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11/08/2018 09:28AM
New to the board and to BWCA.

My husband and I are in the very early planning stages of our first BWCA trip in 2019. Right now, I’m trying to get an idea of timing and what portion of BWCA may be a good fit for us. We’re looking for a 7-8 day trip, possibly over Labor Day weekend.

My initial thought is—
-Fly to MSP Weds 8/28 and drive north
-Enter BWCA on Thur 8/29
-Exit BWCA on either Weds 9/4 or Thurs 9/5
-Wander south over the next few days
-Fly home from MSP Sun 9/8

Regarding the BWCA portion of the trip, I’m thinking of a mix of travel days and base camping. Thinking 1 night, 2 nights, 2 nights, 1 night as a campsite rhythm. Our objective is primarily to relax and enjoy time in nature. Get away from our everyday lives and the massive crush of humanity where we live.

Not into fishing, more interested in solitude, wildlife, and maybe some good spots for photography. We’re willing to put in the effort to get some place special, but aren’t looking for a challenge just for the sake of meeting the challenge. (Probably looking for more of a “moderate” in terms of difficulty.) We’re avid hikers, but it’s been a while since we’ve done any serious canoeing. I expect double portaging would be the better part of valor.

I’ve been spending a lot of time poking around here and reading both Beymer books. The main conclusion I’ve come to is that there are almost too many good options and I’m having difficulty narrowing them down. Since we’re flying in, we will be using an outfitter. It seems to make sense to figure out the general area we plan to visit before finding an outfitter in that area and nailing down specifics.

1) How bad are the crowds over Labor Day weekend?
2) Do we have a decent chance of avoiding them by departing on Thursday?
3) What section of the park would you recommend?
4) Anything on the “must do” list either in BWCA or wandering south?
5) Anything else we should be aware of?

Thanks in advance for any assistance!
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distinguished member(2917)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/08/2018 10:11AM
If you've been reading the Beymer book, that's a great start. An outfitter can give you more detailed, current info (this portage or creek isn't passable, the campsites here are great, and so on...) and help you pick a route based on what you'd like to see. What area are you in? A lot of the BW outfitters go to outdoor sports shows and they're great to talk to, meet in person, go over routes, even book a trip and make a deposit.
On the Ely side - though you prob can't go wrong anywhere - the Moose River North EP has some nice possibilities. Over toward the Sawbill outfitters side, routes right from there are pretty highly regarded, and the Kawishiwi Lake EP (#37) isn't far away with a lot of good route options.
I don't think Labor Day is devoid of people, but the traffic would certainly be down from the summer weeks.
distinguished member(4091)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
11/08/2018 10:30AM

The permit system puts limits on the amount of people entering the wilderness, so by no way would I ever consider there to be crowds there. This does not mean you will not see anyone else or have your pick of campsites. Like all outdoor activity, the amount of people you may encounter is highly weather dependent.

There seems to be fewer people entering during the middle of the week. The earlier your start in the morning, the better.

Ely side entry points seem to be "busier" than the Tofte, and Grand Marais/Gunflint Trail side; and because the North Shore of Lake Superior is in itself a destination, I recommend eastern entry points.

A few "Must do’s" would be to visit some of the State Parks located along Lake Superior. Spend some time exploring the city of Duluth and Two Harbor’s waterfront. Jay Cooke State Park south of Duluth is also very nice. Closer to MSP, I would recommend a visit to Interstate Park in Taylor’s Falls MN.

distinguished member(1403)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/08/2018 10:59AM
A loop from Clearwater (EP62) would allow you to do some day hikes along the BRT. Some smaller lakes you could visit and have all to yourselves. Definitely need to spend a couple days visiting the North shore.
distinguished member (211)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/08/2018 11:32AM
AmarilloJim: "A loop from Clearwater (EP62) would allow you to do some day hikes along the BRT. Some smaller lakes you could visit and have all to yourselves. Definitely need to spend a couple days visiting the North shore."

