Photo: Burntside Lake at dawn

Spring-fed Burntside Lake is adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in remote Minnesota.

Photograph by Matt Olson

By Donna Tabbert Long

A screen door slams. The scent of pine lingers. Crystal water beckons. At Burntside Lake, kids have been cooling sun-warmed bodies with a running leap and splash off a dock for generations. Adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, this remote northern Minnesota lake some 12 miles long and scattered with more than 125 islands has attracted the likes of former CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt, who considered the area one of his top getaways.

Its wild natural beauty has been written about by author and conservationist Sigurd Olson, who described the lake and surrounding forest in every season, the place he considered his “own particular ‘back of beyond.’” Renowned outdoor photographer Jim Brandenburg captured the serene lake’s many moods on film—cool blue water framed by sunsets streaked with pink, birds in flight, and evergreens outlined on the small islands.

Families have returned year after year to summer at historic lakeside log cabins here—places like Burntside Lodge—where, since 1913, nature’s quiet pleasures have continued to be the driving attractions. Souls are nourished where time and space are abundant. City dwellers have learned how to appreciate a sunrise on the lake, and how to cast a line and dip a canoe paddle.

On moonless summer nights the same families gather close to smoky campfires on the beach to repeat old stories and lick fingers sticky with warm marshmallows. Then the lake’s inky blackness is not seen but only heard—waves washing onto shore.

When conditions are just right, the elusive northern lights make an appearance over this watery wilderness. Giant colorful spirits, the light plumes shimmer across the sky and seem to reflect Burntside Lake’s true mystique.

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