Minnesota: Eagle Mountain (2,301 feet)
Date: August 24, 2016
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation: 2,301 feet
Vertical gain: 600 feet
Time on Trail: 4.5 hours, including about 20 minutes at the summit
Bathrooms: Vault toilet near the trailhead (shared with dozens of flies)
Everything you’ve read or heard about Eagle Mountain probably includes commentary on mosquitoes. It’s true. Even Summit Post cautions hikers to:
“Wear bug spray during Spring, Summer, and Autumn. That cannot be emphasized enough for this peak and region.”
When I inquired among the highpointing community about the ability to swim in Whale Lake, a fellow highpointer suggested that I probably could, but the mosquitoes would be so “miserable” that swimming wouldn’t be desirable. This is good advice. No need to layer your party in bathing suits because if you go when it’s warm enough to swim, it will likely be mosquito season. Pealing off layers of clothes will not enter into the realm of consideration, even if the reward is jumping into an inviting body of water.
This last piece of advice – three days before our trip – drove me to rush order head nets for everyone. I’d seen pictures of highpointers wearing head nets on Eagle Mountain and if it was going to be this bad, we needed them too.
When I opened the car door near the trailhead, I expected to be instantly swarmed with mosquitoes. I was pleasantly surprised to have the luxury of organizing our gear, applying buy spray, and adorning our wrists with mosquito bracelets – all in a seemingly bug-free environment. It wasn’t until we hit the trail that the mosquitoes descended upon us.
If you’re on the fence, head nets are not necessary, though they may make you more comfortable. We carried ours with us, but never opened them. Long sleeves and pants ended up providing enough physical protection for this journey.
As long as we were moving, the mosquitoes didn’t bother us. But, stopping for water or a snack, or even to tie a shoe became a game of seeing if it was possible to do the activity while still walking. Stopping meant battling trios of bionic mosquitoes which would land on my daughter’s pants or threaten to feast on my wrists. Luckily, bug spray was effective. So, if you’re taking on Eagle Mountain outside of winter and don’t want to go the head net route, check out our gear review on bug spray.
Before setting foot on the trail, be sure to issue yourself and every member of your party a wilderness permit at the trailhead. Each hiker is required to have one in their possession the entire time.
Between the trailhead and the lake (about 2 miles), the terrain is a little rolling, but mostly flat in terms of elevation change. When I describe the terrain as flat, I’m not suggesting it’s akin to a sidewalk. The trail is rocky and root covered the entire way, so paying attention to every step is important to protect against a twisted ankle. It helps to have trekking poles on this hike.
Along this stretch are a handful of wooden planks that help cross over marshy areas. If you have kids joining you, these are especially fun. With limited views along the trail, we found that keeping track of things like number of wooden bridges, butterflies, flowers, and dogs helped with engagement.
Whale Lake is a great spot to sit for water or a snack. The mosquitoes weren’t terrible there and the view is gorgeous.
After traversing along the lake, most of the elevation gain happens in one concentrated area. Still, this consolidated leg felt easier to all three of us than the flatter terrain early on. It was just as rocky, but the rocks became helpful steps, rather than obstacles in our path.
Near the top is a first lookout, which is worth a stop. Beyond that is a more impressive lookout. This is an excellent place to rest for lunch or a snack – or simply to escape the onslaught of bugs.
To find the true summit from the second lookout, do an about-face and head toward the rock pile, where you’ll eventually pick up the trail again. About 100 yards from the second lookout, you’ll find the iconic plaque. The plaque was covered in ants the day we were there, so tread carefully.
I didn’t see a register.
- No need for head nets, but you can benefit from them if mosquitoes are a huge concern
- Wear bug spray – Guardian was effective for this journey
- Bring about 1.5 liters of water/person on a hot day
- You probably won’t want to swim in Whale Lake, so no need to layer in bathing suits
- Whale Lake when you first approach and the second lookout near the summit are two great places to rest or have a snack
After your climb, try some pie at Betty’s Pies