If you have not explored Minnesota before, I would definitely advocate for a trip originating from the Gunflint Trail side of the BWCA. There is so much to see along the Northshore of Lake Superior that it would be a shame not to include as much of it as possible in your trip.

There are many MN State parks along the route to see and explore but, if you want to camp in a State Park on a weekend you should reserve a campsite early. Alternatively, the Superior Hiking trail parallels the route and decent campsites are are available within a reasonable hike from most trailheads.

My wife is a fan of off-season stays at Lutsen Ski resort. Something about hot-tubs and full kitchens? We have ended several camping/hiking/canoeing trips with a night or two at Lutsen.

Good Luck
Guest Paddler
11/08/2018 04:14PM
My plan would be as follows
08/29 – Enter at Brule Lake, Paddle and camp on the far west end of Brule.
08/30 – Travel North to Long Island Lake and camp 2 nights
09/01 – Travel East to Winchell Lake and camp 2 nights
09/03 – Travel back down to Brule and camp 1 night
09/04 – Exit and stay in Grand Marais, check out the town and artist point
09/05 – Stay near Silver Bay, hike the Bean and Bear Loop on Superior Hiking Trail
09/06 – Stay in Duluth, check out the Lakewalk, Aquarium, Enger Tower, Hawks Ridge
09/07 – Travel to Cities
09/08 – Fly home
distinguished member(658)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/08/2018 04:31PM
Couple of trip options off the North Shore area:

The Sawbill Lake area offers some great wilderness areas. The lakes tend to be smaller with more solitude. Smaller lakes usually mean more often portages, but I think they are worth the effort.

Kawishiwi Lake (Entry 37) - Stay the night before a Sawbill Lake Campground (your exit point and have the outfitter there (Sawbill Outfitters) shuttle you to the entry.)

Day 1 - Kawishiwi to Polly Lakes - Kawishiwi Lake, Kawishiwi River, Square Lake, Kawishiwi River, Kawashachong Lake, Square Lake, Lake Polly. Lake Polly can be busy, but has lots of campsites.
Day 2 - Lake Polly to Malberg Lake - Lake Polly, pond, pond, Koma Lake, Malberg Lake. There are several 4-5 star sites here for the next 2 nights.
Day 3 - Day trip to Fishdance Lake for the Pictographs. Malberg Lake southwest portage to River Lake (Kawishiwi River), portage, Kawishiwi River/Fishdance Lake, PIctographs are on cliff face on the northwest shore of lake. Reverse back to Malberg Lake. (Other daytrip options are northwest to Makwa Lake for the large cliff face (no pictos), east along the Louse River to Boze Lake or Frond Lake (lots of solitude here), northwest through the Beaver/Adams Lake loop.)
Day 4 - Malberg Lake to Hazel Lake - Malberg Lake,Koma Lake, pond, pond, Lake Polly, Phoebe River, Phoebe River, Phoebe River, Hazel Lake. The campsite straight out from the portage is very nice. I love the travel along the Phoebe River. Very scenic and can produce great wildlife experiences.
Day 5 . Hazel Lake to Grace Lake - Hazel Lake, Phoebe River, Knight Lake, Phoebe River, Phoebe Lake, Phoebe River, Phoebe River, Grace Lake. Grace lake is a beauty with nice hills
Day 6. Grace Lake to Sawbill Lake - Grace Lake, Beth Lake, Alton Lake, Sawbill Lake. Showers and WiFi await you here.

