This is Part 3 of 6 of my NCT/Lake Superior Adventure.
Otter Lake Road to Gunflint Trail (6.75+18.67+17.84+16.29+7.0=66.55)
Cumulative NCT/Lake Superior Adventure miles: 524.2 miles
Near Pigeon River
Day 1 Otter Lake Road to Pigeon River: (6.75)
I began my Border Route Trail Thru-hike while simultaneously finishing my Superior Hiking Trail thru-hike.
The trail was in good condition and I quickly reached the 270 degree overlook of the Pigeon River, Swamp River and Canada. The Pigeon River is the US/Canada border. The Border Route Trail stays relatively close all the way to its headwaters to the west near Mountain Lake.
The Swamp River heads south to Devil Track Lake and becomes the Devil Track River, one of the many scenic rivers that I crossed on the Superior Hiking Trail.
The end of the Superior Hiking Trail
After leaving the overlook I continued solely on the Border Route Trail. I could see that it had some more undergrowth but was easy to follow. Blue ribbons mark the trail.
After only a few feet, I found a skeleton.
The tread was soft and made for excellent hiking.
I loved the views from the ridge!
The river down below!
Typical trail conditions
There were even signs directing me in the right direction. In some places all that would be left was the green post.
There was a primitive campsite nearby, and then I crossed Portage Brook.
Here is the bridge over the the Stump River. I actually went the wrong way after crossing the bridge and ending up walking down a road for a short period. After not seeing a blue ribbon for a while, I decided that this walking was too easy to be the BRT, so I ran back to the bridge and found the real trail. I should have turned right after crossing the bridge.
The trail then headed north to the Pigeon River and I found a small spot to set up my tent.
Pigeon River to Gogebic Lake (18.67 miles)
Pigeon River with Canada on the other side
The BRT climbed up a ridge overlooking the Pigeon River. From here I accidentally ended up on a short spur trail (pink ribbons) that took me to a road. The trail was no where on the other side and hadn't seemed as well maintained so I returned back to the overlook and found the trail. From this and the experience the day before, I learned that it was best to make sure I was on the BRT and not some random trail before hiking too far.
In less than an hour I came to my first view of South Fowl Lake. The Pigeon River flows out of South Fowl Lake after draining from several lakes in the Boundary Waters.
In a different direction I had the view below.
South Fowl Lake
There were several amazing overlooks that left me in awe.
The trail was becoming thicker but actually easier to discern than it looks.
I came to the parking area by McFarland Lake. I met four guys just heading out on a day-hike to where I had just been. I told them of the great views and that the trail wasn't that hard to follow. The BRT continues across the bridge over the flow from McFarland Lake to Little John Lake.
There was a brief road walk to connect to the trail on the other side.
In a little over a half mile I entered the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (unmarked) and then continued uphill to a view of John Lake. I took a short break here to eat some food.
The trail for the most part was in great shape. There probably were places where I had to detour around fallen trees but nothing that slowed me significantly that I recall.
I continued on in the woods until I came to a great view of West Pike Lake and its island.
I made my way to Gogebic Lake. The trees thinned out a little in some places but I missed some of the overlooks on the map or maybe trees have just grown.
The trail loops around the western side of Gogebic Lake and I came to a nice campsite on its western shore.
Gogebic Lake to South Lake (17.84 miles)
This day provided some of the finest scenery of my entire NCT/Lake Superior Adventure. It was my favorite day on the BRT including highlights of Mountain, Watap, Rose, and South Lakes.
Early in the day I came to the Clearwater stream bridge and took a short detour down the portage to West Pike Lake. It is significantly larger than Gogebic Lake.
West Pike Lake
I took a short detour to explore the campsite by the east end of Clearwater Lake.
As I continued to hike, I came to some impressive views of Mountain Lake.
There were many rocky cliff overlooks and I took time to explore. Some of them I was able to find by looking at pictures in the guidebook. The picture below is the same as the one in the guidebook except that the guidebook has a person standing on the cliff edge.
Looking back up on the scramble to the one of the overlooks.
I had to leave these impressive views but I still had more views of Mountain Lake to come! The trail goes to the western ridge above Mountain Lake and the view east is nearly endless.
The cliffs previously pictured are on the ridge to the right.
I lost the trail going around the ridge after the overlook but eventually started walking in the direction to where the trail was supposed to be and was soon back on the trail. I came to a nice view of Watap Lake from a distance.
Over an hour later I made it to the impressive cliffs above Watap Lake.
I even took the time to take a panorama. Sometimes it's just too hard to fit these views into a single photo. The sun was shining and there were fall colors starting.
