One for the Minnesota Bucket List for sure. This semi-popular trail leads into the BWCA and to the highest natural elevation in Minnesota. The numerous adventures that I have enjoyed in the BWCA had always been by canoe, this was the first conquest traveled by foot. Viewing from above gives a new perspective on this vast wilderness.
Eagle Mountain sits a whopping 2,301 feet above sea level. Okay… so it’s not the most staggering height but it does hold the title for highest natural point in Minnesota. The lowest point in MN is under 15 miles away at Lake Superior, just 600 feet above sea level. A 1,701 foot difference in that short distance makes for dramatic landscapes in this area and picturesque scenery.
Hiking in the BWCA does require a permit. Overnight permits between May 1st to September 30 must be acquired ahead of time on recreation.gov, there is a fee for overnight use. Day use permits (free) are required year-round and available for self issue at the trail head or at Forest Service offices.
This trail is 3.5 miles in length one way. It is not a loop! The out and back trail makes the total distance hiked 7 miles.
The hiking trail is considered a “wilderness trail,” meaning it is more rugged and not as frequently maintained as a other trails in the state, such as state park trails. You may come across downed trees and debris on the trail. Be prepared to go up and over or around.
Eagle Mountain Trail is narrow with a variety of terrain. The trail passes over planked areas to pass marsh and swamp, over or around downed trees, over pronounced root systems, small bridges and creeks, along lake shores and beaver damns and finally a climb up rough trail and rock. This area has such variety, it’s amazing! Be sure to wear appropriate footwear.
I wish we had been counting. The number of dogs on this trail was a surprise to me. We saw everything from young puppies to senior citizens, toy breeds to giants. If you have a well behaved and energetic pup at home, I encourage you to bring them along. They’ll love this adventure. We brought our 8 year-old Great Dane, Xena, along. She had a blast, even in her old age. Be sure to follow Trail Etiquette for Dogs to make sure everyone has a safe adventure.
Getting to the trail head is quite easy. Follow MN-61 to Lutsen, MN. Turn left onto Caribou Trail, after 17 miles you’ll go right onto The Grade for 4 miles. On the left you’ll find a decent gravel parking area with an obvious trial head.
This Trail head is complete with a vaulted toilet. I suggest you use it before the hike, it’s the last restroom unless you are planning to camp at one of the two sites off the trail, but there is no guarantee that they will be available.
Hitting the Trail
The first 3/4 of a mile are hiked in the Superior National Forest before you enter the BWCA. Be sure to snap a photo at the indicating sign as you enter this cherished wilderness. If you’re frequent visitors to the Superior National Forest and the BWCA, you’ll notice the slight change in trail conditions when you cross over.
After about 2.5 miles, along Whale Lake, there will be a four-way split. The trail that you’ve arrived on, a trail hooking to the east leading to a campsite, a trail heading north continuing on to Brule Lake Trail, and a trail to the west leading to Eagle Mountain. Obviously take the west spur trail leading to Eagle Mountain. Your destination will about another mile up. And I mean “up.”
No, it’s not really mountain climbing. No equipment required but a pair of good hiking shoes. But it is still a steep incline over rock and loose gravel. Watch your footing and take it slow. Be sure to have children hike in front, this way the person behind them can catch them if they slip. Our 2 year-old hiker was able to accomplish this climb with the help of his dad. Our 10 year-old tackled it no problem. The senior Dane was able to complete it as well.
Not There Yet
Do not be deceived! You’ve scrambled up the rocky climb near the end of the trail and reached a stunning view, but you’re not there yet. While taking in the view over the nearby lakes in the BWCA from above is unreal and amazing, the peak is still farther up the trail. There will not be a marker at this point in the hike.
The Peak… Really
The trail continues opposite the gorgeous view. A quarter mile more lies a plaque that indicates the highest point in Minnesota. This location doesn’t have an amazing view or anything, but it is an accomplishment that every Minnesota hiker should check off their list. Let the sense of satisfaction wash over you… then return to the overlook for a well deserved snack and rest before your hike back.
Why not make it an overnight trip? There are two designated campsites off of the Eagle Mountain Trail. One on the west side of the trail on a spur and the other on Whale Lake. But be warned, in peak season these campsites are likely to be taken. About 3.5 miles north of the where the Eagle Mountain Trail becomes Brule Lake Trail there is a campsite of a spur lies a campsite on the peninsula of Fishhook Lake. You’ll also need an overnight hike permit to camp in the BWCA. This can be obtained at recreation.gov.
If you are concerned about the campsite availability during peak season, a valid concern from June through August, an alternative plan would be to camp near the trail head. There are several camping opportunities in the area.
First Come First Serve Camping in the Area: (No Fee, No Reservations)
- Cascade River Rustic Campground (2.5 miles from trailhead)
- Devil Track Lake Campground (6 miles from trailhead)
- Baker Lake Rustic Campground (14 miles from trailhead)
- Clara Lake Rustic Campground (15 miles from trailhead)
Reservable State Park Camping (Reservations and Fees Required)
- Cascade River State Park (16 miles from trailhead)
- Temperance River State Park (33 miles from trailhead)
- George Crosby Manitou State Park (49 miles from trailhead)
- Tettegouche State Park (55 miles from trailhead)
These are just a few of the options in northern Minnesota. There are many more private and public camp areas, some requiring reservations and fees. On our visit, we chose to stay at Cascade River State Park. A wonderful place to set up camp on a hike-in adventure.
Grab a Post-Hike Bite
We like to have a nice treat after a good hike. This time we decided on “My Sister’s Place.” This was just what we needed after a 7 mile hike with kids. While the burgers were tasty, the real treat was the blueberry shake. Never have I ever seen a BLUEBERRY shake on a menu, and it was amazing! We highly recommend “My Sister’s Place.”
Eagle Mountain had been on my Minnesota Bucket List for some time. For a few years we had intentions of visiting in the summer, we finally made it happen in lieu of a second BWCA canoe trip. This allowed us to bring our oversized pup along to the BWCA for the first time (she doesn’t do canoes). Now that it is off my bucket list for the summer, it’s back on the list for a snowshoe adventure!