Option 2 - Sawbill Lake Entry -
Day 1 - Sawbill to Burnt Lake - Sawbill Lake, Smoke Lake, Burnt Lake. An easy day to get your portage legs, and paddling shoulders acclimated.
Day 2 - Burnt to South Temperance - Burnt Lake, Kelly Lake, Jack Lake, Weird Lake, Pond, South Temperance Lake. (North Temperance if S. Temperance is full) Two portages of 280 rds makes this a long day. The route up the Temperance River rivershed is one of the prettiest in all the BW. Long narrow lakes with high hills on either side make for a great paddle with outstanding scenery.
Day 3 - If the winds allow, day trip out onto big Brule. There is some great scenery in the northwest corner with huge rock slides and cliffs.
Day 4 - South Temperance Lake to Cherokee Lake. South Temperance Lake, North Temperance Lake, Sitka Lake, Cherokee Lake. Cherokee Lake is a destination lake will be busy until Monday afternoon/evening of Labor Day weekend. This is a quintessential BW lake. It is surrounded by beautiful hill and studded with equally beautiful islands. There are great campsites here with beautiful vistas. I personally like the north end of the lake, but others here have different favorites.
Day 5 - Day trip to Frost Lake - Cherokee Lake, Gordon Lake, Unload Lake, Frost Lake and back. Frost Lake has beautiful golden sand beaches to stroll. It also has better than average chances of seeing a moose.
Day 6 - Cherokee Lake to Sawbill Lake - Cherokee Lake, Cherokee Creek, Skoop Lake, Ada Lake, Ada Creek, Sawbill Lake.

I have done both of these trips and both are rewarding with great BW experiences.

Hope you enjoy your first trip to the BW!

P. S. The North Shore offers a great variety of Lake Superior scenery, state parks, and tourist attractions.

11/08/2018 07:07PM
It's good that you have started planning early and have a general plan.

Regarding your questions:

1 & 2 - The Labor Day weekend could be busy, but most will not go far; by entering on Thurs. and traveling 2 days away from the entry, you can distance yourself from most of it. You should enter early on Thurs., get a good day's travel in, and find a site by early afternoon.

3 & 4 - I would suggest something off the Gunflint Trail or Sawbill Trail on the eastern end of the BW for the same reason already mentioned - there's a lot to see on The North Shore of Lake Superior and you seem to have a little extra time to spend on it.

5 - A couple of thoughts off the top of my head:

When reading the guide book, be aware that the mileage listed only includes single portaging, so you need to consider the two extra trips to double portage. That's probably a wise decision on your part; it's what most do anyway. So, for example, a 10-mile day in the guide with 2 miles (640 rods) of portaging, becomes a 14-mile day.

I drive rather than fly, but I believe some who fly, ship their gear ahead. So if you have nice light gear and prefer to use it, that may be an option you want to investigate. If so you may also want to do your own food, especially if you have experience with it from backpacking - I have heard they often pack way more food than many people want or need, which is just extra weight to portage. And if they provide something you don't need - lantern, ax, etc. - and won't use, you can just leave it behind.

Other random thoughts:

Solitude is often found by traveling a little farther than most and taking on a portage or two that most shy away from. Once you are out there beyond the weekend crowd and the 1-day and basecamp groups, it will be less crowded.

Yes, you do need to pick an entry before choosing an outfitter; obviously you don't want an outfitter in Ely for an entry at the end of the Gunflint Trail out of Grand Marais.

When you do a 7-8 day trip with 4-5 days of travel, it opens up a lot of options and is hard to choose one out of the guidebook. And the guidebook's nowhere near all the possibilities!

I don't know how fast or far you'll want to travel, or what portage you might consider too much, but you've received some good suggestions for routes. Cherokee is a beautiful lake and can be accessed from Sawbill, Baker, or Brule to the south, or from the north via Long Island Lake out of the Cross Bay entry point. Frost is a pretty nice lake, already mentioned as a day trip. Kawishiwi Lake EP #37 has been mentioned and there are several options there. I have done several different trips there.

Reading trip reports may be of interest and helpful. If you click the Planning tab at the top, trip reports on the drop-down menu, and choose BW trip reports, you can sort them by entry point.

