Eagle Mountain (Minnesota State Highpoint)

Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Trip Date: Friday, June 29th, 2018
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 1st, 2018
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Hard
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 7 miles roundtrip
Time 4 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

For some, the fact that this is the tallest point in Minnesota is reason enough to hike this trail. For those that need more convincing, I'll let you know that this is a fantastic hike. I waited in my car for an hour and a half for a thunderstorm to pass, and I don't regret wasting any of that time. This is the fourth state highpoint I've reached, and it definitely has the most scenic journey and best views of those four. Not only is this one way to see the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness without a watercraft or the logistical nightmare of planning an extended trip, this hike features a taste of everything Minnesota wilderness has to offer: crossing a marsh on wooden planks, trekking over mangled old-growth tree roots, and views from the top of a granite peak. Once you finish this hike, you will feel a sense of accomplishment, something rare in the mostly flat Midwest, and you will hunger for more wilderness hikes.

Start your hike by filling out a free wilderness permit at the map kiosk -- you will be ticketed if caught without one. The first 3 miles of the trail are deceptively easy, ascending so gradually you won't really notice. This gives you plenty of time to bask in the quiet of the wilderness and to enjoy the pristine beauty within. Be warned that the trail is especially rocky with many exposed tree roots waiting to snare you. I fell three times on this hike, granted the trail was quite wet after the thunderstorm, but in either case take your time and go slow on the rockiest bits. About a mile after beginning the hike, you will reach the sign pictured below indicating that you are entering the legendary Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The wilderness beyond the sign awaits you

The wilderness beyond the sign awaits you

Immediately past the sign pictured above, you will cross a marsh on a series of planks -- see the picture below. This area can be painfully buggy, and you should wear pants to protect your legs from bugs and the overgrown plants along the sides. Luckily it's not a long stretch and you'll soon be back in the forest.
The overgrown marsh is one reason I recommend wearing pants

The overgrown marsh is one reason I recommend wearing pants

Not far from those wooden boards, you'll have another, better vantage point to capture a photo of the grassy marsh just to the right of the trail -- see the picture below. You can actually enjoy the marsh from this angle since you won't be (as) attacked by bugs.
I love when marshes look like a big, grassy meadow

I love when marshes look like a big, grassy meadow

Keep following the trail as it meanders to the forest and you'll eventually reach Whale Lake at around 2 miles in. At the south end of the lake, you'll be greeted by the gorgeous view of the unnamed hill (not Eagle Mountain, which is more to the left and hidden by trees) across the lake as pictured below.
Many mistake the hill in the distance for Eagle Mountain, but it's actually an unnamed peak just east of your destination

Many mistake the hill in the distance for Eagle Mountain, but it's actually an unnamed peak just east of your destination

The trail then rounds the lake and is quite rocky. At the north end of the lake, you will turn left to follow the Eagle Mountain Trail uphill. Most of the 550 feet of elevation gain on this hike occurs on this very last portion, which is steep and rocky. Near the top, you might be lucky enough to see pretty wildflowers like the ones pictured below.
Purple wildflowers near the summit of Eagle Mountain

Purple wildflowers near the summit of Eagle Mountain

Finishing the climb is instantly gratifying thanks to the excellent views afforded by the treeless granite slabs that make up the top of the mountain -- see the picture below for a taste. On a clear day, you can see forever because not only is this the highest point in Minnesota, the next highest ground is over 400 miles away in North Dakota! This extreme distance makes it the 9th most isolated peak in the entire U.S. despite not being nearly as high as other more impressive peaks in the West -- it's more isolated than the 14,000 foot volcano Mount Shasta in the California Cascades.
The impressive view from Eagle Mountain makes the uphill struggle worth it

The impressive view from Eagle Mountain makes the uphill struggle worth it

The trail actually continues towards the true summit, complete with a plaque, by turning right just before the viewpoint pictured above. Look for cairns of stacked rocks to guide you here since there isn't a discernible trail on the solid rock underfoot. You've reached the end when you find the photo-worthy spot pictured below, real proof to your friends that you did in fact climb to the top of Minnesota.
The monument at the summit serves as undeniable proof of your accomplishment

The monument at the summit serves as undeniable proof of your accomplishment

Take a second to enjoy the view and to replenish with food and water; it's been a long journey and you've earned this. Follow the trail the same way you came to return to the parking area. Importantly, know that reaching the summit of the mountain is only the halfway point of the hike. You will be tired, and the return trip will seem much longer than you remember. You might be tempted to rush through, but this makes you more vulnerable to injuries and falls (I got the bruises to prove that too). Enjoy the way back and savor your accomplishment. Happy hiking, and share your thoughts about this trail in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram after your trip!

Important Information

Due to the trail's location in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a free self-issued permit is required for all day hikers, or if you want to spend the night, you must purchase a permit from a ranger station (the closest ones are in Tofte or Grand Marais). There are also additional rules, all of which are listed in this guide. Your hiking party must not exceed 9 people and cans and glass bottles are prohibited except for non-food items like bug spray or fuel. Dogs are allowed, but they must be under control at all times (there were no specific mentions of using a leash, but use your best judgment). I wouldn't suggest bringing children due to the ruggedness of this wilderness and trail unless they have proven their abilities on other trails of similar length.

You can hike this trail in all four seasons, though snow will make both driving to the trailhead and hiking to the summit more difficult, if not impossible. The extra effort will be rewarded though, since very few attempt this trail in the winter. In the other seasons, bug spray is a must -- mosquitoes thrive in this wilderness. I also highly suggest wearing pants because the trail is often overgrown and the plants brushing your legs may not be friendly. The trail is much less maintained than you may be used to with large rocks and tree roots waiting to trip you and twist your ankles, so wear your best hiking footwear. It's important that you are especially prepared for this hike, bringing extra food, water, clothing, and first aid supplies; unlike hikes in state parks, you will be far away from anyone who can rescue you in an emergency. On a summer weekend, you most likely won't be alone on the trail, but on weekdays in the off season you may very well never see another soul.

Directions

Travel north on Minnesota Highway 61 to Lutsen, then turn left on County Highway 4 (Caribou Trail). Continue straight for quite a while. The road will transition from pavement to gravel -- very doable in a passenger vehicle -- at about a third to halfway through. Eventually, turn right at the T intersection ahead and continue straight until you see the sign for the trailhead pointing to the parking area on the left.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! There are pit toilets and a map kiosk in the dirt lot.

External Links

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