Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. These articles highlight some of the best trails from around the U.S. Learning about a great hike is one thing, but we hope these posts inspire you to get out there and see them for yourself!
This week's spotlight is on the Kekekabic Trail located in northern Minnesota.
Featured Photo: Sunset on Kekekabic (photo by David Grant)
Why This Hike?
The “Kek Trek”, as some call it, is located in the northern Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCW). Don't let the name of the latter fool you, though. While it is a paddler's paradise, it also has some awesome trails for landlubbers. 192 miles worth of trails await in this pristine wilderness. The BWCW is also filled with ponds and lakes (over 1,000!) of varying sizes and rolling, wooded hills. Between that and the rugged terrain, this trail will give you a surprisingly good workout!
- Distance: 38 miles
- Type: Point-to-point
- Elevation gain: 3,400 feet
- Difficulty: Challenging
- Best time to visit: May through October
- The Kekekabic is very remote. There are no roads between the trailheads. On the plus side, you're not likely to see many other people. This is definitely a hike for well-seasoned hikers, though. Bring your compass, wayfinding skills, and an up-to-date map. A locator beacon might not be a bad idea either.
- With so many lakes, there are plenty of spots to fill up on water. Backcountry anglers will love the fishing opportunities too! When you're not passing numerous lakes, you'll skirt many wetlands.
- Lots of scenic overlooks can be found on the trail. The mixed forest is beautiful too. It's especially pretty in the fall with colorful leaves lining the trail.
- The Kekekabic Trail Club helps maintain the trail. That said, this group of volunteers can only do so much. The trail gets overgrown in the warm months, which can make finding the trail even harder. Blowdowns and muddy areas are common too. Be prepared to get dirty!
- The trail offers tons of campsites, more if you don't mind going down connecting trails a bit.
- Voyageurs National Park is on the western border. That's a worthwhile place to visit too while you're in the area.
- Some wildlife you might encounter includes beaver, moose, wolves, black bears, and waterfowl.
- An old Forest Service cabin remains near the halfway point on Kekekabic Lake. Unfortunately, the old fire tower was torn down decades ago.
Before you pack your bags, keep the following in mind:
- Navigation can be tricky and the trail isn't always marked well.
- The shuttle between the trailheads is a long one-about 4.5 hours.
How Do I Get There?
If you will be flying in, Duluth International Airport is the closest major airway. From here, head west on Grinden Drive for a half-mile. Continue on Airport Road before turning left onto Rice Lake Road. Continue for 16 miles. From here, the road changes names several times, but you continue on it for 40 miles. Then, turn right onto MN-135 N and drive 3.6 miles. Turn left to stay on MN-135 N. Drive 21.7 miles before turning right onto NN-169 N. Continue 23 miles. Continue straight onto MN-169 N for 4 miles. This turns into Fernberg Road. Drive 10.8 more miles before making a slight left onto Co Hwy 18. Drive 3.3 miles before turning left onto Snowbank Lake Road. After about 1.5 miles, the parking area will be on your left. Total drive time is about 2.5 hours.
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended campsites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1 - Snowbank Lake to Drumstick Lake (8 miles)
- Day 2 - Drumstick Lake to Strup Lake (9.5 miles)
- Day 3 - Strup Lake to Agamok Lake (8 miles)
- Day 4 - Agamok Lake to Gunflint (12.5 miles)
Day 1-Snowbank Lake to Drumstick Lake
The trail is pretty rocky to begin. Small ups and downs line the way, but aren't too bad. The mixed forest is beautiful and quiet. Speaking of trees, this area tends to have a lot of blowdowns.
There is a short side trail to Snowbank Lake about 3 miles in. You'll see the beaver damn near here. About 4.5 miles in, when you're finally officially in the Boundary Waters, there's a trail to the right that heads to Becoosin Lake (nice campsite there). A little further and left takes you to a campsite at Parent Lake.
Trek about 3.5 more miles through the woods. A short way off the main trail lies your spot at Drumstick Lake. You might find some old industry remnants still laying around.
Day 2-Drumstick Lake to Strup Lake
A short 2.5-mile hike brings you to the tight squeeze of land between Moiyake and Medas Lake. You'll find a mix of alders and nice stands of spruce. Come across another beaver damn before long. You'll find plenty of those along the way.
The falls between Thomas and Hatchet Lake make for a tricky and slippery crossing. The area beyond that can be messy with blowdowns. There was a lot of destruction in past wind storms, which is still evident. Pass another beaver pond before reaching your site at Strup Lake a short distance later.
Day 3-Strup Lake to Agamok Lake
You'll be crossing lots of streams and other boggy areas today. Be prepared to get your feet wet! Less than a mile in is your first crossing. Then you're back into thick forest before climbing a ridge. Past here the woods open up, evidence of the Cavity Lake fire. The trail gets into much hillier terrain. You'll get some nice views of the lakes at the top of some summits.
Next up is, you guessed it, another beaver pond. This one can be tricky to get around. A stand of evergreens soon greets you with more ups and downs. The rocky trail and dark forest continue until you reach your site at Agamok Lake. It's close to a portage, so don't be surprised if you hear other people. Though small, this site is a popular one on the trail. Agamok Falls is within hearing distance.
Day 4-Agamok Lake to Gunflint
Get warmed up right away by heading up a ridge. Many ups and downs await. They're steep, but short. The worst part is not tripping over roots or slipping on the rocky trail. The good news is there are some awesome views ups here.
Next, you'll skirt Howard Lake, which is a good place to stock up on water. Past that you'll find a boulder-filled area. You'll meander your way through a series of lakes on your way to Bingshick Lake. If you don't feel like walking as far on your last day, you can break it up by staying at its campsite overnight. It has excellent views of the lake.
Pushing on, you'll find remnants of old mines near, you guessed it, Mine Lake. More small hills await, but the hiking gets noticeably easier. The open area from a recent fire lets you know you're almost done. Just one more descent before you reach the eastern trailhead.
What Will I Need?
Average highs for the peak months (May through October) range between 51 and 80°F. Average lows range between 33 and 54°F. Summer is usually extra rainy. That said, you'll want some rain gear. You may want to plan your trip for late spring or fall.
To keep warm at night, be sure to take a sleeping bag with an appropriate comfort rating for the temps. Your sleeping pad is just as important in keeping you warm and comfortable at night. As for weather and bug protection, that is personal preference. A lightweight backpack tent is perfectly fine since there are quite a few designated spots along the trail. For warm summer months, hammock camping with a tarp might be more enjoyable.
A 0-degree sleeping bag will definitely keep you warm on chilly nights along the Kekekabic Trail.
To prevent slips and injuries, some trekking poles and supportive hiking boots are a must. And, since the trail is so remote, a complete first-aid kit is an excellent idea too.
If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.
Shop Backpacking Tents
Shop Ultralight Tarps
Shop Backpacking Quilts
Shop Down Sleeping Bags
Shop Insulated Sleeping Pads
Shop Backpacking Pillow
Shop Folding Trekking Poles
Shop Titanium Cookware
Shop Tent and Tarp Accessories
Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I Need a Permit?
Yes. No matter what type of recreation you're participating in or how long your trip is (even day trips), you'll need a permit. For backpacking, you'll need to obtain an overnight hiking permit.
For a scenic, secluded trail in the upper Midwest, you can't beat the Kekekabic Trail. Have you done this one or any others in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness? We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments section below!
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our “Best Backpacking Trips in the Midwest” round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great trails in the region.
Hike of the Week: Newport State Park
Hike of the Week: Superior Hiking Trail-Section 6
Hike of the Week: Isle Royale National Park
For even more amazing backpacking trips, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.