I'll try to add more later as I think of it and have time. Feel free to email me.

distinguished member(1130)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/08/2018 09:09PM
I like the EP #37 or EP #38 ideas. But I also enjoy EP #47. My last 5 trips have been out of one of these entry points. Boonie and I travel in a lot of the same areas (not together) and he offers good advice, actually pretty much everyone on this site does. If you can wait until after Labor Day weekend (push your trip back a week) the crowds will be all but gone.
I normally trip around Sept. 15th these days. I love the east side because the North Shore has so much to offer and things to do. Your photography options are endless. Many state parks, many waterfalls, and even a lighthouse or two.

If you have never been to Duluth or the North Shore you will want to spend a day or two exploring. I lived in that area for 10 years and I still get sidetracked on the way up and spend way too much time taking in the lake, the scenery, and the towns. It's almost 3 hours from MSP to Duluth depending on traffic and road construction. It's another 2 - 2.5 hours to an east side entry point.

Here is my $.02 differentiating between three EP's.

#37 Kawishiwi Lake has a campground right at the EP, but it only has 5 sites. The closest outfitter is Sawbill Outfitters , approx. 15 miles away. The are wonderful to work with, they can provide everything you need. Their advice is priceless and their equipment in pristine condition. Beautiful area. Downside: the only lodging within 25 miles is your tent, the nearest restaurant is 25 miles away. I fly in to MN as well and I find it's nice to have someplace dry and well lit to repack your gear and get organized. I also like to have a nice dinner the night before I enter.

#38 Sawbill Lake has a terrific campground with many sites, half reservable, right there. Sawbill Outfitters is located right there also. Plenty of parking and very safe. Several route options or you can stay on the Sawbill Lake. Downside: it's a big lake and can get windy, the only lodging within 25 miles is your tent, the nearest restaurant is 25 miles away.

#47 is up the Gunflint Trail so you go right through beautiful Grand Marais. It's about 30 - 40 minutes past the turnoff to Sawbill so you get a little more of the North Shore. Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters is at EP #47. You can paddle away from their beach. They are a full service outfitter and they do a fine job. The draw for me to this EP is that Rockwood has a bunkhouse and cabins to stay in. I enjoy taking a nice hot shower before entry and not having to pack up wet or damp gear. There are also some excellent restaurant choices within 10 -15 minutes. I like the easy route down to Horseshoe Lake or Gaskin Lake. You will experience some portages and they are on the easier end of the scale. This is a good moose spotting area in the fall. There are also several hiking opportunities in this area. Your first portage out of Poplar intersects one of the trails. I am told their are many scenic overlooks in the area as well.

No matter what, you will find solitude, beautiful scenery, friendly people, and an experience you won't soon forget. One last thing - tell the outfitter what your experience level is, how much you want to paddle and portage each day, whether you want to basecamp or move often, and the attributes you are looking for in a canoe (stable or fast). Most of them probably get first timers and forty-timers everyday so they are more than prepared to meet your needs.
distinguished member (169)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/08/2018 09:42PM
AmarilloJim: "A loop from Clearwater (EP62) would allow you to do some day hikes along the BRT. Some smaller lakes you could visit and have all to yourselves. Definitely need to spend a couple days visiting the North shore."

I agree. The Clearwater area is the most scenic part of the BWCA. 400 foot Basalt Cliffs, Mountain Lake overlook, Rose Falls. You can't beat the scenic beauty of these places in the Boundary Waters. I also recommend incorporating the North Shore of Lake Superior into your trip. You'll be driving right through it anyways and it is the best scenic drive in Minnesota. The waterfalls and views of Superior are spectacular. I recommend exploring the Split Rock Lighthouse area, hiking into High Falls in Tettegouche State Park, Caribou falls in Superior National forest, Cascade Falls by Grand Marais, and taking a Gondola ride at Lutsen. Man, I think I'm gonna have to do this trip next summer. That sounds awesome.
distinguished member (169)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/08/2018 10:16PM
1) How bad are the crowds over Labor Day weekend?
I wouldn't worry about it at all in the BWCA. Duluth is another story.

