A Bogus Journey

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My own piece of Minnesota's arrowhead lake region, on a lake so small it's Bogus.

Four Bogus Places

Last week I scouted four possible building sites for She Who Puts Up With Me's cousin to place a primitive one-room cabin on our property at Bogus Lake. I found some places on the property I didn't know existed, and while none of the spots is perfect, they all have a lot to offer.

Site 1: Beaver Overlook

This site is near the access road and overlooks a massive beaver dam. 15" logs litter the area where beavers cut down large trees but only used the branches.


  1. Easy access to the site from the road, only about 200' across level ground.
  2. Beavers already did most of the work clearing the trees.
  3. Guaranteed to see wildlife activity.


  1. Could be too close to the beaver pond to meet wetland setback requirements.
  2. Not very secluded--a cabin here will be visible from the road during the winter.

Site 2: High Point

The highest point on our property is at the top of the highest hill for a considerable distance in any direction, though not all the hilltop is on our property. This site has a steep dropoff in one direction, giving a spectacular view without clearing any trees. Were it not for the trees, there would be a 270-degree panorama affording views of Lake Superior, the BWCA, and possibly Bogus Lake as a bonus.


  1. Amazing views.
  2. Access is OK, with about 500' of moderate grade from the road.  In other words, you can get here without climbing the cliff.


  1. This is a prime location for building a home, so we may want to reserve it for future use.
  2. Anything on this spot will be visible for miles.
  3. The best views require either a taller building or clearing some of the forest.

Site 3: Bogus Overlook

In my hiking I discovered a small knob above Bogus Lake which (according to my GPS) is just 100' inside the property line. A cabin built here would have the feeling of being perched above a small alpine lake, because that's about what it would be.


  1. Nice view; not as spectacular as site 2, but with a much more intimate feeling.
  2. Close enough to the lake to get there easily while still feeling perched up in the hill.
  3. The site is too small for anything but a small cabin, making it unlikely we'd want to use it for something else.


  1. Access requires climbing a hill too steep for an ATV. Building materials will have to lifted by hand up about a 10' climb.
  2. Could possibly be too close to the property line, since the GPS could easily be 50'-100' off in the estimate of the boundary.

Site 4: Deep Woods

Continuing along the hillside past Site 2, there's a broad expanse of mature (100 years old) sugar maple forest. The ground has just enough slope to keep it dry, and the thin underbrush made for easy hiking. Signs of recent moose activity were everywhere. A cabin here would have the feeling of being isolated deep in the woods.


  1. Very secluded.
  2. Easy to find a good spot to build.
  3. Fall colors will be amazing.


  1. A long way from the access road--about 1500' or so--but the slope is gentle enough that this could be done by ATV.
  2. No view; however, if there's ever a forest fire, you could see Lake Superior from anywhere on this hillside.
  3. Getting supplies (food, water, etc.) will require hiking 10 minutes to the access road.

A Bogus Journey

In the Northeastern tip of Minnesota, just a few miles from the Canadian border, there's a lake so small it's Bogus. That's where I have my own piece of the northwoods, a conifer and maple forest overlooking Lake Superior.

At 80 acres, Bogus Lake is certainly small, but it's a lot bigger than some of the drainage ponds they used to call "lakes" when I lived in central Illinois. It's also not the only Bogus Lake in Minnesota--there's another one near Lake Itasca in the central part of the state. There are also Bogus Lakes in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Ontario, among other places.

I bought a parcel of undeveloped land on Bogus Lake in 1991, when the combination of a recession, the collapse of the logging industry in that area, and the fact that Grand Marais hadn't been discovered as a tourist destination conspired to drive land prices to absurdly low levels. I was in college at the time, and scraped together enough money to buy the 158 acre lot. At the time it had been for sale for something like two years with barely any interested buyers.

The land lies at the top of a ridge 1,200 feet above Lake Superior. When the leaves are off the trees you can see the big lake from a number of places around the property. There's a massive beaver pond and stream, and many signs of moose activity.

In my college days, I made a couple of attempts at cabin building with the idea of having a warm place to stay. Unfortunately my ambition ran ahead of my time and abilities--one of the two structures is slowly collapsing, and the other has been in a permanently unfinished state for over 15 years. When I moved out of state for graduate school my visits to Bogus Lake slowed to the barest trickle: first because it was too far, then because I was too busy, and then because it was too hard to camp with the kids.

This year I've been thinking more and more about my place at Bogus Lake. I think this was really sparked by the cousin of She Who Puts Up With Me, who aspires to be the next Thoreau. Over the winter he asked us if he could build a small one-room cabin on our property, and we agreed (it's not like things are getting crowded up there).

The cabin is scheduled to be built starting around the end of May, and this past week I spent three days in Grand Marais hiking all around the property scouting sites. I went further into the property and saw more of it than I ever have in the past, and this has rekindled my enthusiasm for eventually building a vacation (or even retirement) home up there.

I've also hired a surveyor to locate and mark the boundary of the property. Only about 1/3 of the property line has ever been surveyed, so our current understanding of where our land ends is based on taking measurements off topographic maps and punching them into a handheld GPS. This could easily be off by 100 feet or more.

Within the property, there are places where (if it weren't for the trees) you could get stunning 270-degree vistas of Lake Superior and the surrounding hills. There are other places which feel like the shore of a remote alpine lake, and places where the horizon only extends to the first row of trees. When we build a home at Bogus Lake, we will have our pick of places.

In the meanwhile, I've decided that it's high time to start getting up there more often.

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