Superior National Forest
Gunflint Ranger District
P.O. Box 790
Grand Marais, MN 55604
Boundary Canoe Web Site
Trail Club (trail maintainers)
Phone Toll free:
Eagle Mountain, Minnesota, 2,301 Feet
Highpointers expecting another Midwestern corn field or grassy knoll for a highpoint are in for a big surprise.
Eagle Mountain and its surrounding environs of Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area and Superior National Forest are some of the most beautiful places on the planet.
In just a few miles, many of the state's famous "10,000 lakes" tumble 1,700 feet over volcanic rock billions of years old from the highest point in the Sawtooth Mountains to the lowest point (Lake Superior).
There are spectacular waterfalls and rushing rivers everywhere. There are timber wolves (which we actually saw the trail head!!!), auroras, moose and bears.
The water here is so spectacular that all lakes are measured in terms of clairity -- with most lakes having a clarity depth of at least 12 feet.
The area sports 695 square miles of surface water, more than 1,300 miles of cold water streams and 950 miles of warm water streams.
Many highpointers will miss the beauty of the area because of the area's abundance of mosquitoes which are so enormous and numerous there is always an effort to name them the state bird.
For the most part I avoided the mosquito problem by hitting the mountain on Oct. 8 -- 2 days after the season's first snow! I was still bit by a couple (locals were wearing shorts on my visit saying it was "unseasonably warm" with highs in the low 50s).
We drove the 110 miles north of Duluth on Highway 61 -- a spectacular road with lots of waterfalls, lighthouses and Lake Superior vistas. The road is a premier bicycle route. All the motels and inns were filled with leaf peepers.
In Grand Marais, Gunflint Trail is the major access road to the resorts. We followed it 3.7 miles to County Road 8. From that point onwards, Forest Service signs pointed the way to the Eagle trail head. We turned west on County Route 8 and then proceed From U.S. 61 in Grand Marais, go north on County Road 12 (Gunflint Trail) for 3.7 miles to County Road 8. Turn left (west) on County Road 8 and proceed 5.7 miles to a junction with County Roads 27 and 57.
We turned right (north) onto 27 and continued 5.1 miles to Forest Route 170 and proceed 5 miles on a gravel road to the trailhead parking lot (just north of the junction with Forest Route 158). Just outside the parking area a timber wolf trotted along the road before disappearing into the brush.
Even though it was a Friday, there were 10 cars in the lot. Eagle Mountain is Superior Forest's (and probably the Midwest's) most popular hike.
Superior is the largest national forest in the Lower 48.
We registered at the trail head and began the 3.5 mile hike to the summit. The is well marked.
A July 4, 1999, storm toppled 25 million trees in the BWCA area. The worst of the damage on this trail (known as the Whale Lake Trail) were 250 trees close to the BWCA border about a mile into the hike.
The Kekaabic Trail Club in Minneapolis opened a second trail from the northwest at Brule Lake in the Spring of 1999. That trail was devastated with perhaps 50,000 trees on it alone. The trail, which is more scenic but 3 miles longer, is now open.
The National Forest Service is to be thanked for making a considerable effort to promptly open these trails -- after being pressured to leave them closed because of concern about forest fires.
People expecting a simple jaunt are also in for a surprise. The trail is full of granite boulders and hiking boots are strongly recommended (when it's not strewn with rocks, it can be covered with water from one of the bogs). The initial portion of the trail is nearly level before rising 600 vertical feet in less than a mile from Whale Lake (there is an earlier unnamed lake on the trail).
With a permit you can camp at Whale Lake.
Sweet smells from the pines drifted constantly across the trail. The glacier-created landscape of lakes, bogs, and bare rocky outcrops forms the only boreal ("northern") forest in the continental United States. You never know when you are going to run into bears, beavers or loons.
The summit itself is marked with a plaque on a boulder. There is no USGS marker and we found no registration canister.
From the summit, there are great views of the Sawtooth Mountains to the southeast and the Misquah Hills to the north (although on our climb, a thick fog drifted in and we had to hike down to get out of it).
There are numerous other trails in the area including the narrow and rugged Superior Hiking Trail which when completed will extend 300 miles from Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian border -- half the trail is complete now.