Portage from Lake Superior to the Pigeon River (The Grand Portage)
Length in Rods: 2,720 rods (about 8.5 miles) Start Lake: Lake Superior
Type of Portage Connection: Portage End Lake: Pigeon River
Rating: Easy Date portage was last visited: August 22, 2015
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The Grand Portage

Lake Superior to Pigeon River Portage Description

The Grand Portage has probably been used for over 2,000 years. Originally, Native Americans used it to travel from Lake Superior inland to their hunting areas. To them it was called Gichi-onigaming (the Great Carrying Place). Much later, about 350 years ago, The Grand Portage was used by the fur traders (mostly French) to travel to the interior where fur-bearing animals could be found and trapped. To facilitate the fur trading business, Fort George was established on Lake Superior in the protected waters of Grand Portage Bay. At Fort George, furs were processed so that they would be able to survive transport to the east end of the Great Lakes. From there, the furs were sold at markets. A second fort was established 8.5 miles inland on the Pigeon River. This was Fort Charlotte. The Grand Portage connects Fort George to Fort Charlotte. The Grand Portage exists to avoid having to do many short portages. This is because the lower 21 miles of the Pigeon River has a large number of rapids and several major waterfalls. These two forts and The Grand Portage were only heavily utilized from the mid-1780's until 1802. The North West Company, the operators of this fur trading business, voted at that time to move their operation north to Canada.


Exploring Fort George on Grand Portage Bay on Lake Superior


This is the approximate view that voyageurs would experience as they approach Fort George after paddling across Lake Superior.



The entrance to Fort George. Fort George was where furs obtained from the interior (areas like the current day BWCA) were accounted for, processed and packaged for their trip back to the eastern end of the Great Lakes.



From the landing dock on Lake Superior, cut through Fort George and out the forts western gate. Proceed across the open field to the start of The Grand Portage.



This is the main building at The Fort. This is where business transactions were consummated and the administrative staff worked.



This is the gatehouse to Fort George on the inland side of The Fort. The Grand Portage starts back over your left shoulder. Just follow that gravel path away from the fort.



There are buildings outside the fort's walls too. These housed the trades folk who worked at the fort: Blacksmiths, tanners, skinners, etc.



View of Fort George from across the road and right at the beginning of The Grand Portage.



Your hike begins here. It is 8.5 miles to the Pigeon River.


So, you have reached the start of The Grand Portage. But why not just paddle up the Pigeon River from Lake Superior and avoid carrying your canoe and all your gear for 8.5 miles...

Because...

The Pigeon River downstream from Fort Charlotte to Lake Superior (Walking upriver - each photo is a little farther upstream)


The Pigeon River about a quarter-mile below the High Falls. Canada is on the other side of the river.



The river leaves the gorge just downstream of this point.



The High Falls. This is the highest waterfall in Minnesota. This is located in Grand Portage State Park.



High Falls on the Pigeon River. This shows the falls during late summer. The waterfall is nearly 120 feet high. This is the highest waterfall in Minnesota. This is the view from the U.S. side. Canada is on the opposite shore.



A couple miles upstream from the High Falls, the Pigeon River now flows through a wider valley. This gravel bar is accessible at the end of a two mile hiking trail in Grand Portage State Park.



This waterfall is called Middle Falls and is two miles upstream from High Falls. The hiking trail in Grand Portage State Park to reach this location is appropriately called Middle Falls Trail. It is a fairly strenuous hike to get here for a typically easy state park trail.



Middle Falls of the Pigeon River.



You can get really close to the Middle Falls. Here you are standing right above them.



The rapids above Middle Falls on the Pigeon River.



The head of the rapids above Middle Falls. Upstream from here, the Pigeon River is flat for a while.


Now back to The Grand Portage...

Note: This entire hike is shown below in chronological order, starting from the Fort George end of The Grand Portage (Lake Superior end).


Do no confuse Old U.S. 61 for Minnesota Highway 61. You cross both of them. The Minnesota Highway 61 crossing is only about one mile ahead past this sign.



One of the many make-shift bridges built to keep your feet dry that are found along The Grand Portage.



Taking a break along another creek.



Stopping to watch and listen to the little creek bubble and guggle below your feet.



A single board bridge over a small creek.



A larger creek that must be crossed. This one even has a name.



For the most part, the trail has little blow down. The trail is quite wide and very well worn (it has been used for hundreds of years or more afterall). This is a typical view of the trail.



This is the sign marking The Grand Portage where it crosses Minnesota Highway 61 (MN 61). This is not the same as Old Hwy 61. Old Hwy. 61 is about 2.5 miles farther east. MN 61 is about a mile down the trail from Fort George and Lake Superior.



The Grand Portage continues east toward Fort Charlotte on the other side of Minnesota Highway 61 (MN61) for another 7.5 miles beyond this point.


The Pigeon River upstream from Fort Charlotte to South Fowl Lake near the BWCA

This area is on the list of places to visit in the near future. Partridge Falls is a major waterfall along this section. This section also includes the historically significant 320 rod Fowl Portage which goes from South Fowl Lake to the Pigeon River.

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