2) Do we have a decent chance of avoiding them by departing on Thursday?
The closer you are to Duluth the more people there will be. It will be less busy at places like Gooseberry Falls and SplitRock Lighthouse if you avoid the weekend, so that may be a good idea to depart on Thursday. The further north you go the less it matters. If you're going to just pass right through to the BWCA on the way up, it won't matter, but it would be hard to pass by places on the North Shore. If it were me, I'd see some of those places going in and out, and I've already seen it all many times.

3) What section of the park would you recommend?
Gunflint Trail, Clearwater Lake entry, Mountain & Rose Lake trips

4) Anything on the “must do” list either in BWCA or wandering south?
The North Shore of Lake Superior is the #1 "must do" in Minnesota. There is a gigantic eyesore of a Taconite Mine in Silver Bay but don't let it turn you off to the area. I think the surrounding area is actually the most scenic with Split rock Lighthouse to the south and Tettegouche to the North.

5) Anything else we should be aware of?
Clearwater does allow 10 HP motors, so there could be some boat traffic there. It also means they can tow you out to a portage. Beyond that solitude is assured.

Be careful on the rocks and cliffs of Superior. Be on the lookout for rogue waves. They can take you away in a flash. Palisade Head and shovel point are spectacular but better viewed from the water. North Shore Scenic Cruises goes past there. That's the cliff Mccauley Culkin fell from in The Good Son. Do not go too close to the edge of the cliff. People do die there. Also be very weary of the cliffs near Black Beach. They are deceptively dangerous. Also, be sure to take old 61 out of Duluth which goes right along the lake, and stop for a picnic at Brighton Beach, or hit up the New Scenic Cafe. Then I usually just pass through Two Harbors and I'd skip Gooseberry Falls too. There are crowds there unless you go early in the morning. The scenic fun really starts at Split Rock Lighthouse and North. Don't go to the Lighthouse. It's boring, Go to the campground parking lots to the south and walk out to the Bay, looking North at the Lighthouse. I think every professional photographer in MN has thier best shots from there. There is a sign that says not to go out on the Island/Peninsula. I just pretend I didn't see it, although it's best to wait for a time when there aren't crowds peering down at you from the Lighthouse.

Copy and past this into your browser,-91.6975671,9.16z/data=!4m34!4m33!1m25!1m1!1s0x52afaafe95683189:0x5bea5795fa09a90!2m2!1d-91.9925847!2d46.8430863!3m4!1m2!1d-91.9381494!2d46.8735171!3s0x52af00bc09c7d65d:0x85a21ac3b22cd92d!3m4!1m2!1d-91.8655767!2d46.9095195!3s0x52af043c64704575:0xcf7f728dd3df452!3m4!1m2!1d-91.8109774!2d46.9314133!3s0x52af05244844aead:0xcdedc1be6252fc8!3m4!1m2!1d-91.7267573!2d46.995493!3s0x52af10d005c8576f:0x6cb9cc146ba07a0c!1m5!1m1!1s0x52a7a0c9b4e23163:0xa275d93dfe0dc285!2m2!1d-90.382591!2d48.069479!3e0
distinguished member (169)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/08/2018 11:36PM
P.S. I really like planning trips, in case you didn't notice.
distinguished member(4431)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
11/09/2018 03:14AM
Lots of good advice on routes. Yes, going in on Thursday should help.

In terms of post-trip fun, there is a lot to do in the Ely area. The bear and wolf centers are excellent learning opportunities and so is the Dorothy Molter museum. You can then drive south from there to the north shore for some of the sites along there. Ely also has many outfitters and lodging possibilities. We also fly in and on our trips started enjoying spending two or three days before or after a trip in Ely.

The bear center can be a good pre-trip stop both to learn about bears and they have an excellent room with taxidermy of many north woods animals in a diorama. It can be a good way to learn before heading in. But I’d still probably aim at a Thursday entry. We came out of Lake One the Friday before Labor Day one year and it was the busiest I’ve ever seen.

