From Pemmican Trails
Length: 56 km
Effort: ~22 hrs (3-4 days)
The Sioux-Hustler trail is a minimally maintained foot path located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in north-eastern Minnesota. This loop winds its way along granite slopes and through saturated low-land areas to a series of pristine lakes, accessible only by canoe or by foot. Conditions along this trail range from well-maintained to downright miserable in areas with an active beaver population. Signage along this trail is very poor.
Highlights include a pristine wilderness setting, lakeside camping, beaver dam crossings, and several great panoramic views over the surrounding landscape. The section of trail leading up to the Devil’s Cascade falls is a popular day trip among hikers, where hikers can overlook a stretch of foaming, white rapids that flow over dark, granite rocks.
The trail was originally built by the US Forest Service to service a fire lookout tower in the area and later preserved for its historic and recreational value. After falling into disrepair the trail was restored in the early 1990s. It is sporadically maintained by local outdoor clubs like the Minnesota Canoe Association and the Kekebabic Trail Club. Hunters are encountered frequently along the first ¼ mile of trail along an old logging road.
Signage along this trail is very sparse and at times non-existent. Important junctions are often marked only by rock cairns. Sawn end of logs are actually the best way to reassure yourself that you are still on the trail.
The trail begins by following an old logging road for about a ¾ of a kilometer and then veers left abruptly onto a foot path. The turn is marked by a brown US Forest Service post. This type of post is only used one more time on the trail to mark a right turn into a low-lying area.
Junctions and side trails to campsites are often marked by cairns and hewn logs.
Areas around beaver dams are occasionally a maze of fallen trees, which can make locating the trail on the other side of the dam difficult. It is an absolute necessity that you bring a detailed topographical map and compass with you on this hike.
Several primitive campsites are located near the trail and accessible via (short) side trails. These campsites consist of a heavy, cast iron grate for a fire, room to pitch a few tents, and if you are lucky a portable “potty” type toilet. All campsites are located near lakes, with the exception of the Devils Cascade site which is situated beside a river.
This trail can be hiked at any time of the year; however, winter treks are not advisable on this trail because it is so sparsely marked. Fall would be the best time to hike this trail as it is liable to be driest then.
Dangers and Annoyances
This term means that a lot of bush-whacking is required. You will need to get around or over (literally) hundreds of fallen trees along this trail. For this reason, gaiters are highly recommended as a way of saving your ankles from relentless cuts and scrapes. Junctions are not well marked on this trail so it is important to be extra vigilant for cairns, follow your map closely, and keep your eyes peeled for important side trails.
There are several low lying, boggy areas along this trail which make perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. If the weather has been particularly wet then you may want to bring a head net with you to fend off the onslaught. That said, the majority of this trail is actually very well routed along granite ridges and slopes where the bugs should not be overly bad.
No Side Trail to Shell Lake Campsite
There is no trail leading to the campsite located by Shell Lake. Hikers who plan on staying at this site will need to bushwhack for about 15 minutes along the peninsula to get there.
There are many water crossings on this trail, several of which are along beaver dams. During spring flooding these dams can overflow their lip making crossing a bit difficult. There is also a challenging ford at the set of rapids between Heritage and Shell Lake by the portage. This crossing can rise above mid-thigh when water levels are particularly high (i.e. during spring).
Use proper technique when fording streams and always remember to aim into the oncoming current, step sideways one foot at a time, and use a stick if the water level is above your knees. A stick is also useful for prodding the depth of the water beside you while you are shifting your way across.
If you are planning overnight trip within the BWCAW between May 1st and September 30th then you are required to obtain a permit. Outside of this season, self-issued permits can obtained from a box at the trailhead. You can check the user fees online at this site. At the time of writing, it will cost $12.00 to make a reservation online and an additional $16.00 user fee per adult or $8.00 per youth. Note that the Sioux-Hustler trail starts at entry point #15 in the BWCAW.
Reservations can be made online at Recreation.gov. A single permit is valid for the duration of your stay. Online reservations can only be made for a minimum of two persons. Permits must be picked up on the day of entry or the day before by the group leader at the permit issuing station specified on the permit. Note that you do not need an advanced reservation to pick up a permit at one of the permit issuing stations so long as the quota is not full. For more information, you can call the LaCroix Ranger District in Cook at 218-666-0020.
- Camping is available near the trailhead at the Jeanette Lake campground.
- Dogs are allowed on this trail.
- There is a well stocked little grocery store and gas station in Orr -- only about an hour’s drive from the trailhead.
The US Forest Department provides a great brochure with a very useful description of the physical aspects of this trail. I've copied the text to the site and added annotations to the description where conditions and markings have changed (as of April, 2009).
The turnoff from Echo Trail to the trailhead parking lot is clearly marked by a large metal sign emblazoned with “Sioux Hustler Trail”. After about 100 meters a side road will bring you to a small secluded gravel parking lot with enough parking space for about 5 or 6 cars. The start of the trail is marked by a large wooden sign and self-issuing permit station (which is only for use during the low-season between Oct.1st and Apr. 30th).
