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BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

June 01 2023

Entry Point 35 - Isabella Lake

Isabella Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Isabella, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 21 miles. Access is a 35-rod portage to Isabella Lake.

Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1595 feet
Latitude: 47.8009
Longitude: -91.3034
Isabella Lake - 35

The Pow Wow Trail 2008

by Soledad
Trip Report

Entry Date: May 23, 2008
Entry Point: Isabella Lake
Number of Days: 3
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
After reading Lost in the Wild by Cary J Griffith I really wanted to hike this trail. Although I had been interested in the Pow Wow Trail before, that book finalized it for me.

Day 1 of 3

Friday, May 23, 2008 Day One- Monticello, MN to Superstition Lake

Annie and I left my house at 5:30 and made it to Duluth by 8:00. We met Todd at Pizza Luce’s for breakfast. This was my third backpacking trip with Todd. The previous two were both around Snowbank Lake. I found out that Todd had been around the lake a few more times since our first hike. After breakfast which was pretty good, we debated about what we should do with the extra car. While going to school in Duluth, I had accumulated a staggering amount of parking tickets and that lesson among many others had been learned. We decided to park my car at Two Harbors and drive together to the trail.

We picked up our permits at the Isabella Work Station and watched the video. The rangers said that they had expected a group to register at 8:00am but they hadn't stopped in yet, so they thought we would have the trail to ourselves. We found the entry point at about 1:30 and started hiking at about 2:00.

The trail starts out real nice and easy with pine needles covering the path, and it stayed rather flat the entire day. There were some blow downs, beaver dam crossings and some swampy low spots, but the first part of the trail was pretty dry and clear. We passed a group of four that were headed to Pose Lake and they said we could share the site if we needed to, but we were heading the opposite direction. We also passed a group of day trippers (canoeing) that had made their way from Diane Lake and were eating a late lunch on Marathon Lake. I made a point to stop by Campfire Lake to take a picture and found the campsite to be pretty shabby. I wouldn't stay there unless I had little other choice in the matter. The fire grate is almost three feet above the rock upon which it stands-terrible for cooking. The site offers poor water access and the lake was hidden from view.

We made it to our destination at Quadga Lake, but after hiking the short spur trail found that it was occupied by a group of canoeists. The site was very nice with a great view of the lake and a good spot for at least one large tent. We decided to push on figuring we could make the next campsite on Superstition Lake before the sun set.

We were short on water so we filtered some right when the trail passed the first part of Superstition Lake. From that spot we could see that it was taken as well. It was going on 7:00, and we were getting tired so we decided to talk to whoever was at the site to see if anyone was already at the Mirror Lake campsite which was another mile or two up the trail. Alex was hiding behind his tent in only his boxer shorts, and was a little surprised to see us. Alex was from Chicago and was a real nice guy. He said that the next site was pretty bad and didn’t mind if we stayed. We took him up on the offer without too much arm twisting. I set out to get some firewood and Todd got some more water. Todd had brought some steaks and I made up some potatoes, carrots onions, green peppers etc. in tinfoil to compliment the meat. We both thought that the meal was one of the best we had ever had while backpacking. Although food always tastes better while camping, I am pretty sure that was the best steak I have ever had on a grill.

Six miles into the trail I had blisters on both heels from my boots which I will never wear again. First day on the Pow Wow Trail we saw 10 other people. Todd and I did not expect to see anyone at all so that was all a bit of a letdown especially when it came to finding open campsites. We figured we hiked about 10 miles that first day. No bugs, great weather pretty easy trail- it was a great day of hiking.


Day 2 of 3

Saturday, May 24, 2008 Superstition Lake to Horseshoe Lake

I usually don’t sleep all that well the first night out, but I woke up and felt great. I was a little worried that Annie would be walking around and would keep me awake, but she found a spot under the my hammock and was content. It was a cool night, 35f was the recorded temp in Isabella. We left the campsite at around 9:30. The trail had been getting more difficult the closer we got Superstition and continued be become more rugged. There were many downed trees to climb over, under or around. Even though the trail was more rugged, it was still relatively flat. The Mirror Lake site wasn’t all that bad, a little small but it was a lot better than that Campfire site. Todd got some nice shots of Path Lake as we passed. We ate lunch at a very nice site on Rock of Ages Lake. The water access there was a little difficult, but not all that bad. I would think you could setup two tents at the site without too much problem. I could spend hours looking at the stars from the large rock which looked over the lake. We pushed on to Lake Three and after some effort found our way to a nice canoe site that looked unoccupied. When we got right up to it however, we found a pair of boots and some other stuff strewn about. We were a little confused- there were no people, no canoes. We walked around a little and eventually say their tents back in the woods. It was a very nice site and I think we would have stayed there if it would have been open. Just a note, that site was on my map but not on Todd's. More of that later.

