Map Mondays – Week 1 – Hog Creek to Skipper/Portage

As part of our continuing series on the “route planning game,” we are creating routes using randomly selected entry points, exit points, and number of days to create unique and fun BWCA routes. This week is a big trip of nine nights from Hog Creek to Skipper/Portage. It’s certainly a big and challenging route, but it sees a wide variety of the BWCA from busy, well-travelled sections to some of the quieter maintained routes in the wilderness. Let’s check it out:

Total Mileage: 108.7 miles
Nights: 9
Paddle Distance: 95.3 miles
Portage Distance: 13.3 miles

Day 1:
Miles: 12.3
Target Campsite: Perent River/Boga Lake
Description: Day 1 is a long, arduous trek. It starts on Hog Creek which is a minimal portaging river which sees enough traffic to be pretty easy travel. The majority of visitors are staying at Perent Lake which is where the easy travel ends. West of Perent Lake, the Perent River is where the day’s toll will be paid with heavy portaging over the next six miles. Take one of the campsites towards the west end before reaching Isabella Lake.
Things to See: Try to spot where the old bridge crossed for the PowWow trail and keep an eye open for former, now-closed campsites along the river. The Pagami Creek Fire all but erased any sign of them.

Day 2:
Miles: 12.7
Target Campsite: Isabella River
Description: Day 2 heads west into Isabella Lake and works west along the Isabella River. The majority of this day travels through the Pagami Creek burn zone. It’s a pretty serious push to leave the burn and the campsites thereafter are not particularly worth the push. That said, the further west one gets, the better position they are in for clearing the Kawishwi Triangle smoothly.
Things to See: The forest is re-growing marvelously after the 2011 burn. Look for signs of this along your route. Stop by the “Stonehenge” campsite on the west side of Rice Lake for a possible lunch stop.

Day 3:
Miles: 11.8
Target Campsite: South Kawishiwi
Description: Day 3 is the finishing stretch of the Isabella River. Eventually, the river widens into Bald Eagle Lake. This may be a busy stretch of the route so keep tabs on how many campsites are full. Cross Bald Eagle Lake into Gabbro. From Little Gabbro, portage around the old dam to the north to a grouping of campsites on the South Kawishiwi. This is part of the famed Kawishiwi triangle. With any luck, a campsite may be open.
Things to See: The mouth of the Isabella is a beautiful and wildlife rich area. Keep an eye out for waterfowl, eagles, loons, and moose.

Day 4:
Miles: 13.5
Target Campsite: Horseshoe Lake
Description: Day 4 turns east into more heavily-travelled areas as the route heads up the Kawishiwi into the numbers chain. The hard mileage push the last few days has been working up towards one goal: not staying on the numbers. This stretch is obviously tainted by my personal bias. For me, there’s little more demoralizing in canoe country that working so hard on a route only to lose out on a campsite to a group which has just entered, but it’s one of the challenges to a route that passes many entry points. The target is to clear the numbers and portage south into the “wilder chain” below. These campsites are heavily burned and not exactly top-notch campsites, but the forest service has recently reopened a few more in the chain and the traffic should be lower.
Things to See: There are a variety of rapids and falls along the Kawishiwi and most of this day will be paddling through an unburned area.

Day 5:
Miles: 10
Target Campsite: Lake Insula
Description: Day 5 allows the pace to relax just a little. Head east into North Wilder and take the creek to Hudson. From the portage into Insula, stop and enjoy the view west over the grand expanse of the Pagami Creek burn. You’ll be leaving this burn zone for good later in the afternoon. Insula is a big, complicated lake with good fishing opportunities to enjoy. Head for the north end of the lake for nice, unburned sites.
Things to See: There are some beautiful vistas in this stretch. Lake Insula is a very special place as well.

Day 6:
Miles: 10.4
Target Campsite: Beaver Lake
Description: Day 6 continues east through Alice into Fishdance Lake. Make sure to enjoy the waterfalls along the way and the pictographs on Fishdance. Head north into River and Trapline before continuing into Beaver. This is a nicely remote section of the BW and one of the three campsites is all but assured to be available. If they are somehow full, Fisher Lake is one portage off the track.
Things to See: There are a few waterfalls as well as the wonderful pictograph set on Fishdance. Enjoy the solitude!

Day 7:
Miles: 12.4
Target Campsite: Little Saganaga
Description: Day 7 ups the difficulty level by just a tad again. For a twist on the normal course of travel, head north from your campsite into Smite Lake. The old portages are mostly gone, but the rapids require easy liftovers. There’s a massive ridge on the north end of the lake that provides a unique backdrop to this out-of-the-way lake. Adams and Boulder are both scenic and then it’s on to the “3-letter chain.” This requires a fair deal of portaging without much paddling between on the way to Makwa. Stop to see the cliffs there if time allows. On Elton, you’ll encounter evidence of the 2021 John Ek burn which should still be fresh enough to be visibly different from the Pagami burn earlier in the trip. On Little Sag, look for a nice place to spend the evening.
Things to See: There is so much scenery along this quiet stretch of route. Look for wildlife along the rock-studded shoreline.

Day 8:
Miles: ~ 9 miles
Target Campsite: Bologna Lake
Description: The next day, head into Mora along a very scenic portage. You’re heading into the famous Frost River route next, an area known for its challenges and quiet. There’s plenty of portaging to be done, but the mileage should not be opressive. Stop midway through to camp on Bologna Lake for a remote and quiet experience. This should also serve to split up the portaging a little bit.
Things to See: Look for beautiful stone faces on the Mora Portage and marshy scenery through the Frost.

Day 9:
Miles: ~ 7.3 miles
Target Campsite: Long Island
Description: At this stage of the trip, the miles are beginning to add up. This is the shortest mileage day of the trip allowing for enjoyment of the remainder of the Frost River. After the river, Frost Lake may be a good stop for lunch or a snack at one of the many beach sites. It’s relatively easy going from there up into Long Island for the night
Things to See: Look for rapid sets on the Frost River and sprawling beaches on Frost Lake.

Day 10:
Miles: ~ 12 miles
Target Campsite: Iron Lake Campground
Description: The final day of the trip leaves you with some work left to do. The chain of portages heading out of Long Island are long and muddy. At least this trip has given you plenty of portaging practice! The lakes after the portaging stretch are long and skinny and make for easy travel. Heading north into One Island gets a little rugged from less use as the portage north from there crosses and old forest road once used for yurt maintenance. From Portage Lake turn west into Iron Lake and paddle to the campground. This is a great quiet place to spend one more night before heading home.
Things to See: There’s plenty of boggy scenery through the long portages stretch and the very tail end of the 2007 Ham Lake fire crossed Rush Lake.

Author Bio:

Riley Smith

Riley is the Director of Community Engagement and Public Relations for Portage North and Sundog Sport. He comes from a background in wilderness programing and environmental education with four years of BWCA outfitting and guiding before taking this role. In his free time, he can be found out canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing, capturing photography, and writing.
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