BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 21 2019
Kawishiwi Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Isabella; Tofte, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 33 miles. Access is a boat landing at Kawishiwi Lake.
Number of Permits per Day: 9
Elevation: 1653 feet
Kawishiwi Lake - 37
Number of Permits per Day: 9
Elevation: 1653 feet
Kawishiwi Lake - 37
First timers - Lady Lakes Chain
July 19, 2009
Sawbill Lake (38)
Number of Days:
My husband and I always planned to visit the BWCA but with the pressures of work and family we just never made the time. This year my boss told me I had to take one full week off work without logging in, so we figured this would be the perfect time. We choose this route for the walleye fishing, as my husband is an avid angler, but as you will see, we are obviously inexperienced at this! We're not inexperienced when it comes to "wilderness" camping as we have backpacked many trails, and have all the gear and know how to travel light, but with canoe packs we were lulled into a false sense of ability to carry a heavier load!
Day 1 of 4
Sunday, July 19, 2009 We left our home at 9 a.m. excited and ready for our adventure. We arrived at the Sawbill Outfitters and campground around 2:30 after stopping at the ranger station in Tofte to watch the video and pick up our permit. We camped overnight at Sawbill Lake campground and enjoyed a dinner of steaks and corn, walked around and enjoyed the scenery and picked up a bait and a few essentials at the store. I always carry a spare tank of fuel for my stove and happened to forget it this trip, and the outfitters did not have the type of fuel that I needed, so I started to panic a little bit, even though I have never run out of fuel on a three day trip. The weather was warm and perfect, we changed into shorts, made a fire, and had a few cold ones excited for our adventure.
Day 2 of 4
Monday, July 20, 2009 We woke up at 5:30 a.m. to pack up and get ready for our shuttle to the entry point at Kawishawi Lake. As we were driving out of the campground, we came across a bear that was scaring the campers. People were everywhere trying to get away from the bear. We couldn't get our camera out fast enough to get a picture before he went into the woods. At the outfitters we loaded our canoe and gear into the van for our drive to Kawishawi. The driver unloaded the canoe, we unloaded the gear, and he took off. We suddenly realized that there was no way back except to start paddling! [paragraph break] Despite all our research, things look much different once we were on the lake. We got going in the wrong direction, and having never paddled together before, and not since we were kids, we had to learn how to work together, steer the canoe and find our way all at the same time. Good thing we're smart people! We quickly realized where we were, and got headed towards the river to Square Lake. [paragraph break] We're heading down the river towards square lake and encountered our first obstacle...a beaver dam that wasn't on the map or the guide books. It looked like we could float over it, but instead we got stuck on it. We figured it out, reloaded the canoe, and were on our way into the lake. [paragraph break]Square lake was rather uneventful, we passed several groups that were on their way out. We found our first "real" portage without issue, back into the river, another small portage and back into the river to Kawaschong Lake to our first big portage of the day - 189 rods. [paragraph break]There were a lot of other people on this portage, most of them going out so it was crowded, and had to make room for people to pass on the trail. We started to get a little concerned, but found out that campsites on Lake Polly were pretty much empty at this point since everyone was leaving. I was concerned about getting a good campsite for our first night out. [paragraph break] We entered Lake Polly and proceeded to try to find a place to camp. We headed towards the north end of the lake on the recommendation of another group leader that was taking some kids from church in and does it every couple of weeks. We also wanted to make sure we were not competing with them for a site, since it was just the two of us, and there were 9 of them. The first site she recommended was too hard to get into with the wind, but when we got to the north end, the site at the tip of the peninsula was vacant and we were excited for our good fortune. It was a wonderful campsite with a great landing, easy in and out, and plenty of space. We set up camp for our first night. We had every intention of fishing on this lake, but were rather tired from our first day of adventure so my husband didn't want to fish at all (much to my dismay since we hauled all the gear to do so.) I decided to fish from the shore and caught a couple sunnies. The clouds started to move in and I got bored with fishing so we watched the weather, listened to the thunder and celebrated our good fortune of not getting rained on with a cocktail and campfire. During the night, it started to rain.
