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Boundary Waters

Minneapolis, MN: Boundary Waters by Foot, Superior National Forest

By Joseph Friedrichs

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Most people haul a canoe into the Boundary Waters, but I think they’re doing it all wrong. After all, you can’t traverse Boundary Waters’ high cliffs and dense red pine woods while portaging a canoe. And when you ditch your boat, you can hike a weekend’s worth of the 65-mile Border Route Trail, a secluded path that skirts congested portaging routes as it tours the area’s wildest terrain, including waterfalls, bluffs, and virgin forests. And don’t worry: You still get dozens of pristine, clear-water lakes.

Trip stats
19.6 miles
Time: 3 days

From the Crab Lake trailhead

(1) Follow the Crab Lake Trail 2.6 miles northeast to a junction.
(2) Pick up the Border Route Trail (BRT) and trek 5.2 miles east to a fork.
(3) Take the spur .5 mile north to South Lake at mile 8.3.
(4) Retrace your steps to the BRT and proceed east to the Rose Lake campsite at mile 14.8.
(5) Continue 1.7 miles southeast to a fork.
(6) Turn south onto the Daniels Trail and take it 3.1 miles to the trail’s end at Clearwater Lake.

Campsite 1
South Lake (mile 8.3)

Bed down at this bayside site on the east end of South Lake. The dense white pines and poplars thin to the west, affording unobstructed views across the lake to the ridges and cliffs on the other side of the Canada border. Two tents fit in this designated site (first-come, first-serve); if it’s taken, continue wrapping clockwise around the lake to find another spot.

Campsite 2
Rose Lake (mile 14.8)

Spend night two overlooking 1,315-acre Rose Lake (first-come, first-serve). There aren’t trees at this spot, so take advantage of the open skies and scan for the aurora borealis (info below).

Northern Lights
You can see the green glow of the aurora borealis year-round in northeastern Minnesota, but your chances are best in fall and winter (find a viewing schedule at

Thanks to 2007’s Ham Lake Fire, berries now thrive in the recovering forest. Strawberries fruit in late June, and blue- and raspberries fruit in mid-July.

Listen for Minnesota’s elusive native timber wolf just after sunset. There are several packs in the area.

Shuttle car 48.071513, -90.383706; 32 miles north of Grand Marais off Clearwater Rd. Commercial option: Contact Rockwood Lodge and Canoe Outfitters to inquire ( Trailhead 48.074982, -90.649309; 16 miles west of the shuttle car parking lot off Loon Lake Rd. Season Summer for best temps and fall for foliage and fewer bugs Permits Required for overnighting ($16 per person) Custom ($15)

Trail Facts

  • State: MN
  • City: Minneapolis
  • Distance: 0.0