Nothing wrong with suggestions already given, just an additional possibility.
11/09/2018 09:23AM
All the above ideas are good, as are the routes. I do think the East side of the BWCA up the north short to the Gunflint trail is a great sightseeing route. We've done it 3-4 times and still haven't seen all there is to see.

My one recommendation would be, on the campsite "rhythm" you state above, is to remember that weather can keep you camp-bound for a day if the wind kicks up and the lakes get rough. If you're on a tight schedule and absolutely have to exit the day you plan on exiting, you might want to make your last campsite a 2 night layover to give you some flexibility. Our group usually does close to the same thing, sometimes one night at a camp, sometimes two. It 's nice to know if you wake up and see white caps on the lake with 30 mph winds, you don't absolutely have to break camp and paddle.
11/09/2018 09:38AM
Wow! Thank you for the extensive and detailed responses!

Sounds like the eastern side of BWCA would be a good match with our interests this trip. That would give us a great time in BWCA and put us in a good place to check out some of the other beauties of northern MN. Greatly helps me narrow down the options in terms of EPs/outfitters to research. You've given me some great ideas for EPs and routes to look at! I will definitely be migrating over to the route guide and trip reports to check those out.

Unfortunately, we're both still working, so going over a holiday weekend gives us one more day of vacation without having to take leave. Plus, we live in the Mid-Atlantic Mega-opolis and usually try to escape all of the tourists heading into our area for the long weekend! That also makes flying our only realistic option. Otherwise we lose at least two days each way on the road. We'll probably just go with full outfitting minimize stress and worries about the airline losing luggage.

We've never been to norther MN before and are looking forward to it. Growing up, I spent a good bit of time in northern WI, but we never made it over to MN.
11/09/2018 11:17AM
If you go to the Gunflint side I'd also recommend stopping at Gooseberry Falls and the Split Rock Lighthouse.

Gooseberry Falls you can get in an out of pretty quickly if the parking lot is not too full. There's no charge, they have a nice visitor center, and just a short walk to the picturesque falls.

If you go the the Split Rock Lighthouse, you can take a self-guided walk through the place, or take a guided tour for a minimal expense. I'd recommend taking the guided tour. The guided part is about half an hour, but you'll end up spending about 90 minutes total. Both my kids, (13 and 16) enjoyed it.

11/09/2018 03:18PM

Narrows it down, but still a lot of EP's, routes, and outfitters :).

I usually only rent a canoe and have used Sawtooth Outfitters, Sawbill Outfitters, and Rockwood Outfitters. I have stayed at Sawbill Campground. I have also stayed at Rockwood in their bunkhouse before and/or after trips. It is easy to leave right from their place on Poplar Lake, which has multiple BW entry points - Lizz, Meeds, Skipper. Lizz particularly is popular an busy. I have also had them shuttle me to Cross Bay EP #50 and paddled back to their place through Lizz. You may also want to take a look at EP #50, as well as the entries out of Round Lake - Missing Link and Brant - near there. Missing Link can lead to a nice area, but some serious portaging to get into Tuscarora.

There are other good outfitters, depending on your entry, needs, and preferences. I have also stayed in Grand Marais many times and just driven to the entry (EP #37, Kawishiwi Lake mainly) in the morning. Like Northwoodsman, I prefer not to camp the night before. It would be awkward for you since you'd have to use the rented gear and repack in the morning.

And don't forget that even with full outfitting there will still be a lot of personal items you'll need to bring, so lost luggage could still be a problem ;). I'd suggest you browse those lists at outfitters like Rockwood and others to come up with a packing list for those items.

