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Boundary Waters

Minneapolis, MN: Without a Paddle (Boundary Waters Canoe Area)

Go where paddlers can't on this overnight loop through Boundary Waters. BY JASON DRURY

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The black water is so calm that I skip a stone across its surface to remind myself it’s not a sheet of obsidian. I watch the ripples propagate out toward the opposite shore, where the aspens and tamaracks are just starting to turn. It’d be a nice place to camp, but I know there’s a better spot just a few miles farther: at a tiny tarn shrouded in maples and pines that’s only accessible by foot. Without paddlers and, this time of year, mosquitoes, I’m happy to share with just loons and beavers.

Trip stats
Distance: 13.1 miles (lollipop-loop)
Time: 2 days

From the Angleworm Lake trailhead

(1) Take the Angleworm Lake Trail 1.9 miles northeast to a fork near the lake.
(2) For a longer first day (7.9 miles), do the loop clockwise, splitting around the western shore of the lake through boreal forest to tiny Whiskey Jack Lake.
(3) Continue 3.3 miles south on the main trail to the junction of the lollipop-loop.
(4) Retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Whiskey Jack Lake (mile 7.9)

Whiskey Jack Lake has no portage connections to surrounding lakes—meaning you won’t find any canoe campers here. In fact, there’s just one site: an established spot nestled amid the pines on the eastern shore (marked with a fire ring). Only two permits are issued for this area each day, so you won’t have company. If this spot is taken, select any of the sites along Angleworm Lake (best ones are near the middle).

By mid-September, the hardwoods should begin lighting up golden yellow and crimson. Color typically peaks the last week of September through the first week of October.

Massive glaciers created the scene around you, and the beavers are continuing their work. Many of the beaver projects—like the one on Angleworm’s eastern bank—are staggering in scope, stretching hundreds of feet across. Loons begin to migrate south in September, but you’re likely to hear them laughing through summer evenings and into fall. Also, listen for moose bellowing: They begin mating in early fall.

DO IT Trailhead 48.063396, -91.929560; 17 miles north of Ely on MN 116 (Echo Trail) Season June to November, but aim for late summer and fall when the bugs abate. Permit Required ($16 plus $6 reservation fee); obtain at the Kawishiwi Station in Ely. Custom ($15)

Trail Facts

  • State: MN
  • City: Minneapolis, MN
  • Distance: 13.1
  • Contact:
  • Land Type: Wilderness Area