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. Let’s check it out!
Total Mileage: 52.5 miles
Paddle Distance: 42.8 miles
Portage Distance: 9.7 miles
Target Campsite: Saganaga Lake, Near Sag Falls
Description: Larch Creek is an odd entry point which was added later to the BWCA than many of the popular ones. It is a halfway point on the Granite River Route and provides an easy weekend entry for a trip from Sag or Gunflint. It’s also narrow and mud-choked and, like much of the route encountered later, can be a pain late in the season. The parking area is small which can cause issues if the BWCA is busy enough to spill over to this entry. Carry you canoe down the embankment to the creek. The paddle to Larch Lake is winding and narrow with the occasional beaver dam lift-over. Larch Lake is a pretty paddle and sits just a short portage away from Clove. Turn north here to paddle through the channel up to Granite Lake and continue portaging on the way to Gneiss. This is a famous route along the border which changed dramatically with the 2007 Ham Lake Fire. These storied lakes and portages have a lot of tails to tell as this has long been a popular travel route. Once on Marabouf Lake, it’s fairly easy going to Saganaga with the final portage around Sag Falls. Find what campsite you can on Saganaga. This area is part of the tow-boat route and a collection of cabins sit right across the border onto the Canadian side. Get what site you can and spend the evening fishing the back bays or beneath the falls if fishing is your thing.
Things to See: The Granite River, Sag Falls
Target Campsite: Alpine Lake
Description: Set out for your campsite and begin heading SW across Saganaga on track for Red Rock Bay. Keep an eye open for tow boats and fishing boats which travel this stretch. The toughest part about navigating Saganaga is its varied, complicated shoreline of islands and back bays. Once you begin heading into Red Rock Bay, follow the narrowing, twisting shoreline to the end. The portage into Red Rock is a short one, just up and over the rock. Red Rock is a neat little lake, though it can be a bit busy since traffic can reach it from Saganaga or Seagull. Work south and portage into Alpine where you’ll stay for the night. Similarly to last week’s warning, this area has had bear issues in the past. It’s imperative that you store your food properly, something which can be notoriously difficult in a burn-zone devoid of standing, mature trees. Take whichever campsite suits your fancy; there are many to choose from.
Things to See: The Expanse of Saganaga
Target Campsite: Agamok Lake
Description: It’s a well-traveled route to follow from your campsite to Ogish. Alpine is a bit of a maze of burned islands, but it’s small enough to be worked through efficiently. The portage out of Alpine circumvents a beautiful gorge and rapid set before reaching Jasper. Jasper is a nice lake with scattered rock faces and topography. Next comes Kingfisher and then another kingfisher, Ogishkemuncie (Ojibwe for kingfisher.) It’s here that you’ll paddle out of the burn zone again into a wonderfully varied lake with islands, channels, and topography. You may see evidence of the 2023 fire near Spice Lake before turning off to Mueller. After Mueller, the portage crosses the Kekekabic and an opportunity to check out Agamok Falls. Pick one of the three campsites on Agamok to spend the night. None of the sites are spectacular, but they should do for the night.
Things to See: Agamok Falls
Target Campsite: Whipped Lake
Description: From Agamok, it’s a short portage into the beautiful lake known as Gabimitchigami, a decent candidate for the deepest lake in the BWCA as described in our article earlier this year. Gabit is a wide-open beautiful lake with soaring topography. Head to the SE corner where you’ll have to cross around some rapids to enter, and then exit, Rattle Lake. Little Sag is named after Saganaga which you spent some time on earlier in the trip. Like Big Sag, Little Sag is a complicated shoreline of islands and peninsulas, worthy of the name bestowed honoring the famous lake along the border. The portage into Mora is beautiful with nearby caves and rapids providing abundant scenery. From here, you’ll take a dive into a quieter corner of the BWCA, but there’s a risk/reward decision to make. To stay on Mora, you’ll have only traveled 7.9 miles for the day. Pushing onto Whipped only adds a couple of miles, but it’s only a single campsite. If that site on Whipped is full, it’s another two miles over some steep portages to a single campsite on Afton. If Afton happens to be full, it’s a bit of a slog through half of the Frost River to Bologna. This is achievable, of course, but it could make for a long day if you didn’t move with purpose earlier int he travel day.
Things to See: Scenic Rapid Sets
Target Campsite: Frost Lake
Description: Regardless of where you camped the night before, you’ll remain poised to travel some of the famous Frost River this day. Early in the season, the Frost is a beautiful, remote, challenging stretch of water with frequent portages around raging rapids. Later in the summer, the water drops and travel can become more difficult causing the canoe to bottom out in some of the sandbars. Even with high water, travel to Frost Lake should take the majority of the day. Thankfully, Frost is a wonderful lake to stay on with nice fishing, clear water, an a variety of beach campsites to choose from.
Things to See: The Frost River
Target Campsite: Brule
Description: Head east on Frost to start the morning. The goal for this day is to cross the Laurentian divide and down the scenic yet infamous Mechanic Chain. The first step though is a portage into Gordon Lake, a beautifully typical BWCA body of water. You’ll pass through Cherokee briefly before portaging into Town. From here, the Mechanic Chain begins. It has been likened to the “Ninja Warrior Course of the BWCA” a monicker well-earned. Every aspect of a difficult BWCA portage except for length can be found here. There are boulder-hopping landings, slippery tree roots, steep terrain, knee-deep mud, ankle-spraining stones lining the trails, tight turns, shallow landings, and much more. There are more difficult portages in canoe country to be sure, but this collection of four truly earns its reputation. On another note though, this stretch of small lakes is exceedingly beautiful and, without a campsite, all groups are simply passing through. This small valley sits along an ancient small fault line as shown in some geological maps and is filled with tallus-lined ridges. It’s worth the visit. After exiting the chain, the great palisade of Brule Lake towers just beyond. I have never much liked the campsite options on Brule, but there are many of them. Choose your favorite to spend the night.
Things to See: The Mechanic Chain
Target Campsite: Exit
Description: Finish your trip with a paddle down Brule Lake to the landing which is tucked back in a small cove about 2/3 of the way down the lake while traveling east.