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BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

June 13 2024

Entry Point 37 - Kawishiwi Lake

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: 7
Elevation: 1653 feet
Latitude: 47.8390
Longitude: -91.1036
Kawishiwi Lake - 37

Kawishiwi Loop

by landoftheskytintedwater
Trip Report

Entry Date: July 19, 2006
Entry Point: Kawishiwi Lake
Number of Days: 10
Group Size: 3

Trip Introduction:
Originally, our trip was supposed to be a loop starting at Hog Creek and ending at Kawishiwi Lake. I spent much of the winter planning the route and convinced two good friends, Drew and Bryce, to come along for the trip. We had everything set to go, but the Turtle Lake Fire forced us to change our plans the day before our trip. This was the first long trip any of us had done, but we were all pumped about heading into the Boundary Waters for 10 days. We left the Twin Cities on the 18th late in the morning so we could get to the Tofte Ranger Station and sort out our options that afternoon. After stopping at Betty's Pies, we got to Tofte and the rangers confirmed that our planned trip wasn't an option because of the closed portages along the Isabella River. Without many options, we decided to start our trip at the Kawishiwi River entry point and improvise from there. From there, we could cover the last third of our trip to Lake Insula and then figure something out from there. Then we headed over to Sawtooth Outfitters, where we were given a brand new Souris River Quetico 18.5 three-seater for our trip. After strapping the canoe onto my VW Golf (quite a site), we got some dinner in Tofte and headed up to the Kawishiwi River Campground to spend the night.

Day 1 of 10

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Kawishiwi Lake to Lake Polly

We put in later then planned at about 9 and headed across Kawishiwi Lake. Our only plan at this point was to head to Lake Insula in the first three days, then play it by ear. The sun was out and the wind was down so we made good time across Kawishiwi Lake. After crossing the beaver damn about where the Kawishiwi leaves the lake, we made the mistake of getting back into the canoe backwards and were unable to turn around the canoe thanks to the low water levels and the narrow width of the river. So, instead of getting back out and turning the canoe around, we paddled backwards for about a quarter of a mile. We were dragging over mud most of the way to Square Lake. The portage from Square back to the Kawishiwi was dried up at the landing and we had to carry an extra 20-30 rods before putting the canoe back in the water. The next portage wasn't even a half mile later and was an easy carry over some rocks where the river narrowed. From there, the water was low all the way to Kawasachong Lake with two places where we have to get out and walk the canoe because of the water levels. Being on open water was a treat and we enjoyed how fast we could travel on the water with three people paddling. We ate lunch as we waited for a group to cross the 190-rod portage from Kawasachong to Townline, then single-portaged our gear across the long, but fairly easy, portage. Next up was a quick paddle across Townline to the 95-rod portage from Townline to Polly. Again, there were some groups on the portage. The path drops steeply into Polly, making it tricky to descend with a canoe. We decided to stop on Polly after finding the small island campsite open and nice. Bryce and I tried out some fishing in the afternoon, but were unsucessful. We enjoyed from brats and whiskey for dinner, our last real dinner before 9 straight nights of freeze-dried food.


Day 2 of 10

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lake Polly to Fishdance Lake

Our goal for this Day was to get to Fishdance Lake. The first couple portages out of Polly were easy and we got to see some pretty pools along the Kawishiwi River. The first real portage of the day was the 127-rod portage into Koma Lake. This portage was well maintained and pretty flat. After paddling into Koma, we tried some quick fishing, and noticed some reddish tint in the clouds to the northeast, probably from the Cavity Lake Fire. We ate lunch and rested a bit on the portage from Koma to Malberg. The wind picked up a bit in the afternoon as we paddled to the portage out of Malberg into the Kawishiwi to the west. The 67-rod portage was a little more less-used than the other we have already travelled and the landing on the Kawishiwi was also dried up, forcing up to carry our gear about 20 rods along the river til we could put our canoe in the water. We paddled south-west on the Kawishiwi and made our way toward Fishdance. At the 20-rod portage west on the Kawishiwi from the portage out of Alice Lake, we did some swimming in the rapids along the portage. Dipping our heads into the rushing water felt great after paddling and portaging for about 4 hours. Finally, we reached Fishdance Lake and stopped to take pictures of the pictographs. The island site on Fishdance looked rather unappealing, so we chose the small site on the north shore. The tent pad barely fit our tent and looked like it hadn't been used in a while. The lake exuded solitude and was definitely worth the effort. We ate some good ChiliMac for dinner, and I did some journaling and enjoyed the great sunset before retiring to bed.


