BWCA Short Trips: Herriman Trail

Herriman Trail Map

Sometimes, you don’t have the time or energy for long, several-day backpacking trips.  You just want to get some time in the woods.  Finding short trails that provide good camping with the feeling of isolation that we crave can be a challenge.  For this, we decided to drive 40 miles north of Cook, MN, to camp at a couple different sites on the Herriman Trail.  The Herriman Trail is a small network of loops that connect various lakes and campsites.  The convenience of the out-and-back hike was appreciated.

Cooper and I rallied up, and after a coffee stop, were on our way out of the Twin Cities metro around 9am.  Matt wasn’t able to leave until later in the afternoon, so he would be meeting us at our first site.  It was an easy drive up to Cook, where we stopped for lunch at the Montana Cafe.  The Wild Rice Hotdish was just what I wanted for a pre-trail meal.  Coop went with the cheesy delicious mess that is the Steakeze, which he confirmed was fantastic.

Montana Cafe, Cook, MN

After driving 20 minutes north, I realized I forgot the permit.  After driving back to the ranger station in Cook, repeating our departure, driving past Sportsman’s Last Chance, we arrived at the parking lot for the Herriman Trail.  The weather was awesome: sunny and mid 60’s… and then the bugs started swarming.  Most of the backpacking we do in the Boundary Waters is in late September through October.  Flies, ticks, and mosquitos aren’t much of an issue at that time of year.  Being mid-May, it never dawned on me that all of those little bastards would be out in force.  I foolishly only brought a small amount of bug spray, luckily Cooper had more foresight than I did.

Herriman Trail Echo River

The 4 mile hike was a breeze (despite the flying devil spawn), and two hours later we were at the Little Lake Vermilion campsite.  The trail was well traveled and more gratuitously marked than any trail I’ve seen in the north woods.  Every trail junction had engraved plaques naming the paths.  Blowdown was minimal, and with signs of recent trail clearing.  With the short hike and plenty of time, we took the opportunity to bank some trail-karma and trim a few trees that were blocking easy passage.  Cheap and sharp folding hand saws are easy to come by.

The trail draws more-or-less straight east and dumps abruptly on the slim, sandy shore of Lake Vermillion.  Just a tich south along the lake is a beautiful open site with a small, coarse sand beach.  Matt was able to meet us with an hour of sun left and time to relax.  The site had great tent pads and more than enough space for our 3 tents.  Once we picked the ticks off of ourselves and set up, the fire seemed to keep the bugs at bay as we were gifted with a front row seat to a spectacular sunset.  The lake does allow powerboats, and showed to be a fairly popular fishing spot, but wasn’t a hassle other than the occasional passing boat.

Herriman Trail Little Lake Vermilion Camp Site

It ended up being the most calm night I can remember ever experiencing outdoors, especially surprising for being on the edge of a large lake.  It was almost eerily quiet: no wind in the trees, no waves, no critters.   I woke in the night to relieve myself, and stepped out of my tent.  The sky was wide open, providing a display of the stars we city dwellers rarely see.  No bugs, no wind, and no longer a full bladder, I sat for a minute to take it in.

The next day we were expecting foul weather to move in after lunch, so we wanted to make sure we were at the next site with time to set up before the rain.  We started the 4 mile hike around 9am. With a backtrack down the trail, we found our way to the Dovre Lake loop.  Just before the split north was the Knute Lake campsite, which we passed on the hike in.  That day another camper was there, so we only briefly checked it out.  This day, we checked it out more thoroughly.  It’s a very picturesque site, but has little for level, non-rocky tent pads.

Herriman Trail Knute Lake Camp Site

Though the Dovre loop was clearly marked and easy to follow, the it looked like one of the least traveled trails I’ve seen around the Boundary Waters.  The underbrush hadn’t yet grown up granting easy passage.  Normally the moss on these types of trails is worn through to the dirt, but here we walked on the barely worn, carpet-like surface.  It offered the feeling of traveling somewhere few others do.

Herriman Trail Dovre Lake Loop

We arrived at about 11am, and the Dovre Lake campsite confirmed that not many people visit this loop.  It was more grown in, and the usual paths to the lake, latrine, and around the fire, were not as trampled.  Firewood wasn’t picked over like most sights, and there were several piles of scat right in the middle of camp.  I’m pretty sure one particularly large pile was wolf, which I’ve seen along the trail but never in a site before.  The latrine was also the oldest I’ve come across at a site, large and square with a lid, and rather grown-in.

There were a couple of obvious but limited tent spaces.  Most of the ground was sloping, and Matt ended up tucking his tent in a tight but functional space between trees.  With that early arrival time, we strung up our tarps near the fire in preparation for the rain… which never came.  The weather did turn cloudy, breezy, and cooler, but didn’t rain much until after dark.  We spent the rest of the day, lounging around camp, prepping firewood, and trying to fish.  I spend an hour casting, got a few nibbles, but didn’t catch anything.

It ended up being a crisp, cool evening for hanging out around the fire.  Some light rain at the end of twilight signaled it was time for us to crawl into our sleeping bags for the night.  I love sleeping in a tent while it gently rains.  It continued to sprinkle on and off overnight, but stopped before morning. We snacked and packed up our wet gear for our third 4-mile hike in so many days.  The hike out was damp but not soaking, and we made good time getting back to our cars.  As we finished changing into more comfortable, dry clothes for the drive home, the rain started again: good timing.

Herriman Trail Boardwalk

A couple of years ago, we had a great experience at the Sportsman’s Last Chance, an isolated bar and grill, seemingly on the edge of civilization.  We returned to find out if the experience was unique.  We were delighted that the charm and deliciousness was still there.  Their burgers are awesome.  If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s a must.


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