Route: Snowbank Lake Loops (MN)

Minnesota, US
21 mi
Vertical Gain
3,000 ft

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the Superior National Forest of Minnesota

Snowbank-Disappointment:  Three segments of trails combined form a 25 mile loop (according to my Garmin watch, other reports on Alltrails for example put it at 27 miles) through the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). The Loop circumnavigates Snowbank and Disappointment Lakes near Ely, MN starting and ending at the Snowbank/Kekakabic West Trail Head. Trail segments include the Western part of the Kekakabic Trail, The Disappointment Lake Trail and the Snowbank Lake Trail.

25 miles with 3,412 feet of elevation gain through out bring you through old and new growth boreal forest in the BWCA. Parts of the forest were impacted by the 2016 blowdown storm and massive stands of white and red pines and spruce were felled. Crews have spent the last 4 years clearing the debris and the trails have since been fully cleared and are in excellent shape.

The trail is a constant up and down, very technical trail with rocks, roots and boulders - you'll actually "run" maybe half the time - very little flat or smooth. 6 beavers dams are how you will cross various streams. There's a fast running river/rapids between Snowbank and Boot Lake (where there's also a canoe portage) is a good spot to refill your water. Great wildlife viewing possibility - moose and bear scat everywhere, eagles, beavers, ruffed grouse can be seen.

The northern section around the north part of Snowbank Lake is a lot of bare/exposed granite and the trail is marked by cairns though at times can be hard to find. There are stunning views of Snowbank Lake from up high here. The Disappointment segment is the most remote portion of the loop and there's a few trees down that obscure the trail. Just follow your GPS and if looks like you're off the map but still on a trail going the correct direction - you're probably on track. Just verify often! The Kek portion is the most established and easy to follow and run portion - just keep an eye out for the cairns or wilderness-compliant tree-trunk signs indicating the trails and to avoid extra loops or heading toward campsites.

Snowbank only (21 miles):  Skips the part around Disappointment Lake by taking  the Snowbank Trail, which winds between Snowbank and Disappointment Lakes.

Snowbank - Old Pines (30 miles, 4000' gain):  The longest extension of the Snowbank Loop series in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Northeastern Minnesota. This loop connects to the Old Pines Loop Trail that winds and additional 11 miles through old growth White and Red Pine forest south of Alworth Lake. The extra loop is the most remote segment of the entire Snowbank series - less traveled but recently cleared from a big blowdown. However trees have recently fallen from a couple storms and rocks, roots and boulders with the content up and down of the terrain make it a grinder on the knees and ankles! Not for the feint of heart, but a beautiful run amongst the sentinels of the forest.

--submitted by Alexander Falconer

GPS Track