Day 3 of 10

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fishdance Lake to Lake Insula

We got an early start this morning and stopped again to check out the pictographs on the way back to the Kawishiwi River before leaving Fishdance. Both portages from the Kawishiwi before Alice Lake were easy with good landings. The wind was blowing when we hit the south end of Alice so we went at it hard to get back into the river. Once back on the river, we saw an eagle and drifted toward it and got pretty close before it took off. It was a nice treat after a little tough paddling. The rest of the trip to Insula was pretty easy and the wind stayed under control. We reached Williamson Island on Lake Insula by noon and set up camp. After lunch, we did some swimming and resting. By mid-afternoon, the wind had really picked up and we watched a couple groups really struggle to get across the bay we were on. We were glad we had gotten off to an early start. That night we listened to the Twins game, had some Cajun Chicken for dinner, and played some Uno before bed.


Day 4 of 10

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Lake Insula to Sagus Lake

The couple days previous, we had discussed our options for the remainder of our trip. We decided that we wanted to see Makwa Lake beacuse we had talked to a group on the way in that had come from Makwa and they were telling us how you could see the smoke from the fire pretty well yet they felt they were a safe distance from the fire. Another group told us there was some great swimming and fishing in Makwa as well. Our only dilema was how to get to Makwa. Since I hadn't researched that area for a our trip, I was hesitant to do the trip through Roe, Cap, and beyond to get to Makwa. Eventually, we decided that we would travel to Sagus, then go to Cap and see how things were going. Either we would go through to Makwa or cut down to Boulder and Adams and figure something else out. I had no idea how tough getting from Cap to Boulder would be, nor did I know that there was barely any water between Boulder and Adams.

That morning we headed northeast out of Insula to the 180-rod portage into Kiana Lake. The first portion of the trail was a good uphill climb that eventually leveled off on a nice trail. Kiana Lake was very pretty and we were treated to half a dozen loons congregating on the lake. After the easy portage from Kiana to Thomas, we kicked it into high gear and worked it across Thomas Lake in great time. At this point, we were loving the speed of the three-person canoe. We stopped and had our daily lunch of two granola bars in the channel between Thomas and Fraser, then we went after it again paddling across Fraser. We were pretty tired once we hit the back bay on Fraser as we headed toward the portage into Sagus. The color among the trees on Fraser was interesting, as it was unlike any of the other lakes we saw on the trip. Fraser would be a great destination in its own right. The portage from Fraser to Sagus was beautiful. There was a bog off to the north of the trail, which gradually ascended out of Fraser and dropped into Sagus. Some of the pictures on the trail I got look they were taken in the fall. After getting on the water in Sagus, we headed toward the eastern-most site and found it to be small and downfall was scattered around the site. We then settled on the southern site as there was a group at the other site. There really wasn't a landing at the site and we had to carry our gear up a hill into the site but once we got up there we realized the gorgeous view from the fire grate area. Plenty of nice space for the tents was also a plus to the site. We settled in for the afternoon, got in the water a bit, journaled, then continued our evening ritual of listening to the Twins game and eating dinner. Dinner was beef stew with rice as an added treat. It certainly hit the spot.


