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03/19/2017 05:56PM
Hi everyone!

Planning a trip around May 10th to BWCA for the first time. I'm 40, my lady's 30 and neither of us have ever visited the area or been canoeing (we live out west and have kayaked, though).

Hoping to do a few days in an affordable cabin or lodge and get adjusted and return next year for a longer camping trip. I get the sense that this forum is more seasoned paddlers looking to get a bit further out than we probably will our first time (she's from MN but a little less excited about camping than I am, don't want to burn her out her first trip with a bunch of portage and slogging gear) but I was hoping for some suggestions on larger lakes with lots to explore that aren't overcrowded (don't even know if that's a real issue at BWCA). Open to either east or west. I see lots of more expensive lodges (like Gunflint) and even cheaper options on Poplar Lake offer a room or cabin and free usage of a canoe for guests but wanted to ask you more experienced folks if that still gives the opportunity to explore and get a good ways out from other people or if you're always within site of the lodge and surrounded by other paddlers.

Gunflint Lake looks like it's connected to a few others, some wider and some more narrow, that might allow for some exploring and wandering for the better part of a day, but it's hard to be sure from the computer.

Any thoughts/advice/suggestions?

Thanks! These message boards are such a great resource!
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member (20)member
03/19/2017 08:31PM
Welcome! I am by no means a BWCA expert, so take my advice with a grain of salt. There are no lodges or cabins "in" the Boundary Waters, only on the edges. If you want to stay at a lodge and day trip into the BWCA you will have a tough time avoiding people. The further away from the entry points you get, the fewer people you will see. I would suggest you look at the Kawishiwi Lodge. It would provide easy access to the BWCA, as it's located on Lake One. You could rent a canoe from them and use day trip permits to explore each day.
distinguished member(1195)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/19/2017 08:47PM
You will be somewhat stationary and tied to a relative short distance if you stay with an outfitter since you will be leaving from the same location each day. It possible to drive to different entry points and that should increase your exploration options. The Gunflint offers several good trip options and the Ely area does as well. Western entry points near Crane Lake would be difficult if staying each night at a lodge in my opinion.
03/20/2017 05:51AM
There are many cabins and lodges on the edge of the BWCA that would allow you to take day trips into the area, but as has been said, they wouldn't really get you into the solitude of the park in one day. The suggestion of Kawishiwi Lodge is a good one, however Lake One is one of the busiest areas of the BWCA, so you would need to have your thoughts adjusted to seeing lots of other canoeists. Also, I believe that area is in the region where there was recently a major fire and there is some burned area--some people find that a bit off-putting if they are expecting lush forest.

On the Gunflint side, Rockwood Lodge, Clearwater Lodge, Bearskin, Hungry Jack, Trail Center, and many others have cabins available (our family will be renting a cabin at Rockwood in August--we love it there), as well as Gunflint Lodge (which it seems you have already investigated), but what your definition of "affordable" is might be different from mine, and also many of the lodges only take reservations for a week at a time during the summer season, so that is a factor to consider.

To me, the real BWCA experience is camping. You can rent a canoe and the proper gear from an outfitter, even food if you prefer, and go out for five or six days, and make it as challenging as you like. Go in for a short distance and base camp, or move every day. Or go in a ways, take a layover day, and move again. But if that isn't what you want for the first experience, then I would highly recommend Rockwood Lodge. They do furnish an aluminum canoe with each cabin, and I would imagine you could upgrade to a lightweight canoe for an additional fee. (If you are going to portage, you would want to do that.) The people there are great to work with, and the cabins are comfortable. Poplar Lake is beautiful, and there are other beautiful lakes close by that are also entry points to the BWCA. It is close to a wonderful restaurant (Trail Center) and don't forget to go to the historic lodge at Clearwater and enjoy a piece of homemade pie!

Good luck in finding just the place to begin your BWCA adventures!
distinguished member(529)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/20/2017 08:50AM
I agree with Spartan. On the Gunflint side, check out Rockwood Lodge or Clearwater Lodge. Both offer direct access to beautiful areas and you'll at least get a feel for the area. Plan a day trip and take a couple of portages, you guys will have fun and it will be a great intro to the BW.

