Long-Time Rockwood Customer Steve Dawson Completes His “Revenge Hike.”

Steve Dawson and revenge hikers

Just last week, Steve Dawson, a testament to human resilience, and his two unwavering companions embarked on a challenging adventure he fondly calls his “revenge hike.” Despite the unpredictable weather, they persevered and covered 23 miles over three days, all without the nuisance of bugs.

Two years ago, the group began a hike over the same route but were forced to stop and turn back after one night. That first day, Dawson was stricken with an apparent heart ailment, and rather than tough it out, the group prudently returned to Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters and then back to his home in Onalaska, WI, for appropriate treatment. He’s the picture of health today.

Almost 60 years old and in good health, he thought this successful hike avenged his body’s attempt to slow him down.

Dawson is Care Ministries Pastor at First Free Church in Onalaska, WI.

As a youth pastor in Illinois in the previous century, Dawson conducted wilderness trips with groups of young people. “I was pretty green about the wilderness back then and tended to overpack for our trips,” Dawson said.

He soon gained experience and some expertise, and in the late 1990s, he brought a group to the BWCAW for an adventure. It was the first time he visited the wilderness, and he fell in love with the BWCA and the Gunflint Trail. 

“The scenery is so beautiful,” he said. “I call it my energizing place.”

Dawson has been married for 37 years, and the couple have four kids and four grandkids. His first trip outfitted by Rockwood took place in 1999. The whole family entered the BWCAW and camped on Duncan Lake for two nights. They explored Rose Lake and Stairway Falls and had an excellent time.

Dawson keeps a map on the wall in his basement, tracking his BWCAW canoe and hiking adventures. 

“Over the last 25 years, I’ve done more than 50 trips in the BWCAW,” he said. Some trips were solo or with friends and family, but he also guided for several groups. “Most of those trips began on the Gunflint Trail,” Dawson said. According to the map on the wall, he’s been on at least 220 of the boundary waters lakes.

On every trip, he stops at Trail Center Lodge, his favorite restaurant on the Gunflint.

Dawson said that all his family members, except his sister, accompanied him on one or more trips. “It’s been a real joy over the years to share the wilds with my dad, brothers, brother-in-law, and friends,” he said. He is grateful to share the wilderness and the ethics of the BWCAW with many amazing people.

“Rockwood is a good location for entering the wilderness,” Dawson said. “Always been good people; they seem to do more every year.”

Over the years, Dawson has been a loyal customer of Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters, embarking on numerous canoe trips under different ownerships. The current owners (Carl, Stephanie, Carol, and Mike) hold Dawson in high regard, a testament to the outfitter’s commitment to customer satisfaction and building lasting relationships.

“When I talk to people about the BWCAW, they don’t think of hiking,” Dawson said. He eliminated his personal small stable of canoes a while ago and has gotten heavily involved in hiking. “I know I can rent canoes when needed,” he said.

On this latest hike, Dawson and crew helped a couple of fellow hikers. On the last day of the trip, the trio stopped to rest about two and a half miles west of Stairway Falls on the Border Route Trail. 

While resting, they were overtaken by a middle-aged couple who didn’t seem appropriately outfitted for the trail. The husband carried a daypack, and they had no overnight gear. Dawson engaged in conversation and found out the pair had hiked into the falls but accidentally diverted onto the Border Route Trail when trying to return to their vehicle. 

Backtracking to their car would have been a long slog. Dawson and his friends shared some water and snacks, letting the couple follow them to their planned campsite. They then directed the couple to the much shorter trail to take them to Rockwood. 

“When you get to Rockwood, ask for Mike or Carl, and they’ll find a way to get you back to your car,” Dawson said. 

The couple found us, and Stephanie, the CEO of Rockwood Lodge, got them where they needed to go.

Good maps and proper preparation are as essential when hiking in the forest as when canoeing. When you plan a day trip—on the trail or on the water—remember safety first. 

In any event, the Dawson crew ensured one couple ended their day a bit easier than it could have been.

In 2020, Dawson founded the Blufflands Hiking Group in the Coulee Region of Wisconsin, a testament to his dedication to sharing his love for the outdoors. With almost 1,000 Facebook followers, the group does a couple of hikes each month with groups of 12-20 people. Its purpose is to bring people together to enjoy God’s outdoors, primarily through hiking.

It is a Christian-based group but not exclusive. The Facebook page says, “We may or may not pray before hikes. The real point is that we’re here to hike and meet some great people while doing so.”

Dawson isn’t slowing down this summer. He’s training for a 100-mile  hike on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale this August. 

All of us at Rockwood Lodge are delighted to be a small part of Steve Dawson’s wilderness adventures, and we hope his century hike on Isle Royale will bring plenty of moose sightings. We expect to see some pictures.