BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

April 01 2020

Entry Point 27 - Snowbank Lake

Snowbank Lake entry point allows overnight paddle or motor (25 HP max). This entry point is supported by Kawishiwi Ranger Station near the city of Ely, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 24 miles. Access is a boat landing or canoe launch at Snowbank Lake. Many trip options for paddlers. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Latitude: 47.9716
Longitude: -91.4326
Snowbank Lake - 27

Embracing the Elements - Snowbank Loop

by BigOarDeal
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 06, 2019
Entry Point: Snowbank Lake
Exit Point: Moose Lake (25)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 4

Trip Introduction:
This trip was a definite change of pace for me. I have led the past three trips, and the last trip was with 7 others. This time, Tim wanted a chance to be trip leader and do all of the planning. Although I love planning, I enjoyed just going along for the ride this time. There were four of us going in on Snowbank Lake.

Day 1 of 5


The Night Before
Wednesday, June 05, 2019

We left the Twin Cities around 1 and drove to La Tourell's on Moose Lake. We rented out one of the 4-bed bunkhouses, which was perfect for our group. The drive up was uneventful. After checking in, we drove into Ely to try out the Bucky Burgers at Ely Steakhouse. The waiter easily pegged us and told us he knew we wouldn’t even need the menu. The burger was delicious. We drove back to the bunkhouse and turned in early, full of excitement for the days ahead.

 



Day 2 of 5


Bugs
Thursday, June 06, 2019

We took our time waking up. Eventually we let Bob know we were ready for our shuttle to Snowbank. It was a nice, short drive and we were at Snowbank in no time. There was one other group putting in at the canoe landing when we got there (around 9:45?). There were seven of them in three aluminum canoes and they were completely loaded down with coolers and other gear. It seemed clear to me they weren’t going far. We waited a few minutes while they put in, then put in ourselves right behind them. It was a foggy morning, but the forecast called for the fog to burn off soon.

We had decided to do the two-portage route into Disappointment by going through Parent. That is fine with me, since I personally really enjoy portaging. I thought the location of the portage into Parent was interesting, being that it was so close to the Wilderness Bay resort. It may have only been 100 rods, but it was a moderately difficult one that saw a lot of ups, downs, puddles, and rocks. For the two in our group that had never seen a portage before, it was an eye opener!

Snowbank-Parent Portage:

Mike's first portage:

Soon enough we were on Parent and it was then that the fog burned off and the day started to heat up. A short paddle later and there we were at the portage to Disappointment. What a beautiful portage trail! Especially the bridge over the rapids close to the Disappointment end.

We single-portaged during this trip, and Tim and I would alternate carrying the canoe and food bag. Now, Tim did all the planning. He did a great job—but may have overestimated how much food to bring for the four of us for three nights. That bag was so heavy! At the end of the portage trail, we ran into the group of seven from the Snowbank landing. They were portaging from Snowbank---I would guess they were double portaging given all their supplies. We small talked and they contemplated if they would have been better off doing the two smaller portages. Personally, if you’re going for time, I would say the one portage was by far the better (and even easier) choice for their group that did not enjoy portaging. As I surmised, Disappointment was indeed their target destination for their entire stay.

Disappointment:

Disappointment is a very pretty lake. We were constantly looking at the map as it is a little navigationally challenging. Neary every site was occupied. No problem for us, since we were not planning on staying here, but I was hoping it wasn’t a sign of things to come. One campsite had music blaring from it. I would have hated to be the other campsites near that one!

We reached the portage to Ahsub and waited as a group of four women were unloading. They were very friendly and told us a bit about their previous few days in the wilderness. There was also a group coming the other way as we got to the other end of the short portage. And then another group behind us! It was grand central station at the little portage between Disappointment and Ahsub! The group coming off Ahsub let us know that the campsite on the west side of the lake was free and looked like a good one. It was very near the portage, so we checked it out. Indeed it was a good one. It is very elevated so it has a great view of the lake, my most important criteria for a campsite! In addition, it looked like it had access to the Snowbank trail through the back of the campsite. Another plus if we had some time to explore!

