DISTANCE
30.8 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
2,814 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Loop

dogs on leash

backpacking

camping

hiking

trail running

forest

lake

river

views

waterfall

wildlife

blowdown

rocky

backpacking
14 days ago

I did a solo backpack loop in a clockwise direction over 3 days/2 nights (Saturday, 5/26 to Monday, 5/28). Unbelievably burly trail. I have hiked in many wild places in this country (lots of off-trail climbing and camping in the Rockies) and this is arguably the most challenging backpacking trip I have ever been on!

Day 1: The first 6 miles or so from the trail head to Devil's Cascade are well-traveled and easy to follow. All crossings over beaver dams were very easy to negotiate; the footing was firm and there was no doubt about the best way to navigate these crossings. They were some annoying downed logs/trees and wet trail crossings to deal with, but nothing too cumbersome. After a nice lunch at the spacious campground perched high above Devil's Cascade, I had some difficulty re-locating the trail (it veers off to the north just prior to the Pauness-Shell Portage Trail), and for the next stretch the trail was much more overgrown and harder to follow. At times, the path was very faint, but it was still relatively easy to follow. The amount of downfall increased substantially and travel was slow all the way to my first campsite on the rocky shores of Pageant Lake. I spent a lovely, calm evening there all to my lonesome. I was visited by pairs of commons loons and trumpeter swans while at the lake.

Day 2: This day just about broke me. Generally speaking, the trail from Pageant Lake to Shell Lake was plagued by downfall and countless wet, swampy, boggy areas. On this 12 mile stretch of trail, I counted nearly 100 trees that required some amount of effort to detour around, under, or over (this does not include the countless amount of smaller trees that obstructed the trail but were easy to step over). It was critical to pay attention to the narrow trail under your feet and to look for sawed logs (the only real "trail marker" that is identifiable with any regularity) to ensure I was on route! All of the beaver dam crossings were dry and very straightforward. One of the bogs was especially precarious to cross; I'm glad I didn't slip in because I fear I might still be wrestling to get my leg free from the muck! There were lots of ups and downs along the way, and many of the rocky rises had patches of pink lady's slipper on them! I passed 2 groups along the way (I presume they were to NurseMatt 116 and Beth Huplia, see their reviews below) and altogether this 12 mile stretch took me over 9.5 hours of trail time. Hot, humid, buggy conditions only made travel more challenging. I spent the second night at the canoeing site on Shell Lake (near the Shell-Little Shell portage). Very spacious site that could definitely host a large party.

Day 3: I hit the trail at 7am and hiked more-or-less straight out along the shore of Shell Lake to the main trail junction south of Devil's Cascade. From there, it was an easy hike back out to the trail head. It took about 4.5 hours for me to cover the last 8 miles or so.

Altogether, this trail is extremely rugged and not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for solitude with a multitude of camping options, look no further. I would not recommend this trail to a beginning backpacker, as the lack of signs, ample amount of downfall, and remoteness of the loop make this more appropriate for experienced backpackers only. Kudos to whatever amazing people conduct infrequent maintenance on this trail... when you see some of the huge sawed logs and take into consideration how far they are from a motor vehicle, it's virtually unthinkable to imagine the effort it takes to clear this route!