This winter has brought excellent conditions for winter sports of all kinds. Snowshoeing in particular is exceptional. The hiking trails around Crane Lake are considered backcountry trails as they aren’t groomed or packed in any way, and getting to the trailhead can sometimes be a challenge due to unplowed roads.
Herriman Lake Trails
The 15 mile network of trails is located off the Nelson Road. The parking lot is plowed and the trail is ready for your snowshoes. People have snowshoed down this trail and it has been packed by them. The trail starts out with a gradual rise and the first 1/2 mile takes you to the Echo River. There is a picnic area at the river.
When you cross the bridge that goes over the Echo River, listen for the flow of water under the ice. It’s pretty cool (in more ways than one!). Look for the tracks of the river otter who use the cracks in the ice to go under water. On the other side of the bridge, the trail forks. You can either continue heading east to the trails to Dovre Lake and Little Vermilion, or you can take the trail that heads south along the river. The US Forest Service cleaned up all the downed trees on these trails last fall and they are in excellent condition. It is smooth sailing! Because this trail goes into the BWCA, you need a day use permit. A self-issuing day use permit is available at the trailhead.
Crane Lake Voyageur Grouse Trails
At the same parking lot for Herriman Lake Trail, you can access the Grouse Trail. It heads to the west from the parking lot. This trail hasn’t been packed and is just waiting for a pair of cross-country skis to cut through the powder snow. A network of trails crosses the snowmobile trail and circumvents a beaver pond.
Vermilion River Gorge Trail
Wow! The trail has been packed and is waiting for your snowshoes. Park your car at the Voyagaire Lodge and head towards the back of the parking lot where the houseboats are stored. Follow the snowmobile trail from the road for about 50 feet. Watch for a packed trail that heads off to the right of the snowmobile trail. The packed trail winds between the houseboats to the Trailhead. (Do not continue on the snowmobile trail.)
The trail goes down to the river; about 1 mile from the trailhead. Be extremely careful around the actual Gorge area – stay on the trail! And stay off the ice on the river, ice is never safe when there is moving water under the ice.
Forest Road 491 takes you to the area, but it is a minimum maintenance road, and isn’t always plowed. The scenic area is 5 miles west of the Crane Lake road, and you may want to take advantage of a 4-wheel drive vehicle for this road. The parking lot is not plowed. I parked on the road and walked up to the falls on the packed snowmobile trail. In fact using a snowmobile to reach the area would by far be the better idea. The walkway to view the falls is snow covered and treacherous, so extreme care should be exercised when viewing the falls, but the reward can be exhilarating!
The part about snowshoeing that I like the best is that you can get out there no matter how cold the temperatures are and heat up with exercise. Not only is the scenery beautiful, but your heart will thank you.