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March Border Lakes Ride

The family cabin on North Fowl Lake

Last weekend, my brother-in-law and I hauled a load of lumber to the family cabin on North Fowl Lake. Dean’s dad and uncle built the cabin in the early 1970s, and it’s served as an awesome remote retreat ever since. Only two ways of getting to this place: via snowmobile in the winter, or via boat in the summer.

In recent years, our families have gathered here around New Years, snowmobiling the trails in Minnesota and the untouched logging roads of Canada.

border map

CLICK HERE for the Google Map

A border lake of Minnesota and Ontario, Fowl is part of a chain of lakes that serves as the basis of a REALLY cool ride, skirting the BWCA Wilderness and through some very wild country.

We’ve talked with our local-to-this-area friends Eric Nelms and Andrew Romu about the route many times, but this was my first opportunity to actually ride it. Because many of these lakes need extra time to set good ice, this route is one that shouldn’t be tried until mid-Feb.

Overlooking Moose Lake

Here we are just a few miles into the ride, having come off the west end of Moose Lake (seen in the distance), going north into Canada along old logging roads.

Border Route Ride

There are no marked trails on this ride. It’s either lakes, rivers, old logging roads or portages. Navigating unfamiliar territory requires a bit of map reading, a bit of freelancing and a bit of experimentation. Kinda like some kinds of mountain riding.


Border Route Ride

Also similar to many mountain riding areas near federal Wilderness, the border lake route we took had the added intrigue of being the northern edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. On most of the border lakes that we rode, the Minnesota side constitutes the BWCA, which is off-limits to snowmobiles (or any mechanical devices). So we were careful to stay on the Ontario side, lest a helicopter swoop down and nail us with a $400 ticket.

The photo above is taken near the Height of Land monument between North and South Lakes. To the right of this sign is BWCA/Minnesota, to the left is Ontario and legal riding. It’s never made much sense to me, along with the motor rules on Fowl Lakes (10hp limit on the U.S. side of the lakes, unlimited hp on the Canadian side).


Border Route Ride

If you’ve never seen this area of Minnesota and Ontario, it’s covered with all sizes of deepwater lakes, vast coniferous forests and lots of exposed granite cliffs. It’s the closest thing we have to mountains in Minnesota, and I recommend the experience to anyone. In the photo above, we’re heading south from Arrow to Rose Lake, early in the journey.

I’ve paddled many BWCA lakes in the summer, which is equally compelling and adventurous as wintertime sledding in the adjacent areas.


Below is a 1-minute video of the portage trail between Rose and Arrow lakes, illustrating the beauty and ruggedness of the border lakes region.

The big cliff that you see at the end of the above video…were standing atop it in the photo below. This is one of those rare moments that Dean shows affection, because he’s usually a little too chaffed that I’m always stopping to shoot photos.

Overlooking Arrow


Late winter in this region brings out the ice fisherman. I met these two guys on Arrow Lake, where they’d snatched four tasty-looking lake trout in an hour’s worth of angling.

Lake Trout treats

We usually stop and talk with the people we meet on lakes to ask questions and compare stories. It’s interesting, because these conversations usually lead to new “trail” discoveries.

I love every kind of snowmobile experience, but fundemental to most of them is the sense of adventure. And when I ride in the fast wild of the border region, there’s ALL KINDS of adventure.


Gunflint Fire area

The border portion of this route ends at Gunflint Lake, the north and east side of which showed the stark evidence of the infamous Gunflint fires that raged through this area in May, 2007.

New among the burned

Proof that hope springs eternal (and that fires have been a part of this area for centuries), there were some fancy new digs that have already sprung up on the Canadian side of the burn.

Hockey on Gunflint

It was a little bit weird to go from no-man’s land to Gunflint Lodge, where a boot-hockey game was in full swing. An afternoon wedding at the lodge meant no-food for us, so we pressed onward, down the Gunflint Trail, to Trail Center, where we ate like kings. We were going to take Minnesota trails back to the cabin, but with the smooth lake running and excellent adventure beckoning, we opted instead to take the border route again. Good choice.


Trail kill?

The theme for our ride back to the cabin was “Wolves.” LOTS of evidence of famed creatures in this region, including the remnant deer leg that I found on the trail.