Day 3 of 4
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 We awoke to a steady rain. I didn't want to get out of the tent, but needed to assess the damage from the night before. Thankfully, we remembered that we brought a tarp and had put it up, so everything was amazingly dry! My husband didn't want to paddle in the rain, but I figured we brought rain gear for a reason, and there was NO wind (whew) so it was perfect to head out. We had coffee, couldn't manage to choke down breakfast since we aren't breakfast eaters, but had our coffee and enjoyed the scenery. Thankfully bears didn't get in our food, even though we hung it, we didn't do very well since the trees were not very conducive to the perfect situation to hang a bag as heavy as ours. We packed WAY too much food. We were warned at the ranger station that bears have been very active on Polly, so it was a concern. We headed off to our first portage of the day into the Phoebe river. When I planned this trip, I figured the smaller lakes and rivers would be less challenging...I was wrong. Rivers are unpredictable, and I didn't not count on the rocks that show up out of no where. However, seeing all the canoe scrapes on the rocks made me feel a little better that we weren't the first ones to not see them until we were literally on top of them. Even though the lily pads and weeds slow travel down, I became thankful for them since there aren't as many shallow spots where the lily pads are. Rivers are also a little annoying at times when you have many short portages. Sometimes it felt like we just got back in the canoe when it was time for another portage. [paragraph break] We made it to Hazel lake and still had enough energy in us to press on to Phoebe Lake. We tackled the 140 rod portage, which was actually a nice break from the short portages we encountered on the river, only to go back in the river again on the way to Knight lake. We put our canoe in the water after our portage and break, thinking we had clear sailing to Knight Lake. We came around the bend and got beached on rocks! I looked into the water, and for as far as I could see, it was like a rock dam and there was no where to go to get around it. We started to stress a little at this point. My husband was on a mission to NEVER get his feet wet on this trip, meaning I had to wet foot the portage landings and every other time. I was constantly changing between sandals and my hiking boots. Well, this time he had to get out of the boat. We took off our boots, put on our sandals, rolled up our pants, and started to walk the canoe through the rocks. Dane was holding on to the front of the canoe, I was trying to hold on to the back of the canoe, the rocks were sharp, slippery and very difficult to walk on. Dane told me I had to let go of the canoe, at which point I promptly feel forward into the water. So, I grabbed a paddle to help me through the water. His stress was adding to my stress, and I think his stress was all about having to get in the water more then anything. It was a touchy situation, not so much for navigation as it was on the relationship! Once we navigated that stretch and were back in the boat, we had smooth waters into Knight Lake. [paragraph break] We left Knight Lake headed down the river (again) into Phoebe Lake. This was by far the most beautiful stretch of river we had encountered so far. The water was like glass, and even the dark storm clouds couldn't dampen our spirits with how beautiful this was. And, there were fewer obstacles along the way. We made it into Phoebe Lake just as the weather was starting to get a little darker and rainier. We decided to look for the campsite on the north end of the lake so we would be closer to our portage in the morning and kept our fingers crossed that it wasn't occupied. Well, we managed to paddle right by the site. It was rather hidden up in the trees and was well off the shoreline. We had to break out the GPS to verify where we were in relation to the site. Dane found it and went to scout it while I stayed with the canoe. He came back down the trail and said the views were amazing and it was unoccupied. We just had to figure out how to get the gear and canoe out of the water with all the rocks. Good thing he's an engineer! Seriously though, it wasn't that bad and we were so thankful we found this amazing site for the night. Our first order of business was to get the tarp up so we could have a fire. The mosquitoes were ferocious! We needed the smoke so we wouldn't pass out from blood loss. No matter how much Jungle Juice you use, there's always a little spot you didn't quite get and they find it. As Dane was going out to look for more firewood, he stumbled across a destroyed portage pack, a Pullman suitcase, and clothes, gear, and empty food packages strewn about down the rocks! We were disgusted...and also very ashamed that we packed WAY too much stuff and couldn't bring it out with us. Thankfully, this site had the most amazingly perfect tree in which to hang out food, so despite seeing the evidence of what a bear is capable of doing, I wasn't worried. I was, however, very sad that someone would just leave this stuff, even the salvageable things such as clothing and gear. We could only speculate that they didn't go looking for it when it showed up missing. We rested, cooked dinner, and enjoyed an evening by the fire and turned in early after our somewhat stressful and adventurous day. We lit the candle lantern in the tent, played a game of "mosquito quest" (i.e. killing all the mosquitoes that snuck into the tent as we hopped in) and played a few hands of cards. The rain picked up its intensity overnight and we were sure we were going to have rough going the next day.
Day 4 of 4
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 The rain stopped at about 5 a.m. and when we got up at 5:30 it was calm, and the skies were clearing. We wanted to be on the water by 7 a.m. and finish the rest of the journey, but we were having so much fun at camp with great weather, and beautiful sunrise where the sun started to evaporate the water off the trees creating a mist rising up through the trees. We decided to have a few more cups of coffee and enjoy the morning. Our packs were way too heavy to begin with, causing us to have to double portage, which we didn't want to do. With everything wet, it managed to add even more weight, so whatever weight we ate, was replaced with water. We couldn't get a break from that. We were starting to get anxious to get back to Sawbill and be done with the packs. We managed to get on the water by 9 a.m. and enjoyed sunshine and clear skies for a while. [paragraph break] We tackled our last river of the trip and pounded out the four portages along the river between Phoebe Lake and Grace Lake. We celebrated after our last 15 rod portage of the river! We launched into Grace Lake and saw people for the first time since Monday. We were rather shocked that we didn't encounter anyone from the time we left Polly until we headed across Grace towards our biggest portage (285 rods.) We thought with double portaging this portage would take us 1.5 hours. We timed ourselves and were rather impressed that we pounded it out in 17 minutes one way. Even with double portaging, we made the whole thing in just under an hour. However, along the portage trail, we had to continually pass a fatally injured woodpecker laying in the trail. It was still alive but unable to move. I couldn't bring myself to photograph it and every time I passed, wished it would have finally died, but it was still alive with each pass. [paragraph break] We entered into Beth Lake and enjoyed an quiet paddle across the lake. The storm clouds were building during our portage, but luckily we never encountered anything too severe. As we crossed the lake, we watched a bald eagle hunting. It started to rain as we reached the portage landing on the east end of Beth Lake. We did the 140 rod portage into Alton Lake and took a break before crossing the largest body of water we had on this trip. The water was very calm, but when we were ready to head out the wind picked up as the front moved through. We only brought one map, so we had to rely on the GPS to find the portage into Sawbill. When we reached the portage and could see the lake through the trees, we couldn't believe our good fortune! I kept reminding Dane that this day was about the journey, not the destination and it really didn't matter what time we rolled into the landing at Sawbill Lake. We got in the water at Sawbill and enjoyed blue skies, warm weather, and light winds all the way back.[paragraph break] We dropped the canoe off at the outfitter, enjoyed an ice cold beer, and headed out to find a hotel room with a hot tub![paragraph break] We learned a lot on this trip, and cannot wait to do it again, but very differently. The packs we borrowed were difficult to carry, and just because it fits in there doesn't mean you need to bring it with! Next time, we'll pack like we do for backpacking trips. If we could make those portages easier on our bodies, we wouldn't have been anxious to leave that beautiful, peaceful place.
discuss this trip report (5 comments) - last post on July 27, 2009