Superior National Forest — Kawishiwi District
The district’s most popular hike is along the beautiful Bass Lake Trail, six miles north of Ely on County Highway 116 (the Echo Trail). The gorge holding Bass and Low Lakes was once filled by much larger lakes, but in 1925 the glacial ridge separating the pair gave way, dropping the water level 55 feet in just hours.
It’s six miles around Bass and Dry Lakes, but most hikers just head to the waterfall, about a mile in on Bass’s north shore. There are campsites on Bass and several surrounding lakes.
Also highly recommended is the Secret/Blackstone Trail, out near the end of County Highway 18. The five-mile path has a pair of loops around its namesake lakes. The longer and steeper back loop has numerous ridge-top vistas of lakes and bogs and a cliff well known by area rock climbers. There is a campsite just a short walk in on Blackstone Lake.
The seldom-followed 0.8-mile portage into Agassa Lake passes through thick-forested hills and crosses a bog, making it a beautiful hike and a good wildlife-watching destination.
There are also short, easy hikes at the Fenske Lake (2229 Echo Trl., 218/235-1299) and South Kawishiwi River (12208 Hwy. 1, 218/235-1299) campgrounds. Mountain bikers should get maps of the Forest Service’s four recommended routes that follow little-traveled forest roads.
Naturally, most paddlers are here to hit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but canoe routes on lakes and rivers outside the wilderness do not require permits or fees and are equally beautiful. One of the most scenic and peaceful options is the 20-mile, seven-portage Fenske and Bass Lakes route, which begins 11 miles north of town along County Highway 116. The dozens of backcountry campsites on this and other waterways are free of charge. Part of the forest’s Discovery Tour auto route runs along County Highway 116.
Fall Lake (14197 Fall Lake Rd., 218/365-2963, $22 full hookup), the campground nearest to Ely (five miles east on County Hwy. 18), is the forest’s largest and most developed. Many of the 66 sites have electric hookups, and this is the forest’s only campground with showers and flush toilets. There is also a swimming beach and direct access to the BWCAW.
Also popular, Fenske Lake (2229 Echo Trl., 218/235-1299, $10) 10 miles up the Echo Trail, has 16 well-spaced sites, and access to the BWCAW is nearby.
South of town are the 32-site South Kawishiwi River (12208 Hwy. 1, 218/235-1299, $10) and 30-site Birch Lake (3060 Echo Trl., 218/235-1299, $10) camps—both very popular with anglers—which rarely fill up. Reservations are accepted for all four campgrounds.
From May through September contact the Kawishiwi Forest Service Office (1393 Hwy. 169, 218/365-7561, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily May–Sept.), in the lobby of the International Wolf Center.
The rest of the year stop by the Kawishiwi Ranger Station (118 S. 4th Ave. E., 218/365-7600, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., closed Sat.–Sun.).
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition