Blind Ash Bay Trail

Voyageurs National Park - Blind Ash Bay Trail

Voyageurs, so-named for the intrepid French-Canadian trappers of old, is a largely undeveloped and inaccessible National Park in the far northern reaches of Minnesota. A patchwork of water and rock, the landscape remains nearly as wild and rugged today as it was for those who passed through some 300-years ago. At 218,200-acres, Voyageurs is larger than Zion and Arches National Parks combined…yet barely a dozen miles of road provide access to its four main entry points…Rainy River, Kabetogama Lake, Ash River, or Crane Lake. To explore the park beyond you’ll have to do as the early voyageurs did, and go by water. Arriving as we did in early-October, this meant the great interior would have to wait to be explored on another visit. Thus it was that, after getting a taste of Voyageurs at the (open) Rainy Lake Visitor Center and adjacent Oberholtzer Trail, we found ourselves on the road to Ash Bay and one of the more popular hikes available to enjoy at Voyageurs year-round. The Ash River Visitor Center sits about midway along the southern boundary of the park, directly across from the road-less Kabetogama Peninsula, at the easternmost point of Kabetogama Lake. The visitor center is only open in the summer months (May-September) but it’s surrounded by the largest “mainland” network of year-round trails in the park. We'd start with one of the best, the Blind Ash Bay Trail.

There are three points from which to access the Blind Ash Bay Trail. The first is from a parking lot adjacent to the visitor center itself. The second sits uphill along the park road a short distance and, in the summer, is used as RV parking. The point is at the Kabetogama Lake Overlook, where a short access path leads to the lake overlook where it meets the Blind Ash Bay Trail. We would start from the RV, or middle, trailhead. If for any other reason than it wasn't until we started the hike that I discovered the lower lot existed. Departing the middle trailhead, where a small aluminum map gives a simple overview of the route ahead, the trail dives into the woods and immediately starts aggressively climbing the rocky ridge above. Passing moss-covered slopes and at least one glacial erratic, the trail soon flattens out as it follows the edge of the ridge with views of the visitor center below and Kabetogama Lake beyond. In a short 2/10-mile you'll arrive at the Kabetogama Lake Overlook. The overlook sits a short distance up the slope from the main trail but, as we discovered, the view from the trail is actually better than what you get above. To the north, through a small gap in the trees, is Kabetogama Lake. You're looking into the vast, roadless interior of Voyageurs from here. Across the bay is the Kabetogama Peninsula, which is connected to the Voyageurs mainland but is nonetheless inaccessible by car nor trail. It's a stunning place to pause before continuing on with the hike.

Just past the overlook the access trail from the upper trailhead, that I mentioned earlier, is reached. The next mile of hiking is short on vistas but long on its ecological variety. Voyageurs, you see, lies in the transition zone between the deciduous-dominated forests of the south and the immense boreal forests of the north. This means that depending on the soil depth, availability of water, or exposure of any given location within the park you'll find ecosystems which trend towards boreal or deciduous or both. It's quite amazing to see. One thing you'll have to contend with, regardless, are rocks and roots. The soil is incredibly thin here and so, if you're not treading on a rock surface you'll find yourself tripping over roots (which lie close to and above the surface due to the thin soil) if you're not careful. A quarter-mile past the Kabetogama Lake Overlook the trail skips across a paved service road and then continues another 3/4-mile to the beginning of the loop which forms its western end. The loop is only around 3/4-mile long but it's where the bulk of the Blind Ash Trails eye candy is located. Take you're pick which way you want to go, I can't say there'd be much difference in difficulty one way or the other. In this album, arbitrarily, we'd complete it in a clockwise direction by staying straight-left at the start.

After another brief climb through the spruce the trail begins a final decent towards its namesake. The forest also suddenly changes to one of purely red pine. At the waters edge there are numerous places to step off the trail and enjoy the serene view across Blind Ash Bay. The scene is quintessential Voyageurs. On our visit the bay was as smooth as glass and the only sounds were the chickadees chirping in the trees above and a pair of loons forlornly calling in the distance. It's perfect. After a couple hundred yards along the shore the trail now climbs again as it rounds the western end of the peninsula. Through the trees the rocky, narrow channel connecting the bay to the main lake can be seen. The terrain is also as rugged as anything encountered thus far, with the ground beneath your feet one of exposed rock and boulders strewn across the neighboring hillsides. The climb ends as the trail reaches the north side of the peninsula and the final viewpoint of the hike. Once again, through a large gap in the trees, is Kabetogama Lake. This view looks more to the west than the overlook near the beginning of the hike. The size of the lake is more apparent from this spot, dotted with small islands and stretching away to the far horizon. After the overlook there's only another quarter-mile to cover to complete the loop, at which point a left turn will find you retracing your steps the 1.3-miles back to the trailhead.

Overall, the Blind Ash Bay Trail offers a wonderful introduction to Voyageurs National Park. The lake views, the rocky shores, the variety of northern ecosystems, and the solitude are all here for the modern day explorer to enjoy. It's also doable by pretty much anyone. Twisted ankles are probably the greatest hazard due to the plethora of exposed roots but otherwise I'd say it's even safe for kids. Regardless, this hike definitely deserves its reputation as one of the parks nicest dayhikes. That said, it's now my great pleasure to invite you along with my sons and I as we explore the beautiful Blind Ash Bay Trail at Voyageurs National Park. As always, I hope you ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  48.43426, -92.85033

Route Type: Lollipop                   Difficulty: MODERATE (Petzoldt Rating: 3.50 )

Hike Length:  3.0 miles                Hike Duration:  1:30

Trailhead Temp:  70'F                  Trail Traffic: 1-5 people

Min. Elevation:  1,120'                    Max. Elevation:  1,250'

Total Vertical Gain:  250'             Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  83'

Trails Used (blaze color): Blind Ash Bay Trail (unblazed)


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