We had Eagle Mountain all to ourselves. No leaves were out yet up this way and it was gorgeous weather. We were excited to see a moose across the way on Whale Lake.
Heed Don Holmes' advice to be alert for the summit trail turn off NW of Whale Lake. It can easily be overlooked although there is a sign on a nearby tree.
We found it tricky too where the trail leads at the top where you first come across all the exposed rock. We went to the top of these rocks but didn't see any trails. We continued on a little and followed one of the not so beaten paths and came back to the exposed rocks we saw earlier from another angle. This time we saw the path that goes to the highpoint.
I flew all the way to the top of Eagle Mountain, the Highpoint of Minnesota at 2,301 feet, on Friday afternoon, November 21st, 2003. It was my 19th state highpoint.
I left the resort in Eagle River, WI, where I spent a very enjoyable week, at 6:00AM. I drove northwest to Duluth and then north on US 61, which provided superior views of the big lake they call Gitchee Gumee. There was major road construction underway on the Caribou Trail, or County Road 4, but what little traffic there was proceeded without delays. They were definitely widening the road and possibly preparing it for paving. I arrived at the trailhead parking area at 12:45PM. There was one other car parked there. It had Minnesota plates. I would have liked to check into a local motel or cabin so I could take my time and visit the Split Rock Lighthouse and other scenic and historic sites in the area that afternoon and start my hike on Saturday morning. However the weather report said it was going to start snowing on Saturday with heavy snow and possible blizzard conditions developing Saturday evening and continuing all day Sunday. I wanted to be on my way home before the snow got too heavy so I decided to take on Eagle Mountain that afternoon. Therefore I started my hike at 1:00PM. The weather was clear and a cold 27 degrees. It seemed to warm up quickly as I started moving and I soon took of a couple layers of clothing. I wanted to move quickly to try to get back to my car before dark. I had barely enough goodies in my rucksack to survive the night if I had to but it wouldnt have been too comfortable without a sleeping bag and tent. The trail was icy so I couldnt move quite as fast as I wanted to but managed to move along at a steady pace without falling. About ten minutes into the hike I heard what sounded to me like a moose snorting, grumbling and making whatever sounds that moose make and then I saw the bushes and trees shaking no more than 30 yards from the trail. I got the feeling he was a big male telling me that this was his turf and not to mess with him. My wife, who is not a highpointer but appreciates nature and wildlife, later asked me if I saw him and was I able to take a picture. I told her I could have but I have been told that it is not wise to confront a moose in the wild so I bid him my greetings and kept walking. After another ten minutes I heard the trumpeting sound of a big male elk in the not too far distance. I really enjoy encountering wildlife in the wilderness and was hoping to be lucky enough to see some of the local wolves. The bears were probably already in hibernation. Thankfully so were the mosquitoes. I walked another ½ hour and met the couple from the car parked at the trailhead. We talked briefly and said they did not see any wildlife other than chipmunks. I didnt either. I told them about the Highpointers Club. The woman said that she had wondered if there were highpoints in all the other states. I told her that there were but most of them are not in such a beautiful area as the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. I was starting to remember how much I enjoyed the week I spent camping and canoeing northwest of here, on the Canadian side, 30 years ago. They gave me some helpful advise about the turnoff to the summit of Eagle Mountain that I was not aware of. They told me that when I get to an open area, which is the scenic overlook mentioned in the Wingers guidebook, the trail seems to continue on straight ahead but they noticed another trail to the right with some cairns off in the distance. That is the trail to the highpoint, which is only a few hundred yards away. Im glad that they told me that or I might have been so awed by the spectacular view from this overlook that I might have missed the turnoff and continued farther along the wrong trail.
I arrived at the summit at 2:45PM. I took my first drink of water from my canteen, took my sandwich out of my pocket and started sliding back to the trailhead, eating my sandwich along the way. Since it gets dark so early this time of year I wasnt able to take the time I would have liked to take to relax and enjoy the scenery. I wanted to try to make it back to my car before dark. Since I didnt have time to stop and rest, Eagle Mountain turned out to be a pretty demanding hike. It was the first highpoint that actually made my legs sore and caused me to work up a sweat since Wheeler Peak, in early September, which was my 8th state highpoint. Shortly before reaching the trailhead I heard my friend the moose doing his thing in his same spot. I said goodnight and continued on, arriving back at my car at about 4:30PM with just barely enough natural light left to see the trail without having to break out my emergency light, which was probably too small to be much help.
