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LENGTH 35 miles (according to our GPS)
DIFFICULTY rated difficult due to navigation, overgrown/detoured trails and remote nature. Requires previous experience.
DATE HIKED September 25-27, 2020
MAIN FEATURES The Sioux–Hustler Trail is a rugged hiking loop in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border. This area is mostly known for its paddling trips, and traveling in the Fall was an optimal time to visit due to lack of bugs, cool weather and pristine views of the forest changing color. Hikers should be aware that most sites are also accessible by canoe and camp inhabitants are not required to share campsites (so, go mid week or get to camp early to get a spot!) The trail is muddy, rocky, re-routed by several beaver dams and does not include any navigational signing. Water is plentiful, as the trail circumvents the following lakes and rivers: Little Sioux, Lower Pauness, Loon, Pageant, Range Line, Hustler, Emerald, Shohola, Agawato, Heritage, Lynx, Little Shell and Shell Lake. Moose are common in the area, and if you listen closely, you may hear wolves or coyotes howling at night. Check out our Youtube video for more on campsite conditions and tales from the trail!
Continued from Part 1:
About 30 minutes into the rain, I realized my rain pants were no longer waterproof. I remembered a little leaking on my last trip, and wondered how bad this was going to get. The air got colder and my pants were already stuck to my skin. We kept a steady pace to stay warm and I was thankful that my upper half was still warm and dry. We stopped quick at Pageant Lake Campsite to check it out, but it was too early to set up camp. The Pageant Lake campsite was lovely, with a long connecting trail that was covered in magical rolling hills of thick, deep green moss that looked like a fairy tale. We quickly ate some more calories, checked in on each other, and decided to press on to the next site, Range Line Lake.
The trail between Pageant and Hustler Lake was a little bit of a blur. Somewhere in here, we crossed another beaver dam that landed me in knee deep mud and almost took my shoe! We tried to get into one or two campsites, but they were covered by fallen trees, and we weren’t sure that they were accessible by trail (only by canoe). It was disappointing, since we were starting to feel a little tired and our 7-9 mile day was shaping up to be around 13 at this point.
Yay! We arrived at Hustler Lake, which is supposed to have THE BEST campsite on the loop. It was easy to find, and we were looking forward to warming up and tucking in for the night. SURPRISE! A group of Outward Bound hikers were already in the site. We asked if we could join them and the group leader said that they already had 8 people at camp and had to follow the capacity rules (no more than 9 people in the BWCA sites). We understood, gave her a trail condition report, since we came from the opposite direction and headed back out on the soggy trail.
This is the part of the trip, where we really had to watch where we were going, watch our mental and physical state and NOT miss the turn to the next camp. It was late in the day, and I prayed that the next camp would be easy to find and have a spot for us.
North Emerald Lake campsite was not accessible from the trail, at least we couldn’t figure out how to climb/bushwhack into it…so we went to the next site…our last chance if we were going to make it to a campsite before dark and avoid hiking another 2-5 miles.
south emerald lake
Campsite notes: This is a smaller campsite with two small tent pads and a few hammock friendly spots. Getting 6 hammocks in was a stretch and some had to share trees. There is a large rock outcropping over the lake that makes for a nice view and easy access to water. If it had been warmer, we would have gone for a swim! The latrine lacks privacy and is visible from the trail about half way down the trail to camp. The fire grate is tucked up in the trees, we did our cooking on the rocks by the water. We shared this campsite with two other sets of backpackers, and we were really thankful the first occupants were willing to share the spot with us!
The rain finally stopped, and we spied the cairn for the South Emerald Lake Campsite. We trotted down the trail, optimistic that we had this site to ourselves, and we found people! “Oh no”, I thought…”please let us stay.” Two kind young men were already at the site, and let us pitch our hammocks and tents wherever we could find space. We enjoyed talking about how our trips had been going so far and hung out by the lake.
At this point, all of the clothing below my raincoat was drenched, so I hung up my pants, rainpants, socks, compression sleeves, shoes and ran around camp in my favorite wool shorts. Hanging my clothes to dry was kind of pointless, because nightfall was on the way, and we were camped at a lake…those clothes were NOT going to be dry by morning.
Just after dark, we heard some noise in the woods. Then talking…then a “Hey, can we join you guys?” I thought to myself, “who’s out here hiking around in the dark???” Two more hikers joined us that night and the original campsite occupants were as kind to them as they were to us. The two ‘new guys’ had to hang their hammocks on the same trees as Nancy and Angie, which was interesting…but they all squeezed in and figured it out! Andrea and I were jammed into a little clearing and glad for our small solo tents.
I love the feeling of putting on my ‘sacred socks’ and bedtime clothes after a long day on the trail. The footbox of my quilt had gotten a little wet through the trash compactor liner in my pack. So, I threw a hand warmer in the bottom, and enjoyed being covered in soft, warm fleece…falling asleep fast!
