The Border Route Trail is a 65-mile long hiking trail that crosses the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in the far northeast corner of Minnesota (Arrowhead) and follows the international border between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. It connects with the Superior Hiking Trail on its eastern terminus and with the Kekekabic Trail on its western end at the Gunflint Trail (Cook Cty. Road 12). The closest towns are Grand Marais (beginning of Gunflint Trail, County Rd 12) and Hovland (beginning of Arrowhead Trail, County Road 16). In addition to the eastern and western termini, the Border Route Trail can be accessed through several spur and connecting trails, allowing for hiking trips ranging from short day-hikes to multiday backpacking expeditions. On these pages, you will find information for planning your hiking trip on the Border Route Trail: BWCA regulations, outfitters, trail heads and announcements of upcoming trail clearing events on the Border Route Trail.
The trail was planned and built in the early 1970's by the Minnesota Rovers Outing Club with the help of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the US Forest Service. It was the first long-distance, wilderness backpacking and hiking trail in Minnesota planned and constructed by volunteers. The Border Route Trail Association was incorporated in 2004 to coordinate the maintenance and increase public awareness of the trail. The trail continues to exist by the efforts of volunteers and our valued partner relationships.
Randy Niemiec posted about the route and his FKT attempts in 2012 & 2013 on our old website:
This Sunday, July 29, I plan to establish a fastest known time for the Border Route Trail in Minnesota.
An Internet search using the words "fastest known time border route trail" yielded an attempt by Stephen Regeneld to complete the trail in less than 24 hours. He gave no specific time for how long it took him to complete the trail, but, by his account (http://gearjunkie.com/border-route-trail-minnesota-trip-report), it was more than 24 hours. My Internet search did not yield any other attempts at a fastest known time on the Border Route Trail. I hope to complete the trail in less than 21 hours.
The Border Route Trail Association defines the western terminus of the trail as the Gunflint Trail and the eastern terminus as the Superior Hiking Trail (http://www.borderroutetrail.org/trail.html). I will be using this definition for my trip.
I will be traversing the approximately 65 mile trail from west to east.
My record will be for a trip that is supported from the Gunflint Trail to the last road crossing before entering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), N. Loon Lake Road, and from the first road crossing after exiting the BWCAW, the Arrowhead Trail, to the Superior Hiking Trail and unsupported between N. Loon Lake Road and the Arrowhead Trail, including all parts in the BWCAW. Thus, I will be supported during the westernmost 13 miles and easternmost 12 miles and unsupported for the middle 40 miles, approximately.
Please feel free to meet me on the trail. I plan to start at approximately 12 a.m. on Sunday morning on the Gunflint Trail (County Road 12). I estimate I will cross S. Gunflint Lake Road between 2 and 3 a.m. I plan to cross N. Loon Lake Road around 4 or 5 a.m. I hope to arrive at the Arrowhead Trail (County Road 74) between 3 and 6 p.m. and finish my trip at the Superior Hiking Trail somewhere between 6 and 9 p.m.
I gave it a try, but wasn’t close to being up to the challenge.
I started out with Scott Bordon at the western terminus of the Border Route Trail shortly after midnight. Scott accompanied me over the first 12 miles all the way to N. Loon Lake Road, where we met my wife and children. We walked all those 12 miles, as I thought it best to conserve energy for running until daylight when I would be able to get more bang for my buck. I had been hoping to arrive at N. Loon Lake Road between 4 and 5 a.m., but didn’t make it there until 5:45 a.m.
Between the western terminus and Gunflint Narrows Road, we lost the trail momentarily from time to time, but were able to find it again without too much trouble. East of Gunflint Narrows Road, though, we came across lots of additional trails and there were often no markings to indicate which trail was the BRT. On three occasions, we spent a significant amount of time on the wrong trail and lost a total of at least 40 minutes.
We also had significant issues with thick undergrowth. At times it was up to our chests. The undergrowth made it hard to do a fast walk and obscured rock and fallen logs and other hazards, which led to falls and near misses. It was all fair, but made progress slow.
In terms of logistics, I had planned to be finished by dusk later that day and had made that same commitment to my wife. While I hadn’t even started running yet, I knew much of the trail ahead was not runnable for me, I would be entering a long unsupported section, plus fatigue would come eventually. After doing 12 miles in 5.75 hours, it didn’t seem realistic to do the last 53 in the remaining 15 hours of daylight. I was feeling fine physically, but decided to call it quits.
The fact that I would have no access to my crew for the next 40 miles definitely played a part in my decision. If I could have done another 10 miles, for example, to see if I could get back on pace, I would have, but it was all or nothing for that 40 mile section.
Congratulations to Stephen Regeneld for completing the whole trail. It’s a beastly, rugged trail.
Thanks to Scott Bordon, my wife Meg Hoyt, and my children Isabel and Winnie for their support.
I’m going to make another go at it. Details remain largely the same as from my epic fail last summer. This Saturday, June 22 is the date and I’ll be going from west to east once again. Here are a couple of key elements for my attempt:
>Old school navigation only; I will be using only a compass and map to navigate.
>Unsupported on the approximately 40-mile road-less section from N. Loon Lake Road to the Arrowhead Trail.
