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’s randomly selected entry points set us up for a cross-BWCA trip. It’s a long, 10-night trip that covers most of the Boundary Waters’ interior. Check it out!
Total Mileage: 127.2 miles
Paddle Distance: 107.7 miles
Portage Distance: 19.5 miles
Target Campsite: North Bay, Brule Lake
Description: After a drive down the Lima Grade, you pull into a quiet little parking lot. The two-track road into Bower Trout passes a gravel pit before narrowing and turning into a turnaround with space for a few cars. The portage heads off from the parking lot. The chain of lakes which follows are quite scenic, with the high ridges of the Misquah Hills rising all around. The lakes are mostly shallow with dark water. After paddling Bower Trout, you’ll arrive at a small boardwalk heading to Marshall. After Marshall, you’ll follow a stretch of the creek through Dugout, Skidway, and a few no-name lakes before heading into Swan. It’s a medium to long portage heading towards Vern which can feel longer than it’s marked depending on trail conditions on the day of your visit. Vern is quite the scenic lake, a fact which should encourage you before approaching the hardest portage in the chain. It’s a steep uphill to Brule with plenty of open rock to slip and fall. Once on Brule, the canoe traffic should increase some. Paddle out into Brule and tuck into the North Bay for a little quieter campsite than out in the main lake. Portage into Echo if you need an extra adventure this evening.
Things to See: Misquah hills and a small waterfall on Vern
Target Campsite: Long Island Lake
Description: There’s no day like the present for some good leg stretching! Some of this section of the BWCA’s hardest portages are on the docket for day 2. Head west on Brule into the Cone Bay. Take the three portages. It’s not worth following the old grade all the way to North Cone! From North Cone, the route turns to the trail less traveled. It’s about 170 rods north into Davis Lake. After a short paddle on Davis, portaging continues with an over 1-mile portage to Kiskadinna. This portage has a well-earned reputation for its lack of decent footing over the majority of its length. It’s a short paddling relief on Kiskadinna before the famous Misquah/Kiskadinna portage. At least you’ll be heading downhill! There is a steep, incredibly steep, stretch midway through the portage. Proceed with caution. After Muskeg is another portage with some slight boulder hopping to do before dumping out into Long Island Lake. You’ll have earned your campsite for the night. Long Island can get busy on some nights of the year, but there are plenty of nice campsites to choose from. the northern edge of the Famine Lake Fire will be visible along the shoreline.
Things to See: Serious portaging!
Target Campsite: Crooked Lake
Description: The first step for the day is to take the channel into Karl. Take the scenic portage out of Karl into Lower George. Head up the rock onto the portage into Rib and then past the scenic rapid set into Cross Bay. Stop by the small waterfall flowing from the direction of Lucky Pay. It’s a neat set when the water is high. If the water is low, well, things are about to get muddy! The portage from Cross Bay to Snipe begins to dry out late in the season in such a way that one might not be able to paddle close to the portage landing. It becomes a muddy slog during that season! And those characteristics are not bound to improve in the lakes ahead. It’s a bit of messy footing heading into Copper. Look for the remains of old Copper mining activity on the lake. From Copper, descend into the swamp through Hubbub and the aptly named Howl Swamp. It may be rough going. Enjoy the open paddle across Tuscarora. Owl is a beautiful little lake without any campsites to its credit. Crooked Lake was partially burned in the 2006 Cavity Lake Fire. There are still some nice campsites available, and it’s here we’d set up for the night.
Things to See: Waterfalls and rapids!
Target Campsite: Ogishkemuncie Lake
Description: Look for the remaining ruins of an old trapper cabin on the portage north into Gillis. Portage from Gillis into Fern, a beautiful little lake with tall cliffs around it, and into French. The portage into Peter is a little narrow but not overly difficult. There is a beautiful overlook of Gabi as you portage west into the lake. Gabimichigami, possibly the deepest lake in the BWCA, is a wide-open lake with high ridges around it. A good portion of the lake burned in Cavity Lake, but the lake certainly maintained its charm. The portage into Agamok navigates around a scenic rapid set. As you travel north towards Mueller, pay attention to rocks in the water. There are a few “canoe-killers.” Pitstop halfway through the portage and follow the Kekekabic Trail east to enjoy Agamok Falls. It’s worth the stop. It’s a short paddle on Mueller and a portage into Ogish before you are at your home lake for the night. Check out the brand new fire scar across the lake from the 2023 Spice Lake fire.
