Hiking in the Boundary Waters is a rejuvenating, exhilarating experience. You’re likely to encounter fewer people on a trail than on a paddle. You have the opportunity to explore this unique landscape in a way that very few people do.
Hiking in the BWCA is tough. Don’t count on going fast. Research conditions before you go. Be prepared to self-evacuate if something goes wrong. Make sure people know when you should be out of the wilderness: have a check-in plan.
Of the BWCA trails I’ve hiked, I would recommend hiking them in this order:
- Angleworm Trail:
- Why: Easy to follow, wonderful camping opportunities, loop trail (no shuttle required), no challenging fords, short.
- Sioux-Hustler Trail:
- Why: Mostly easy to follow, good camping opportunities, loop trail, more challenging terrain, longer than Angleworm.
- Border Route Trail:
- Why: Occasionally challenging to follow depending on time of year and recent maintenance done, more intersections than other trails so occasionally challenging to navigate, long shuttle required, much more challenging terrain, good weeklong hike. Longest BWCA trail but there are several ways to split the hike up or bail out. Epic vistas and solitude make this trail worth the effort.
- Kekekabic Trail:
- Why: Remoteness makes maintenance a challenge. While the Kek has gotten lots of attention in recent years, it remains the most remote of the BWCA trails, and only recommended for those who have hiked some combination of the above trails. There is no way to bail out from the Kek. You hike back, or you hike forward. Navigation can be a challenge. Notoriously difficult (and expensive) shuttle that takes a large chunk of the day. Don’t invest the time and money to hike this trail unless you are relatively sure of success.
- Snowbank Lake Trail:
- Why: A higher percentage of this trail is outside the wilderness boundary than any other BWCA trail and because motors are allowed on Snowbank, it takes a lot of the magic away. I think it is a similar difficulty as Sioux-Hustler, but for less of the reward.
Take my advice with a grain of salt: I hiked these trails in the exact opposite order I’m recommending them! (I did the Kekekabic Trail with an experienced guide and would not have tackled it alone at the time.)
- Consult multiple maps before you hike. Some campsites show up on one map but not another. Some maps are rarely updated.
- Avoid spring. Woodticks and mosquitoes. Enough said.
- Don’t hike until dark and assume you’ll find an open place to camp.