Feel free to meet me on the trail. I plan to start at approximately 12 a.m. on Saturday morning on the Gunflint Trail (County Road 12). Road crossings and estimated arrival times are as follows: S. Gunflint Lake Road, between 2 and 3 a.m.; N. Loon Lake Road, between 4 and 5 a.m.; Arrowhead Trail (County Road 74), between 3 and 6 p.m.; Superior Hiking Trail (eastern terminus) between 6 and 9 p.m.
The short story is I had a much more respectable showing than last year (52 miles completed), but the end result was still the same (didn’t cover the full 65 miles).
I started out from the western terminus at midnight with Sean Faulk. We ran some, but mostly walked because of roots, rocks, and undergrowth. Like last year, after crossing Cross River on North Gunflint Lake Road, we had difficulty figuring out which way to go when we came to intersections, but had much less difficulty than last year (arriving at North Loon Lake Road at 4 a.m. this year vs. 5:45 a.m. last year). We were able to average 3 miles per hour on this twelve-mile section, as I had hoped, without exerting ourselves too much.
My wife Meg was waiting for us at North Loon Lake Road. Meg and Sean helped me resupply with fluids and food before I headed out on the forty-mile road-less middle section unsupported.
I had hoped to continue my 3 miles per hour pace on this section, but was unable. The terrain was extremely technical, with lots of roots and rocks. On top of that, it was often impossible to see the roots and rocks because they were obscured by undergrowth. In the end, I did very little running on this section and was able to only cover 2.5 miles in a good hour. I lost about 30 minutes when I took a wrong turn shortly after Bridal Veil Falls. I made another wrong turn just a few miles before reaching the Arrowhead Trail. I ran into a group of Boy Scouts portaging from Daniels Lake to Rose Lake but didn’t see anyone else the whole 40 miles. I reached the Arrowhead Trail at 8:20 p.m., much later than the 6 p.m. I had hoped for.
This was as far as I made it. Earlier in the morning it had rained for an hour or two. In my desire to travel light, I had worn only a t-shirt and shorts and didn’t carry any extra clothing. I had thought about bringing a garbage bag to use as a poncho or a reflective blanket, but decided against it. The temperature was around 60F, but nevertheless I got very cold. After the rain stopped, my clothes eventually dried out and I was able to get warmed back up. The sky remained overcast the rest of the day. The weather greatly reduced the risk of dehydration, but ended up being my undoing.
About 6 p.m. it started to rain again. Even though I was walking fast, I was shivering. I felt like I was in danger of becoming hypothermic and didn’t think I had the mental wherewithal to navigate the BRT in the dark for a second night in a row, so even before I finished the forty-mile middle segment I decided not to do the last thirteen-mile segment.
When I got to the parking lot at the beginning of the last segment at 8:20 p.m., Meg and Sean were not there. The rain was still coming down steadily, I had no other clothes, no rain gear, and I was almost out of food and fluids. I was very worried about hypothermia. After unsuccessfully trying the doors of the vehicles in the parking lot, I crawled into a boat that had a cover on it. Shortly thereafter Meg and Sean arrived. They had been tracking my progress using the messages sent from my beacon, but because I picked up my pace the last few hours, I arrived earlier than they thought I would.
My difficulties with getting cold at the end highlight an interesting dynamic. I wanted to travel light but that forty-mile road-less section can be very dangerous if something goes wrong.
Thanks to Meg for allowing me to give this a try again. I know it scares the crap out of her when I'm out in the middle of nowhere alone like that. Thanks to Meg and my daughters Isabel and Winnie for putting up with all the time I spent training. Thanks to Isabel for the Shwings she gave me to put on my shoes. They helped me go faster on some very difficult terrain! Thanks to Sean for accompanying me on those first 12 miles, reassuring Meg while I was doing the middle section, giving me advice, and going on training runs with me no matter how early, how far, and how cold it was. Thanks to Sean’s daughter Abby for making the trip and helping keep my daughters company so Meg and Sean could concentrate on supporting me. And thanks to Sean’s wife Becky for letting me borrow Sean and Abby for the weekend.
Ed Solstad 7/8/2013:
You're getting closer - another try and you might just complete it in 24 hours. You should find the McFarland to Swamp River section to be relatively easy to follow, certainly better than the Ham Lake Fire burn areas around Gunflint Lake. Best of Luck!!
Randy Niemiec 7/23/2013:
Ed, thanks for the encouragement. I like to think of you as the father of the Border Route Trail. For those of you who don’t know, Ed played a huge role in designing and creating the trail in the 1970s and continues to coordinate maintenance of the trail. Without Ed Solstad, there would be no Border Route Trail. Ed, I would love to join you for one of those maintenance trips later this summer or fall to give a little back to a trail that has given me a lot.
Eric, good to hear from you. I would definitely be up for a 24 hour run next year.
Ed Solstad 12/5/2013:
Randy, If you give it another try in 2014. I'd suggest going in mid to late May before the thimbleberries, etc. get a chance to obscure the trail. Hopefully there will be an earlier spring next year and we'll be able to get some meaningful maintenance done early on.