There is something truly magical about taking a hike in the heart of fall. The light is so intense, the colors are so brilliant and the air is so pure and fresh, that your lungs are filled with an amazing feeling of abundance and joy. In my opinion, fall is the best time of year to hike and unfortunately the season does not last very long in northern Minnesota. Only a mere two months if lucky.
There are several magnificent places to hike near the Boundary Waters Wilderness and Canoe area in Ely, Minnesota, and one of my favorites by far is along the Superior National Forest trail to Bass and Dry Lake. We discovered this little treasure last summer when we went to Ely for vacation and instantly fell in love with its magical pristine blue lakes, dramatic views, waterfalls and forests.
We rose to a glorious fall day at our cabin on Mitchell Lake outside of Ely. There was not a cloud in the sky and the lake was so smooth it looked like glass. We knew it would be a fabulous day for our hike to Bass and Dry Lake.
We spent the morning taking a kayak ride over to the beaver dam at the edge of the lake. What I love so much about staying at the Northernair Lodge is that it is the only resort on the entire lake and the cabins are small, secluded and tucked away inside the woods. The shoreline of Lake Mitchell is pristine and much of the forest around the lake is protected and undeveloped. It is also only a five minute drive into nearby Ely where there are shops, restaurants and canoe outfitters.
After lunch, we packed some snacks and headed out for our hike. It is roughly a twenty minute drive along pretty country roads to reach the Bass Lake Trail Head which is part of the Superior National Forest.
We first followed the Bass Lake Trail to our favorite scenic lookout, perched high above Bass Lake. We sat down for a snack and while we were eating apples and crackers, we saw a majestic bald eagle soaring above. We snapped some pictures and marveled at the beauty of such an untouched place.
In the summer, Bass Lake is a popular place to swim. Hikers wear their swim suits and either jump off the cliffs into the lake below or enjoy the little water pools made by the waterfalls that act like a jacuzzi. Despite my daughter’s disappointment, it was too cool to go swimming. We will have to wait until next summer.
Our dog Winter however didn’t mind the cold water one bit and we had to drag him out of the water or else he would have stayed there the entire day. He definitely is a water dog!
We circled back to the Dry Lake Loop which wraps roughly three miles around Dry Lake. The name is interesting as the lake is clearly not dry. The history of the four lakes along the trail (Bass, Low, Dry and Little Dry Lakes) is quite fascinating as Bass and Low Lake were once separated by a giant basin that acted as a dam and collapsed in 1925 dropping Bass Lake 55 feet in 10 hours and isolating Dry and Little Dry lakes from the old lake bed. (1). There are plenty of signs and even a placard of an old newspaper clipping along the trail that refer to this mysterious geological event.
The views along Dry Lake were equally as stunning as Bass Lake Trail yet it is a bit more wooded. I tried to take photos but the dog was getting tired out and pulling at full speed ahead to get to the end of the hike. Sadly, our makeshift dog harness wasn’t working so we literally almost had to run to keep up with Winter.
I was surprised by how less advanced the leaves were at these lakes compared to Lake Mitchell only 6 miles away. They had barely even started to turn but it was still gorgeous.
We ended back at the car park three hours later with a tired dog, hungry kids and a happy mom. There is nothing better than taking a walk into the woods to clear your mind and hiking with my family is even better.
If you go:
The Bass Lake Trail is located 6 miles north of Ely. Follow Highway 169 east of Ely to County Rd 88. Take County Rd 88 north to County Rd 116 (Echo Trail). Go north on the Echo Trail 2.6 miles to the Bass Lake parking lot, located on the north side of the road. For more information including a trail map, click here.
There are also a few backcountry campsites along the trail too for those who are interested in spending the night in nature.