Day 5 of 10

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sagus to Boulder Lake

After perfect weather on our first four days, we woke up to light rain. We decided to wait it out a little but after about two hours awake in the tent, we decided to pack up and take off. Instead of our usual oatmeal, we decided we would eat the granola bars for breakfast to save some time. The portage out of Sagus to Roe was the first portage we had been on that qualified as lightly traveled and it was certainly overgrown but the trail was still pretty nice. The rain picked up on Roe and we felt a true sense of isolation and solitude on this lake. I had consulted the Beymer book on this area and was thankful to have read that the portage from Roe to Cap was not were it seemed on maps. After paddling into a swampy area a bit, we found the portage and we were surprised to see two guys coming the other way in such a remote area on such a crumby day. They had come from Adams and told us about the trouble getting from Adams to Boulder but told us that Boulder was completely empty. Having read about the 5-star on Boulder, we decided to go after it. The Roe to Cap portage was more overgrown than the last and had a couple downed trees to complicate things. While the portage was only about 50-60 rods, it seemed much longer. Once we got to Cap, we knew we were in remote territory. Looking at the map, we tried to figure out where the portage to Boulder was. The Beymer guide had mentioned two trails to Boulder and one to Legde and we finally found one on the south shore of Cap. We decided to double trip this one to make sure we were on the right path. After climbing a hill, then descending it, we wound up in a swamp with a somewhat noticeable foot path leading around the edge of it. We took it until it ended at some water that looked like it didn't really go anywhere. Knowing that we had to cross a random pond to find the rest of the trail to Boulder, we figured we were on the right path. We went back and got the rest of the gear and the canoe and we started to paddle around in this pond. We passed three of four separate trails leading north out of the pond and were glad we weren't trying to figure out where going coming from Boulder. We had to paddle about a quarter mile east on this pond and we finally found the path to Boulder. Again, not totally sure we were on the right trail, we double-tripped the portage. This path was surprisingly nice and the last 40 rods toward Boulder Lake were particularly nice. Bryce and I headed back for the canoe and the rest of the gear, and we all rested for a few minutes after completing a tough few hours of portaging. The weather on the radio said some showers were in the area so we decided to get to the campsite and set up camp before the rain came. The island campsite on Boulder really was five-star. There were probably 4-5 nice spots to put a tent, it had a nice landing, the camp was spacious, and the fire grate area sat on a nice rocky area looking out on the lake. Great site. After setting up camp, I got in a water for bit before it started raining. Some Uno occupied our time while a shower passed over, then it was Beef Stroganoff for dinner. The clouds cleared in the evening, and we found a nice rock point on the other side of the island. We spent a couple hours fishing, drinking whiskey, and watching storm clouds approach as the sun set. Then we settled in when the storms were getting close and went to sleep. A strong storm rolled through for about a half hour, letting off some loud thunder and a lot of lightning. Then it rained for most of the night.


Day 6 of 10

Monday, July 24, 2006

Boulder Lake to Kawishiwi River

We woke up to a nice morning after a night of rain and we decided to make a late start so we could let our gear dry out. The morning was spent re-organizing stuff and cleaning gear. It was hot this day, and we weren't quite prepared for how tough the trip would be to get into Adams Lake. We quickly found the entrance to the creek between Boulder and Adams, and after carrying over some rocks, we were able to put the canoe in for a short time. We were all looking for the first 20 rod portage but we were forced to stop short of it thanks to no water. We started carrying all the gear along the bank of the swampy creek until we had to carry across a small pool of water. It was in this pool that I slipped with the huge granite gear pack on my back, soaking myself. Not fun. Shortly following this pool, we hit the 20 rod portage which led to a dried up creek so we carried along the bank of the creek until we were able to put-in the creek. The creek was much like the Kawishiwi River right after leaving Kawishiwi Lake, and we were kind of paddling and kind of pushing our way through the muck until we hit an area of shallow water where we had to get out and push the canoe and jump from rock to rock. After this, we had a series of about three beaver damns we had to carry over to get into Adams Lake. Paddling on open water was a breeze and we cruised across Adams to the portage into Beaver Lake. We had lunch at the portage between Adams and Beaver, which was really pretty. Beaver Lake was also pretty and looked to have a nice site as you turn south to go toward the portage into Trapline Lake. The campsite on Trapline didn't look too appealing and we continued toward the Kawishiwi River. The portage started about 20 rods early due to low water and a beaver damn, then we hit the actual 60-rod portage which took us to a landing that was too shallow to put-in the canoe. We walked the banks a bit to find a suitable place to get in the river before we decided to just walk out the canoe and our gear until it was deep enough to paddle, which was about 20 rods out from the landing. Long story short, the portage with low water was probably more like 80 rods with a shallow landing on south end of the portage. We quickly paddled to one of the island sites on the Kawishiwi that we had passed on our second day as we traveled toward Fishdance Lake. We were greeted by a skull and bone someone had found at the campsite. The campsite was pretty big and had a good spot to put the tent. There was a surprising amount of traffic on the river that afternoon coming from the Malberg area, headed west. The Twins beat the White Sox in Chicago that night, and we listened to the game after some Sweet and Sour Pork for dinner. Some more whiskey was had and we hit the tent after the bugs became too unbearable.


