From Pemmican Trails
Length: 39 km (24 miles) km
Difficulty: Moderate - Challenging
Effort: ~16 hrs (2-4 days)
This trail follows the perimeter of Snowbank Lake for 24 miles though the BWCA in Minnesota. The northern half of the trail snakes its way over granite ridges, dipping in and out of low lying areas, and can be quite challenging. The southern half is quicker and more level than the northern half; it overlaps with a 8-mile section of the Kekekabic Trail.
Highlights along this trail include a plethora of inland and lakeside campsites, fantastic views of Snowbank Lake from the ridges, and a few large (and recent) burn areas to gawk at. The trail also passes through several clear-cut areas which are in various stages of re-growth and rather interesting to see.
Signage along this trail is sparse at best. You’ll probably find the odd blue blaze near the trailhead, but these become non-existent after walking only a few miles in either direction:
Junctions are marked either by posts, or by a series of cairns:
Some of the campsites are marked by posts, others just by cairns:
Some of the clear-cuts have been marked with biodegradable tape by a kind hiker:
Sawn ends of logs are another good way to ensure that you are on the trail. Please note that it is absolutely necessary to bring a detailed topographical map with you for this hike. Also be sure to carry a compass with you, and know how to use it.
There are several campsites located on or a short ways off the trail. Each campsite comes equipped with a piece of ground to pitch a tent on (not always flat), a stone-ringed fire-pit, plastic privy, and usually a steel grate for cooking. All campsites are near water sources and have great views of a lake.
As always, fall is the best time of the year to hike this trail. You can "theoretically" hike this trail at any time of the year, but winter hikes are not advisable since the trail is so sparsely marked and cairns would be buried altogether.
Dangers and Annoyances
Burnt and Clearcut Areas
This trail passes through a couple sections of recently burnt forest and a number of clearcuts. These sections can be difficult to navigate at the best of times and could prove a hazard if visibility is poor, or if the ground is covered in snow. Be sure to bring a detailed topographical map with you and remain alert when navigating these areas.
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 Snowbank Lake Hiking trail starts at entry point #27 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 Kawishiwi Ranger District in Ely at 1-(218)-365-6185.
- Dogs are permitted on this trail.
This trailhead forms the start and end of Snowbank Lake Hiking Trail as well as the western most point on the (longer) Kekekabic Trail. There is a good sized parking lot here along with a trailhead sign and a permit station for self-registrations (only to be used between Oct. and April). The northern portion of the Snowbank Lake Hiking Trail begins behind the sign. It loops all the way around the lake, merging with the Kekekabic Trail for the last 8 miles, and then returns to the trailhead, emerging at the side of the road across from the parking lot.
The first landmark that you will encounter along the northern section of the trail is a logging road. Cairns and signs mark the entry and exit onto this logging road which you must follow for a few minutes before returning to the bush.
Flash Lake Bay Campsite
See Campsite O on the map below.
This campsite is located on a small peninsula and overlooks Snowbank Lake. The turnoff to this site is marked by a small cairn. This campsite is close enough to the trailhead that you could arrive late at the trailhead and still make it here in under an hour. The site has a privy, fire pit, and enough space for a few tents.
Griddle Lake Bay Campsite
See Campsite A on the map below.
This site faces a section of lake whose view is partially obstructed by the existance of a large peninsula. This site has a privy, fire pit, and enough space for a couple tents. The turn off is marked by a cairn.
Inland Central Campsite
See Campsite B on the map below.
This campsite is located slightly inland on a hill --- this is the only case where you must turn away from the lake to get to a campsite (it is a very short walk). This site has a privy, fire pit, and enough space for one or two tents. The junction is marked by a large cairn.
Lakeside Central Campsite
See Campsite C on the map below.
This site is located near the inland campsite just a little farther down the main trail. The site is situated on a bluff overlooking Snowbank Lake. It has a privy, fire pit, and room for a few tents.
Newfound Bay Campsite
See Campsite D on the map below.
This is one of the nicer sites on the trail, nestled near a small bay and with a good view of the lake. There is a fire-pit with a grill, space for a few tents, and a hidden privy in the bush.
Bass Bay Campsite
See Campsite E on the map below.
