Map Mondays – Week 2 – Kawishiwi Lake to Stuart River

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 fast-moving 5-night trip from Kawishiwi Lake to Stuart River. It crosses some of the quietest stretches of the BW before heading into some of the busiest. Let’s check it out:

Total Mileage: 84 miles
Nights: 5
Paddle Distance: 73 miles
Portage Distance: 11.1 miles

Day 1:
Miles: 16.1
Target Campsite: Fishdance Lake
Description: Day 1 is a long push to reach Fishdance Lake. The scenery coming in from Kawishiwi is varied from river stretches, steep ridges, shallow marshes, burn zones, and old trees. Though there is plenty of portaging, the route is well-travelled enough that travel pace shouldn’t be bad. Head north from Kawishiwi into Square and on to Kawasachong. Townline comes next and then Polly, Koma, Malberg, River, and into Fishdance for the night.
Things to See: A few unique rapids parallel portages on this route. Also, the Fishdance pictographs make for a good stop near the end of the day. If camping north of the pictographs, they will make a great stop the next morning.

Day 2:
Miles: 13.5
Target Campsite: Ashigan Lake
Description: Day 2 heads west past the strong rapid set into Alice Lake. Turn north paddling up the lake until turning into the skinny back bay. Take the longish portage into Thomas. The creek stretch from Thomas to Ima can be a little tedious if the group isn’t packed well, but otherwise the short portages are easy passage. After Ima comes the beautiful cliffs along the Jordan Narrows. Cross Jordan to portage into Cattyman and then to the falls of the same name. This is a beautiful spot to spend some time. After Cattyman is Gibson and then on to Ashigan. Take one of the four campsites here to avoid the traffic found one portage north into Ensign.
Things to See: Alice/Fishdance Rapids, Jordan Narrows, and Cattyman Falls

Day 3:
Miles: 16.5
Target Campsite: Basswood Lake
Description: Day 3 is the longest mileage day of the trip with the intent of clearing out of the motor zone by nightfall. Head north into Ensign to start the day and head for the back bay. Instead of heading east into Vera, look for a less-used portage into Trident. Along with Frog Lake, this pair of shallow lakes sees far less traffic than the surrounding routes and is an interesting stop. Once back on the border, head west. You’ll be heading into some pretty busy territory from here. Head west on Birch to Prarie Portage. From here, it’s Basswood. A route planned by me would be paddling as far as possible to get as far out of the motor zone for camping as I can. This will likely land you somewhere on US point with opportunities for good fishing that night.
Things to See: Some fishing opportunities.

Day 4:
Miles: 15.9
Target Campsite: Wednesday Bay
Description: Day 5 finishes Basswood and transitions into the famous Basswood River stretch. This chain of magnificent waterfalls along the border is a site to behold; enjoy it. Once on Crooked, you’ll pass a couple famous pictograph sets. This is a storied stretch of water as you weave along the scenic, serpentine-shaped Crooked Lake along the border. Camp somewhere near Wednesday Bay.
Things to See: Waterfalls and pictographs!

Day 5:
Miles: 16.4
Target Campsite: Rush Lake
Description: Most of day 6 will be spent on Crooked Lake. Crooked is a big lake and there is plenty of room to explore. Make a pitstop at the historic table rock and spend as much time as allowed at Curtain Falls. Marvel at the change to the forest as this was the southern edge of the big 2021 Quetico fires. After Curtain Falls comes Iron Lake. Follow the southern shore before turning into Dark Lake and then onto Rush. The island campsite is fine, though nothing special. The bonus is a lake all to yourself.
Things to See: Table Rock and Curtain Falls are famous destinations. Enjoy the varied scenery and twisting back bays of Crooked Lake.

Day 6:
Miles: 10.2
Target Campsite: Exit
Description: Day 6 is the final day of the trip but still leaves some work to be done. Portage into Fox. The portage into Stuart is a particularly beautiful one. At the mouth of the Stuart River is the quaintly beautiful Stuart Falls. It pales, of course, to the big falls seen so far this trip, but the boulder field it drains through is unique and beautiful all-its-own. Travel on the Stuart River can be time-consuming, but not demanding. If traveling in the fall, you’ll encounter marvelous patches of wild rice, especially along the White Feather stretch. The long portage to finish doesn’t feel nearly as long as advertised and leads directly to the parking lot.
Things to See: Winding river scenery

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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