Monday, June 16, 2014

Trail heads to Minnesota’s highest point

View from just below Eagle Mountain's summit. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Eagle Mountain
rises to 2301 feet

Day hikers can ascend to the highest point in Minnesota via the rugged but incredibly scenic Eagle Mountain Trail.

The 7-mile (round trip) out-and-back trail is lengthy and steep at spots. Parts of it also are rocky. Still, if the challenge isn’t rewarding enough, the views at the top certainly are.

To reach the trailhead, from Minn. Hwy. 61 in Grand Marais, take County Road 7 west. Turn north onto County Road 48. Continue west onto Forest Road 158 (aka Bally Creek Road). Take this north to the junction with Forest Road 170 (formerly named Forest Road 153 and aka The Grade). A parking area is on the intersection’s north side, with the trail heading north from the lot. As most of the trail is within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a permit is required and can be obtained at the trailhead.

The trail heads through a hilly jack pine woods dotted with birch groves. If hiking during late June and early July, the forest floor is lit with colorful wildflowers, including pink moccasins and white three-leaved Solomon’s seal.

Whale Lake
Upon reaching Whale Creek, a spruce bog dominates. Yellow pond lilies usually are in bloom here during late June. Fortunately, wooden plank bridges cross the wetlands.

Leaving the bogs, you’ll catch your first glimpses of Eagle Mountain, which is the highest point on the horizon, and Whale Lake, which is to your right.

About two miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to Whale Lake, which sits on the trail’s right/east. The 21-acre lake sports bluegill, Northern pike, white sucker fish, and yellow perch.

After passing Whale Lake, the route junctions with the Brule Lake Trail. Go left/northwest toward the summit; there is a trail marker at the intersection.

The trail then turns steep as it curves upward. There’s about a 600-foot gain in elevation from the trail marker.

Billion-year-old hills
An excellent panorama of the landscape below sits just below the peak. To the west are Crow, Eagle, Shrike and Zoo lakes; to the north is Misquah Hills and the Brule Lookout Tower west of it. On a clear, dry day, Lake Superior – the lowest point in Minnesota at 600 feet elevation – can be seen 15 miles away to the south.

Surrounding Eagle Mountain is a collection of some of Minnesota’s highest points. The hill to the east is 2220 feet high and one beyond it is 2170 feet. The peak to the west is 2100 feet while the one to the northwest is 2180 feet.

To actually peakbag Minnesota’s highest point, you’ll need to continue up a little further to a rocky clearing. A plaque affixed to a rock lets you know that you’re at Eagle Mountain’s summit of 2301 feet elevation. The rocks making up Eagle Mountain and the surrounding hills were formed 1.1 billion years ago and are highly resistant to erosion.

After taking in the views, head back the way you came.

You will need bug repellent in spring through June. Also, don’t confuse this peak with the Eagle Mountain near Lutsen; the mountain at the ski resort is much shorter.


Read more about day hiking Northeast Minnesota in my Headin’ to the Cabin: Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.