Would you like to drive into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness this summer? Impossible, you say!
Although the old maps label the area “roadless,” the Echo Trail has wound through the area since its designation as “wilderness.” So if you’d like to go adventuring in the canoe area wilderness this summer, but keep your feet dry, get in your car and head to Ely or Orr. Near Ely, on the west side of Shagawa Lake, the trail — also known as St. Louis County Road 116 — heads west through the lakes and forests of the Superior National Forest for 50 miles.
A word of advice: Don’t bring your fifth-wheel camper in from this direction. The road begins as a wide winding and hilly paved road. Then it narrows to patches of lumpy tar. Finally, the tar disappears, and the dirt road twists between — and over — granite and greenstone outcrops, under tall pines, past swamps that could have a moose, and through a mixed forest of spruce, balsam, maple, birch and aspen.
There is little, or no, shoulder on portions of the east half of the trail. In places, the road narrows to almost one lane. Traffic is light and — for most of the road — there are no homes. Stop, and in some places you may find blueberries under the pines at road’s edge.
Walk one of the numerous marked trails — Bass Lake, Hegman Lake, Angleworm Lake or Sioux Hustler — and on a warm day you’ll smell the northland nectar of sweet fern and pine duff. On most trails you’ll catch a glimpse of a sparkling lake through the trees. On some, such as Angleworm and Hegman, you can picnic at lakeside.
Caution! You will yearn to dip a paddle into that dark cool water and slip off around that rocky point where the loon is calling.
There are a few side roads to explore, and the occasional old logging road beckons hikers.
There are three national forest campgrounds on the trail. Fenske Lake is on the east end. Lake Jeanette is in the center. And the Echo Lake campsite is on the west end, near where the Echo Trail intersects with County Road 24 north of Orr. When you cross Nina Moose River, 24 miles west of Shagawa Lake, the trail straightens, widens and, in places, follows the banks of a forested stream.
For more information on the BWCAW, log on to www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/superior/bwcaw.