RoutesTrip Reports

Boundary Water’s Route: The Hunt for the Viking Dolmen

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

Kelso River Viking Dolmen
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.

Boundary Waters campsite at night with star trails

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.

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  • Awesome – now I am curious to know more about the mystery! The crackling of the skim ice against the hull of the canoe and close-ups of the beaver lodges were both great details, too. Thank you.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. I always think it’s the little details that make a trip more enjoyable.

  • What a fantastic trip and and cool video! Michigan paddling can be so tame compared to what you guys get in the BWCA…

    Feel free to share some of the great pictures from the trip on It’s cool trips like this that excite us average joe’s to get out and adventure.

  • I’ll have to remember this route the next time we’re in the Boundary Waters. Thanks for sharing!

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