The Tofte District, running up from the North Shore  into the Boundary Waters , features many of the best day hikes in the forest and several good non-BWCAW canoe routes. Rangers run a busy summer interpretive program with morning hikes, evening campfires, and more every Tuesday through Saturday; though most events take place at area resorts, all programs are open to the public.
The district is also known as a blueberry mecca, and the Forest Service has management areas dedicated to increasing production and a brochure with maps directing pickers to prime sites.
The district’s most popular hike is the Oberg Mountain Trail, a not-too-strenuous 2.4-mile climb with views of Lake Superior and Oberg Lake waiting at the top. The 3.4-mile Leveaux Trail also has great ridge-top views, though it gets much less traffic. These are some of the best fall-color hikes on the North Shore, and Oberg gets almost as busy as Highway 61 at this time. Both loops are connected to the Superior Hiking Trail and start on Forest Road 336 between Tofte  and Lutsen .
The little-known Hogback Lake Trail on Forest Road 172 between Tofte and Isabella has six miles of peaceful loops along six small and slender lakes. It is only half a mile in to the gorgeous ridge-top views between Hogback and Scarp Lakes. Trout are stocked in these waters, and there are some great backpacking campsites on the shore.
West of Isabella, the Flathorn Lake Trail’s main summer route is a two-mile loop around its namesake, but come winter people head off to ski the 15 miles of groomed intermediate-level trails—known as Flathorn-Gegoka—branching deeper into the forest. There are also pleasant and easy hikes at the Divide Lake, McDougal Lake, and Ninemile Lake campgrounds.
Mountain bikers will want to stop by the Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association for maps of the Superior Mountain Bike Trail System, 200 marked miles of everything from casual road routes to wild single-track. Cross-country skiers will also want to pick up a regional map of the North Shore Ski Trail, whose 120 miles spread across the Tofte and Gunflint Districts . Two of the most popular sections are the Sugarbush and Moose Fence trails, both of which lie north of Tofte along County Highway 2 (the Sawbill Trail), with 36 miles of easy to difficult loops.
Timber-Frear, 15 miles northwest of Tofte, is the most traveled of the district’s four non-BWCAW portage canoe routes. The nine-mile loop covers six lakes, and on weekends all 12 campsites might be occupied. Although they are primarily used as day paddles, there are also a few campsites along the five-mile Crescent Lake-Rice Lake, three-mile Crooked Lake Area, and six-mile Island River routes. Canoeing into Scarp Lake around the Hogback Trail is also scenic and enjoyable.
You can learn about natural history as you drive up the Temperance River Watershed Tour, a roundabout route to the Sawbill Lake Campground; the roadside interpretive signs are only kept up spring through fall. More signs are put up for a Fall Color Tour.
Sawbill Lake, the district’s largest campground, has 51 sites right on the edge of the BWCAW, and it rarely fills up. If you want to paddle into the wilderness or take a shower, Sawbill Canoe Outfitters (4620 Sawbill Trl., 218/663-7150, 7 a.m.–9 p.m. daily) is right next door. There are 32 more sites nearby at Crescent Lake. The nine sites, several riverside, at Temperance River, halfway between Tofte  and Sawbill Lake along County Highway 2 (the Sawbill Trail), also don’t fill up very often. Sites at the campgrounds are $16 per night. Call 877/444-6777 or go online at www.reserveamerica.com .
The other four developed camps lie on a line west of Tofte . The closest and thus busiest is Ninemile Lake (located off County Rd. 7 northwest of Schroeder), with 26 sites and good bird-watching in the surrounding forest. With just three sites, Divide Lake (east of Isabella on Forest Rd. 172) is more peaceful, and it has a lovely two-mile trail around the lake. The 11 riverside sites at Little Isabella (located off Hwy. 1, 4.5 miles west of Isabella) are noted for their serenity. Nearby and also in a beautiful setting is McDougal Lake (Forest Rd. 106, 10 miles west of Isabella, sites from $12), with 21 sites, a mile-long hiking trail, and a swimming beach. Twelve small rustic campgrounds are spread across the district. These more remote and less developed sites are available free of charge.
The Tofte Ranger Station (7355 Hwy. 61, 218/663-7280, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily May–Sept., 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri. rest of year) is located on the edge of Tofte.
Maps and brochures can also be picked up at the Isabella Work Station (3989 Forest Service Dr., 218/323-7722, 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Wed.–Sun. May–Sept.).