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Cliff Jump at Beth Lake in the BWCA

Grand Marais, Minnesota


Added by Dan Mirocha

Clear, clean, refreshing lake water. Secluded location. Cliff height: 20 feet. Lake depth: Unknown, but we didn't come close to touching the bottom. 140-rod portage from Alton Lake. Four campsites on Beth Lake, two near portages.

Beth Lake is part of the "Lady Chain" of lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It's secluded, serene and worth the trip, especially if you're up for an afternoon of cliff jumping.

You can reach Beth Lake in half of a day, assuming you set out in the morning and are efficient with your time. But first, there's someplanning ahead that's needed. You'll need to book a BWCA permit/reservation via recreation.gov. Specify how many people are in your group, the number of watercraft you plan to use and how many days you'll be in the woods. You'll also need to select a group leader and alternate leader. Each entry point in the BWCA has a limit on the amount of people that can enter each day (Sawbill Lake, where you'll enter for this adventure, allows 14 permits per day, according to bwca.com), so reserving your spot well in advance is a good way to go. For our trip, we had four guys and two canoes for two nights. Our total price was $70. Once your reservation is secured, you'll receive an email confirmation. Print and bring it with you to check in at the entry point ranger station the day of your reservation.

Enter the BWCA via the town of Tofte, which is on the North Shore of Lake Superior, four-and-a-half hours northeast of Minneapolis. The ranger station is located at 7355 West Hwy 61, Tofte, MN 55615. At the ranger station, you'll confirm your reservation and watch a 20-minute video that details the guidelines ('pack it in, pack it out,' 'leave no trace,' etc.) for your time in the wilderness.

After leaving the ranger station, follow Hwy 61 northeast to County Road 2/Sawbill Trail next to the Tofte General Store. Go north for about 20 miles. The drive will take close to 45 minutes. As the paved road becomes gravel a quarter of the way in, the road turns into a one-lane amusement park ride through the dense Northwoods. At the end of the road, you'll encounter Sawbill Outfitters, widely considered one of the best BWCA outfitters in the area, and an expansive parking lot. The Sawbill entry point is busy and populated, as there is an adjoining campground. Unload your gear at the canoe landing and park your car in the lot.

The paddle northwest to the Alton Lake portage takes about an hour. The 30-rod hike is so flat and wide that you can see from one end to the other. It can also be quite busy, but if you're efficient, you can get in, out and on your way quickly.

Upon entering Alton Lake, paddle south toward the end of the lake. This will take about 2 hours. Keep an eye out for bald eagles. We saw a few on our paddle. The portage to Beth Lake is on the southwest coast is measures 140 rods. It's narrow and rocky. According to rook.org, Beth Lake supports four campsites. On our trip, we camped on Alton Lake and spent an afternoon at Beth Lake. Because of this, we left the canoe at the Alton/Beth portage and just carried the essentials in a day pack -- towel, camera, water and snacks. Upon arriving on the western edge of Beth Lake, the large rock ledge to the left greets you immediately. Climb the rocks, soak in the view, then leap off. The water is deep enough that we never came close to touching the bottom.

Video of our cliff jumping adventure: vimeo.com.

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