On a recent trip to northeast Minnesota, The Adventuress and I decided to make the trek to Eagle Mountain. The weather reports kept showing that Monday would be rain free, so we took the day and headed up the North Shore. The weather was perfect for the hike, and getting there was a breeze (with only minor delays for road construction).
The highest point in Minnesota is supposedly also one of the most remote of the highest points in the U.S. If you measure remoteness by availability of cell phone signals, this is probably true. Minnesota is also the state with the highest point located the closest to the lowest point, at Lake Superior. In the end, this means that its a relatively short trip to dip your toes in the cool waters of the lake after the hot hike to the summit. For all the guff that North Dakota gets about being flat, it turns out that at 2300 feet, Eagle Mountain is 1200 feet lower than White Butte (ND’s highest point at 3500 ft).
From Duluth, we took Highway 61 north to Lutsen (pronounced LOOT-sen, for those of you who haven’t grown up around Scandinavians), then Cook County Route 4 up to “The Grade”. County 4 winds through the Superior National Forest, and is an easy drive over pavement and gravel. The trailhead is 4 miles east of the County 4 intersection, and isn’t too hard to spot. The signage in the area was useful and kept us on track.
At the trailhead, there is a parking lot, basic restroom facilities (meaning a vault toilet with no running water), a picnic table, and the registration booth. The trail enters the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), so registration is required before hitting the trail. For day trips, there is no fee or permit limit (as of 2016). A sign about a mile into the trail marks the BWCA border.
The trail itself is heavily wooded and can be thick with mosquitoes. Bug proof clothing is a big help, as is bug spray. The terrain is easy to navigate. The inclines and declines are modest, at least at the start. Until you get to Whale Lake, it doesn’t seem like the trail climbs much with all the non-switchback up and downs. The biggest obstacles are the rocks and tree roots. Hiking sticks are a great help to navigate through the roots and rocks without falling. There are a couple sections that go over boggy ground. A board walk is in place over these areas, which should keep your feet dry. Water is available at Whale Lake, though it should probably be filtered or treated before drinking. The Adventuress found the Whale Lake water to be particularly tasty (after filtering, of course).
We set off on the trail at about 12:30 pm. Along the trail, we spotted a wide variety of mushrooms and wildflowers. You could say, we were tripping on mushrooms the whole way (ha!). Wild blueberries grow along the trail, and happened to be in season. For wildlife, there was the occasional butterfly, bird, and dragonfly, but the trail seems to be too busy for wildlife/human interactions.
The trail splits on the west side of Whale Lake. Going left will take you to the summit, while going right will eventually lead you to Brule Lake, which is quite a ways into the BWCA and probably not where you want to go on a day trip. There is a prominent sign to lead hikers in the right direction. After the trail leaves Whale Lake, the incline is more noticeable. The deciduous trees give way to pines, and the forest thins out a bit. Just before reaching the summit, the trees clear out and the BWCA spreads out before you. The trail also gets a bit lost here, as the ground turns into granite boulders. Just keep climbing, and the trail will make itself visible again.
At the summit, a large black plaque marks the Highest Point in Minnesota. The immediate view is treed in, so go back down to the clearing to enjoy the view before heading back down the way you came.
The Adventuress and I did the 7 mile hike in about 5 hours. We could have shaved a bit off if we didn’t stop to check out the plants and mushrooms, or take a break at the summit. Between the two of us, we used about 2 1/2 20 oz. bottles of water. The one hangup occurred while we were trying to leave the parking lot. Two gentlemen standing by our car were so involved in talking about portages in the BWCA that they didn’t notice we were trying to leave. Who knew portage talk could be so riveting?
We finished off the day resting our toes in the waters of Lake Superior at Temperance River State Park. There, The Adventuress rediscovered her childhood passion of rock collecting. The water was refreshingly cool, and the sunset was spectacular.
It was a beautiful hike on a beautiful day. It would be interesting to do the same hike in the fall or winter to see the change in season. We didn’t find the trail to be all that strenuous. If you happen to be in the Lutsen area, a hike to the summit of Minnesota would be a good way to spend a chunk of the day.