On the Ely side you could look into Fenske Lake Cabins, Lodge of Whispering Pines, and Big Lake Wilderness Lodge. There are many other resorts in the area but these will offer you more solitude than others in the area.
distinguished member(985)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/20/2017 10:25AM
You will be going early enough to beat the crowds. With that said, you may see some cooler temperatures and some very cold water. Also be aware that the fishing season doesn't open until 5/13/17.
distinguished member(575)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/20/2017 10:42AM
As northwoodsman said, fishing opener is saturday 5/13 and it might start to get busy as early as thursday or friday. I think you can expect solitude as long as you go before fishing opener. Small day trips can still get you emersed in the bwca splendor. I would certainly avoid big lakes. If it starts snowing and gusting and you are a mile from shore it is gonna suck :)
distinguished member(4572)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
03/20/2017 11:23AM
Welcome to the forum! If you want something really affordable you could stay at the bunkhouse at Williams and Hall on Moose Lake. The cost is like 20 bucks per night per person, somewhere in that neighborhood. Then you could head to Wind lake, Indiana Lake, Good Lake or any number of small lakes along the Fernberg Trail.
03/20/2017 01:09PM
I totally missed the date when I suggested a camping trip for your first adventure. Please be prepared that it could be VERY cold around the first or second week of May in the BWCA! Maybe not this year, but some years it can be! We did a trip a few years ago at the end of May and we nearly froze! So pack plenty of layers and don't expect balmy weather that early in the season.

Also, the water in the lakes will be very cold. Plan for very safe canoeing practices.

Going that early makes a cabin or lodge sound a lot more pleasant to me. :-)
03/20/2017 01:36PM
You'll be there shortly after ice out and the water will be ice cold, making hypothermia a concern if you capsize far from shore. Even on a day trip you should carry a basic "ditch kit" and spare clothes in a dry bag. Also be careful about venturing too far and becoming wind bound.

Going to the Gunflint area would give you the North Shore Drive experience. Both Ely and Grand Marais/Gunflint Trail have lots of things to see and do even if canoeing is not feasible. In Ely the Hegman Lake pictographs would be an easy day trip, if seeing pictographs would be of interest.

distinguished member(3916)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/20/2017 02:09PM

Since you are coming from out of state I would certainly suggest trying the Gunflint Trail side since you would have to travel up the North Shore of Lake Superior. The North Shore in itself is a beautiful tourist destination with all of its water falls and craggy (for the Midwest) topography.

03/21/2017 04:27PM
On May 10 - they may or may not have ice out.

Depending on your budget there are a lot of options right on the edge of the BWCA that I think you guys would really enjoy.

Golden eagle

Bearskin Lodge

or - take a peek at for a nearby camper cabin.

So for example... if you did Bearskin Lodge, its up the Gunflint Trail, so up the north shore, swing west once you get up to Grand Marais... its right on the shores of East Bearskin Lake. They even have an outfitter right there, and you guys could canoe in and see Johnson Falls and back in a day especially if you didn't have a ton of gear to haul in.

East Bearskin > Alder > Canoe > Pine and back - or myriad trips from there.
Guest Paddler
03/21/2017 04:57PM
Hi again everybody!

Thanks so much for all this helpful info, it's really appreciated.

I've just started my research, so all of your suggestions are going to come in handy. I hadn't even considered the danger of hypothermia, not realizing the water would still be that cold. I just started reading a guide book about the area today so between this forum and the books I've ordered I hope to be informed enough to stay safe and have a good time and not get dumped by my girlfriend for capsizing her in freezing water :)

I've kind of settled on driving in from Grand Marais because we'd love to see Lake Superior on the way up and I've heard it's a beautiful drive.

I think, considering the still relatively colder water that week (May 12th), and our lack of experience I'm going to stay in a lakeside cabin and start canoeing on whatever lake we end up at the first day and maybe get a feel for it and then hopefully rent from an outfitter and do some portage (portaging?) and try and get a bit further in on the next day or day after.

If we do end up portaging, I'm assuming it will include some jumping into the water to get up and away from shore, right? Does that mean waders are a part of everybody's kit when the water's colder to jump in and out?

