Welcoming Boreal Backcountry Cabins to the North ShoreMay 22, 2023 08:15AM ● By Content Editor
By local author and writer Maddy Marquardt for Boreal Community Media - May 22, 2023
Tucked away in the woods near Tofte, Minnesota, just off the Superior Hiking Trail, hikers can now find themselves a warm bed inside a cabin with a screened-in porch. That bed? The Boreal Backcountry Cabins.
Owned and built by Sonja Helland and Scott Forbort, this set of unique, off-grid cabins have been 20 years in the making.
The cabins are less than a half-mile off the Superior Hiking Trail, the 300-mile hiking trail that runs from Duluth to the Canadian Border.
Inspired initially by the hiking shelters on the Appalachian Trail, Helland and Forbort started building the rustic road to what would become the cabins in 2007. The first cabin was built in 2012 but not fully finished until 2019, and in 2020 the couple pushed through to build the second cabin.
Helland and Forbort sat down with Boreal Community Media to share more about the cabins.
“It's a little over 10 years of construction,” Helland said. “We opened last summer, August 1st, with one cabin, and then September 1st with another cabin. We had two cabins through the end of October.”
According to Forbort, the initial concept of the cabins was “that you can have a place to stay that's just right off the trail and has more of a backwoods, off-grid type feeling, rather than staying at a hotel or motel. And certainly a step up from having to camp out on the trail every night.”
Located deep in the Superior National Forest and completely off-grid, building the Boreal Backcountry Cabins was an adventure.
Building the cabins and dealing with the elements
“It's straight up a hill, a mile and a half, and off of the Springdale Road, emphasis on the word spring,” Helland told Boreal. “So it's a very wet, muddy road and we are constricted by being able to travel up and down that road to get building materials up. During a couple of spring seasons, we've been washed out. One June was the wettest June in the state of Minnesota, so we couldn't get up there for, I don't know, a couple of years. The road got rutted up.”
Helland and Forbort did the majority of the building themselves, with the exception of the artesian solar well pump. Together, they hauled in equipment, constructed the cabins, and even set up solar-powered lights and charging stations.
According to Helland, “During a couple of spring seasons, we got some really dry weather. We were able to get a well truck up there and drill a well, which was not in our wildest dreams but it happened. That's a huge amenity to the area, to be out in the middle of the woods and have an artesian solar well pump and have some water.”
In addition to the artesian well pump, the Boreal Backcountry Cabins have screened-in porches with a bench inside, a fire ring, an outdoor table and chairs, an outhouse, cooking equipment, board games, bunk beds with a queen bed on the bottom, and a twin on top.
Other accommodations include solar lights in the cabins as well as a charger for phones, (also solar-powered). The cabins are heated with propane.
Helland and Forbort furnish the cabins with firewood; hikers pack in their own bedding and food. The two cabins themselves are 200 feet apart, and each cabin has its own private area.
While located just off the Superior Hiking Trail and designed with thru-hiking in mind, the cabins also are ideally situated for basecamping, with just a three-mile hike in on the Superior Hiking Trail from the Britton Peak Trailhead, or a four-mile hike in from the Oberg Mountain Trailhead.
From the cabins, it’s possible to day hike to Oberg or Leveaux Mountains to the north, or to Carlton Peak and Temperance River State Park to the south. It’s also possible to hike into Tofte by hiking out to the Britton Peak Trailhead, then down the Sawbill Trail. In Tofte, hikers can enjoy a sit-down meal in town, or even resupply a thru-hike at the Tofte General Store.
"We're going to add a third cabin, and we’re working on it this summer. The vision is to become part of the Superior Hiking Trail, the community, to become part of the lore, and become part of the trail. We’d like to make it so that hikers can come off and have a nice comfortable place to stay. I guess that's really our goal— to have a nice, fun place for people to stay,” Forbort said.
To learn more about Boreal Backcountry Cabins or book a stay, visit borealbackcountrycabins.com or call 218-349-4377.
About Maddy Marquardt
Maddy Marquardt has lived and worked as an English teacher in Armenia, worked as a sea kayaking guide on Lake Superior, and lived in a handful of small towns along the Great Lakes coasts. She's been published as a co-author in Scientific American, but today mostly writes about trails and the outdoors, and why the way we talk about nature is important. You can read her short nonfiction on that very subject, Nick Adams Dies in a Diner (Nominated for Best of the Net 2021) in Pidgeonholes literary magazine.