Minnesota's top ten peaks

This is the result of time-consuming research based on the W.H. Fisher maps (available at most outdoor stores, including REI), which are based on the USGS 7.5-minute quadrangles. I verified all of these using on-line versions of the quads, which I printed out for use in the field. I'm pretty sure this is an accurate list of the top ten peaks based on an application of the 300-foot rule. However, note that I have used the "interpolation" version of the 300-foot rule, i.e., I have used interpolated saddle and summit heights when necessary. So, if you know about the concept of "clean prominence", two of these peaks do not reach 300 feet by this more restrictive criterion.

The table columns are defined as follows. Rank includes designations for the additional summits that could rival the elevation of the main summit. Unnamed peaks are called "Point" followed by the elevation of the peak. The "Exact?" column indicates whether the elevation is an official one from a USGS topographic map, or if I have interpolated an elevation based on the highest closed contour at that summit. I.e., if the contour interval is 20 feet and the highest contour is 2200 feet, I give 2210 feet for the elevation. The latitude and longitude are based on mapwork and use the NAD27 coordinate system of the printed USGS topo maps. In this part of Minnesota, NAD83/WGS84 coordinates are essentially identical to NAD27 in latitude and you would need to add 0.007 degrees in longitude. The "neighbor" is the higher peak at the other end of the connecting saddle used in determining the "rise", or "prominence" of a peak above that saddle. Hiking information and/or other information is given below the table.

Without further ado, my putative top ten ranked peaks in Minnesota at the 300-foot level:

RankPeak Elev (ft)Exact?CountyLat(NAD27)Lon(NAD27)NeighborRise (ft)
1 Eagle Mountain 2301YesCook47:53.8590:33.62Large
2 Point 2266 2266YesCook47:55.7990:22.51Eagle Mtn436
3a Point 2260a 2260YesCook47:58.5090:31.17Eagle Mtn426?
3b Point 2260b 2270No Cook47:58.5090:31.09
4a Lima Mountain 2238YesCook47:59.2190:24.21Pt 2260328
4b "South Lima" 2230No Cook47:59.0090:24.33
5a Point 2210a 2210No Cook48:00.3090:16.60Lima Mtn380
5b1Point 2210b 2210No Cook47:59.9690:13.63
5b2Point 2210b 2210No Cook47:59.9790:13.56
6a Pine Mountain 2190YesCook47:53.7190:19.61Pt 2266300
6b1"North Pine" 2190No Cook47:54.3790:20.44
6b2"North Pine" 2190No Cook47:54.3590:20.27
6b3"North Pine" 2190No Cook47:54.3590:19.95
7a Point 2163a 2163YesCook47:53.7190:36.89Eagle Mtn313
7b1Point 2163b 2170No Cook47:53.7290:36.67
7b2Point 2163b 2170No Cook47:53.6990:36.62
7b3Point 2163b 2170No Cook47:53.7390:36.60
7b4Point 2163b 2170No Cook47:53.6990:36.53
8 Point 2110 2110YesCook47:51.0690:56.15Pt 2266300
9 Point 2093 2093YesCook47:49.3590:47.78 >313
10 Point 2081 2081YesCook48:05.9490:18.66 >321

Eagle Mountain

There's not really much for me to write about this one. This is a well-known hike as it has an excellent trail to the summit and is done quite a bit, befitting its status as the highest peak in Minnesota, and the highest point for several hundred miles in any direction.

Point 2266

By essentially any reasonable measure, Point 2266 is the second highest mountain in Minnesota. The only other closed contours of 2260 feet are the summit of Eagle Mountain, and two contours associated with Point 2260 listed below. Point 2266 is also an ascent of which you can be proud, requiring a very rough 3-mile round-trip bushwhack after hiking up an often swampy old road.

For most people, the hike will start at the Pine Mountain Road (this begins 14.5 miles from the Gunflint Trail/5th Avenue junction in north Grand Marais), where a signed "Primitive Road" heads north. This road junction is labeled as 1928 feet on the USGS quad and is 2.1 miles from the Gunflint Trail (Cook County 12). There is somewhat adequate parking for at least one vehicle on the shoulder just down the road from this junction. One might be able to drive much of the 4WD road, but when I was there, two fallen trees effectively blocked the road after 0.3 miles. The road can be soft and swampy depending on the time of year and recent weather. After a short distance, the road turns west and stays in this general heading for quite a while.

After about 2.3 miles of hiking, you will reach the outlet of 1879-foot Circle Lake, which was easy to cross even in the wet conditions of my hike. From here, you round the south and west sides of the lake on what is now merely a snowmobile route in the winter. This section is likely to be very swampy and you should plan on getting your feet wet here, except maybe during a drought. At about 2.7 miles, the snowmobile route turns back to the west, but this is the point at which you will likely want to begin your bushwhack. My recommendation is to set a waypoint up on the summit ridge directly north of the west shore of Circle Lake. This is not the only way, but does greatly simplify navigation. This will start out flat and continue to be a bit swampy at times.