I've kayaked, including in the choppy ocean (not fun getting out past the breakers your first few times), in the Pacific in CA and in the ice fields in Alaska, and I assume a canoe would be much more stable, right? Is capsizing common or is that something that really only happens to rank amateurs (provided the water is calmer)?

Thanks again for all the help, really really appreciate it!
distinguished member(935)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/22/2017 07:34AM
Anybody can capsize! Scat happens. At that time of year, if the water is even soft, it is a serious matter. I'm not trying to scare but you should have a contingency plan.

Welcome to the site.

The drive to Grand Marais is a joy in itself. You can spend days just exploring the waterfalls along the way. Once you clear Two Harbors tune in to 90.7FM WTIP from Grand Marais, a local station with a wide variety of "shows".

I've dealt with the folks at Hungry Jack Outfitters and found them to be pretty cool. They have cabins, bunk houses, and all the outfitting gear if needed. I'm not sure how early in the season they open.

distinguished member (488)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/22/2017 07:41AM
You can easily dry foot it when portaging, you just have to be careful. You have one person steady the canoe while the other climbs in on the gunwales. Then you switch roles with the person in the canoe holding steady with a paddle. It is easiest when you can beach it or use a rock as a dock.

Portaging is really how you enter the BWCA. If you don't portage in at all, exception being rivers and large lakes that take you a good distance from the entry point, then you are barely scratching the surface. I highly recommend camping out with an overnight pass. That is how you really experience it. One word of caution is to prep for cold weather. If camping, use a insulated sleeping pad to keep from losing all your heat to the ground. Also bring rain gear and spare clothes in case you do get wet. Capsizing isn't the only way to get soaked.

No matter where you go, bring a map and memorize as much as you can too. These lakes can start to look the same if you aren't used to it so bring a compass and a map to keep from being turned around. That is very possible to do if you were to stop paddling in any wind, like if you caught a fish. So bring a map, and consult it often to always know where you are.
distinguished member(4572)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
03/22/2017 08:06AM
15 to18 inch high rubber boots will keep your feet dry when you reach a portage.
03/22/2017 11:18AM
First - you will enjoy the North Shore Scenic Drive along Lake Superior. There are many State Parks with waterfalls and trails, natural areas, scenic overlooks, Split Rock Lighthouse, access to the Superior Hiking Trail, etc. In Grand Marais, there is the harbor, Artist's Point, and you can have a nice meal.

Chik Wauk museum on the Gunflint Trail will be a nice couple of hours if it's open.

You should be fine with knee high boots. Capsizing is not common, but is possible for just about anyone and the consequences are chilling that time of year. Type this phrase - cold water immersion - in your search bar and be aware of the consequences so you are prepared and have a plan.

I don't know if canoes are more or less stable than kayaks, but most will have a higher profile in the wind, so you'll probably want to avoid being out there when it is very windy. Watch the weather. It is usually more windy in the afternoon, so an early start and finish is a good idea. Avoid large windy lakes and stay close to shore whenever possible. You should have a change of clothes and other contingency gear with you even on day trips.

Be prepared, make smart decisions, and you'll be safe and have fun.
03/22/2017 01:06PM
In addition to the paddling options there are a number of nice trails to hike, a good alternative for a windy day. The maps section, see tool bar at top, can show you where these are. Maps also show portages and campsites (often with a pop up that provides helpful information and sometimes photos), and other information that can help you select a lake or area. I would cross that with the available cabins/lodges. There are also national forest and state campgrounds in the area, but the park itself has no commercial business.

Smaller lakes are often better to avoid wind and wave concerns. Water acts like water everywhere and your experience with it is very helpful. Typically a canoe has higher initial stability but lower final stability and the kayak the opposite. The boats provided by the lodges are pretty stable canoes and it is okay to bump them up against the rocks so you can exit in shallow or no water. Most portages off the entry lakes are very heavily used and pretty user friendly. Some outfitters offer kayaks. A single blade paddle is different from a double and can take a little getting used to. Some of us use a double blade paddle in our canoes, get a long one if you go that route.

Day permits are easy to complete, your host can help with that. They allow day access, but no overnight camping to the BWCA and are free. That will allow you to go in a little deeper and perhaps have lunch at one of the campsites.

And think the Minnesota state bird...mosquitoes. The search feature can provide some great discussions on bug dope and a product called permethrin.
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