Boundary Waters Trip Reports, Blog, BWCA, BWCAW, Quetico Park

BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

July 14 2024

Entry Point 35 - Isabella Lake

Isabella Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Isabella, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 21 miles. Access is a 35-rod portage to Isabella Lake.

Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1595 feet
Latitude: 47.8009
Longitude: -91.3034
Isabella Lake - 35

1973: Going Back in Time

by Spartan2
Trip Report

Entry Date: August 20, 1973
Entry Point: Lake One
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
This was our first BWCA trip, and one of the shortest we ever experienced. We were 28 years old. Since my photos were just stuck in a book with no explanations about them, and all I have to construct narrative is a little tiny notebook, it isn't as organized as most of my trip reports. But, in so many ways, it was the foundation of our 40 years of canoe-tripping, and we remember it fondly.

Part 1 of 6


We were excited about going on our very first canoe trip in the BWCA. Previously we had enjoyed the Namakan Loop out of Crane Lake, and most of our six days were in Canada. At that time Neil was in the army stationed at Fort Knox, and we resided in a mobile home park in Radcliff, Kentucky. Our son Edwin was born nine months after that trip, and when Edwin was 13 months old, in May of 1973, we moved to Groveland, Illinois, where Neil worked on a farm. At the time he took the job, he negotiated with the owner/farmer for enough vacation time during this first summer for a short trip in the Boundary Waters. We felt richly blessed to be able to do this.

We wanted to keep wilderness canoe-tripping as a "just the two of us" venture, so we now had the challenge of finding someone to keep Mary Helen, almost four years old, and Edwin, 16 months. Logistically it was not going to work to take them to Michigan to grandparents, since we didn't have that much time off.

Our friends Merodie and Paul (former neighbors in Radcliff) were now living in Minneapolis. Merodie was willing to keep our children, and it seemed like a good plan, as they had little ones who were almost exactly the same age as ours. And we knew perfectly well what fine people they were.

So we packed up our gear, strapped our brand-new 17-foot Grumman canoe on top of the car, loaded up our two children and headed for Minneapolis. Upon Arrival, we spent a day with our friends, helping the children to become acquainted and feel comfortable with Merodie and Paul, Heidi and Scott.

I will never forget how difficult it was to leave very early the next morning. As I watched my baby still sleeping, and tried to rouse him to say goodbye, I hoped that having had a full-time Mom for all of his life, he would feel confident to stay with a sitter for four days. He was a bright, verbal, friendly child, and that should help. And it would certainly be an advantage that his sister was there with him, too. We were off for Ely and Lake One!


Part 2 of 6

The "X"'s on the map represent our campsites

Note: My "journal" from this trip is a tiny 3 1/2 X 4 inch notebook with just a few pages filled out. It is not written in narrative form, so I will just quote it verbatim rather than trying to fill in very much detail. This was the maiden voyage for our Grumman canoe, and also the first time for the orange nylon tent. We were thrilled NOT to be in a canvas tent!

Day One, August 20:

Left Lake One Landing about 12:30. Several portages. Had a bit of trouble navigating. So many islands!

Made camp on Lake Two at 4:00. Nice campsite. Pet chipmunk. Latrine. [This would have been new to me after traveling in Crown Land in Canada for my only other canoe trip.] Saw more people than last trip.

Cool, sunny, nice. Cool evening.

The best I could do photographing our little chipmunk.


Part 3 of 6

Day Two, August 21:

Broke camp about 9:30. Sky gray and overcast, temperature about 50 degrees. [In later years we always took a small thermometer, but not yet.]

Met a couple in Lake 2. They followed us.

Lots of portages. First portage unimproved, muddy. Next one not where the map said, very wet, lake in middle.

On the shore of Horseshoe Lake, after the portage, the couple came up behind us and the lady looked out on the lake, smiled, and said, "Ah, Insula!" We were shocked and checked our maps. Then Neil spoke to them and told them that they weren't at Insula at all. Come to find out, they just had a small line map given to them by an outfitter, and no real tripping map at all. So we shared one of our maps with them, and hoped that they would figure out where they were going.