Things to See: Waterfalls, historical sites, and a brand new wildfire.
Target Campsite: Missionary Lake
Description: From Ogish, take the short portage into Angie. Here, evidence of Beaver’s work is clearly visible. It’s a neat science lesson to see how much they can impact water levels. Also, pay attention to the tree line to the few lone survivors from the ’99 blowdown which hit this area hard. It’s a short portage into Jenny and another into Eddy. Paddle to the north to visit Eddy Falls before backtracking to portage into the Kek Ponds. The Kek Ponds boast wonderful contrasts between humble ponds and grand cliff faces. Kekekabic Lake is a treasure with high cliffs, clear water, and abounding history. Soak it all in if the weather allows! Portage from there into Pickle, Spoon, Diz, Skoota, and on to Missionary. This middle chain of lakes sees far less traffic than Kekekabic or Knife, obvious destination lakes for the region. Missionary has a couple of campsites and should be fairly quiet.
Things to See: Big cliffs and nice waterfalls
Target Campsite: Manomin Lake
Description: Take the nice 41 rod portage into Trader and the 81 in Vera tucked back into the corner. It’s up and over the hill to Ensign before turning off into Trident. Trident and Frog see less traffic than their neighbors but are a unique stop all the same. Head west over Prarie Portage and into Basswood. This is where my route gets discredited in the eyes of some. To me, a 100 some rod portage is worth it to avoid camping on Basswood, but I understand most people wouldn’t. If you do visit in the fall, perhaps you may encounter some of the namesake Manomin (wild rice) in the shallow parts of the lake.
Things to See: Historic routes
Target Campsite: Crooked
Description: After portaging back to Basswood, it’s a good paddle up around US Point to Upper Basswood Falls. This stretch of historic rapids is aboundingly beautiful and surprisingly treacherous. Be careful as you enjoy the scenery. Follow the Basswood River past its collection of falls until pulling into Crooked Lake. Crooked is a big, beautiful stretch of water filled with history from pictographs, Cadillac Island, table rock, and so much more. You’ll pass by the famous pictograph sets at “arrow rock” this day which are always a worthwhile stop.
Things to See: Waterfalls and Historic Sites
Target Campsite: Iron
Description: A fairly easy travel day lay ahead with minimal portaging in front of you. Continue paddling Crooked Lake, stopping at historical sites of your choice. At the end of the lake is the famous Curtain Falls. It’s a beautiful torrent with all the power of Crooked Lake behind it. Also, this is an intriguing place to see the southern edge of the massive 2021 Quetico wildfires. Iron is a beautiful lake with islands and narrow channels. Pick a nice site to spend the night.
Things to See: Waterfalls and Historic Sites
Target Campsite: Oyster
Description: Head west on Iron to take the mile-long portage into Lac La Croix. If you’re not expecting it, you may be incredibly surprised to see a cabin and a boathouse on the other side. This is the famous LLC ranger cabin. Imagine what it took to hike in here from the Echo Trail when the old Stuart River trail worked its way north past Mule Lake to here. Take the nicely maintained portage over to Agnes and another portage into the Oyster River. One more portage puts you into Oyster Lake to find a campsite for the evening.
Things to See: Ranger Cabin
Target Campsite: Upper Pauness
Description: It’s a nearly one-mile-long portage into Hustler to start the morning. Hustler is a unique lake with complicated arms and back bays for its size. It connects with the Sioux Hustler trail at a couple of its campsites and has portages off of it to three different lakes. Ruby is a nice, small, deep lake. Take another longish portage out of it into Lynx. It’s a nearly lift-over to get into Little Shell and another short portage to get into Shell. There’s one more longish portage for the day to get into Lower Pauness. It’s worth diverting to see Devils Cascade along with the site of the old fire tower cabin. It’s a bit of a hike and a search to find the site of the old tower itself. Do not divert for too long as these campsites on the Pauness Lakes can fill up quickly. Portage once more into Upper Pauness and try to find a campsite
Things to See: Historical Sites, High Topography
Target Campsite: Exit
Description: From the Pauness Lakes, it’s a straight shot up the Little Indian Sioux River to the parking lot, a beautiful way to finish the trip. This has been an incredibly long route from the Lima Grade to the Echo Trail, covering some of the quietest and most challenging stretches in canoe country as well as some of the busiest. It’s a challenge to be sure with plenty of logistics required to support this route and pull it off smoothly. Even still, it’s an incredible route for seeing some of the best the BWCA has to offer along with its challenges, hardships, and variety of character.