I drove back to Duluth and spent the night at the Motel 6. The next day I drove south, reaching my home in Illinois before the heavy snows hit Minnesota and northern Wisconsin and Michigan. On the way I stopped at the Saint Croix National Scenic River visiting center but as my luck would have it, it too was closed, probably for the season.
All roads were clear and passable in spite of some construction work near Lutsen. Whale Lake was still frozen. Snow from the trailhead was mostly 3-6 inches deep.
With this level of snow the trail appeared unmarked except for old blazes and the signs at the major intersections. I could not have found the summit except for footprints all the way. Did not find a register but I believe one person--whom I encountered--had been to the summit on the previous day.
On this day there was downpour throughout the hike (severe thunderstorms in northwest Wisconsin) and my car was in a pool of water upon my return. I was fortunate to avoid breaking through into any pools of water, thus returned with relatively dry feet.
Eagle Mountain is a very easy highpoint to find and hike with preparation. The rangers from the different districts are happy to provide trailmaps and directions; Denise and Donna were very helpful from the Tofte/Gunflint Ranger District. The best route without construction is Cook County Road 2 just North of Tofte that heads West and then turns North. Cook County Road 2 will lead to Forest Road #170 East which will require a turn to the right; be sure to not take the first Forest Road #170 that goes West and requires a left turn. The signs are very obvious including the Eagle Mountain Trailhead sign; this is why I did not bother to write down the mileage. The Eagle Mountain trailhead is at the Northeast corner of the dirt and gravel parking lot. The trail was snowpacked but very easy to follow; the only junction has a very nice sign on the Northwest corner of Whale Lake that points uphill to Eagle Mountain. The 3.36 mile one-way hike from the trailhead to the summit took me one hour and fifty minutes even with my severely strained calf muscle from my winter survival course in Rocky Mountain National Park two weeks earlier; my doctor was not happy. I did take Forest Road #4 or the Caribou Trail back to Lutsen; this road has construction and is extremely rough. I hope these directions help; if not, the forest rangers are your best resource.
I climbed Eagle Mountain on Wednesday, 29 September 2010. To get to the trailhead I left MN-61 at Lutsen. Despite morning rains the roads were in good condition and sufficiently signed. We reached the trailhead around 2:00p CDT. There was one person in the parking lot, drying clothes from a very wet morning climb. Fortunately the skies had pretty much cleared by two o'clock in the afternoon. We saw no other hikers the rest of the day.
However, the soaking rain had left the trail dangerously slippery, as it was composed largely of football-sized rocks, rootwads, mud, and fallen leaves. Very few sections are smooth and level. This necessitated some slow going. The distance is usually given as 3.5 miles one-way. It seemed longer.
After about an hour we came to the wilderness area boundary. At the trailhead there is a registration box in which hikers entering the wilderness area are requested to deposit a registration form. About half an hour later, after crossing some boggy areas on strategically placed boardwalks, we arrived at Whale Lake. That is where the climb really begins, and the trail is pretty steep and rocky all the way to the summit, which we reached at about 4:30p CDT. There is a nice view about ten minutes before you reach the summit, which itself does not afford much of a view. There is an informative plaque set into the rock near the highest point.
We wanted to return to the trailhead before dark, so we hurried down as best we could and reached the parking lot around 6:30p CDT. Unlike many highpointers we encountered no bugs, flies, mosquitoes, or other obnoxious insects during the hike.
We here heading to Grand Marais for the night, so we left the parking area in the opposite direction from which we arrived, and again found the roads in good condition and well-signed.
Perhaps due to the wet conditions I found this highpoint to be a little more difficult than usually described, but it might just be that I'm getting to be older and fatter than the usual highpointer. 8-)
Eagle Mountain is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the United States, especially at the peak of the fall colors. I think early October is the perfect time to visit this high point.