The 38-mile “Kek” began as a workingman’s trail, originally cut in the 1930s as an access route for forest firefighters. Back then, they called it “one of the toughest, meanest rabbit tracks in North America.” Times have changed. Reopened in 1991, the Kek today is no work and all play. Considered the BWCAW’s premier wilderness trail, it enters from the west near Becoosin and Benezie Lakes. Beaver dams and high ridges will test your legs, but you’ll find that good campsites are frequent and evenly spaced (try the rocky ledge at Medas Lake).
Like any good vacation, this one offers a range of activities: Enjoy the rapids along the Thomas River, look for moose in the thick marshes, and smell the stands of 200-year-old white pine beyond Strup Lake. The path reaches its high point (1,950 feet) above Travois Lake, then drops through rocky Agamok River Gorge to Gabimichigami Lake, Minnesota’s deepest at 209 feet. After several adventurous river crossings and a few stellar campsites (don’t miss the one on the point at Bingschick Lake), the trail leaves the wilderness and ends at the Gunflint trailhead.
Some lakes in the Boundary Waters can seem as busy as the wave pool at Water World. Not this 26-mile loop. The first few miles from Isabella Lake can be squishy (the very reason few paddlers set foot here), but at the loop intersection, you’ll go left (west), skirt Campfire Lake, and drop into a ravine near Diana Lake, where the ground dries out. The trail carves through the Precambrian Shield, some of the oldest rock on the planet. Maybe it’s the dark rocks, or the names like Myth Lake and Superstition Lake (there’s a great camp on the point), or the lack of canoes, but things seem wilder along the western edge of the trail.
Set up camp at one of the sites between Mirror, Path, and Rock of Ages Lakes, and you’ll have a front-row seat for sunset, when an otherworldly orange light glitters on the water. The northernmost site is the least buggy. Look and listen for wolves and moose. Then swing back east past North and South Wilder Lakes, taking time to watch for wildlife at the marsh just before the trail rejoins the route back to Isabella Lake.