Ahsub campsite:

Given all that we decided to make Ahsub home for the night. After getting camp set up, Mike and Rick went out to try to fish some trout, while Tim and I opted to explore the hiking trails. The trail was fairly well worn and easy to follow. It would be fun to do a hiking trip sometime through the BWCA—it would be a very different experience! I don’t think I’d want to do it in summer though. It was high 70’s today and we were both very sweaty walking a mile or so on the trail without even carrying anything. We checked out the hiking campsite on Ahsub, since I had never seen a hiking campsite and wanted to check it out. Wow, unless I missed something, that is a terrible site! The fire grate was ok (no seating), but I did not see one level place to put a tent. Really there was no cleared-out camp area at all, just a trail. So maybe you have to use a hammock at a site like that. The site did have access to the lake—if you were willing to walk down a very steep hill. You wouldn’t be able to see the site from the water for sure.

After we got back it was the perfect time for a swim. There is a decent swimming area by the canoe landing. It certainly was cold given it was early June, but so refreshing. Mike and Rick came back from fishing—hadn’t even had a nibble. We heard from others later that Ahsub is not a good fishing lake. After not too long we started on dinner: steak and mashed potatoes. The fire was a bit too hot as the steaks got charred on the outside and were cold on the inside, but through trial and error we eventually got it cooked to a good level.

No sooner had we finished dinner did the black flies come out. In full force. I have never seen them this bad. I had a head net on and could consistently see 10-20 flying around my head at all times. It was enough to drive someone mad! We escaped the flies by paddling out to see the sunset.

Ahsub at dusk:

By the time we got back to our campsite, the flies had mercifully subsided a bit, and kept getting better and better as the night wore on. We stayed up late, watched the beautiful star show, and chatted until we decided it was about time to hit the hay.

Thursday's Route:

~Snowbank Lake, Parent Lake, Disappointment Lake, Ahsub Lake

 



Day 3 of 5


Fire
Friday, June 07, 2019

We took our time waking up once again. It was my first night sleeping in a hammock and I was pleasantly surprised. For me, I found it much more comfortable then sleeping on a mattress pad on the ground. Perhaps the only downside was that it was more challenging to get up in the middle night when nature called.

We made some bacon for breakfast and packed up slowly. We finally hit the water sometime after 10 I bet. We prepped the newbies that today would be a ‘long’ day (as in longer than yesterday). As an aside, if it were me, I would paddle/portage all day. I enjoy that more than relaxing at the campsite. But I know that is not true of most people. The goal today was to get somewhere between Ensign and Birch.

We paddled through the small lakes of Ahsub, Adventure, Jitterbug, and Cattyman. I really liked how narrow the lakes got close to the portage on these lakes. It was very scenic.

We portaged into Gibson, then Tim and I checked out Cattyman Falls. The big ball of fire was out in full force today, making traveling very hot and very tiring. Mike and Rick were beat down by the sun, and took the opportunity to rest in the shade.

Cattyman Falls:

Ashigan looked like a very private lake—didn’t seem like it got much traffic at all. We made it to Ensign, and Ensign really is stunning especially after coming through several smaller lakes.

Ensign Lake:

It seemed fairly busy, as every site we saw was occupied. I would definitely be interested in staying on Ensign some time.

The portage from Ensign to Trident had its ups and downs and you could tell it was not a superhighway like some other portages, but it wasn’t too bad. Once on Trident we saw that the campsite near the point on the western side was open. We paddled over to check it out and decided we would stay for the night! It looked ‘cozy’ with a giant white pine right in the middle of camp.

This turned out to be a great site! There was plenty of firewood, a nice secluded tent pad a ways from camp, and there ended up being decent fishing from the campsite. There were good views of the rest of Trident, and a slight breeze kept the bugs at bay.

We spent the afternoon resting, swimming, and fishing. Dinner was salmon, asparagus, and rice. Tim definitely got us a gourmet meal for tonight!

Later that evening I taught Tim how to play cribbage. Then we played smoke or fire with a bottle of honey whiskey. We went to bed a little earlier tonight because of how late we had stayed up the previous night.

