Snowbank - Old Pines - Kekekabic Trail

Winton, Minnesota 55796

Snowbank - Old Pines - Kekekabic Trail

Snowbank - Old Pines - Kekekabic Trail Professional Review and Guide

"Long, multi-day hike going from the rolling Kekekabic Trail to the rugged trail over Disappointment Mountain and back along the northern shore of Snowbank Lake. This hike is actually a combination of three trails: Snowbank Lake—around Snowbank Lake; Old Pines Trail—around Disappointment Lake and Moiyaka Lake to the east, and Kekekabic—which shares the southern halves of the other two trails before continuing to the east. While shorter out-and-back hikes could be attempted along the north shore of Snowbank, or maybe you could even boat to the eastern side of Snowbank Lake, this area is really made for long-distance hiking.

You can hike for more than 40 miles, with loops that go around a couple of larger lakes and many smaller lakes. Additionally, there are several decent side loops and many miles of the rugged Kekekabic Trail. A backpacker could spend a week exploring just half of it. Special attractions: Old-growth pines, overlooks of Snowbank Lake, and wildlife."

Snowbank - Old Pines - Kekekabic Trail Reviews

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We did the 8 miles between Snowbank Road and -- almost -- the Kekekabic / Snowbank Y (16-miles round trip). A great glute workout, with a diversity of foilage. There's a few times when the pink ribbons helped steer us through some less obvious blow downs. I cannot wait to do the rest! I highly reccomend picking up a fisher-map @ one of the resorts rather than use the online map.
I hiked the Kek with a buddy on May 25th and took 5 days. We started on the Gunflint trailhead and ended in Ely. We got a ride from Smitty's on Snowbank for $225 (which is a good deal considering Tuscarora was going to charge $460). The first day we got a late start and did the first three miles to the campsite. The first two days went through the burn area from the fire last year. This part of the trail was slow going due to losing the trail often. We used the Kek Trail guide (from their website), and a good GPS to find our way around. We only made it 5 miles our second day. The third and fourth days were nice too with lots of elevation changes and some good vistas. The trail was well marked (compared to the first couple of days) so you can make up for lost time. I would compare the trail to a moose path (when it was visible). The water was high so some of the stream/river crossings were tough...just take your time. The last day we went through the blowdown which was kind of slow going. It is well marked with pink ribbons every 50 yards or so. The red ribbons seemed to be markers for something else so you probably shouldn't follow them (I could be mistaken). We didn't see any big game. Many grouse and eagles. If you are at Smitty's on Snowbank they have a map with lots of good notes that you can add to your map. Apparently the trail president hiked it in 17 hours...pretty crazy thought after you've hiked the trail. The flies and ticks were pretty bad in the middle part of the trail.
We just finished the Kek in 4 1/2 days. There continues to be a lot of re-routing from the 1999 blow-down. It is a long trail so I am sure this will take more time. It is rugged! Be sure to have water filters and bug dope. We did encounter some problems with "finding the trail," but were able to resolve them in a reasonable amount of time. Campsites should be better marked. The map from is very helpful and full of information. Be prepared for slow going...a mile per hour, maybe less in some places. A week would be a good time frame to complete the trail and enjoy it as well.
The Forest Service needs to work on big sections of this 'trail'. The northern sections are quite nice, but were closed this last trip since the FS was doing some prescribed burning in spots along the northwest shore of Snowbank Lake--a program which will continue for a few years, they told me, to try to clear some of the damage from the blow-down of ‘99. Call ahead before planning a trip thru there. Bring compass and map since the eastern and some of the southern sections are little better than game trails and can be difficult to follow. With all the deadfall across the trail in places and the poor condition of the trail in general, don't expect to do more than 2 mph thru most of it. Thankfully the trail is marked with stone cairns here and there, but usually only in mostly bald, rocky sections. Trail junctions are usually only marked with larger cairns, so keep a sharp eye out for these. Because of the frequently dense vegetation, it can be a challenge finding your position on the map, so a GPS unit might be worth bringing if you’re directionally challenged. One thing that helped was that if I couldn’t find a path, to look for sawed log ends, where previous years’ deadfall had been cleared from the trail—they wouldn’t bother sawing deadfall if it didn’t cross the trail. I give this a 3-star, since the trail it quite rough and scenery isn’t anything to write home about.
This is a challenging trail. Not only is route finding a constant pressure, but the beaver dams reroute the place every year it seems! You must like a lot of up the ridge and down the ridge to enjoy this trail. If you do, and if the ever changing forests and lakes of the BWCA are your cup of tea, this is a great way to see the Quetico without a paddle. You will see wildlife and you will have secluded nights to enjoy the moonrise over a lake called to sunset by haunting loon calls. There are few "grand vistas" on this trail but what views you get are very special. Make sure your boots are well broken in and the moleskin is tucked in your first aid kit. The ridge running will bring out the blisters! All in all a great way to see the Boundary Waters!

Snowbank - Old Pines - Kekekabic Trail Photos

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Trail Information

Nearby City
300 feet
Elevation Gain
Trail Type
Skill Level
1,495 feet
Trailhead Elevation
1,700 feet
Top Elevation
Kawashiwi Ranger District, Superior National Forest, 218-720-5324
Local Contacts
USGS quads: Snowbank lake, Lake Insula, and Ensign Lake East and Ensign Lake West; The trail is also on maps by Fischer: F-31 and McKenzie: number 9.
Local Maps

Activity Feed

Jul 2018