BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 02 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1497 feet
Summary: A 5-day loop from Baker up the Temperance lakes to Cherokee, and back through Sawbill and Smoke lakes back to Baker. A fairly difficult trip.
Day 0: We drove up from Stillwater in the morning and camped at one of the 5 walk-in campsites at Baker Lake, and it was nice.
Day 1 (Baker to S. Temperance) - A beautiful day, we decided to paddle all the way to South Temperance the first day which was a great paddle with easy portages except for the last one. We picked the campsite on top of a huge rock that was close to the middle of the lake. Tried fishing some but no luck
Day 2 (Rest) - In the night, we encountered the worst storm of the entire season. While we were there 19 people had to be rescued from the BWCA. We had about 50mph straightline winds, and I'm still surprised that the huge tent we had stood up to it. We slept in and took a rest day because of the intense winds. Amazingly beautiful sunset.
Day 3 (S. Temperance to Cherokee) - We left as early as we could to beat the heat, but it was no good. The lengthy, hilly portages were challenging and by the last portage we were pretty beat. We overpacked and single portaged which led us to speedier exhaustion. