Snowbank Lake Hiking Trail

K.A. Hiking Club

K.A. Hiking Club

Last weekend the K.A. Hiking Club went on their annual backpacking trip with 4 of their charter members. Wow, the Snowbank Lake Trail, which is partially in the BWCAW, is an incredible hiking trail! We took off from Crane Lake crossing the Echo Trail to Ely and from there we drove 20 north to “Smitty’s on Snowbank” where we spent the night before heading out into the bush. What a bunch of characters at Smitty’s. Right away when we checked in, the guy behind the counter says “oh you’re going out in the woods, and it’s not even Halloween yet!” Yikes! Spooky!

The next morning we woke to an awesome breakfast at Smitty’s. They know how to treat you right! It was the homemade cinnamon toast where I broke a tooth and thought maybe my trip would be compromised. It took away my appetite, but all seemed to be okay so we proceeded with our plans.

We finally got out on the trail at 9:20 after doing some minor re-packing and reconnoitering. The drizzle that had insisted on falling throughout the night and morning, suddenly quit, lucky for us for that was the only precipitation we encountered all weekend. But, the woods were wet. The ferns that grow along the trails in canoe country, sometimes are as tall as me – many reaching my shoulder – so, we got very wet anyhow. Good thing for raingear, it came in handy.

Now for the trail. We had read that the best way to conquer this “difficult” trail is to start out by going north and traverse the lake in a clockwise direction. We now know why that is recommended. The trail starts out mild enough, but soon you begin to notice the numerous rocks that lie in the path and that the rocks look different. They stick up at odd angles and many are jagged. One has to carefully watch the trail and think out each foot placement. There’s not much time to look up and take in the surroundings – or if you do, you risk tripping or worst yet turning your ankle, which would be disastrous with a heavy pack on your back. Then, while we concentrated on foot placement, we hardly noticed that we were steadily climbing. Not until we abruptly went back down again to cross over a low area which inevitably held a beaver pond and dam. Then it would be back up again heading to the top of the ridge. This is where we’d have some terrific views of the lake.

We passed Flash Lake Bay campsite and later Griddle Lake Bay campsite with nary a nod – we didn’t have time to investigate this early in the day. As we passed Lakeside Central campsite we decided to stop for lunch. We got out our maps and found that we best get hoofing it if we were to make it to our campsite for the night. We planned on getting to Newfound Bay campsite the first night. We are pretty close to the lake at this point and Lori is the only one smart enough to filter water. Us other 3 figured we had enough water and decided not to take the time. That was a bad decision, load up on water here because you won’t be down by the lake until you reach Newfound Bay. The two little lakes on the map are just big beaver ponds and not very appealing for water filtering.

Finally we reach Newfound Bay campsite, but not before getting some great views of the surrounding landscape. On top of the hill we look north and can see the valley where Moose Lake and Newfound Lake lie, and to the south a magnificent view of Snowbank Lake and the many islands that dot the lake.

setting up camp

setting up camp

The campsite sits in a grove of beautiful Red Pine and some make-shift rock steps lead down to the lake. The water is very clear. Snowbank Lake is deep and there are Lake Trout in it.

We continue to set up camp and get about cooking dinner. Night falls early in the autumn and it was dark by 7 pm. Dinner is particularly good tonight as we carried in our own hobo dinners in which we could bring meat if we wanted to. I had a nice New York strip steak cooked over the fire. mmmm. Then it was time to hang up our food. We’d heard lots of bear reports so we put our food in two different bags and hung each in a separate tree. If we did get a bear, maybe he’d only take one bag of food, or so we hoped. The night was uneventful and we all slept fairly well in our 4-person tent.

The next morning it was rather chilly, but the sun was out and it looked like it was going to be a great day. We broke camp and got going at 9:30. Again we thought we’d get going earlier, but it takes time to cook breakfast and the required two cups of coffee.

Up and down, up and down some more until we came around a corner and there it was: the place where Smitty’s had told us about “just wait til you have to climb up on your hands and knees”. We didn’t know if we could believe anything they said at Smitty’s, but this proclamation was right on. We stopped at looked up at what seemed like a big cliff and sure enough there were places to put your feet and hands and climb up. Lori scrambled up first, I took a deep breath and went up second. Now I’ve had dreams where I’m climbing steep stairs and suddenly fall backwards – this was as close to that feeling as I’ve ever felt. With the heavy pack on the back, I couldn’t look up or down and by the time I got to the top, I definitely needed Lori’s helping hand to pull me up. Wow! I honestly don’t know how you’d get back down that incline with a pack on, you’d have to take off the packs and lower them down with ropes. But alas, we made it and we were on to the next hill.

Snowbank Lake Hiking Trail

Snowbank Lake Hiking Trail

The north side of Snowbank Lake was affected by the big blowdown storm of 1999, and it’s still very evident. The Forest Service has done some prescribed burns here and the landscape is that of a forest fire. There are charred remains with lots of new shrub and wildflower growth.

rock ridge at Snowbank Lake

rock ridge at Snowbank Lake

At one point we came down by a beaver pond and looked up at a steep rock hill. I told the girls I wasn’t going up there. And that seemed like the case until the trail winded around and there we were – we were going up that hill! Ahhhh, but the views up there were breathtaking!

rock ridge at Snowbank Lake

rock ridge at Snowbank Lake

Snowbank Lake

Snowbank Lake

Finally we were crossing the Boot Lake portage trail and it was here that we stopped for lunch. Studying our maps it looked like the trail may flatten out and after lunch we did indeed find out that the trail was quite different here. Honestly, it was like a different world – the trail was even and the rocks were the nice ones like we have at home – rounded and friendly 🙂

We made good time down to Disappointment Lake where there was a beautiful campsite. Someone had even left a nice bundle of firewood. But, we just didn’t think it was a good idea, too much bad ju-ju going on around Disappointment Lake – that’s where all the bear problems were coming from. So we took a quick break and headed off to Parent Lake. We were making good time and the map I had seemed to be pretty accurate. So we thought we’d reach the campsite in no time. But we kept walking and walking and walking. Where was that campsite? At one point we asked ourselves if we should go back, somehow we must have missed the turn off. But onward we trudged and finally there was the marker!

Campsite marker

Campsite marker

And what a great campsite it was – Parent Lake is crystal clear and there are lots of Jack Pine around – the best wood for campfires. We had our dehydrated dinners that night – and I must say it never tasted so good!

Parent Lake Sunset

Parent Lake Sunset

A good night’s sleep and we were on our way out. We made an attempt to step things up and we broke camp at 8:30, another quick cup of coffee and we were off.

Snowbank - Kek Trail junction

Snowbank - Kek Trail junction

Just a short distance away we got on the famous Kekekabic Trail and the end was getting close. Up to this point we hadn’t met another soul on the trail, so we were surprised to meet a party of 4 guys who were just finishing the 38 mile Kek Trail that starts at the very end of the Gunflint Trail and winds its’ way through the BWCAW to Snowbank Lake.

Overall, the 23 mile Snowbank Lake Hiking Trail is a challenge but it is very well maintained and there are very few deadfalls to climb over. Something that can really slow down a hike. So if you can handle the ups and downs it is very much worth it.

I used the map and detailed information from pemmican.org for this trip – it was very helpful. We also had a McKenzie map with us, it was interesting to cross-reference the two maps, because neither was exactly accurate. We decided to always bring two different versions of the same map with us in the future.

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5 Responses to Snowbank Lake Hiking Trail

  1. Tom Kuder says:

    Dee, thanks for the wonderful journal of your hike! Jim had relayed some of your experiences (hands and knees stuff) but it’s great to hear it in your own words. Quite a nice adventure! Thanks for letting Jim go fishing with us while you were hiking — I’m sure you’ve heard how they were biting big and often!
    Tom

    • Vacation says:

      Thanks Tom! I’m glad to hear you guys had a great fishing trip – I know you all look forward to it every year. I can’t help it, but I look forward to backpacking each year too – you can’t keep me out of the woods!

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