January–February 2022

Bucket List

Ski the Banadad Trail into the BWCA

Navigating challenging climbs and drops.

Ryan Rodgers

Last February, my friend Peter and I skied a dozen kilometers along the Banadad Trail, a groomed cross-country ski route in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, before seeing another human. We stopped to chat with a trio of women heading the other way, and one of them suggested we take off our skis and walk the section ahead. The trail thus far had been flat, so I ignored her advice, as well as any implications of the incline Peter and I were climbing. I topped out and bombed down a drop that involved a sharp turn followed by a brief but vertiginous descent. I barely navigated the corner, schussed into the dip, and lurched face-first into the deep snow of a frozen marsh. No harm done. I turned and watched Peter prudently descending with skis in hand. 

We went on to navigate a slew of challenging climbs and drops as the trail meandered across the Laurentian Divide, the watershed split between Lake Superior and Hudson Bay. Entering terrain whose waters flowed to the arctic gave me a sense of truly arriving in the north, as did the sight of a boulder-size divot in the trail’s classic tracks left by a sleeping moose. 

Hours later, after we’d skied the 27-kilometer length of the Banadad and turned around to retrace it back to my car, we crossed a bridge over a cascading stream that connected Rush and Banadad lakes. I left the trail to explore Rush Lake, where a wizened cedar grew horizontally over the ice. I sat on the tree and watched the orange light of the setting sun play against the crusty, ridged surface of the lake’s snow. Winter would be over soon, and I knew that on scorched summer days when I dreamed of snow, I would think of this place. 

Side Bar

Plan Your Trip
The Banadad is a classic-style ski trail, a single set of tracks groomed through the wilderness. From its eastern end located 28 miles up the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais, the Banadad runs 27 kilometers to its western trailhead near Loon Lake. 

  • Banadad Trail users are required to have a Great Minnesota Ski Pass (see page 12) and to fill out a free wilderness use permit at one of the trailheads. 
  • Learn about the trail, see current conditions, and download a map at www.banadad.org. Trail conditions are also posted on Skinnyski.com. 
  • When icy, the Banadad’s hills are treacherous. Stay off the trail if icy conditions are reported or expected.
  • A private outfitter, Boundary Country Trekking, rents yurts for overnight stays near the Banadad for those who would like to tackle the trail over a multiday journey. See www.boundarycountry.com.

Trail Facts

  • Due to wilderness rules regarding motors, Banadad Trail Association volunteers clear windfall with hand tools but groom the trail with a snowmobile, for which the trail was granted an exemption in the BWCAW Act of 1978. Grooming the length of the trail takes four hours. 
  • The trail follows a network of old paths and logging roads and bypasses a clearing where the Kimberly-Clark company operated a lumber camp as recently as the 1960s.