Map Mondays – Week 6 – Duncan to Duncan

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 nice sightseeing and exploring kind of route entering at Duncan Lake east of the Gunflint Trail.

Total Mileage: 25 miles
Nights: 4

Day 1:
Target Campsite: Rose Lake
Description: On day 1, put your canoe in the water at the small landing along the portage from Hungry Jack to Bearskin. This lot services Duncan and Daniels Lakes and can be pretty full depending on the day. Once the canoe hits the water, set your bow towards the point just across the bay. Down to the left-hand side down the steep back bay, a small, open rock face comes into view. This is one of the better overlooks for sunrises on the Gunflint and can be accessed from the Caribou Rock Trail which you would have passed to reach your canoe landing. Continue to the point and bear west, following the shoreline close to the end. The portage landing leading to Duncan is not an obscure one and has the official wilderness signage just on-shore. The trail itself is a gorgeous one as it winds beneath giant pines and rocky ridges. Duncan Lake is commonly choppy so take caution when putting in on the jagged stone landing on the portage’s end. There are numerous campsites on Duncan that provide great destination camping but, for this route, we’ll be heading to Rose. Follow the lake to its end; be careful of shallow water in the last couple hundred yards before the Stairway Portage. At the portage, unload and begin carrying your gear. This is the famous Stairway Portage which received a major facelift when the wooden steps were replaced with stone last year. Rose Lake is one of the BWCA’s classic lakes with clear, deep water, high cliffs, and the Canadian border just across the way. Those who have visited Rose Often have their favorite campsites, as do I, but all of the sites accessible by canoe can provide a reasonable stay. Chose your favorite. Be super careful to store your food well as there have been a problem bear or two the last few years near Duncan and Rose. Remember, proper food storage isn’t just so you don’t go hungry, it’s so that the hundreds of other people who use this campsite after you won’t have a damaging or dangerous encounter from a habituated bear later on because of your carelessness. Store food properly!
Things to See: The Duncan Portage, Rose Falls, Rose Lake, the Stairway Portage

Day 2:
Target Campsite: Rose Lake
Description: With a route entering and exiting at Duncan, this route provides a great opportunity for day-trip exploring. On day 2 of the trip, paddle back to Rose Falls. Spend the day exploring around the falls and the surrounding Border Route Trail. There are marvelous overlooks west to the West Rose Overlook and others along the Carbou Rock Trail heading south towards Duncan. Hike to your heart’s content; there’s no limit of things to see.
Things to See: Rose Falls, West Rose Cliffs

Day 3:
Target Campsite: Rose Lake
Description: On day 3, paddle east past the Arrow Palisades to land at the famous Long Portage. This nearly two-mile trail is a historically significant portage used by the tribes, voyageurs, and lumber companies after them. Hike along it and enjoy the ancient forests, the fascinating rapids, and the devastation left by the 4th of July Derecho in 1999. The trail has a fork allowing you to visit Rove or Daniels. Daniels is a gem of a lake popular with the winter ice-fishing crowd. Rove is small and dark, but the often-instagramed Watap Palisades lay just beyond. Spend the day enjoying the views before turning back.
Things to See: Watap Palisades, the Long Portage

Day 4:
Target Campsite: Rose Lake
Description: Day four gives an opportunity to head west. If fishing is your thing, there will be opportunities to fish in Rose and South Lakes this day. This stretch of forest was heavily impacted by the 2016 blowdown. Look for signs of it while visiting South Lake. On the far side of South Lake, visit the Height of Land Portage. This culturally historic trail is recognized for its historic role during the voyageur fur-trade era. It also crosses the Laurentian Divide. Water flowing into South Lake heads downstream to Superior and the Atlantic. Water heading into North Lake heads to Hudson Bay. For an extra adventure, climb the steep trail to Topper Lake in search of elusive, stocked Brook Trout.
Things to See: Height of Land Portage, Fishing

Day 5:
Target Campsite: Exit
Description: It’s the final day. Head for the Stairway Portage one last time. Backtrack along your day one route back to the car. Enjoy your travel after five days spent in arguably one of the prettiest stretches of the BWCA

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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