The site on Horseshoe Lake is not really part of the actual trail, so we had to bushwack our way to it, but it was worth the effort. It was open and it was nice. I think it was around 4:00 when we reached the site. We traveled maybe six miles in about as many hours. We did take a long lunch, but the trail was tougher and slowed us down. My feet were also slowing me down- Todd was a good sport and let me set the pace, and I appreciated that.

We had a pretty stiff and cold wind blowing into our camp from the east for most of the evening. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms after midnight so we both prepared our shelters as best we could. I had an extra tarp which provided more protection for my hammock and for Annie who hates storms. The storm never came, although we did see lightning and hear a little thunder just before bed toward the south.


Day 3 of 3

Sunday, May 25, 2008 Horseshoe Lake to the trailhead

We got up at about 7:30, had a good breakfast packed up and headed for Pose Lake. The next part of the trail was probably the toughest portion of the trail. It hadn't looked like a crew had been up there to clear it for awhile. It reached (72f) which is a little warmer than I like when backpacking, but it wasn't bad. Although both of us had packed out cameras away, Todd and I both agreed that the best part of the trail was along North and South Wilder Lakes. That section offered the best views and although rugged, it really was the most enjoyable hiking. The site on North Wilder Lake was pretty interesting. Although we only took a short break there, I really did like the site. The fire grate was situated in front of a perfect rock which would provide a great backrest while looking over the lake. I would try to stay there if I hiked the trail again.

We met yet another couple who had started out from South Wilder Lake earlier in the morning. As we exchanged trail notes, they mentioned that they would have stayed at Pose Lake the previous night, but it was occupied. We wondered if it was that same group of people who we passed the first day.

While getting water, from a small creek, Todd and I tried to figure out what we should do if indeed the site was still taken. I am pretty sure that once we passed the South Wilder site the Pose lake site was the last one. Todd also mentioned that he needed to get back home early and that we would have to get to our cars, by 10:00 the next morning. We pretty much decided that we would hike out either way.

About a mile or so before Pose Lake, the trail changed and hiking was much easier. Pose Lake was in fact taken by that group we saw on the way in. We said our hellos, filtered water and then chatted away about the previous two days. They were good folks and were interested in what we had to say about the trail. The Pose Lake site was very nice, probably the best backpacking site on the trail (canoe sites were often better). We had hiked over 7 miles on a tough trail and had six miles to go. Luckily, the last six miles are like hiking on a golf course. A couple beaver dams to cross but nothing really exciting. I wouldn’t have made it out if the trail was like the first half of the day. I was exhausted, and mostly everything below my knees ached. This is becoming a trend in my trip reports I think.

We hiked those last six miles in two hours. The previous 7.5 miles took us around 6 hours give or take without a lunch break. That is a good indication of how much the trail changes.

Summary and random thoughts:

Last year while hiking around Snowbank Lake, we found hundreds of wood ticks each day, this trip we found a total of three- one on each of us. Hiking the Pow Wow Trail in 2.5 days is something I likely will not do again. The pain to accomplishment ratio simply doesn't work out. I really wanted to be able to compare the two routes, but I seem to have a tough time putting the trails into words. The Snowbank Trail starts out rugged, with rocks and pretty good terrain changes. I think I would say that the Snowbank trail is a little more difficult because of the ups and downs, but the vistas are better, I would also say that the campsites are better. I did enjoy hiking from lake to lake on the Pow Wow Trail. The lakes are small, intimate, and beautiful. I would bet that both trails are much easier to follow in the spring before all of the undergrowth gets a chance to take over.

Maps: Todd and I both brought McKenzie Maps, my revision was 2003 and his map last updated in 2007. The 2007 map did not show at least 3 backpacking sites that the 2003 map listed. This is a big deal when you are get around to the west and north side of the trail. We didn't see much difference in the trail itself on the two maps. I also took a look at one of the new Voyager maps for the area. Voyager fails to show any backpacking sites on the Pow Wow Trail. When I get my hands on a Fischer map, I will compare it as well.

Memorial weekend is not a good time to hike the trail if you are hoping to find solitude.

During the trip Todd asked why I like to backpack in the BWCA. I am still not sure if I can answer that. The sense of accomplishment is a big part and the hard work is very rewarding at the end of the day. It is also a unique way to see the lakes, walking around them instead of canoeing through them.

We didn’t see any wildlife except for two rabbits until we were driving back to Isabella and saw a two moose on the road. Cow and her rather large calf.

The Sioux Hustler trail is next on my list.