distinguished member(3398)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/11/2018 07:23AM
Hello Tiggy, welcome to the site. Many good responses thus far. Some very specific. Which will give some specific questions for your outfitter. If I can ask, where are you coming from? May give us an idea how you might adapt to our weather this time of year. It can be unpredictable. It could be as high as 80 degrees or have night time lows around 30 degrees. Also, if you are from a desert area you will be astounded by fall colors. They should be starting to change. Lots of time to plan. You may end up weary from all the opinions you get here ;) We can be a passionate bunch.
member (30)member
11/11/2018 11:44AM
Tiggy! Welcome to the board. I agree with the east side as well. Lots of good suggestions on routes already so I'll not add anything further there. BUT I'd highly recommend getting some smoked fish at one of the many smokehouses along the north shore. Lake Trout is a personal favorite of mine. I'd also suggest getting a delicious beer at Bent Paddle Brewing in Duluth. If you're killing time in Minneapolis do yourself a favor and grab a burger at the Blue Door Pub. Enjoy MN, its a great time of year to be up here! And keep us posted on what you decide as far as a route goes!
11/11/2018 01:32PM
Thanks all!

I've been reading a lot of trip reports and checking out the guides, focusing on EP 37, 38, 47, and 62. While I'm sure there are tons of other great EPs out there, the repeated recommendations for these help cut down the research!

Thinking about logistics, I like the idea of paddling out to the outfitter, rather than trying to time a shuttle. That gives us more flexibility in case we hit bad weather, travel slower than expected, etc. It does limit the outfitter, but I've seen nothing but good reviews for both Sawbill and Rockwood. Additionally, we will definitely be staying at a hotel/bunkhouse the night before. If we go out of EP 37, the AmericInn in Tofte seems to have mixed reviews here but is well reviewed on TripAdvisor. As we always say, it's only one night and can't be worse than some places we've stayed previously! EP47 has the bunkhouse and 62 is close to humanity. So I'm leaning towards focusing in on 37, 47, and 62.

EP 37 - I really like some of the options out of this EP, ending back at EP 38. It seems to be a very scenic part with good wildlife potential. Mitchwall2's option 1 and a trip report from Jazzywine (EP38 - reverse order) really appeal. Malberg seems to be a really popular lake to basecamp on with some excellent campsites. Would Malberg attract the long weekend crowd over Labor Day or is it far enough in?

EP47 - Another EP that sounds like it has a ton to offer and amazing scenery. The Cliff and Muskeg Loop sounds intriguing. However, it seems like there's a lot of EPs that feed into this section and the bigger lakes seem really popular: Horseshoe, Gaskin, Winchell, Cherokee, and Long Island. Is this area going to be heavily trafficked over the long weekend? If so, is there a good option to get "one portage further in"?

EP 62 - I like that Beymer calls this area "the most beautiful in BWCA". However, I'm also seeing repeated warnings about motorboat traffic/noise from the Canadian side. I'm also not seeing a ton of trip reports from the EP. Out of those I'm finding, most seem to be shorter trips focused on fishing. Is there a lot of "motor noise" in this area, understanding that it will be a holiday weekend on both sides of the border? Any suggestions on longer trips from this EP?

boonie, I had to chuckle on your warning about lost luggage. We learned a long time ago that all of the critical items go in carry-ons. Fortunately, our luggage has only been delayed on the way home, but we have had a couple of unscheduled long layovers. There's nothing like having a change of clean clothes when dealing with travel delays! Without having to pack camping gear, I fully expect we can do the full trip just in carry-ons. I can always buy toiletries in MN if needed and check a bag on the way home when it's less critical!
11/11/2018 04:12PM
And maybe consider flying into Duluth instead of MSP. Will save you 300 miles of total driving and you can start out right on Lake Superior. You can connect on United in ORD if Delta isn't convenient for you. Not much good in Minnesota is south of Duluth anyway... :)
distinguished member (211)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
11/11/2018 04:51PM
Regarding EP 62; the guys at Clearwater Historic Lodge have a pretty detailed list of lakes, campsites and routes on their website.

You might also enjoy catching up on their podcast: Tumblehome

Good Luck
11/12/2018 09:27PM

The other option people use to avoid timing a shuttle is to drop their car at the exit point, then continue the shuttle to the entry.

The Cliff-Muskeg loop out of Lizz would be a nice loop, but you are probably right about the "busyness" on some of the lakes.