Another name for "scat" is...

And some trailside scat that featured lots of animal fur.


The best find of the day though was this moose skull, in the area just north of Moose Lake as luck would have it. We’d ridden past this exact spot five hours earlier, and there was no skull. Upon our return…Bullwinkle!

We didn’t see any live moose or wolves on this trip, but we typically see moose and occasionally see wolves.

We ended the day with 159.5 miles on the odometers and lots of great memories. This was probably my last ride for the season (although a late-March blizzard hit today, as I write this, so maybe my season was extended), so there was an element of sadness to the ride.

It’s been a great winter here in Minnesota (and for anyone who still wants to savor it, I expect there will be good riding in the border region for at least another couple weeks). And this was an excellent ride to end it for me.

Thanks for reading.



  1. Nice! Incredible scenery. Is getting gas for the sleds an issue, at all? You really should take that ventrilliquest act on the road…. Good stuff!

  2. I used to go fishing with my dad and brother on Rose Lake. There’s no landing on Rose Lake so you have go into Canada, put your boat in on Arrow and take a boat ride to the narrows shown in your photo to get to Rose. In early June the suckers/redhorse are spawning in those narrows and you can almost walk across them they’re so thick.

  3. John,
    I agree that this area is rivaled only by the mountains for beautiful scenery. It’s our favorite place to ride. Very good friends of our have a cabin east of Ely just off the Tomahawk Trail. You have to sled in with your supplies. Makes for a great experience. We rode from there to Crane Lake and back on a Saturday this winter. 275 miles round trip. Awesome ride ! Isle had 11″ today. We got about 8″. Going to give a try tomorrow. Meet you at Thomas ?

  4. Jim: Arrow is a looooooong lake, huh?

    Paul: I’m going on a few days R&R with my family, otherwise I’d join you for the ride. Thanks for the invite…next year!

    Chad: I had to ask him for the tether, much like a 16-year-old sheepishly asks dad for the car keys.

  5. John, In your opening paragraph you said that you and your brother in law hauled a load of lumber to the family cabin on North Fowl Lake. Your third sentence reads “Only two ways of getting to this place:via snowmobile in the winter, or via boat in the summer.” My question is, how did you get the wood to the cabin?

  6. Boy, it sure sounds like Mr Sandberg has had a SWEET winter! Props to Mrs Sandberg for manning the fort while John was out goofing off, oops I mean working. Disclaimer: My wife may have had some input in this post. Haha, sounds like a great trip!

  7. 81snopro: I wish I could answer your question with a photo of our rinky-dink operation, but we were too lame to have taken one.

    The answer is we strapped the lumber to two of these plastic Otter sleighs, then we towed in the whole shebang.

    Problem was, neither the F8 nor the SP500 had a hitch, and our system for attaching them was pretty caveman and created some good humor.

    Normally we go in with some sleds that have real tow hitches, and all is fine.

    It’s a five-mile ride to get from the parking spot to the family cabin, on mostly singletrack trail.

    Mike F: It HAS been a great winter. One of the best that I can remember. And for sure I owe thanks to the Mrs.

    Dean and I actually framed this entire trip as “having to haul lumber in for the summer cabin-fix.” That portion of the trip took about an hour. LOL.

  8. In other words you did it the hard way. I wish I were young again. It looks like a wonderful place to trail ride and do a little ball$ out running. Good for you.

  9. Take away the towers and it could be a BWCA snuest…memories of youth.It’s been warm up north too, for a week there’s been record highs and I think even a new high record low.55 ewes start lambing in about 2 weeks. This has been such great weather I wish I’d put the rams in earlier to take advantage of it; but I remember 2003/4 (?) when it was -20 in late March and the just shorn sheep were miserable. That memory stops me every time.The width of the ewes makes me think a lot of them are carrying twins/trips, or more. Hopefully the granny ewes (newborn stealing, hormonely-whacked out, haven’t lambed yet ewes) have been culled and lambing is once again easy (for me) and fun.

  10. Yes, it was a record. Yesterday was the wamerst day in March, ever, in a mean sense (Mean was 70 – high of 80, low of 60). Today was the 5th day in a row with a record high. Gonna be the wamerst March ever!. [url=]zfvqiunlmp[/url] [link=]zikesry[/link]


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