Experts believe fifth-century Vikings placed a dolmen—a large stone perched upon three small rocks—somewhere in the Boundary Waters.
Join us while we hunt for the Viking dolmen.
Kelso River Boundary Waters Route
Lakes Used: Sawbill Lake, Kelso River, Kelso Lake, Kelso River, Kelso Lake, Alton Lake, Sawbill Lake
Length: 1 to 2 days
Distance: 9 to 10 miles
Elevator Pitch: A short scenic day trip, that works as an overnight. Paddle along varied terrain including birch forests, bogs, small and large lakes. The highlights include many large beaver lodges and the mysterious Viking dolmen.
Description: Start at the campground on Sawbill Lake. If you need a canoe, rent one from Sawbill Outfitters. Head north, passing the narrows into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). Follow the western shore until the bay half-way up Sawbill Lake. Portage into the Kelso River.
The Kelso River is a narrow passage through a bog. Watch for beaver. Along the south and western shoreline look at the edges of the bog to find pitcher plants. Follow the river to Kelso Lake. Near the end of the lake are two campsites–both offer good tent pads and nice scenery. The furtherest north site offers more privacy.
To find the dolmen, continue paddling north along the Kelso River. Before you reach Lajenida Lake, you’ll see the dolmen on the eastern shoreline. It’s easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled. Many people attached different legends to the dolmen–some of them are: it’s a Viking marker; it marks an ancient copper mine; it was built by bored U.S. Forest Service workers; or it is a glacier erratic. Some say the dolmen had runes–now gone–carved into it. Please, respect the dolmen. Opposite the dolmen is a trail that leads to the old Kelso Mountain fire tower.
After investigating and wondering about the dolmen, paddle south. Kelso Lake forks and you’ll want to take the western fork to a short portage into Alton Lake. Hug the eastern shore until you find the portage back into Sawbill Lake. Then paddle back to the campground.
Boundary Waters Route Map
View Kelso River Loop: Viking Dolmen in a larger map
If you’re into mysterious places in the Boundary Waters, check out Magic on the Rocks. It’s a good read about pictographs in the BWCA.