Isle of Pines, Knife Lake, BWCAW - Former home of Dorothy Molter, the Root Beer Lady
Knife Lake, home to the Isle of Pines, and former home of Dorothy Molter, is located in Lake County, Minnesota on the international border between Minnesota, U.S.A. and Ontario, Canada, with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) on the U.S. side and Quetico Provincial Park on the Canadian side. A U.S. Forest Service permit is required to travel to Knife Lake due to its location within the BWCAW and access is limited to canoe, snowshoe, ski or dogsled travel. The nearest road is 15 miles at the Moose Lake public access point and the closest town is Ely, Minnesota approximately 30 miles from Isle of Pines on Knife Lake. Dorothy Molter lived on the Isle of Pines from the 1930s until her passing there in December 1986.
Backstory and Context
During “soft” water season (ice break-up in late-spring to ice formation in early-fall), the most direct route to Knife Lake is via the Moose Chain to Birch Lake, through to Carp Lake, onto Melon then, Seed and finally, Knife. This is the route Dorothy often used with her aluminum canoe and motor. During the “hard” water season (passable ice on the lakes), Dorothy either used her snow machine or snowshoed to Moose Lake. During this time, there was also a winter route available that was slightly shorter.
Knife Lake’s area is 4919.46 acres with 99 miles of shoreline and is well over 170 feet at its deepest point. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Knife Lake has good clarity and low algae levels throughout the open water season. Fish species present include burbot (eelpout), lake trout, lake whitefish, northern pike, rock bass, smallmouth bass, tullibee (cisco), walleye, yellow perch, short-head redhorse and white sucker.
The remaining signs of Dorothy’s presence on the islands include the Ribbon Rock (moved here by Dorothy’s nephews), a bank of lilac bushes near the summer tent area and Point Cabin, a random assortment of perennial garden flowers and an English rose bush near the summer tent area.
If you go to the Isle of Pines, you may notice open areas where buildings once existed as well as paths between those areas. However, downed trees and underbrush growth have obscured much of these signs over the decades. Although no markers or signs are present, please note that no camping is allowed on the Isle of Pines.
Friends of Dorothy Molter estimate that to visit her on her islands (Moose Lake to Knife Lake) it would take 4-4.5 hours to canoe (no motor), 7-10 hours to snowshoe and 45 minutes to snowmobile. No wonder so many people took their snow machine up to visit her in the winter!
Dorothy Molter Museum Collection Archives
MN Pollution Control Agency. Lakes and streams water quality dashboard, Accessed April 22nd 2020. https://cf.pca.state.mn.us/water/watershedweb/wdip/details.cfm?wid=38-0404-00.
MN DNR. Lakefinder, Accessed April 22nd 2020. https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind/lake.html?id=38040400.
Dorothy Molter Museum, Ely MN
Dorothy Moler Musuem, Ely MN
Dorothy Moler Musuem, Ely MN