The Border Route Trail (BRT) is a 65-mile trail in the northeast corner of Minnesota. It is a beautiful, remote trail that follows the Canadian border into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). The eastern terminus of this trail is just outside the BWCA and connects with the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). At the western terminus of the BRT, you can connect with the Kekekabic Trail and continue hiking through the western half of the BWCA.
Dogs are allowed on this entire trail. They do not have to be leashed but must be under control at all times. There is a lot of wildlife, including moose and bears, along the Border Route Trail. As a result, it is imperative for everyone’s safety (yours, your dogs, the wildlife’s, and other visitors) that your dog stays with you, comes when called, and does not harass wildlife or other visitors.
You will need a permit to stay in the BWCA overnight from May to September. A permit costs $38 as of writing this blog post. Prices may change in the future. This permit system helps support Superior National Forest (the organization that manages the BWCA). It also helps limit how many people are using the trail, which keeps this area rugged, remote, and wild. Permits can be obtained at Recreation.gov. If you prefer to backpack without worrying about a permit, consider the Superior Hiking Trail instead.
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About the Border Route Trail
The Border Route Trail is fairly rugged. The trail is volunteer maintained, so depending on how recently the trail has been worked on, the trail can vary from a wide, flat, and easy-to-follow path to narrow, overgrown, and difficult to see in the dense vegetation. Make sure to bring good navigation tools (map, compass, gps) on this hike. Below you can see images of the trail and the some of the signs along the route.
The trail follows several ridgelines in between the BWCA’s pristine lakes, so there is some elevation change as you hike up and down these ridges. Water is easily available from the numerous lakes in the area. And as the majority of the campsites in the BWCA are accessible by canoe, nearly all campsites are next to a lake. This provides easy water access at your campsite. Just make sure you bring a good water filter (like the following water filters that can found on Amazon: Sawyer Mini or Katadyn BeFree) and you will be set.
Speaking of campsites, while hiking on the BRT, you will need to stay at developed campsites. The campsites in this area each have a latrine and a fire pit with a steel fire grate. The campsites are first come, first served. So if you have your mind set on a specific campsite, try to get there earlier in the afternoon.
This spring, I took my first hike on the BRT. We hiked from the Daniel’s Lake Trailhead near Clearwater Lodge ($5/night parking available) up to the Border Route Trail, passing through the Rose Cliffs area, and then hiked out on the South Lake Trail to the our second car at Rockwood Lodge (pending availability, there is free parking due to the kindness of the lodge owners).
The campsites we passed on this route were variable in size and views. But we only saw 2 occupied campsites during our hike (on a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday during the first week in June). For a list of campsites and descriptions along the BRT, the Border Route Trail Association has a nice list. Below you can see the views from our two campsites.
When to Hike
The Border Route Trail is beautiful in any season, but trail conditions can significantly vary throughout the year. This region can be very cold and have deep snow through the winter. Winter typically lasts from December through March, but November and April can sometimes be considered winter also. Early spring can still be cold and is often very muddy. Late spring and summer bring hot, humid weather and lots of bugs. Ticks tend to come out in April. Black flies and mosquitoes will be present by June.
Fall is arguably the best season for hiking in Minnesota. But be warned, perfect fall conditions with warm days, cool nights, beautiful leaves, and few bugs can be a short time period. Typically these ideal conditions occur sometime between mid-September and mid-October.
When we hiked at the beginning of June, we didn’t encounter many ticks or black flies. Mosquitoes were definitely out, but didn’t bother us too much during the day. I have definitely hiked in thicker swarms of mosquitoes. And even though it was a drier spring than normal, we did have some rain the week before our hike. So there were a few patches of trail underwater. But on the plus side, the Stairway Portage Falls was beautiful.
Special Considerations when Hiking or Backpacking with a Dog
The Border Route Trail is dog-friendly, but that doesn’t mean that you should automatically bring your dog. There are several details to consider before purchasing your permit.
First off, is your dog capable of the hike? And will he or she enjoy it? Make sure you are considering your dog’s fitness level prior to planning your trip route.
Second, because the Border Route Trail is remote, there is a lot of wildlife that lives along the trail. Dogs can be at risk from bears, moose, and other canids (wolves, coyotes, and foxes). For animals like moose, wolves are natural predators, and a barking dog, or just a dog who is too close, can trigger protective fight instincts. Moose are big and can kill. During our hike, we followed a few sets of moose prints on the South Lake Trail and saw plenty of moose poop along the trail.
As a result, it is important to have your dog under control during your hike. Glia hikes on a leash when we backpack as I am not able to call her off of a wildlife chase. If you plan to bring your dog along on a hike on the BRT plan to have your dog leashed if they don’t have a reliable recall. If you plan to have your dog off-leash, please practice good hiking etiquette. Always have your dog in view, ask your dog to heel when passing other people on the trail, and never let your dog chase and antagonize wildlife. Follow the commandments of this manifesto by Long Haul Trekkers.
If you do encounter moose, bear or wolves. Give these animals plenty of space. You may need to retreat up the trail and wait for the animals to move off the trail. Don’t let your dog bark at them. For more detailed information about encountering each of these animals on trail, check out this article by GoPetFriendly.com.
Leave No Trace Principles
When hiking in wilderness areas (or anywhere really), it is important to use leave no trace principles. You must pack out everything that you pack in. When hiking with dogs, this means either packing out or burying dog poop. Have a plan in place for how you intend to deal with your dog’s poop.
Will you bring a trowel and bury it in a 6″ to 8″ cathole at least 100 feet away from the trail or water sources? Or will you bring dog bags and carry out all of your dog’s solid waste?
Either route is acceptable, but please don’t leave dog poop along the trail. Not only does this mar the beauty of the wilderness, but dog poop contaminates the environment. Read more about the impact of dog poop in the environment and get some suggestions for dealing with dog poop on a hike in our 7 Creative Ways to Deal with Your Dog’s Poop While Hiking post.
Weather in Minnesota can vary significantly throughout the year. You might be hiking in humid conditions with temperatures reaching into the 90s during the day. Or you could choose to hike when temperatures are below freezing.
If you hike in the summer and bring your dog with you, consider your dog’s heat tolerance. Dogs can overheat easily and an episode of heatstroke in the backcountry can be deadly. There are plenty of lakes for you dog to cool off in, but there are also stretches of trail without water. Hike slowly and consider resting in the hottest times of day.
If you choose to hike when day time temperatures are lower, then you may need to bring extra supplies to help keep your dog warm at night (especially if you have a thin, short coated dog like I do).
In early June, our daytime temperatures were in the upper 60s and lower 70s. But nights dropped down into the lower 40s/upper 30s. So I brought Glia’s Hurtta Expedition Parka and her homemade doggy long johns (made from an old turtleneck of my mother’s). That kept her warm and cozy overnight.
My Overall Review of the Border Route Trail
Keeping in mind that we only hiked about 8 miles of a 65-mile trail and that the remainder of our miles were logged on spur trails, please be aware that other areas of the trail may be sufficiently different. But the region we hiked was a very classic remote Minnesota hike. Plenty of lakes and trekking through forest with occasional overlooks along ridgelines. The trail did feel remote and isolated. We saw evidence of wildlife living in the area, although we didn’t see much besides birds and fish along the trail and lakes. (Hiking with a dog can make wildlife sightings more rare).
Parts of the trail were easy to hike, but most of the trail required some attention to your feet to avoid tripping over rocks and exposed tree roots. The majority of the trail was easy to follow, but the trail almost dissapeared in a few sections. Most noteably between the Rose Lake West Campsite and Stairway Portage Falls.
The campsites were idyllic and peaceful. Hearing nothing but fish jumping, birds singing, and loon calls as we fell asleep in our tent at night was lovely.
Overall, I will definitely consider hiking more of the Border Route Trail. It may be the perfect length for a first thru-hike for Glia and myself.
Feel free to comment below with your own thoughts on this trail or with any questions you might have. We love to hear from readers of this blog.