Day 7 of 10

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Kawishiwi River to Kawishiwi River

Worn out from the past two days of tough travel, we decided we didn't want to push all the way up to Makwa Lake with all our gear, so we chose to move camp to the last campsite west on the Kawishiwi before Kivaniva Lake. It was a quick trip over, just a few miles of easy paddling, and we were glad to see the site was open. After finding the campsite to have only one bad tent pad, we went over to Kivaniva to check out the lake but decided we would rough it out on the Kawishiwi site. Despite the tent pad, the site was pretty nice. After setting up camp, Bryce and I tried to fish but still couldn't catch anything. We all decided to take a swim and soon discovered a big boulder that looked perfect for a little jumping. We scoped out the depth in front of the rock and none of us could hit bottom when we tried swimming down, so we decided it was safe. Thus our afternoon was shot, as we jumped into the river for a few hours. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon after a few tough days. Dinner was chicken stew, which went well with another Twins victory over the White Sox.


Day 8 of 10

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Day Trip to Makwa Lake

Since we chose not to travel up to Makwa with all our gear, we planned to take a day-trip up to Makwa on this day. With the day pack and lunch, we headed up to Makwa and it was nice to travel with just the canoe and no heavy packs and extra gear. The portage from the Kawishiwi to Kivaniva had a nice trail except for an awkward downed tree in the middle of the portage. It was a short paddle across Kivaniva to the portage into Anit Lake. This portage was rocky on the Kivaniva side, but was otherwise short and easy. Another quick paddle had us across Anit Lake to the portage into Pan Lake. This portage was really intreresting as it starts along a swampy bog area, then enters a wooded area, crosses a dried up stream, then ascends into Pan Lake. We decided to let Bryce take a stab at paddling the stern across Pan Lake and I tried out the bow. After a lot of zig-zags, we finally made it across Pan and headed up to Panhandle Lake. The 55-rod portage had some downed trees and was pretty narrow but was fairly easy. Panhandle is a small lake so we were quickly out of the canoe again and portaging to the no-name lake ahead. This portage had about a half dozen downed trees and then had a tricky landing on the north end. After navigating the portage and small lake, we were on the 60-rod portage into Makwa Lake. This portage was also fairly easy.

Here is where some context is helpful to the reader. Drew and I are both pretty tame. We aren't dare-devils, and left to our own devices, we wouldn't take any big risks, especially in the Boundary Waters. Bryce is the opposite. He is a performer and tthrives on taking risks and entertaining others, even at the cost of doing stupid things at times. So, we paddled into Makwa and got out past a point on our left which revealed a huge cliff. The only word out of Bryce's mouth was "YES." I was already getting worried he was going to want to try the cliff yet we still paddled over to the campsite adjacent to this cliff. The people we had talked to were right. There was a great rock to jump off into the lake, better than the one at our Kawishiwi site. The water was also very clear so we did some jumping for a bit, then Bryce forced us to at least scope out the cliff to see if we could jump off of it. We got back in the canoe and paddled toward the cliff. Once at the base, Bryce jumped out and swam down as far as he could go, not touching anything. Then I tried the same and couldn't touch or see anything below. It was obviously deep, but how deep? We didn't know. Then we decided to walk up to the top and examine it from there. The water was clear and we could see nothing but water below. We were confident we were safe to jump with life-jackets. Bryce said he would go first and Drew and I said if he jumped we would follow. Being scared of heights, my hands were all clammy and I had to pee really really bad. We decided to pray before jumping and Drew, who was about to start seminary, led us in prayer. Then Bryce walked slowly toward the edge and jumped off, screaming on the way down. Drew and I were relieved when Bryce came back up with a yell. Then I walked toward the edge, looked down quick, and jumped off. Normally when you fall it is over quick, but about halfway down, I got that feeling of "wow, i have a lot further to go" and I felt like my stomach was rising and that I was starting to fall faster. Then I hit the water and just plunged down. When I came up, it let loose a scream from all the adrenaline. It was such a rush. Having watched us both jump, Drew followed and watching his face on the way down was priceless. Definitely the highlight of the trip. We each jumped one more time, Bryce without his life jacket even. Then we headed back to our camp on the Kawishiwi, where we spent the rest of the afternoon jumping off the boulder at our camp and relaxing. We had a dinner of ChiliMac and noodles for dinner and the addition of noodles to the ChiliMac was great. Best dinner of the trip. After dinner, we stayed out until the bugs were terrible, then we hit the tent. Just as we were dozing off, we heard what sounded like a woman screaming, whick spooked the hell out of all of us. We knew the closest sites were on Malberg, but that had to be a mile away. We heard it a couple more times, and it had us all assuming the worst. Considering it was dark, there was no way we were going to check it out. So, it took me a while to get to sleep but, eventually, I did. Creepy way to end an awesome day.


