October 10, 2012

Portage & Paddle: Trout Lake & The Joyce Estate

If you are from Minnesota, or visit Minnesota, I think it's a must to travel up Highway 38, north of Grand Rapids to Marcell. It's a winding, hilly road that feels like a fair ride as you weave around a rugged & rolling terrain dotted with dozens of lakes.  My grandma grew up in the Suomi Hills area.  Her father (my great grandfather) settled there when he came from Finland in 1908.  I have many fond memories of driving up Highway 38 to visit Great Grandpa Huju, and camping at Caribou Lake with cousins.
South of Suomi Hills is the Trout Lake Semi-primitive Non-motorized Area, part of the Chippewa National Forest.
This is where we went last Wednesday, the best day of my week.
Our destination was Trout Lake and the Joyce Estate. 

Here is our first attempt at landing our kayaks on a little pug hole. 

The map showed that we should be able to reach Trout Lake from here, but after paddling across, we found the water too low to get through.. Mitch tried paving the way through a tight channel & quickly got swamped & had to turn around.

So we portaged some more.  At some point he took my kayak, too, so I could take photos of the beautiful trail.  Very chivalrous.  Or maybe he was tired of waiting for me as I stopped every 50 yards, dropping my kayak to take a photo of something.

It was much more of a portage than we planned. 
After studying the map, it looks like there are a couple of shorter, easier ways in.  If ever there were a day to take the longer, more difficult route, this was it, though.  It was beautiful.
At last we reached the south end of Trout Lake.
Trout Lake is pristine, with very little development, and very clear water. 
Everything below the surface looked a stunning aquamarine color.

It was a beautiful paddle to the north end of the lake. 
(Getting late in the year, I tested the water a few times - very cold!  But the air temp was in the 70's.)

The Joyce Estate is the only development on the entire lake. 
Here's some history:
The Joyce Estate is possibly one of the state's most unique historic resources.  Yet few people have heard of it, and even fewer have seen it.  The estate remains remote and nearly inaccessible, and has been surrounded by a certain mystique since it's construction. 
Located in Itasca County, north of Grand Rapids, the Joyce Estate consists of an extensive tract of land including 4,500 acres of  forest, eleven lakes, and 26 miles of shoreline.  The focus of the estate is an impressive collection of rustic style buildings which served as a summer retreat for David Gage Joyce of Chicago.  Heir to a vast fortune, partly derived from lumbering operations in the area, Joyce had the financial resources to plan his resort on a grand scale.
Construction of the complex was begun in 1917. 

Joyce equipped his retreat with numerous unexpected amenities, combining rustic pleasure with civilized comforts.  His private telephone cable, electric lighting, hot water system, greenhouse, landscaped grounds, and golf course were all splendidly improbable in a region just emerging from it's homestead era.
(As mentioned, my own great grandfather had arrived from Finland to the area nearby in 1908 at the age of 15, and went back to Europe to fight in WWI serving in France during this time from 1914-1918.  He returned after the war, married my great grandmother & they raised eight children in much smaller quarters during the years the Joyce Estate was in it's prime.  Those were very simple times for most Minnesotans.)
Most facilities were in place by the mid 1920's.  All told, over 40 buildings & structures were constructed.  The compound included a sprawling lodge, several family & guest cottages, bathhouse/sauna, gazebo, playhouse, gun house, ice house, observatory, greenhouse, caretaker's residence & cabins for staff, seaplane hangar,  several boat houses, three car garage, cellar, and so much more.   The estate also included recreation facilities such as a tennis court, golf course, golf clubhouse & trap house. 
The heirs of the estate sold the property to the Nature Conservancy, and it was subsequently acquired by the Forest Service in November 1973.  Since then the complex has remained vacant and in deteriorating condition. 

Adirondack style  rustic stick-work;  railing to the sundeck on the roof of the bathhouse, below:   Such an unusual experience, having these buildings open.  Most historic sites are locked up.  We had the entire place to ourselves.  Mitch saw two hikers from a distance from kayak, but we never crossed paths with them.
There is good amount of animal sign throughout the main lodge, and it appears people have enjoyed recent fires in the fireplace.