Friday's Route:

~Ahsub Lake, Adventure Lake, Jitterbug Lake, Cattyman Lake, Gibson Lake, Ashigan Lake, Ensign Lake, Trident Lake

 



Day 4 of 5


Wind
Saturday, June 08, 2019

The plan today was to camp somewhere on Moose, Newfound, or Sucker close to the put-out at LaTourells. Breakfast this morning was pancakes, a personal favorite of mine in the BWCA. Rick had brought a griddle pan along, which made making pancakes much more enjoyable.

I will have to bring a griddle plan with me on future trips. After breakfast it was on the water again.

The portages to Frog and Birch were fairly unnoteworthy, especially given that we had legs that were fresh from a night of sleep.

The bay by the portage in Birch is very interesting as it is filled with tree trunks and logs. You definitely have to be careful not to float the canoe over these underwater hazards.

We had considered trying to stay on Birch the night before. As we paddled by, all the campsites were taken. This validated our decision to stay on Trident. Besides, it was much more private there.

We turned the corner to start heading southwest on Birch and BOOM! There was the wind! Probably the stiffest wind I’ve paddled in. It was the kind where you paddle with all your might for 20 minutes, angling for the cover of the shore or an island, then take a few minute break. At least it was a headwind and not a crosswind—there were some pretty large rollers we were canoeing over. Everywhere we looked campsites were full—this seems to be quite the popular area.

Finally we started canoeing into the protection of the bay leading to Indian Portage. A nice short portage here into Sucker would be our last of the trip. Rick even portaged the canoe for the first time.

After he did, he said it was much easier than he thought and wish he had done it on more portages throughout the trip. Lots of groups were hanging out here, waiting for a tow back to Moose. I’m yet to do a tow, but can definitely see the appeal of it, especially after battling against the wind on Sucker!

We slowly made our way down Sucker and into Newfound. We were hoping for a campsite on Horseshoe Island, but they were all taken. So we settled on a site on a nearby small island. At first I did not like the site, thinking it ‘disjointed’, but it really grew on me. The fire grate and tent pads are on a very narrow peninsula, making for good views but no good place for more than a couple people to sit together. It ended up being a good site. We also found that right next to the fire grate is a perfect place to jump into the lake for a swim.

The one downside here (which might go without saying) is that tow boats are buzzing by every few minutes during the daylight hours. Not a huge deal, but it just destroys that wilderness vibe. It made me long for our site on Trident the previous night.

The latrine trail is really long at this campsite. Probably the farthest walk to the latrine I’ve encountered, which is crazy for such a small island. This particular island also had another campsite. I didn’t find a trail that connected the two, but I blazed my own trail, eventually making my way to the campsite on the east side. The site looked rarely used, and didn’t have much in the way of tent pads. However, there was a nice rock face that would be perfect for lying on and stargazing. After soaking in the last night of wilderness, we called it a night.

Saturday's Route:

~Trident Lake, Frog Lake, Birch Lake, Sucker Lake, Newfound Lake

 



Day 5 of 5


Rain
Sunday, June 09, 2019

We woke up early, boiled some water for coffee and oatmeal, then quickly packed up. It was more headwind on the paddle back to Moose Lake today. It was uneventful, but I must say that having all the tow boats whiz by you really makes it difficult to ‘savor’ the last few hours in the Boundary Waters. We saw a lot of groups canoeing in as we paddled back. They had a nice tailwind for their paddle in!

We paddled right up to the beach at LaTourrels and Bob told us to just leave the canoes and paddles right there. Just like that, our trip was over. We got some clean clothes on, and soon we were off. No sooner had we left than it started to rain.

We had received perfect weather on our trip (though maybe a little warm, if you’re being picky).

We stopped at Sawmill in Virginia for lunch on the way home. We decided that is the last time we would stop there—we were not impressed with the food.

All in all, a great trip. It was much more relaxing than my past trips given that I didn’t plan it, and there were only four of us. There was perfect weather. Maybe this is sadistic, but I was a little bummed we didn’t have rain at all. I like the adventure of a little inclement weather! Next time, we will bring less food. Next time, I’d like to cover much more ground and go with some people that don’t mind traveling a good portion of the day. But again, I am so blessed to be able to spend a few days in the Boundary Waters with great people and soak it all up.

Sunday's Route:

Entire Trip Route:

~Newfound Lake, Moose Lake

 

Lakes Traveled:   Newfound Lake, Moose Lake,

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