Skiing into Jap Lake in the BWCA

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of January 22-28, 1998
Skiing into Jap Lake in the BWCA
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Skiing into Jap Lake in the BWCA
Question: Assuming we'll eventually get some snow, where is a good place in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) for a two- to three-night cross-country ski and camping trip?

Tom Anderson
New Hope, MN

Adventure Adviser: Luckily I have my trusty BWCA Fisher Maps gathering dust in my file cabinet and, after reviewing them, I'd recommend a trip to Jap Lake.

Accessible from the Gunflint Trail, Jap Lake is one of the most stunningly beautiful bodies of water in the BWCA. It feels like a mountain lake because the uneven shoreline rises steeply from the water's edge.

Plus, there are two great campsites: one on an island and one on a jutting point with a spectacular jumping rock. The reason I really love Jap, however, is the sense of accomplishment I feel after portaging a canoe over the little-traveled mile-and-a-half trail from Seagull Lake.

Why, you ask, is all of this summertime information relevant for winter camping? Well, because in the winter, the mile-and-a-half portage turns from a hellish experience into just a beautiful ski in the snow-laden woods. Plus — though Jap is isolated in the summer — in the winter you'll feel as if you are the only person on the entire planet.

To get to Jap Lake, you need to access the BWCA via the Gunflint Trail, a 50-mile asphalt road that starts in Grand Marais. Drive to the end of the trail, park your car at Trails End Campground and make your way to Jap via Seagull Lake.

Or park your car at the start of the Kekekabic Trail off of the Gunflint Trail and ski west on the Kek until you hit Mine and Glee Lakes. Then follow Glee Lake north, which will take you to Elusion, Glassy, and finally Jap Lake.

The latter route should take you a day's worth of skiing to get to Jap. The former route might take a bit longer.

Before you leave New Hope, I'd consult the Lake Superior Trading Post, an outfitter in Grand Marais, or the Gunflint Ranger District Forest Service office (218-387-1750) to make sure my plan is viable on skis (I did it on snowshoes).

I'd also invest in the "Saganaga, Seagull Lakes" and "Little Sag, Tuscarora, Temperance Falls" W.A. Fisher Maps, available at any outfitter. Good luck.

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