Map Mondays – Week 3 – Crab Lake/Cummings Lake to Big Lake

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 an arduous 6 night trip through the far western reaches of the BWCA. This area of the BWCA can be fairly quiet, especially after putting a few long portages between you and the popular lakes like Crab or Cummings. Many of the longest portages in the BWCA are in this zone and included in this week’s route. Let’s check it out:

Total Mileage: 55.2 miles
Nights: 6
Paddle Distance: 41.3 miles
Portage Distance: 13.9 miles

Day 1:
Miles: 9.6
Target Campsite: Boulder Lake
Description: The trip begins from one of the Burntside public landings. Regardless of your choice, there will be some paddling to do before reaching the mile-long portage into Crab. Some recent forestry work has left the opening stretch of this portage much more open than it used to be. The portage can feel like a long one for starting a trip at, but this sets the tone for the route which lies ahead. There is a section past the midpoint that’s often flooded to some degree before the portage heads into a steady incline. The trail finishes at a small beach on Crab. Paddle across Crab and head into the back bay for the portage into Clark. Here, a controlled burn went a bit out of control, but the result is pretty fascinating. This stand of red pines demonstrates just how resilient the species can be to ground fires. Meat Lake is a small lake made smaller by a beaver-caused drop in water levels. Many of the lakes in this chain have heavily tannin-stained waters making the drinking options less appealing. Cross into Phantom and paddle to the end to head into the dead-end lake known as Boulder. Both Boulder lakes in the BWCA are out-of-the-way and both have island campsites. I would say the central Boulder is nicer than the western in terms of scenery and accommodations, but this site will do for the night. Rest up as much more portaging lay ahead.
Things to See: The area south of Phantom/Meat/Clark was one of the last to be included in the BWCA. This whole area saw some of the last logging efforts for what would become the wilderness area and logging roads and historic refuse piles abound. The portage into Phantom crosses one of the old main arterial logging roads. These can still be followed for a good long while on foot. Remember, many of the garbage piles are beginning to fall under artifact status and aren’t supposed to be disturbed.

Day 2:
Miles: 9
Target Campsite: Western Lake
Description: None of this day’s lakes are particularly large and long portages connect them. Head back into Phantom and over into Battle. The portage from Battle to Hassel is exactly as named (a battle and a hassle) with brush and mud and a small rock ledge on the Hassel end. Another good length portage must be taken to reach Lunetta. Take the creek and its small portages on the way to Schlamn. This lake was connected to Phantom via the aforementioned logging road network. Take the half-mile long portage into Glenmore and then the 2/3 of a mile portage into Western. Taking the campsite on Western, if it’s available, allows you to break up the heavy portaging stretch. The added benefit is this chain can be pretty quiet with the rigorous portaging demands discouraging heavy traffic.
Things to See: Solitude!

Day 3:
Miles: 7
Target Campsite: Pine Lake
Description: Another day and more portaging! The first of the day is sub-100 rods, but the next two both exceed 200, one portage on either side of Chad Lake. Follow Pine Creek south until Pine Lake. Pine can receive traffic from Trout, but is itself out of the motor zone. There are plenty of campsites; find a nice place to spend the night.
Things to See: Some fishing opportunities.

Day 4:
Miles: 6.5
Target Campsite: Little Trout Lake
Description: Head across the 200-some rod portage into Pine. Follow the eastern shore northward. Pine is a big lake and it’s nice to hit it first thing before any wind starts up. Head towards a grouping of large islands before turning through narrows and into Little Trout Lake. Little Trout is a shallow, sandy lake and all three active campsites have sand beach landings. Hopefully, the weather at the time of visiting is such to make this an enjoyable attribute, especially on a short travel day!
Things to See: Sand beaches

Day 5:
Miles: 10
Target Campsite: Cummings Lake
Description: The long portage into the Little Indian Sioux River is not often travelled, brushy, and, at times, hard to follow. Be attentive! The river itself is a great BWCA route that is seldom travelled due to its challenges. The portages are often mismarked on many maps and receive few enough visitors that the landings can be a trick to spot. Proceed with caution. Taking the 10 miles to Cummings will take most of a day of travel as the narrow, winding river keeps travel speeds low.
Things to See: Beautiful open marshland and scenic rapid sets

Day 6:
Miles: 5.5
Target Campsite: Big Moose Lake
Description: This is another short travel day, but the one major obstacle more than makes up for the total mileage! It’s a nearly 2-mile portage from Cummings to Big Moose. It certainly doesn’t see much traffic, but all reports point towards the difficulty, apart from the distance, to be fairly low. Big Moose is connected to another entry point, so there is a chance of running into another group or two.
Things to See: An afternoon of fishing!

Day 7:
Miles: 7.6
Target Campsite: Exit
Description: Of course, this route wouldn’t be complete without a couple more portages! The 470 rod portage into Duck is a rude awakening for the first stop of the morning! It’s long and footing can be challenging. A half-mile long portage lay beyond Duck to bring you into the Portage River where a short creek paddle leads into Big Lake. This trip is a hard one! There is an over-abundance of portaging rods but, in exchange, one finds quiet and solitude all too easily lost sometimes.

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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