Since you seem willing to travel that far - about 55 miles double portaging - and some tougher portages, I'm going to throw out another option for you to consider out of Ep#37. It's a route Steve and I did in 2014 from EP#37 to Ep#38. We went with the option of doing a shorter trip to Polly and across to Alton as suggested by Michwall, or going NE to Little Saganaga and down from Mora to Sawbill, which is what we did since the weather forecast was very nice. It's about 5 miles shorter than the Cliff-Muskeg loop you are looking at, but you will likely have a little more seclusion between Malberg and Sawbill. There are a couple of longer portages in the second half and one does have a good climb, but on the Cliff-Muskeg loop you'd be going up "The Wall" from Muskeg to Kiskadinna anyway.

11/16/2018 11:23AM
boonie, loved your trip reports! You certainly have a way with words!

At this point, I think we have it down to either EP37 (going out 38) or a round trip out of 47. Both look to be beautiful areas with a couple good options for routes. Next step is probably to call the two outfitters and get their suggestions on potential routes before making a final decision.

:) It's always better to have too many good options than not enough. Plus, it always gives us a reason to come back in the future and try the path not chosen!
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11/16/2018 12:24PM
boonie: "tiggy-

The other option people use to avoid timing a shuttle is to drop their car at the exit point, then continue the shuttle to the entry.

The Cliff-Muskeg loop out of Lizz would be a nice loop, but you are probably right about the "busyness" on some of the lakes.

Since you seem willing to travel that far - about 55 miles double portaging - and some tougher portages, I'm going to throw out another option for you to consider out of Ep#37. It's a route Steve and I did in 2014 from EP#37 to Ep#38. We went with the option of doing a shorter trip to Polly and across to Alton as suggested by Michwall, or going NE to Little Saganaga and down from Mora to Sawbill, which is what we did since the weather forecast was very nice. It's about 5 miles shorter than the Cliff-Muskeg loop you are looking at, but you will likely have a little more seclusion between Malberg and Sawbill. There are a couple of longer portages in the second half and one does have a good climb, but on the Cliff-Muskeg loop you'd be going up "The Wall" from Muskeg to Kiskadinna anyway.

I was trying to come up with the more leisurely route rhythm of 1 night, 2 nights, 2 nights, 1 night. If it is at all an option, go to Little Sag! Little Sag is an island studded beauty. You will likely have only one extra night on this route. You could spend it on Little Sag, but, I like to spend it on Mesaba Lake. Definitely more solitude on this route. Bushwack over to Leah Lake from Mesaba. Beautiful spot. Not much difference between "The Wall" out of Muskeg and the start of the portage out of Fente. Both will get your heart rate going. Have done this route several times and have never been disappointed.
11/16/2018 03:03PM
Thanks, tiggy. There are many well-written trip reports here.

Either one of those options will give you a nice trip. And you can devise a route out of both with shorter and longer variations.

If weather is going to be bad, or you find the travel more time-consuming than anticipated, you always have Michwall's very good suggestion as an alternative. And there are options besides camping on Malberg - I camped on Amber Lake one time, Beaver Lake is an option, as is the Kawishiwi River.

It's hard to know how the travel will go for you on a first trip. For reference, I usually figure about 2mph, give or take a little. If I go in #37, I expect 4 hours, give or take a little, to the N end of Polly, which is 9 miles double portaging. There's 3 miles (double) portage, none of which is terribly difficult, good trails, mostly easy landings, maybe 1 or 2 beaver dams along the way.

As Michwall said, Little Sag's a very nice lake. Steve and I laid over a full day there and never saw anyone else. I thought the lakes after that - Mesaba is one - were pretty too.

Here is a link to my trip pictures on Shutterfly that will show some of these areas. I think most have captions, but if you have any questions, just email me.

Michwall's right that either of those portages will you a pump, but IIRC, Fente probably has a better trail and less awkwardness.

It's a good idea to call the outfitters and talk to them. Most have some routes listed on their websites, so you may want to look at those first.

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