BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 04 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1595 feet
Isabella Lake - 35
Isabella Lake to Quadga Lake
May 31, 2008
Island River (34)
Number of Days:
Day One- 6 AM and 6 of us; two teenage boys, the father of one, the grandpa of the other, Axeman07’s father-in-law and myself (both grandpas) board our van and head north. While we are a younger/older crew we shared duties and worked together beautifully during the course of the trip. Pulling a trailer with two Kevlar canoes and an old Grumman warhorse canoe we made a couple of stops to stretch and gas up but since we plan for bringing our own travel food on the way up we made it to EP 35 in eight hours. That time included a stop at Al’s Bait Shop in Two Harbors to pick up our permit, fishing licenses, and watch the video.
On the way in we met an exiting group that told us of their pretty large site and decent fishing on the far east bank of the lake. With a brisk north wind we decided to look over that site first (the furthermost east site near a small island and the mouth of the river coming from Azure lake). This was a good test of how to work with our new canoe partner and get the feel of our canoes. On the far southeast corner of the lake we came across a moose and an eagle (right off the bat!) so were feeling pretty good about our start. The site was deemed a good one for us and we unloaded. We used 4 smaller tents and this site allowed us to each find a decent spot and spread out around for good “snore control”. The fire area faced west and was spacious. A neat feature of this site was the footpath that took us back to the rapids behind us that we could hear during our stay. I tried a quick outing for fishing around the campsite with no luck but the evening quieted down and we had a serene sunset.
Into Isabella River. The first portage is a relatively easy one that crosses the Pow Wow Trail. The portage goes straight through but a left turn puts you on a bridge made for the hikers. It’s a neat place to stop and watch the water and snap a few pics. It looks like you might be able to shorten the portage by putting in just past the bridge (the left turn) but we opted to go all the way to the end where there was a decent landing and you are well past the rapids.
Other than an “in your face” breeze the next section of river travel was scenic and easy. We checked campsites for our return trip and leisurely paddled with the current.
About 4 ½ to 5 miles from campsite one we encounter our first portage of length. There is a long stretch of rapids that makes for a 130rod portage. The first part of the rapids looks doable but don’t. As you walk the portage you come close to the river at one point where the water is extremely rough. The portage has a plank footpath through a muddy area and a bridge is built across a rough stretch of creek. We met two couples that had just spent the weekend on Rice Lake and they informed us of an eagle nest and beaver lodge to watch for on the short stretch from the portage to the lake. Both are on the left.
We had hoped to camp on Rice Lake but the other two canoes went ahead of us and reported the sites were small and we should move on. The site on the west side could maybe fit 1-2 tents and one of our young men hopped out to check the island and felt we would need more room.
The wind is picking up now but we continue to head down river to the site on the left just past Rice Lake. It’s an elevated spot where there is a beautiful “room” like feel to the site with the fire grate up against a large rock and huge rocks surrounding the grassy space. We were able to fit two tents in easily here. We found a decent site straight back from the fire grate quite a ways and we wedged a tent into another space to make it all fit. It was bright sunny afternoon and we first erected a shade tarp to rest up a bit. The sound of thunder in the distance woke us up though and we set up the camp just in time for a brief rain. It made us aware of taking care of the setup first and then being lazy. While others went back to inspect the rapids and look for firewood I tried my hand at fishing from shore. It’s a small area to fish but I caught a small northern and had many others following the lure. It kept me out of trouble for a while. The sky cleared and we had a stunning starry evening.
The next two rapids we were also able to paddle through with little problem.
The portage into Quadga was interesting with an intersection about halfway through. Going left took you back to Isabella River and a right turn ends up at a jewel of a lake. The wind was picking up so we looked on the west side first and found the first site as you go clockwise around the lake to be outstanding. There is a wide open canoe landing area and then a short walk later you come to a wide open slightly elevated site with a well placed fire pit and enough space for all of us to pitch our tents comfortably. There was also a convenient spot for a rain tarp near the fire grate.
This site connects to the Pow Wow trail as you continue to hike past the pit toilet. After camp setup we toured the lake in a clockwise fashion and found the next site to be root filled with a watery depression although it had a decent landing area.. The second site we visited had a poor landing, an interesting fire grate with bench seating where we took a siesta and hung out for a while. Tent sites were sparse with one decent one behind the seating area a ways back and another site up and behind that one. The last site was actually a natural beauty worth the trip across the lake to climb in the huge fractured rock along the lakeshore and take pictures. The fire grate was very exposed and we felt the tent pad sites were very limited. We did find a bow saw hanging from a branch and “borrowed” it back to our site. We left it there when we left along with a more than adequate supply of cut and split firewood.
I fished briefly in a couple of coves south of our site with no luck. However both coves contained beaver lodges and in both cases a beaver surfaced near the canoe and gave a slap-warning that the canoe was near enough. Fishing stopped just to watch the action going on around the canoe. An action packed game of UNO followed the sad fishing attempt but was more entertaining to watch.
We packed up for a hike on the Pow Wow Trail. We walked west and north over gorgeous park like paths, and then over beaver dams, then through muck where we could easily spot moose and wolf tracks, on to rocky sometimes treacherous footing along Superstition Lake where we stopped at a campsite for a snack break and some picture taking. We then hiked back the same trail past Quadga Lake to Campfire Lake where we proceeded to have lunch and some took naps while others went back to camp to clean up and take a snooze.
The plan was formed to head back up river tomorrow and start working our way back to Isabella Lake and maybe the roomy site we scouted on day two for our last evening.
We paddled and portaged from then on to the site just before the Island River comes in off to the right. It’s elevated on the left side. We were able to squeeze our tents in and set up rain tarps just before a deluge hit us. It rained hard and nonstop for over 4 hours and the temps dropped to make us hover over the fire the rest of the day. I had hoped to fish the narrow channel right along the campsite but gave up on it after a short try as the sky was opening up. It rained off and on that night and we woke up soggy through and through.
In the morning we talked over the fire and listened to a small radio one of us had to a dismal weather report of more cold temps and predicted storms that day and for the next. We came up with plan B: to leave that morning by paddling up the Island River to EP 34 and then walking back to get the van. All were in agreement. We took our time packing the wet gear but got back on the water to windy, dark, but so far dry skies.
We encountered two rapids that weren’t bad so we all paddled up them. We saw many ducks (good weather for them!) and made good time getting to the entry point. After walking to get the vehicle, packing up, putting on clean travel clothes we were on the road by 11:14. We could have gutted it out until the next day, as planned, but we agreed that the trip was entertaining being on the river more than on lakes, and we had seen and done quite a bit. Really, is there ever a bad trip to the BWCA?