The hiking trail follows an old logging road for about ¼ mile until it reaches a small beaver dam (on the right). Water from this dam is directed under the road using a series of concrete culverts, which are easily spotted while walking across them. The turnoff to the hiking trail is only few paces beyond this culvert on the left, marked by a brown US Forest Service sign.
This junction is where the eastern section of the trail loops back on to the main trail. This trail branching off towards Shell Lake is marked by a couple of stone cairns and a number of sawn logs.
Devil’s Cascade Junction
This section of the trail is not exactly straight forward even from the topographical maps that are available. In order to continue north towards Pageant Lake, you need to turn right at a junction that is marked by stone cairns. However, the trail will still continue straight before you, leading to both the portage trail and Devils Cascade Campsite. The small map below should clarify these turn offs a bit better.
Devil’s Cascade Campsite
This unique campsite is located high above a set of thundering rapids known as the Devil’s Cascade. There is plenty of space for tents here on a large, flat pad of dirt. Nearby are granite cliffs that provide clear views of the rapids below. Water is available nearby by following the portage trail to the river's edge. This campsite has a fire pit and enough room for about 4 or 5 tents.
Pageant Lake Campsite
This pretty little campsite is nestled beside a small, pristine lake. There is enough room for a couple of tents here along with a fire pit and a few logs to sit on. You pretty much get what you see here. Added note: There is a latrine located in the woods, south of the spur leading to this site.
Range Line Lake Campsite
The side trail leading to this campsite is marked by a cairn. It is a small site situated beside a very pretty lake with a fire pit and enough space to pitch a couple tents.
North Hustler Lake Campsite
This campsite is located on the north shore of Hustler Lake. The side trail leading to this site is marked by a cairn. It has a fire pit, plastic privy, and a room for a handful of tents. The privy is located directly on the spur trail that leads off of the main hiking trail.
East Hustler Lake Campsite
The side trail to this campsite is marked by a cairn but difficult to follow. The campsite is very nice, though. It has a fire pit, plastic privy, and a room for about half a dozen tents.
North Emerald Lake Campsite
I was unable to locate the side trail to this campsite. It is not clearly marked. It may be possible to follow the rocky shoreline to this campsite, but I have not attempted this. If you have camped here and have a description of the site and means of locating it, then please edit this page and add the details here.
South Emerald Lake Campsite
The turn off to this campsite is marked by a cairn, but strewn with deadfall, narrow, and hard to follow. The campsite itself is very pretty, though. It has a fire pit, plastic privy, and a room for about half a dozen tents.
Agawato Lake Campsite
The turn off to this campsite is marked by an unusually large cairn. The spur trail is wide and in good condition. The campsite is located on a small bluff overlooking Agawato Lake. As usual it has a fire pit, plastic privy, and a room for about 4 or 5 tents.
Shell Lake Campsite (Limited Access)
There is not actually a trail leading to this site, but you can bushwhack your way along the shore in about 15 minutes to reach this popular campsite. The site is located on a peninsula overlooking Shell Lake. The west side of the peninsula has a fire pit and space to pitch several tents. A short trail will bring you to the other side of the peninsula where there is enough cleared ground to camp a small army.
Shell Lake Campsite (Northwest Side Of Lake, Limited Access)
There is a cairn in the trail marking where to turn east into the woods to locate this site. Keep your eyes open and you should walk right into it in less than ten minutes. There is a fire pit, a latrine and enough room for a few tents. Sorry, no pic's.
A very good, waterproof, topographical map is available for purchase online from Fisher Maps for $6.90 USD + S/H. The map that covers the Sioux-Hustler Trail is numbered F-16 in their series and includes the trail route and backcountry campsites along the way. Data for the trail and campsites are provided and reviewed by the US Forest Service annually.
The following are print-quality images of a freely available US Geological Survey topographical map with the trail and relevant backcountry campsites traced on top of it. Click on each image to view a larger version of the map and then click on "Full Resolution" to view the full-sized image. You can right-click the full-sized image and select "Save Image As" to save the maps to your hard drive.
Getting to the trailhead from Winnipeg is actually pretty straight forward and takes about 7.5 hours. Take the #1 Trans-Canada Highway east out of Winnipeg until you reach the turnoff for Steinbach. Turn south onto Highway #12 and follow this road all the way to the US border. After crossing the border the road becomes Highway #313, follow it into Warroad and then turn east onto Highway #11. This road more or less follows the border all the way to International Falls. Use Highway #332 to bypass this city altogether and then continue south on Interstate #53 until you reach the town of Orr.
There is a stop light next to a gas station and A&W in Orr where you will need to make a left turn onto Orr-Buyck Road (#23). Follow this winding road to Buyck, continue past it, and then make a right turn onto Echo Trail. This gravel road will take you past Jeanette Lake campground to the turnoff for the trailhead. Look out for a sign emblazoned with “Sioux-Hustler Trail” and follow the short side road beside it to the trailhead.
Please see Photos of the Sioux Hustler Hiking Trail for a gallery of images taken along this trail.
For current trail conditions and fire restrictions, you can call the LaCroix Ranger District in Cook at (218)-666-0020.