Fall Foliage & Family Trip 2021 | Hiking to Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s Highest Point | October 11, 2021
After saying goodbye to Lydia and the kids, we drove for 3 hours to reach our next destination: the trailhead for Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s highest point. To get there, we took MN-169 North to Peyla, then MN-1 all the way to MN-61 and Lake Superior. The fall colors were obviously a highlight of this drive, but we found other amusement while driving on MN-1. We were driving through an area with a high concentration of iron (it’s called the Iron Range after all), and the iron caused the compass in our car to rapidly change as if we were spinning in circles rather than driving straight down the highway. We were also fortunate in that the recent wild fires in the area were on the decline, so visibility and air quality were both quite tolerable. Once at the coast, we took MN-61 North, which was exciting to us because the last time we drove this highway was on our honeymoon over 8 years ago. But more on that later. Today, we turned off just after Lutsen and started driving through Superior National Forest to reach our trailhead.
We had planned for about 3-4 days between Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin before making our way over to my family’s home for the upcoming weekend. Our priorities for these days were MN and WI’s high points and the WI Whispering Giant Statue. Aside from that, we had a long list of hikes and peaks along Minnesota’s Lake Superior shore, waterfall hikes in Wisconsin, and lots of potential campsites next to lakes where we could both camp and kayak in both states. We didn’t have concrete plans, we just thought we’d drive as far as we wanted and hike whenever we felt like it. However, when we left Virginia, the weather forecast from Monday night on was pretty miserable — rain every day, hour-by-hour there was never less than 20% chance of rain everywhere we looked. We braced ourselves for cold, wet, and dreary days of hiking and nights of camping, and tried to look at the bright side — at least the highs were in the 50s/60’s and lows in the upper 40s/50s. It looked like Monday would be the driest day, so we decided to waste no time with hiking to Minnesota’s highest point, Eagle Mountain, since it was our longest hike planned.
When we arrived at the trailhead, the sky was overcast, but it was still dry and the temps were favorable for hiking. People who hike to Eagle Mountain in the summer/peak season often complain of mosquitos and flies, but thanks to hiking in the shoulder season we avoided those completely. We started our hike after 1, which seemed late in the day for a 7 mile hike, but because most of the trail was level we were sure we’d be fine.
The first 2.5 miles of this hike only gain 100 feet through all the ups and downs. Much of the surrounding area is composed of bogs and streams connecting the plethora of lakes, so it isn’t surprising that it gets infested with mosquitoes through the summer. Thankfully there were boardwalks over the especially wet areas, though the recent rains had swollen the bogs past the ends of the boardwalks in some areas, requiring a little wading through water. At just over 2 miles in, we came to a lake, and across the water we could see a prominent hill and wondered if that was Eagle Mountain. It turned out that the real peak was Southwest of that hill and not in view, but this was a beautiful view nonetheless.
After a half mile more of wandering through the forest and following the lake shore, we began our steep and short ascent of Eagle Mountain. It was only 400 feet over a mile, so not terribly difficult, though the ground was sometimes slick due to the wet conditions. Along the way to the peak, we came across two openings in the trees with great views to the South. At the second view point, we turned right and continued following the trail just a little further until we found the plaque on a boulder marking the highest point.
We sat, convinced Charlotte to climb onto the plaque and took our pictures before returning to the second viewpoint for some granola bars and views of lakes and trees (though not of THE lake). It’s worth pointing out that Eagle Mountain (at 2300 feet) is only ~20 miles from the lowest point in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior at 600 feet. This was our 22nd state high point, and Charlotte’s 17th.
The hike down was uneventful and we made it back to the car with plenty of time to find a campsite before dark. We drove down the road to the East from the trailhead; Curtis navigating mostly on memory. We had a few drive up campsites that we had researched but were a bit unsure on what to expect. We were in a National Forest, but the proximity to the Boundary Waters and the rules associated with them made the listings online sound different from what we are accustomed to.
We followed signs and a long deserted forest road to a lake we recognized the name of: Ball Club Lake. But at the end, there was no camp ground. At least not one which we would recognize immediately with a sign or anything, just parking and a boat ramp. But some investigating soon showed us that just off the parking lot was a small single tent camping area. And so we learned one of the best parts of Superior NF: many of the lakes feature small (and free) camping areas that were supposedly open year-round. We excitedly set up camp and ate a nice warm meal.
After eating, Curtis decided that he wanted to take the kayak out for a sunset/dusk paddle. I decided I would rather get cozy in the tent with Charlotte and journal, but we walked him out to the boat ramp to take pictures of the sunset. As Curtis was pulling away, Charlotte began crying from the dock. He came back and offered to let her into the kayak, which she refused. Thinking that she would eventually go back to the tent to settle down, I let Curtis go out. I was wrong. Charlotte stubbornly refused to leave the dock, even after Curtis was out of sight, even after the sun set, even after it started to actually get dark. Eventually, I resigned myself to sitting on the dock with Charlie waiting for Curtis to return.
Curtis had a great paddle and talked about the eerie stillness out on the lake and of the fun echoes from his whistling. Before it started to get really dark, he turned around and came back to find us waiting for him at the dock. Needless to say, Charlotte was VERY excited to see him again and finally went back to the tent to settle down for the night.
If you’re interested, check out our AllTrails recording for our hike up Eagle Mountain here