This campsite is also located on a bluff with a great view over the lake. It has a privy, fire pit, and enough space for a few tents.
North Boot Bay Campsite
See Campsite I on the map below.
This site is one of the less desirable sites on the trail. There is very little room to pitch a tent here and it seems like the only flat stretch of ground got overturned when three large trees were blown over. This site has a raised fire-pit and a privy. The turnoff is marked by a large wooden post.
Central Boot Bay Campsite
See Campsite J on the map below.
This site is located high on a rocky bluff in a burn area; however, it is still quite a nice site. The turnoff is marked by a large branch of spruce stuck into a jumble of rocks. The site has a grate for a fire, space for a tent or two, and a privy.
Boot Lake Portage
The trail crosses over a narrow stream via a foot bridge here and then immediately intersects a portage trail leading from Snowbank to Boot Lake. This junction is very easy to navigate and marked with cairns.
South Boot Bay Campsite
See Campsite L on the map below.
This site is located on a hill with a nice view of the lake. It has a steel grate for a fire, a privy, and enough room for a couple of tents.
The trail passes by this quaint little lake on its way south. Unfortunately there is no campsite here.
West Disappointment Lake Campsite
See Campsite M on the map below.
This is one of the largest sites on the trail. It has a steel grate for a fire, a privy, and enough room for half a dozen tents. The surrounding terrain is quite flat.
Parent to Disappointment Lake Portage
The main trail follows the portage route from Disappointment Lake down to Parent Lake. This portage is very wide and well maintained. Look for a wooden post on your left when you reach Parent Lake, this marks the continuance of Snowbank Hiking Trail.
East Parent Lake Campsite
See Campsite N on the map below.
This site is very nice and has a good view of the lake. There is steel grate for a fire, enough room for a few tents, and a privy located a short ways off of the trail leading in to the site.
Kekekabic Trail Junction
Snowbank Lake Trail merges into the Kekekabic Trail at a junction marked with a large weathered post held upright in a pile of rocks. The two trails continues east as one, back towards the trailhead.
Becoosin-Benezie Lake Junction
A side trail leads off of the main trail here along the Becoosin-Benezie Loop. The junction is marked by another large post stuck into a pile of rocks; the carved letters “Becoosin” are almost still legible.
Maintenance Trail Junction
There is a side trail off of the main trail near the southern end of Snowbank Lake. Logs have been piled here to mark that this side trail should not be followed. It leads to Snowbank Lake, where there is a small fire-pit and not even enough room to pitch a tent. If you must get water then this is a place to do so.
This overlook is a bit silly since there are tall trees in the way and you can’t really see any of the surrounding landscape. There is a sign here that comically exclaims “room for a view” and then attempts to rationalize the process of clear cutting.
A very good, waterproof, topographical map is available for purchase online from Fisher Maps for $7.90 USD + S/H. The map that covers the Snowbank Hiking Trail is numbered F-31 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 is a print-quality image of a freely available US Geological Survey topographical map with the trail and relevant backcountry campsites traced on top of it. Click on the image to view a larger version of the map and then click on "Full Resolution" to view a full-sized image. You can right-click the full-sized image and select "Save Image As" to save the map to your hard drive.
The following map shows where fish species are located in the lake and may be of use to anyone doing some fishing in the area:
Getting to Snowbank Lake Trail from Winnipeg is a bit tricky and takes about 8 hrs. 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 (left) 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. Shortly after passing through the town of Cook, you will need to make a left turn onto Highway #1 East that will lead you towards Ely.
Follow Highway #1 east as it eventually makes a 90⁰ left turn at a T-shaped junction near a gas station (follow the signs). Continue down this highway, which will eventually turn into Highway #169 after passing through the town of Tower. Follow this road straight through Ely and a bit before the highway ends you will spot a turnoff to “Snowbank Lake”. Follow this gravel road for a few minutes until you see the sign for "Snowbank Trail" and pull into the parking lot on your left.
Please see Photos of the Snowbank Lake Trail for a gallery of images taken along this trail.
For current trail conditions and fire restrictions, you can call the Kawishiwi Ranger District in Ely at 1-(218)-365-6185.