Trip planning
Trail Description
GPS route and important coordinates
Maps numbers
Gear list
Coming up:
Hike the Kelso brochure
Aerial photographs

Facts and Figures
County: Cook, State: Minnesota, Type: Summit, Elevation: 2100 feet, USGS Quad:  Kelso Mountain
GPS  47.919 deg N, 90.931 deg W
GPS UTM   15 654572E   5309172N

How to get there:
From Duluth, Minnesota, drive to Tofte on Hwy. 61, turn left onto Sawbill Trail and drive to Sawbill Lake (about 24 miles).  At the Sawbill Lake is USFS multiple site campground, parking lot, Sawbill Canoe Outfitters ( with a supplies store and showers), and canoe landing. 
Canoe portion of the route (5 miles):
From the canoe landing at Sawbill, paddle north, then west to Kelso River (30 rod portage) upstream on Kelso River (don't worry about negligible current) and continue north on Kelso Lake and into Kelso River again.  Kelso River winds and splits into two streams.  Stay to the left.  Eventually, you will approach a remnant of a beaver dam with a clear channel going through.  On east side of the BD is a large boulder, called dolmen, perched on three small rocks.  The landing and trailhead is on the west side, of the river, opposite and across from the dolmen.  Remains of a small dock are still visible under the water near shore. 
Trail portion of the route (1.25 miles to the peak)
Trail goes straight uphill, around boulders and then turns right through wet spots (depending on season and rainfall)  Trail winds around, and at one spot the path will drop ahead of you in a small valley.  You will cross an old beaver dam and on your right will be dried up lake.  After the old BD the trail veers off to the left for a few yards (don't trip over the stiff telephone wire on ground) and then to the right and uphill.  In fall, this is the most colorful part of the trail because of the mixture of birch, aspen and maple.  Eventually  you will reach Oriole Lake. At Oriole Lake, cross the beaver dam, and then follow the shore for about 50 yards.  Keep an eye on right for opening in the brush.  The brush may have overgrown the trail, but you should be able to see a pattern where it has been cleared years ago.  Seventy yards up you will see four birch trunks on the right (with orange flagging, if not taken down).  The trail turns left, and you might be able to spot an old telephone pole or two.  From now on the trail has been made scenic only by the big strom of 1999 which opened few vistas on the left.  After twisting and winding you will reach the top.  There is an outhouse, woodshed and few relics of the past.  The tower has been long removed, the cabin burned down in name of wilderness but the tower footings still remain, bearing witness that people have lived there, along with few garden type variety flowers that have survived in abandonment.

Kelso Mountain Trail is officialy off the USFS wilderness trail inventory and has been so for number of years.  It is hoped that the US Forest Service will restore the trail.  Kelso Mountain Trail has been recognized by the White House Millennium Council and designated a "Community Millenium Trail"  in a proclamation signed by Hillary Clinton in 2000.  Presently, the trail is passable except for a few treefalls, but it is not maintained by the US Forest Service,

Here is a GPS file for TOPO! GPS.  It contains route from Sawbill Lake Landing to trailhead and top of the Kelso. 

On-line map link to Maptech 

McKenzie Map Products

W.A. Fisher Maps

Sawbill Canoe Outfitters

US Forest Service

You will need -
McKenzie maps #20 and #21 or
Fisher maps # F5 and #F12
GPS .tpg version file is above here
GPS listing in MS .doc is above here