Day 9 of 10

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Kawishiwi River to Lake Polly

We were still a little on edge in the morning, but the sleep had knocked some sense back into us and we weren't imaging the worst. We ate breakfast and packed up camp before setting off toward Malberg. The goal today was to head back to Polly, where we spent the first night of our trip. Getting to the portage into Malberg was a little tricky as it was shallow and strewn with rocks, but we got to see a deer take off after seeing us. The portage was easy, rising slightly, then falling into Malberg Lake. As we paddled, we looked toward the sites to see if there was group around but we didn't see anyone. All the sites were open and we were still hoping to figure out what had happened the night before. Our first clue of a couple possibilities came when we paddled up on a group of about 8 loud guys skinny-dipping in the lake, who told us there was another camp of girls with them across the lake. They could have make the racket we heard. Our next clue came after we got to the end of the portage out of Koma Lake south to the Kawishiwi River. There we came across a large group with a bunch of little kids. They had been staying on Malberg the previous night, and they would stay near us on Polly this night. After listening to the kids screaming that night on Polly, we thought this was probably the screaming we heard that scared the s$%^ out of us. You could tell we were getting closer to the popular Kawishiwi Lake entry point as we saw lots of groups while we traveled back to Polly. One father who was on a day trip with his son and was camping on Polly, warned us that Polly was very crowded and we might not find a site. He also remarked "I'm surprised they don't have telephone booths on that lake." After crossing the short portages leading back to Polly, we headed toward the closest campsite and Polly and found it open. We were even more surprised to see how nice it was after getting to it. It had three different areas to accommodate tents, each with nice pads, and the site was spread out nicely. We had covered a decent amount of ground quickly, so we had the afternoon to relax. While eating dinner, we started talking about how we had another easy day ahead of us as we planned to stay on Square Lake the next night to complete our ten nights in the wilderness. We finally decided to just head out, knowing that when we got to Square, we would not want to set-up camp and take it down again when we were only a couple miles from our exit. We were all ok with this. While it cut a night off our trip, we thought we had done the best we could to plan our route on the fly. After dinner, we got everything ready to go for the next day and played a last few games of Uno. We slept well, despite the loud kids nearby.


Day 10 of 10

Friday, July 28, 2006

Lake Polly to Kawishiwi Lake

We got up early and were on the water by 7:30. Polly was like glass at that hour and paddling across it was a joy. We moved quickly, just gliding across the lake. Almost all the sites were taken, and only a couple people were awake, from what we could see. Watching the smoke rise from a morning campfire as we paddled across Polly reminded me what a great experience camping in the Boundary Waters is. The first portage from Polly to Townline went well, as we single portaged. We had to wait for a group to clear the portage to Kawasachong after the quick paddle across Townline. This portage, 190-rods, was a bit more of a challenge on the way out as we were traveling uphill. We got it done in one trip though, which was a nice bonus. Kawasachong was also full as we paddled back toward the Kawishiwi River. Once in the river, we were greeted with the low water we had on the way in. The water between the two portages before Square Lake were now one, as groups had worn a path through the swampy brush to avoid the low water between the portages. Instead of a 10-rod and 20-rod portage, it was on big portage of about 90 rods. The stretch of river from Sqaure to Kawishiwi Lake was still muddy and we were barely getting through paddling. Finally we reached the beaver damn, and this time we put the canoe back in the water properly. We all kicked it up a bit as we paddled across the last lake of our trip. At about 10:30, we reached the landing where we had started our trip.

After loading up the gear and cleaning off the canoe a bit, we made the long drive back down to Tofte and dropped off the canoe. Then it was off to Betty's Pies for a piece of pie, then to Grandma's in Duluth for lunch.

In all, the trip went great. Cliff-jumping was the highlight of the trip, and we all were proud of the work we had done traveling from Sagus to Boulder and then from Boulder to Adams. We had improvised a good trip and scene a lot of beautiful lakes and stayed at some great campsites (Sagus, Boulder, Insula). I only wish we had traveled from Cap over to Makwa so we could have stayed there for a night. While we saw lots of loons and bald eagles, we did not see any big game, like moose or bear. Great trip.


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