BWCA Jack Lake Mine

Looking to add something extra to your BWCA trip? The Jack Lake mine will do the trick. A chunk of adventure that history left behind for us to explore. Bonus; it’s really easy to get to. Whether you’re camping within the BWCA or just looking for a day trip, it’s a simple trek in.

Have you heard of the Jack Lake Mine? I hadn’t either until my dad showed me an article about it in an issue of the Boundary Waters Journal. This was an intriguing adventure! After doing a bit more research, the decision was made. Jack Lake was to be our next excursion into the BWCA.

This “mine” was actually a test pit for iron ore. When the test samples came back lacking, the mine was abandoned. What was left behind is a sizable whole and numerous artifacts. I’m not sure how aged items must be to gain the title of “artifact” but these sure felt like artifacts to me. These are still strewn about the entrance of the cave. Thankfully visitors have been respectful and left the area as it is. It looks like the miners were simply on a lunch break, a long lunch break.

Finding the Mine

I wasn’t sure about finding this mine. The resources I had found weren’t too clear. It all seemed too simple, I was expecting this to be a hard to find and overgrown trail head lost in time with downed trees and brush. Or that it would be so long that we wouldn’t be sure it was the right trail at all, it wasn’t marked on any map I could find, so maybe it wasn’t really there. None of these things happened. Finding the mine really is that easy, I over thought it. Don’t overthink this one. It’s right there!

Entering from Baker Lake Entry Point #39 is an easy access point. Whether you’re traveling for an extended trip or for the day, this is a very doable adventure. It’s basically a straight shot. Baker lake is a quick dip in the water then it’s already portage time to Peterson Lake. Peterson, though longer than Baker, still isn’t that large of a lake. The paddle went quick, Peterson leads right into Kelly. With higher water, we skipped the 3 rod portage and opted to traverse the flowing water. It was a breeze. Kelly Lake is longer but a beautiful paddle up river with many beaver lodges to view along the way. You’ll know your at the next portage when you find yourself at some breathtaking rapids. The portage is at a rocky edge to the left of the rapids. Take the 69 rod portage to Jack Lake. Now here is were I over thought it. At end of this portage there is a small foot path to your left as you are looking at Jack Lake. That’s it, it’s right there. So obvious. The path is about 50 feet long and you’re there, can’t miss it.

Note: There is good fishing at the rapids on the north end of Kelly and in the sheltered entrance to Jack Lake.

Tools and Artifacts

Approaching the mine off the trail, you’ll be greeted with pieces of the past. Chains, rusted metal and tools are scattered about. At first glance, this seems like someone left a dirty campsite and it needs to be cleaned up and taken care of. Please leave these things as you found them. Treat it like a “Leave No Trace” situation. This little bit of history is a wonder for others to find.

Watch Your Step

I know this cave is intriguing and you’ll want to dive right in, but hold your horses. There are slippery rocks, ice on the cave floor, even the walls are damp and slippery in places. Proceed with caution, be sure to have steady footing and maybe hold onto that slippery wall. Take your time, the cave isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Ice in the rear of the cave is a marvel in the heat of summer. Even in early June, with the heat we experienced, I was surprised to find the thick cold slab. I would be curious to see if the ice remained by the end of August. I suppose that means another trip is in order. Yay!

It’s quite dark near the back of the mine, bring a flashlight or headlamp along. You’ll not want to miss any details hiding in the darkness. Speaking of things hiding in the darkness, that brings me to my next point… Wildlife.


As we all know, bugs in the Boundary Waters are horrendous and it can sometimes be muggy and hot in the summer months. The cave is an amazing escape from both of these things! The animals are aware of this too. On our first visit to the cave, we found a moose track in the ice. It was so unexpected, it had warn it’s way into the still melting ice.

Our second trip to the cave the following day was a bit more alarming. So much so that we did not attempt to enter the cave at all. At the mouth of the cave was a rather fresh bear track leading into the mine. So cool! But the problem was, we couldn’t find the tracks leading out. There is no other way into or out of this mine. That bear was still in there somewhere. We calmly vacated the area and decided to fish in the little bay leading into Jack Lake instead. A fruitful choice as my dad caught a nice bass off a bed near the small rapids leading into the larger part of the lake.

