Early this Spring while planning the BWCA Superior Tour, I wanted to route my son and I over the Echo Trail from Orr to Ely, Minnesota. After doing some extensive research via the web I could not find trip reports from anyone who had bicycled this route. Last week, Carl and I completed our five day bike ride which included our trip across the Echo Trail. Here is my trip report.
First some background about the Echo Trail. This remote dirt logging road cuts through the Superior National Forest and BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) in northern Minnesota, and was built by the Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC) during the 1930's. It is truly a wilderness area. Cabins, businesses, or buildings of any kind are not allowed till you exit the BWCA section of your ride.
We left Orr at 6:10 a.m. Given the temperature was forecast to approach 90 later that afternoon with high humidity, we wanted to enjoy the cool Minnesota morning. Your trip leaves Orr on County Road #23, which intersects US Hwy #53 at the only traffic light in Orr. The first 33 km (20.5 miles) are on a nice asphalt road with very little traffic. Depending upon the time of day you start your ride, you may have the opportunity to use a small store when you turn right off CR #23 onto the Echo Trail (start of dirt road). This is your last chance to refuel till Ely. Take advantage of it if you are biking later in the day, you have 82 km (51 miles) to travel before you reach Ely.
- 00 Km: Leave Orr, Minnesota on CR #23 (only traffic light in town)
- 33 Km: Turn right off CR #23 onto the Echo Trail (dirt road begins)
- 53 Km: Take a break at the Lake Jeanette US Forest Boat Access! You can sit out on the dock, avoid the worst of the insects, and enjoy this gorgeous northern Minnesota lake.
- 85 Km: Use the boulder high above Big Shave Lake to enjoy a fantastic view! A few miles back on the road you will see signs for two resorts on Big Lake. Each resort requires a side trip DOWN to Big Lake, and a BIG CLIMB back up to the Echo Trail!
- 91 Km: Pavement returns! Don't get too excited; the hills actually get worse as you get closer to Ely. This seems impossible after all the rolling hills you experienced on the dirt road portion of the Echo Trail, but ...
- 114 Km: Ely!
Some important final notes ... there are no stores or gas stations after the first 33 kilometers. Ely is your first opportunity to refuel since that point. Carl (my son) and I each packed a gallon of water for our trip via the water bottles attached to our bikes, and some extras in our saddle bags. Although the Echo Trail keeps you out of the sun for most of the dirt road portion of your ride, this amount of water was the bare minimum. As a fyi, we left Orr at 6:10 a.m. and the temperature was 64F. The ride took us seven hours in total, and it was almost 90F when we reached Ely (and humid). Although 71 miles may not seem like a ride which should take 7 hours (with rests), the hills were tough, and the dirt road slows down your speed. As a point of comparison, I had recently finished running a marathon in 4 hours 15 minutes, which isn't bad for a 54 year old Dad (my point, Carl and I were both in shape for the ride).
Take a look at either the attached Powerpoint or Adobe PDF files. I have screenshots of my Garmin data with annotations. (Garmin Data: PPT | PDF). Finally, enjoy a few photos from our ride. If you're like Carl and I, you'll bike the next day from Ely down to Lake Superior. The last 10 miles of that ride down to Lake Superior is great fun ... hopefully you'll get the prevailing tail wind out of the West like we did!
Cheers, and Happy Trails (link to photo album)!