The Joyce Cabin sleeping quarters.  Still in great shape inside, with nothing but an old screen door closing it off from the elements.

With a couple of extra miles portaging than expected, we didn't have a lot of time to explore the overgrown parts of the grounds.  (Kids expected home from school in the afternoon.) 
Now that we're more familiar, we'll go prepared & bring a picnic next time.

The paddle out was even more calm.  Plenty of bird life.  Seagulls & ducks. 
And the trout were surfacing & splashing as we went along.

I watched a pair of bald eagles land in trees nearby.
Mitch watched a pair of otters while I was investigating some shoreline.

Back to our portage point again..

There is a good drop in elevation down a long hill to the lake.. again, Mitch was chivalrous & stole my kayak going up. 

The gatherer in me couldn't keep from collecting acorns on the way out.

I'm pretty certain I saw wolf sign on the trail.  The leaves were wonderful,
so dry & noisy as I kicked my way through them.   

Again - I love these undeveloped places & lakes.   This is my home, my native land. :)
We've since lost most color & leaves, and have had snow & sleet more days than not over the past week.
So grateful to have enjoyed that last beautiful day of fall. 


  1. How amazing , colorful and beautiful day you had! Your grandma and great grandfather had a wonderful place to live. Thank you for sharing this. Our son was working in Columbus, Ohio for a year and he said he never saw such autumn colors as you have. It's because our forests in Finland are mainly pine and spruce forest. I can understand why so many finns choosed Minnesota and Michigan to live their new life.
    Have a lovely week!

  2. Great posr!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Cannada.

    1. INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL. Pictures, words, all that stuff. Love you. Thank you. :) <3

    2. Thanks for bearing with me, it was a bit long!
      Boom & Gary, we have a Vermilion River in northern Minnesota, too. I spent an afternoon there recently.
      A post from this summer from "our" Vermilion: http://ourfunwithfive.blogspot.com/2012/07/vermillion-gorge-crane-lake-minnesota.html

  3. What stunning scenery you have. Great pictures

  4. What a beautiful day you had. Your photos are gorgeous! I have never heard of the Joyce Estate. Too bad it isn't being kept up and used. Thanks for the information on it.

    1. The Forest Service maintains the grounds now, but it really is a shame how much of the estate is lost. Very few of the buildings remain. There are information boards with photos on site, and it's amazing the lush landscaped grounds that it had been!
      I read that when the forest service first acquired the property, the buildings had all the original furniture. Much of it was stolen. Such a shame!
      It's a very quiet, peaceful place now, though. It's nice to see the lake preserved from development & motors.

  5. This was a wonderful read, Amanda. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the Joyce Estates, and am in awe of your splendid photography. I'm so glad you had such a rich day; those colours and memories will warm up even the coldest of winter ones ahead and Spring will be around the corner before you know it!

  6. Your photos should be in a travel brochure for this area -- love the bright green of your kayaks and the tree colors are fabulous.

    1. That would be a dream job, contributing to travel brochures! Maybe someday. :)

  7. Fantastic photography ~ and what a trip ~ your husband is a darling ~ glad you had fun ~ (A Creative Harbor) ^_^

  8. Ron and I have enjoyed many trips (by foot and by kayak) into the Joyce Estate. Fall is by far our favorite time to visit! Loved seeing all of your pictures. :)

    1. I thought of you many times, Angie. As we kept on trekking looking for a way onto water, I kept telling Mitch I know you guys have gotten kayaks in there!
      We saw a few alternate routes after we were already well on our way. I'll have to chat with you to see which way you go.

  9. Nice outing. Thanks for the text re Suomi Hills area. Great pics as usual. Glad you could get out for a paddle. I like the look of those kayaks and if I had more storage space I'd own 1-4 of them.

  10. Oh my goodness! These photos are absolutely amazing!! Autumn is my absolute favorite season so these are the perfect photos for me to look at. Hearing the dry noisy leaves under my feet while walking might be one of my favorite sounds.