The Jack Lake mine is an easy addition to this already exciting area of canoe wilderness. It’s thrilling additions like these that can add a twist to an already exemplary trip. Especially when you have your children along. Having kids off on these grand adventures and treasure hunts creates memories that will last a lifetime and a sense of adventure that will carry on into adulthood.

Crystal Caves

While we were unable to do our annual trip to the BWCA in the summer of 2019. We did get a chance to take Sandy’s Birthday trip to Wisconsin. Crystal Caves is a great day trip or pit stop on your way to other places.

This little gem is tucked into a rural area in Wisconsin. It’s not a very big attraction, especially in September so it really is appealing with my dislike of crowds. Being 8 months pregnant at the time of this trip, I was a little concerned but we went for it and it was a success.

Things to do

  • Hike the nature trail
  • Guided tour of the cave
  • Pan for Gems & Stones
  • Mini Golf

Hiking the Nature Trail

We were unaware of the nature trail prior to our visit, so this was a surprise little treat. The trail is rather short but offers a variety of interesting things. There are signs at different locations on the trail.

One of the coolest things was the sinkhole. What?! Yes, a sinkhole, don’t see that every day. It isn’t like you’d expect, no Indiana Jones action. But it is very clearly spotted just off of the trail. No, a rock isn’t going to get sucked right down if you throw one in, but still very cool.

Some of the other neat scenes on the trail include different berries, like gooseberries, and an interesting array of ferns, bushes, trees, and mosses. A sweet little escape away from the main attractions.

Guided Tour of the Cave

Of course the main attraction being the Crystal Cave itself, we took the tour down underground. In case you were wondering, you can take this tour while pregnant, I actually called ahead while planning just in case. If you’re planning a trip while pregnant, it doesn’t hurt to check ahead on something like this. There are not many places to sit on the tour, so be prepared for quite a bit of standing and walking around. There were a few places that Scott held my hand just in case of a slip, but no such things happened. There are no strollers allowed on the tour, so be prepared to carry any little ones.

Our tour guide was great! She was very knowledgeable and was able to answer our questions. Sandy had a lot of them! For those who are afraid of bats, we did see one. But it was asleep and didn’t make a peep while we visited her cave.

A couple of things that really peaked Sandy’s interest were experiencing “total darkness” in one part of the cave and the gems that glowed in the dark near the end of the tour. We did get a chance to see fossils in the cave walls, disolving agents, different rock formations, stalagmites and stalactites and learned the difference between the two. It really is a fascinating tour for the science nerd and the outdoorsman.

**Travel Tip** Wear a sweatshirt or jacket no matter what time of year you plan your trip. The cave is always a steady 50 degrees all year round. Also, wear comfortable, close toed shoes that grip well.

Pan for Gems and Stones

At the end of your tour, you’re escourted back up to the shop above. After being saturated with neat cave history and facts, it really gets you amped up to search for some cool stuff. And of course they have just the thing to satisfy that itch.

We purchased a bag of sand that contained a multitude of gems to be found. Sandy was so excited to go do some hands on exploring at their panning station outside. The bag she received contained a guide as well, so she was able to identify the rocks she didn’t already know. The panning station is under an overhang so even though we visited on a nice day, the Crystal Cave is a great location to visit rain or shine.

Inside the gift shop, there is an abundance of items to choose from for souvenirs. Sandy chose a Geode of course. She was on a rock kick at the time, so this trip was really fascinating to her. They have a device inside that the kids are able to crank to crack open their geode themselves by turning the lever. She only needed a little help from dad. Her first geode turned out to be a dud, It was very dirty inside and didn’t show much in the way of sparkles. They offered her a second one that turned out to be beautiful inside, and still let her keep the dud. We took a toothbrush to the dirty one when we got home and it ended up being quite beautiful too. Two for one!

Mini Golf

The mini golf course is a little route filled with dinosaur galore. It’s really quite cute and fun for everyone. There were some real little ones climbing on the statues and older kids trying their hand at putting.

We gave it our best, though we weren’t very good. It was really fun and a great way to end our trip.

Overall, this is a great little spot for a day trip or a pit stop. Your can make it as long or short as you want to. For a near end of pregnancy trip, I’d say it’s doable.