Adventure Report: Log Cabin Hideaways

Mar 17, 2023Adventure Report

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“Listen”. I cupped my right hand behind my ear and turned to Jen. “I don’t hear anything,” she said. The fire crackled softly in the steel pit. Chickadees bounced around the branches of the aspen, sounding their signature calls. A light breeze tussled the tops the tops of the spruce.
She was right. There was nothing to hear. Nothing we didn’t want to hear.
It was day zero of our three-night stay at a rustic, off-grid cabin at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and we started it off with a proper bonfire. The rest of the time we had planned to fill with snowshoeing, ice fishing, sauna and playing Yahtzee, in no particular order.

Two hours earlier we had met Cecilia Quattromani and Dean Bushey, owners of Log Cabin Hideaways, on a Friday afternoon at a pickup spot 15 miles northeast of Ely. The two rent three rustic cabins, Triangle, Wintergreen and Bucksnort on a 40-acre parcel of secluded land bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The only way to make the three-mile trip is by canoe or snowmobile. Of course, you can opt to snowshoe, ski or bike yourself in, but we chose to get a ride. Us and our gear went into the qamutik-style sled behind Dean’s snowmobile, Cecilia jumped on the seat behind Dean, Jen zipped up her coat, I flipped down the ear flaps on my buffalo-plaid railroad cap and, after a final thumbs up to our pilot, we were on the nonexistent road to a weekend in the wild. Just a half a mile into the ride, Dean stopped to examine a set of prints in the snow along the trail. An experienced guide, he identified them as lynx paw prints. “These weren’t here earlier,” he said. This trip was off to a good start.

Our snow train zipped across two lakes and bumped along the trail until we arrived at the newest cabin, Bucksnort, where we unloaded and got the lowdown on how to light the stove, operate the battery-powered lighting system and manage drinking and washing water. With a “See you on Monday!” our ride left and we spent the rest of the day at the bonfire, soaking in some sun on a very nice winter day, kept feeding the fire with logs and listened to the chickadees chitter at the bird feeder. Slowly, we decompressed.
A man and a woman are being pulled across a frozen lake in a sled by a man riding a snowmobile
The percolator on the antique gas stove was done bubbling before the sun was up all the way the next morning. Armed with steaming mugs of coffee, we forged our plan for the day. The Log Cabin Hideaways property has an existing trails network you can explore by foot, snowshoe, fatbike or ski. The routes connecting the three cabins are packed hard and flattened by the snowmobile Dean uses to shuttle guests, but there’s other, foot-travel only options. The map at the cabin was marked with recommended fishing holes, but we decided to go rogue and take a snowshoe trail to the Kawishiwi River to find our own.
Self-issued BWCAW permit in hand we set off, taking turns pulling a sled full of ice fishing gear through a scenery familiar and new at the same time. We had been to the Boundary Waters before, but never in the winter. The intimate trail twisted through the birch and aspen forest, over boulders and past rocky outcroppings. It seemed whatever wasn’t crusted in snow, was, instead covered by lichen and moss. We pulled the gear sled up hills and let it pull us down until we finally caught a glimpse of the frozen river.
It was only our second time ice fishing and the first time drilling our own hole and it was tough work. It took a good 20 minutes to make a shape in the rock-hard ice that one could call a shallow hole. Taking turns cranking the auger we kept measuring: 6 inches, 8 inches, 12 inches, 14 inches. We kept going. (When we talked later, we found out each one of us was ready to throw in the towel anytime, had the other said so.) Finally-water! We had drilled a 16-inch-deep hole and were ready to fish.
A woman holds a piece of candy she retrieved from a mailbox in a snowy forest

There was nothing else to do but sit and jig the line every once in a while, maybe chew on a sandwich. It was another bluebird day and we felt lucky we got to spend it in a place so beautiful and quiet, with only the occasional swoosh of a mild breeze in the trees on the shore and the faraway call of a crow. We spent a few hours there and it didn’t matter that we didn’t even get a nibble. The only regret we had was leaving the coffee kit at home. Making a hot cup of pour over joe on a frozen lake in the Boundary Waters would have been the cherry on the bowl of ice cream kind of day we were having. We packed up and headed back when we heard the sauna calling late in the afternoon, but not without stopping at the special mailbox Cecilia and Dean keep stocked with chocolates. After our Boundary Waters Triathlon -snowshoe, auger, sauna- lights out came early. We drifted off to sleep to the muffled pops of the fire behind the glass window of the cast iron stove and the flames’ flickering lights on the walls.

A landscape view of a full moon and purple-blue skies in an aspen forest at dusk
Sunday morning action at the bird feeder outside the cabin was hot. It’s amazing how much personality little birds can have when you sit down and take the time to watch them. Nuthatches like to zip in, take one seed and fly off to eat it somewhere else. Goldfinches descend on the feeder in huge charms, throw a wild peckin’ party and explode away suddenly, cued by a sign only they know. Gray jays and pine grosbeaks park themselves at the feeder like old men at a lunch counter, eating in silence, nodding at each other every so often, undisturbed by what’s going on around them. Nobody likes red squirrels that come squatting on the feeder property. Not even the coordinated attack of two blue jays can scare them off, but the daring nuthatch sneaks in from the edges to steal a seed when the squirrel chirps at someone else. The party was over when a pine marten came slinking out of the woods, hopped on the tray and started rifling through the seeds for peanuts. Those gnarly teeth demand some respect.

The rest of the day was a repeat of Saturday, except we walked a different, circular, route to get to our fishing hole. The big catch of the day was Jen’s thumb-sized perch. We didn’t get skunked, but next time we will take the expert’s advice for sure. After snowshoeing and pulling a sled almost five miles, the evening sauna was one of the best I’ve ever had. Jen takes only one or two rounds, but I stayed out there for over two hours, rubbing down with snow between sets. There’s just nothing like standing in the middle of the woods on a cracking cold night as God made you, steaming in the moonlight like a boiled lobster.

Monday morning came too fast and by 10:30 am we were back in the sled, buzzing across Triangle Lake toward the boat landing. We already have reservations for next year.
A small cabin made from hand-hewn logs sits at the edge of a forest in the snow
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About me

I’m Jan, the publisher of Minnesota Trails Magazine. I’m looking for that one trail, the next ride, a new discovery and other reasons never to sit still in Minnesota.


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