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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

A watery paradise, a hiker's secret.

by: Peter Leschak

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Little-Known Fact: The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is visited by nearly 200,000 people annually.

No buildings, no motor vehicles, and space to stretch out beneath the stars that seem your own: The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness qualifies as a wilderness by any definition. Because most people think of the BWCAW as a paddlers' paradise, which it is, its spectacular trails remain a well-kept secret.

The western section of the Border Route, so-named because it follows the Minnesota-Ontario boundary, starts at Loon Lake off the Gunflint Trail and runs approximately 35 miles east to McFarland Lake at the end of the Arrowhead Trail. It's a sinuous track that rises from spruce bogs to windy, 2,000-foot ledgerock ridges. Tangled roots and deadfalls lace the rugged and breathtaking terrain. At many points you can see for miles over lakes, rivers, forests, and a dramatic landscape carved by ancient glaciers. At Stairway Portage above Rose Lake, a narrow 100-foot waterfall twists and cascades down through a mossy glen of cedar; it's a wonderful place to camp.

The skyscapes seen from the high ridges are awesome. A horizon-to-horizon display of the northern lights mirrored in a lake will set a permanent ripple in your memory.

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