Day 3: South Emerald Lake to Shell Lake
recovery day (5 miles)
Andrea tallied yesterday’s miles and with our Loon Lake side trip, we hiked 15 miles! In 6 hours of rain! No wonder I was moving so slow this morning. Im not sure what happened, but I encountered some sort of time/space vortex and couldn’t seem to get myself organized. This is a note to myself to bring my watch on future trips. I left it at home because I didn’t really want to worry about what time it was, but we probably would have left camp two hours earlier if I wasn’t wandering around so much.
We left camp at 10:40! Oof. It was a delightful morning on the lake though…
I folded my cold, wet pants back up and and hit the trail in my shorts. It was actually quite comfortable, and the ticks seem to be much less active this time of year.
Next stop: Agawato Lake. We had been warned by all 4 guys at our camp that there was a ‘less than welcoming’ camper at this site that really didn’t want any company. We took our chances and headed down the trail to check it out and see if we could dry out some gear. No camping guy to be found. He’d already left for the day. The site was very nice and definitely worth checking out. We decided to spread our gear out and take advantage of the sunshine for a bit while we ate lunch.
The latrine location at this site is kind of hilarious. Its RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF THE TRAIL! You could trip over it! We laughed as we walked around it to get to and from camp and were glad we didn’t have to share this latrine with all of those guys last night.
I’m not sure how long we hung out at Agawato (see note about wearing a watch), but it might have been almost an hour. Good thing we had such a long day yesterday, it gave a much more leisurely day today.
Even after an hour in the sun, my pants were still wet (?) so I rolled them up again and strapped them to my pack…this is how people get trail names, and I was glad I already had one.
East Shell Lake
Campsite notes: This is a larger campsite with plenty of spots for tents and hammocks, easily accommodating the 9 person required max. Since this site is right on the lake, water was easy to come by. The latrine is one of the more private facilities we have seen on the trail and is easy to access from within the campsite. The fire grate had a lovely stone windbreak that looked like a small chimney around it that made it both nice to look at, and functional when the wind whips up from the lake. This is also looks like a popular campsite, so make sure you get there early!
About an hour after our lunch break, we stopped to check out the Eastern Shell Lake campsite. It was too early to set up camp, but we wanted to see it. We had planned on camping on the western side of the lake for our last night. Just as we were exploring the site, I saw 3 or 4 canoes go by, eying our site…then I heard a voice shout “They are all full on the other side”. I ran up to the gals and told them what I had seen and heard, and we decided that we had better claim this site, or it would be a quick end to our trip with a 8-9 mile walk to the car. Then one of the canoeists asked, “are you in that site or just hiking?” I said “We’re camping here, but we have room for 4″. They kept paddling and, at abound 3pm we started to set up camp for the night.
Todays hike was shorter at 5 miles but more difficult elevation to navigate. Lots of large, slippery, moss covered boulders and we all took a few spills crossing them. We also saw more moose tracks, with feet almost as big as ours! It was a nice change of pace and I was glad that we were able to flex our plans as needed.
We reorganized all of our leftover food (I brought too many snacks again), drank hot tea and even had a nice fire in the firepit that looked like a fireplace! Angie brought a chair and we were all jealous. Definitely next level relaxing, and sure beat the lopsided rock and bubble wrap I was sitting on.
Overnight, we had light rain, and heard howling wolves! I don’t remember much after that, and had another great night’s sleep.
Day 4: Shell Lake to Trailhead
homeward! (9 miles)
We all decided the night before that we would skip making breakfast and coffee and hit the trail just after sunrise at 7:30 am. We made it by 8!
Our hike back to the car flew by! It had some hills, slippery spots and beaver dam re-routes, but we made it back to the “Lolipop stick” which made for much smoother hiking, and back to the car by 12:45.
Sioux Hustler Trailhead : entry point #15
End of trail notes: The trailhead parking lot holds about 6 cars, with another parking lot down the road a bit that leads to the water access. Both lots had more cars now since we started on a Thursday. There is no cell service until you get a little closer to town (probably 15- 30 minutes depending on which way you are headed). I like to pack a ‘back home bag’ after a longer trips that includes: basic toiletries, small towel/washcloth, clean clothes (these could be the clothes that I wore up), open toed sandals, a favorite snack & beverage and a plastic bag to put my muddy/stinky shoes in. I learned this trick after our backpacking trip with the Scouts to Isle Royale a few years ago. If you can leave your car somewhere near a shower, even better! Celebrating and getting cleaned up quick after a long hike is a little ritual that always feels good before a long ride home (and your car mates will appreciate it too!)
After a quick change into fresh clothes, and arranging our gear back into the van, we were back on the road to Duluth for some outdoor dining at the OMC Smokehouse and a big Ice Cream from Love Creamery for dessert!
Thanks for reading about our trip! Check out our Youtube video for more Fall colors, campsite conditions and tales from the trail.
I’ve been home for a few weeks, and am still dreaming about the silence, crisp air and good times with friends in the BWCA. I also squeezed in another trip last weekend and learned a few things that I’ll write about soon. If you want to stay updated on future posts and videos, hit the subscribe button at the top of this page on and on my Youtube channel.