Finally, you start to climb to the ridge, but the bushwhacking is severe at times. I was moving almost continuously during the round-trip from the edge of Circle Lake and it took me exactly 3 hours to cover about 2.8 miles! You have to go over and around brush, closely spaced trees, and considerable deadfall. It was very wet during my ascent including an intense snow squall which dropped an inch of snow as I descended from the summit. If there has been any recent rain or snow, expect to get wet.

After a bit less than 0.9 miles of this northerly tack, you will reach the ridge. From here, turn west-northwest toward the summit waypoint you should have already set. It is just short of a half-mile to the summit from here, for about 4.1 miles one-way. There are actually some easier sections on the summit ridge, so if you make it to the ridge in the first place, perservere. The summit itself seems to be near an uncharacteristic small open area, but there is not a particularly obvious highpoint and I have some scintillating point-of-view video footage of me wandering around looking for the highest point.

On the descent, you might want to cross about halfway back over to the point at which you hit the ridge, then take a slightly diagonal tack down to the waypoint you hopefully set where you left the road at the lake. That will not cut much off the hike, but every little bit helps on this one.

[I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has done this hike, especially if you did it before finding this website. I'm curious as to the frequency of climbs of this obscure peak; once a month? Once a year? Once a decade? I have no idea and did not see any evidence of humanity when I was there on April 30th, 2005. However, I did not leave any evidence of my presence, either.]

Point 2260

This point is within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and access to this area is uncertain. Strictly speaking, you are only allowed to enter the BWCAW at designated entry points, for which you must get a permit. The most likely entry point would be the one at Bower Trout Lake.

As far as the summit itself, there are two closely-spaced closed contours of 2260 feet, one of which is labeled as 2260 feet and the other is unlabeled. It is possible that the unlabeled contour is higher (thus the interpolated, and certainly incorrect, 2270-foot elevation in the table) and a slight chance that this peak is higher than Point 2266. That seems unlikely, though.

I'm not 100% sure, but I believe the "saddle" connecting the Eagle Mountain area with the Misquah Hills/Point 2260 area is Brule Lake at 1834 feet. Point 2260 certainly has more than 300 feet of rise relative to either Eagle or Point 2266, the only two higher peaks in the area.

Lima Mountain

Although certainly not as popular as Eagle Mountain, Lima has a good trail to its main summit and must get climbed fairly often. Access is straightforward except during the winter, but a little obtuse. The Lima Mountain Road branches off of the Gunflint Trail (Cook County 12) about 20.8 miles from the junction of Gunflint and 5th Street on the north side of Grand Marais. This junction is also 5.5 miles past the Pine Mountain Road junction and 4.0 miles past the South Brule Road junction.

The Lima Mountain Road is also signed as Forest Road 152. Turn onto this good dirt road and angle left after 2.2 miles at a fork. Continue another quarter-mile to a junction and find a place to park. If you imagine yourself approaching this junction again, take the road to the right for a few hundred feet and the signed trailhead is on the left. There is no parking right at the trailhead. The trail is easy to follow up to the summit area, and is a little over 1 mile, gaining about 450 feet. The trail ends at an old wooden structure near the concrete support pads for the long-gone fire lookout tower. Wander around a bit to find the true highpoint, near the tower supports.

The south summit of Lima could be anywhere from 2220 to 2239 feet, so it is unlikely to be higher than the main summit altitude of 2238 feet - assuming this altitude is correct. The trip over to the south summit is a fairly modest bushwhack, although a little steep in a few spots. Basically leave the main summit and go straight over to the south summit using the lat/lon given above as a GPS waypoint. This is about a quarter-mile one way. From here, backtrack toward the main summit until you hit the main trai again.

Point 2210

This is a very interesting case as there are two possible summits between 2200 and 2219 feet that are separated by more than 2 miles. The eastern point has two closely separated closed contours. The peaks are near the highest road in the state and in the "Vegetable Lakes" area (e.g., Potato Lake, Celery Lake, Squash Lake, etc.). Both peaks are probably best approached from the south along a good-enough dirt road which can be driven in a regular car when dry.

About 15 miles from Grand Marais on the Gunflint Trail (Cook County 12), turn right onto the well-signed Greenwood Lake Road. After 4.0 miles on this road, turn left onto the Shoe Lake Road. Continue on this road another 1.3 miles to a four-way junction. For the western Point 2210, turn left and drive 1.3 miles to an old road on the right. Park here. Walk up the old road for 0.4 miles, then continue on a trail for another tenth of a mile. Past this, the trail disappeared and I could not find any additional trace of it. Note that this road and trail are not on the USGS topo map.

The most logical goal here is to set a waypoint at the 2194-foot highpoint on the ridge just east-southeast of the summit. This is a good intermediate goal. The 0.4 miles between the end of the trail and this highpoint is a moderate to heavy bushwhack; not quite as bad as Point 2266. From here, continue the last 0.3 miles or so to the summit, which is much easier going than reaching the summit ridge in the first place. My estimate of the highest point was on the far (west) end of the highest contour.