We had our lunch after the next portage.

The portage to North Wilder is 103 rods and seemed long to me. We met three fishermen on North Wilder. The river was marshy, winding, and pretty. Saw several fairly large turtles.

There was a bed of white water lilies at the end of the stream from North Wilder. It was breathtaking, and I cannot believe there is no photo!

Campsites were all full, so we kept going. The portage into Fire Lake is short and easy--not as long as the 18 rods on the map. It was getting late, so when the sites were all full on Fire Lake we made do with a spot on the Fire Lake Pond, just before the portage.

We watched some ducks in the evening.


Part 4 of 6

Day Three, August 22:

Broke camp at 8:30. There is an extra portage, about 20 rods, before the 32-rod portage into Lake Four.

We stopped on a badly "overcamped" island in Lake Four and enjoyed a good stretch and some snacks. [Our usual snack when tripping--my husband said it was absolutely necessary--was a German's Sweet Chocolate Bar. We would count out how many squares for each day.] We were back on the water at 10:30.

We camped on the point by the portage to Rifle Lake, and enjoyed our lunch.

I wanted to see a dead-end lake that had no campsite. [That is how we remember it, although there is a campsite marked on current maps.] So we paddled around the point and took the portage to Rifle Lake. The portage appeared seldom-used, and was overgrown in places.

Rifle is a pretty lake. It feels quiet and remote. We sat at the portage for awhile, and then paddled around the lake before we left.

Big trees. Lots of blueberries!


Part 5 of 6

Day Four, August 23:

Note: For some odd reason, I didn't write in my little notebook after Rifle Lake. Because we know what we did on Day 4 and there are photos, I have improvised a narrative.

This was our "wake-up" morning and we broke camp early. We paddled up the stream toward the "dam" (marked on the map) and climbed up to the bluff that overlooks the remarkable set of rapids leading back to Lake One. The dangerous beginning part makes a 90-degree turn and then there is a pond. [Some of the overlook photos are taken at the spot where we camped years later (1982), but there was no campsite there back in 1973.]

After scouting our path, we put in at the pond and ran several sets of rapids. As I usually did in that situation, I let Neil do all of the steering, and most of the time I was just gripping the gunnels of the canoe. It was an exciting ride, with a fast chute at the end, dumping us right into Lake One. Memorable! Fun!

This view is looking back at the rapids after we came through.

It was time to end our canoe trip. The shortest one we have ever taken (except for an aborted trip in 2013--our last canoe trip), and it was somewhat unsatisfying because we would have loved to stay longer. But still, we had a toddler and a baby waiting in Minneapolis, and it would be nice to get back to them again.

There would be many more canoe trips in the BWCA, as well as a couple in Quetico, one in Temagami, and two in Algonquin. This small adventure was part of the foundation of a lifetime of canoe-tripping, and a deep love for the canoe country and the north woods.

Lake One gave us a beautiful farewell, as we headed for the landing and ended our trip.


Part 6 of 6


We traveled bck to Minneapolis with a couple of stops along the North Shore, mainly to see Split Rock Lighthouse from the "scenic overlook" and a view of Duluth from high up on the hill.

Photo of Split Rock Lighthouse in 1973:

For comparison, a photo of Split Rock Lighthouse in 2019, from the same spot:

Lake Superior's North Shore:


It was late when we arrived at Minneapolis. Mary Helen was thrilled to see us, but Edwin pouted for a while before he was cuddly again.

It was good to see the children again. Merodie had kept a tiny notebook, not unlike the one I took on the canoe trip, with a diary of their days. It was fun to read with them the descriptions of what they did with their new friends.

We all went camping at Interstate State Park, Taylors Falls, MN for one night before our family departed for Illinois. Paul and Merodie had a big green canvas family tent. It was really neat to see the children together and to realize that we were making lifetime friends through this experience.


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