Next I came to Rove Lake.
Then there was a beautiful section of trail along an old railroad bed with Canada only mere feet away.
In one section, beaver activity resulted in the trail being fully submerged.
I just kept walking.
The colors were really coming out in this section and the walking was some of the easiest on the trail.
The next highlight of this eventful day was Rose Lake. I passed some campsites near the water.
There were views across to cliffs in Canada.
There was blue sky, something I hadn't seen the last couple days.
The trail climbed up to fine views of Rose Lake East.
I could see a canoe down far below and hear the water from Stairway Portage Falls.
Rose Lake-view to east
Cliffs in Canada across Rose Lake
The trail descended to the falls at stairway portage. I walked down 28 steps to get the view below. The water flows from Duncan Lake to Rose Lake. There was a group of canoeists nearby taking pictures. They were the only people that I saw directly on the trail.
The trail climbed up again and had a more expansive view of Rose Lake to the east.
Then I came to the famous views of the cliffs on the west side of the lake. The lake is much more narrow here, almost like a river.
Rose Lake, Rat Lake, and South Lake
I planned to camp on the near side of South lake, the furthest of the three lakes below.
I continued along the ridge to another overlook. I found it interesting that the fall colors were much more vibrant in the US than Canada.
View looking to the east part of the west part of Rose Lake (if that even makes sense)
The trail to the overlook
I turned right and followed the South Lake Trail to a special campsite on the east side of South Lake.
South Lake Campsite
South Lake to Gunflint Lodge (15.59+0.7=16.29)
It was a cold and wet morning. I made my way to Mucker Lake. After passing the lake I had some trouble following the stream. I eventually backtracked and found blue ribbons that indicated that the stream was supposed to be crossed. Thank you to all who volunteer to mark the trail. Without these small ribbons I would have been far more confused!
After passing the Topper Lake cutoff I came to the beautiful Topper Lake. I took a break to warm up in the sun. The sun!
Back on the trail, there was a great view of lakes to the north.
As I approached the fire-burned area from the Ham Lake Fire the views opened up and I could really experience the topography.
Frances Bay and North Lake
Next I came to views of Gunflint Lake and I would continue to enjoy views of it throughout the day.
View to the northeast
Looking east to North Lake
After passing the Crab Lake Cutoff, I next came to Bridal Falls and crossed on a bridge.
It was a short and steep descent to Bridal Falls.
East side of Gunflint Lake
The were some wooden chairs near Loon Lake so I stopped for a break. There was a loon swimming.
There was a tree standing high above the rest.
After some time on cross country ski trails, I came to overlooks from the Gunflint Cliffs.
I could see Gunflint Lodge down below.
I followed some wide cross country ski trails on my way to Gunflint Lodge.
Where the BRT crosses the South Gunflint Road I turned right and road walked to Gunflint Lodge. I picked up my resupply package with food and maps for my upcoming hike on the Kekekabic Trail. There wasn't much camping nearby and I wanted to devour lots of food so I chose to get a spot in the bunkhouse for the night. There was a great sunset view from the Gunflint Lake dock. I had a huge meal and they even gave me two free slices of pie for on the trail! Thank you Gunflint Lodge!
Gunflint Lodge to Gunflint Trail (Western Terminus)
The next morning I made my way back to the trail and continued to Magnetic Rock.
There was a view from the west side of Gunflint Lake.
After crossing the Cross River on a bridge I continued on more Cross Country Skiing Trails. Sometimes I questioned if I was still on the BRT, but my general rule was to continue straight at intersections unless there was a blue ribbon or sign. This worked well and I didn't lose the trail. The western section is probably the most confusing section of trail, because there are so many different trails crossing. I also had some confusion because I was trying to read the guidebook backwards. Overall, it was just the feeling that I didn't feel completely confident that I was on the trail even when I was in fact on the trail.
I came to the impressive Magnetic Rock, rising high above all its surroundings.
My BRT thru-hike was almost complete as I made my way to the Gunflint Trail.
I made it to the sign and the BRT was complete. I signed the register at the empty trailhead.
I went over to the picnic table and ate some blueberry pie in celebration!
Overall, the Border Route was a special trail, a worthwhile addition to a Superior Hiking Trail thru-hike. While somewhat overgrown (which I expected), I rarely lost the trail for more than a brief moment. There was some undergrowth but nothing that slowed progress significantly. It was a remote experience and I didn't see another backpacker the entire time. Thank you to the Border Route Trail Association for all you do to provide this exceptional wilderness hiking experience!
My adventure was not complete, however, as I continued to the Kekekabic Trail for additional rugged adventures in the Boundary Waters.