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August 2003

Boundary Waters

Get lost in the land o' lakes with 3 quiet, crowd-free trails

Minnesota’s Boundary Waters is a paddler’s paradise, a million-acre wilderness with the densest concentration of lakes in America. That you knew. But here’s something that may surprise those who don’t live around here: Between all those blue circles and dots on the map run some of the finest miles of hiking trail in the Lower 48. Miles that wind through ancient pine groves, stepping to the edge of rocky overlooks. Miles that skirt marsh and shoreline where moose come to nibble. And miles that sometimes boast more wolf tracks than boot prints. Two hundred thousand people visit the Boundary Waters every year, but you won’t see them on the three little-traveled paths we’ve picked for you.

Border Route Trail

For 75 miles, this path dances with two countries, deep forests, and wide overlooks in the absolute heart of lake country.

A patchwork of forgotten and newly cut trails, the Border Route was opened in the 1980s as Minnesota’s first long-distance hiking trail. It’s divided into three sections, but the middle section (from near Crab Lake to McFarland Lake) lies closest to the soul of the BWCAW. Here, the trail skirts good fishing lakes like East Pike and Clearwater (Minnesota fishing license required), meadows bursting with wildflowers, and stands of virgin pine near Rove Lake. At night, listen for loon calls (try the camp on Partridge Lake). In the morning, discover moose (and mosquitoes) near Crab Lake while you listen to Portage Falls strum the stillness. The trail here is more rugged with several patches of deadfall, but the over-and-under hiking only makes you appreciate the unobstructed views that much more (don’t miss Rose Cliffs at mile 22.7). To extend your hike, go west on the Gunflint Lake section or east on the less-used Pigeon River section.

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