dakota include:
- The world's largest loon in Vergas
- Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids
- The world's largest pelican in Pelican Rapids
- The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Prairie Wetlands Learning Center just outside of Fergus Falls
- The City of Breckenridge's Headwaters Park, where the Ottertail and Bois de Sioux rivers meet to form the Red River of the North.