“This rugged and idyllic route winds on high ridges between dozens of striking Boundary Waters lakes.
— Neil Christianson
Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Spring · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
The Border Route Trail is open year-round. A permit is required for entrance into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The majority of the trail, between Crab and MacFarland Lakes, lies within the BWCA. Only two permits are issued per entry point per day, so purchase yours early. They can be picked up on the day of your run at the Tofte Ranger Station.
Need to Know
Use guidebooks and information online as references only, and be prepared with maps and backup options for camping. Camping is allowed 150 feet from a trail or body of water, but a suitable clearing is often hard to find.
Many lodges, outfitters, and individuals provide shuttling and other services along the Gunflint Trail. Through-hikers can park a vehicle at their exit point and hire a ride to the opposite trailhead, a drive of about two hours. A list of some of the services available can be found on the BRT Association's website.
Much of the trail has seen fire or wind damage, and the resulting new growth can slow travel and hide the trail under your feet. Rocks and roots are a constant tripping hazard and are often obscured by undergrowth. Beavers can also slow progress, as their flooded ponds can easily turn parts of the trail to standing water or deep mud.
West to east, the Border Route Trail begins at the Magnetic Rock trailhead west of Gunflint Lake. The path to Magnetic Rock offers views of a rolling burnscape from the Ham Lake fire. The BRT begins here in earnest and descends toward Loon Lake. A campsite on Loon Lake is accessible via the Bryce Breon Trail.
At the west end of the Gunflint Lake Ridge is an overlook at towering cliffs. After a dip to the north shore of Loon Lake, the trail ascends again to a ridge north of Crab Lake. A spur to the north leads to Bridal Veil Falls. Crab Lake Trail splits off to the south, and the BRT continues in a near strait line until bending on the southern rim of South Lake.
The middle section is a pattern of ascents to overlooks and descents to a lake, creek, or falls. Here are the popular Watap Lake overlook, Rose Lake overlook and lake shore campsites, Stairway Portage and waterfall, among others. You're likely to encounter more people in this stretch than other parts of the trail as you pass portages and lake-accessible campsites. As a result, the trail is often in great condition.
Wandering from the international border, the trail passes the shores of Rove, Clearwater, and Gogebic Lakes, with routine large climbs between. After passing a boat launch at MacFarland Lake, it meets up with the border again and follows the South Fowl Lake Portage. A flat stretch through forest and tall grasses leads to the final ascents and a spur to the 270-Degree Overlook, also the terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail. An easy descent out leads to the exit at Otter Lake Road.
Flora & Fauna
The Border Route's healthy boreal forests with birch, aspen, blueberries, raspberries, and wildflowers are home to moose, wolves, deer, black bear, and a wide variety of birds and fishes.