Once you get back to your car, drive back to the four-way junction and continue straight through to the east another 0.6 miles past the junction. It looks like a solid wall of trees in the direction of the eastern summits of Point 2210, but this is an amazingly easy bushwhack! Beyond the trees along the road, the forest is very open and you can follow nearly a straight line to the summit area. You will again want GPS waypoints for the two closed contours, but the navigation is easier, and it is only about a half-mile to the southwest contour.

However, the summit area itself has dense growth, so it is a bit awkward trying to locate the two true summits. I located the two summits about 200 feet apart (a bit closer than implied by the USGS topo) and it was a bit boggy between the summits. The northeast summit seemed to be near a big tree.

As far as the issue of which of the three closed contours is the highest, it is too close to call and you need to climb them all. However, my altimeter and GPS data did suggest that the far western summit is the highest.

Pine Mountain

This one is similar to Lima Mountain in that there is a good (but more obscure) route to a main summit, but there is another area that could be as high or higher. However, in this case the two potential summits are separated by quite a considerable drop and are best approached separately, more like Point 2210.

Find the beginning of the Pine Mountain Road (see Point 2266 above) and drive 2.7 miles to the junction with the Pine Mountain summit road to the right. Make sure to go past an earlier junction at the 2.5 mile mark; this road will be used a bit later. There is room to park across from the Pine Mountain summit road. Note that a snowmobile route crosses here and heads up the summit road. This point is marked with an elevation of 2040 feet, so you only have to climb 150 feet to the summit.

The trick with Pine Mountain is that the road to the summit is more or less hidden now and the obvious route through here goes right past it. Walk one-third of a mile west and then south on the road and look carefully for an opening to the right (west) before you reach the highpoint of the main road. This opening is mostly hidden by brush, but you must find it for an easy ascent. Turn right, push through the brush, and continue up the naturalizing, but mostly open road to the summit area, about another 0.3 miles. As with Lima, Pine used to have a fire lookout tower, and the true summit is in the vicinity of the concrete supports for the tower.

Once you are back at your car, drive back down the road 0.2 miles to signed road 154L (this junction is 2.5 miles from the Gunflint Trail). Turn left (west) and drive something like 0.6-0.8 miles up this road for the start of the hike up to the north summits of Pine Mountain. There are three closed contours that are between 2180 and 2199 feet and are of comparable size to the 2180 feet contour at the summit of Pine. I ended up starting my hike about 0.6 miles up the road, which probably wasn't the best spot. I had to navigate around a lake and a large swampy area. That might not be so bad during a dry spell, but not during spring.

In any case, my strategy for these three contours was to head north to the easternmost contour. Once around the swampy area, however you may do that, expect 0.3 miles of rough bushwhacking through dense timber north to this point. From there, head west for about 0.3 miles to the next summit and another 0.2 miles to the westernmost summit. Fortunately, the bushwhacking gets easier as you head west. You can descend more directly down to the swampy meadow near the road, but you may have to do an end-around to the east to get back to your car.

It is worth noting that while I measured nearly identical altitudes for these three points with GPS, my altimeter was 20 feet higher on the westernmost point. Yet, it did read the same altitude at my car at the start and finish such that there shouldn't have been any fluctuations caused by weather changes. The GPS accuracy was limited a bit by the tree cover, so I really do think that the western summit is the highest point of "North Pine". I did Pine and "North Pine" back-to-back and while the GPS altitude was higher at Pine, the altimeter was higher on the highest summit of "North Pine". I think there is a very good chance that "North Pine" is higher, but in any case you need to climb them both to be sure of hitting the 6th highest peak in the state.

Point 2163

I did not have a chance to reconnointer this peak or even the roads in the area. The USGS quad shows a "new" road just north of this complex peak, but the slopes on the north face are quite steep. In addition to the marked 2163-foot point there are three additional 2160-foot closed contours just to the east, and the largest contour I broke up into two putative highpoints as suggested by the shape of the contour. It also seems likely that this contour has a higher point than 2163 feet.

Point 2110

This peak is well within the boundaries of the BWCAW and access to this peak could be difficult. The access would be via Sawbill Lake and then Alton Lake. I wouldn't bet money on it, but it is possible that this summit is awaiting a first ascent. In any case, ascents must be very rare.

Point 2093

Although I did not get a chance to reconnoiter this one, this should be accessible from Crescent Lake Campground.

Point 2081

I really wanted to do this one as it looks like a classic hike via a long trail within shouting distance of Canada. Trailhead parking is at West Bearskin Lake. To reach this remote lake, drive 27 miles up the Gunflint Trail (Cook County 12) and take a right onto Cook County 66, which should be signed for West Bearskin Lake and/or Clearwater Lake. (This road is 1.4 miles past the junction for East Bearskin Lake.) Drive 3.2 miles up this road to the West Bearskin Lake parking on the left. The "real" trailhead is another mile up the road, but there is no public parking there. This is at the west edge of Clearwater Lake, and after either being dropped off here or hiking the one mile of road, you need to hike another mile or so west to reach entry point 82 for the BWCAW. From here, the trail continues generally northeast then east to a point very close to the summit of Point 2081 and then an apparently short bushwhack to the summit. The hike is at least 15 miles round-trip, but with a relatively small total elevation gain, so should be a reasonable dayhike.


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