For wilderness aficionados, little in Minnesota can compare to a sojourn in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But a turn in weather or a hatch of black flies can quickly transform a north-woods idyll into the Bataan Death March. So how do you get a taste of the sublime, with less exertion and some reliable, if primitive, comforts?
First, head up the North Shore past Duluth and turn inland at Silver Bay. Pass over the Sawtooth Mountains into the unincorporated town of Finland. This is your last real taste of civilization, and a good place to stock up on gas, groceries, and other supplies. Take a right at County Road 7, which hugs an impossibly photogenic stretch of the Baptism River. Proceed about 20 miles. Stop at Crooked Lake. You are in the Heart of the Arrowhead.
The vast high country that surrounds Crooked Lake is mostly undeveloped. With its towering white pines, dramatic rock outcroppings, and unblemished shore lines, the vistas are indistinguishable from those of the Boundary Waters, located just 12 miles away. The area offers many of the same pleasures as the celebrated canoe country, and if you like to hike, paddle, bird watch, fish, or take nature photographs, your options are endless. For starters, try a stroll on the nearby Nine Mile Lake trail, a five-mile loop that offers fantastic views.
When it comes to dining, however, your sole choice in the vicinity is the Trestle Inn—but what a choice it is. One of the Arrowhead’s architectural marvels, the venerable bar and restaurant was constructed principally from 300-year-old timbers salvaged from a derelict railroad trestle. The Trestle specializes in such zany stick-to-your-ribs offerings as the Minnesota burger, topped with Tater Tots and cream-of-mushroom soup.
There are pleasures here that BWCAW paddlers can only dream of—amenities such as hot dinner prepared by someone else, a roof over your head, and a proper bed. And should the weather turn brutal, you can always hop in your car and motor back to Duluth. Such are the luxuries afforded by a Boundary Waters-lite holiday.
MNMO’S GUIDE TO CROOKED LAKE
What to do
Start off on the right foot by hiking the Nine Mile Lake Trail, a five-mile loop that offers scenic views of woods, hills, and valleys. Unless you’re part billy goat, however, this is a moderately tiring excursion, so bring a bottle of water, a snack, and, just in case, a compass.
Where to eat
The Trestle Inn, owned by Susan Butler, a native of the Twin Cities and former regular who, in her own words, “bought my favorite bar.” The restaurant offers an eclectic range of items, including the Train Wreck: a hamburger patty with a brat, two kinds of cheese, and bacon. You hiked hard, you deserve it. trestleinn.com
Where to stay
After enjoying dinner and a few drinks at the Trestle, stroll down to one of 11 rustic cabins at Crooked Lake Resort. Be forewarned: This is a throwback resort. The cabins are hardly fancy (no running water, no TV, private outhouses) but they are toasty and cozy. A canoe is included with cabin rentals. crookedlakemn.com