Iron Lake

Making Connections

  • Paddle Northwest, to Bottle Lake
  • Portage North, 50 rods, to the Namakan River
  • Portage East, 140 rods, to Crooked
  • Portage Southeast, 116 rods, to the Beartrap River
  • Portage South, 72 rods, to Dark
  • Portage West, 320 rods, to Lac La Croix


  • Fisher F-16, Loon, Lac La Croix, Nina Moose Lakes; F-17, Crooked, Darky, Sarah Lakes
  • McKenzie 12, Moose River; 13, Lac La Croix


  • DNR Lake No. 690121
  • Lake Map No. C0877
  • Lake Table No. 2A
  • MDH Fish Consumption Advisory - N/A
  • MPCA Water Quality - N/A
Iron Lake
Scale 1:42840
Full image approximately 4 miles square


Iron is a large lake on the international border, 24 miles east of Crane Lake and 22½ miles NNW of Ely. The second largest lake in this region of the BWCA (after giant Lac La Croix) its 1851 acres enfold dozens of island and lap upon a convoluted shoreline 32 miles long. Though Iron has a maximum depth of only 40' (many much smaller lakes in the area are much deeper), only a bit more than 10% of its area is in the shallow, littoral zone (less than 15' deep). At its eastern end, Iron receives the outflow of Crooked Lake, over the Curtain Falls, and along its southern shore, in Peterson Bay, takes the waters of the Beartrap River. Iron's outflow is to the northwest, through Bottle Lake to the Bottle River and down to Lac La Croix.

From Peterson Bay on its southern shore, Iron provides connections up the Beartrap River, beginning with a 116 rod portage around the pinched lower reaches of the Beartrap. Farther to the west, a 72 rod carry climbs steadily up a 60' rise into Dark Lake. Along the northwestern shore, a mile long (320 rod) portage heads west for Lac La Croix, bypassing the longer, water route through Bottle Lake and down the Bottle River. After climbing up and over a couple of low hills, the trail makes a gradual descent to the lakeshore.

The forests on the American side of Iron Lake are relatively young, most having sprung up after the fires of 1894, though some small areas of 1875 and 1864 vintage do remain, as well as 200 year old stands from the 1796 fire, which hold out on a couple of the islands. This region of the BWCA escaped damage in the 4th of July windstorms of 1999, which caused such extensive tree loss to the south and east.


Iron Lake supports ten established campsites, widely distributed on the American side.

Planning Considerations

Iron is a link on the Border Route, which extends from the Grand Portage on Lake Superior's north shore west to Rainy Lake. The lake sits between two of the route's largest lakes, Lac La Croix and Crooked. Iron also marks the northern end of the Dark/Stuart route, which drops south out of Iron Lake, through Dark, Rush, and Fox, into Stuart Lake, from which further connections can be made on the Dahlgren and Stuart rivers as well as to the Sterling route east to the Beartrap. Iron also offers travel options north into the Quetico, of course.

Iron is included in Beymer, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area, vol. 1, The Western Region, routes 5, 7, 13, 15, 17, 18, 25, and 27.


Iron Lake supports populations of Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), Northern Pike (Esox lucius), Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Sauger (Stizostedion canadense), Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieui), Tullibee (Cisco) (Coregonus artedi), Walleye (Stizostedion vitreum), White Sucker (Catostomus commersoni), and Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens).

Notes and Comments

Line of Spruce Trees

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Last updated on 11 April, 2004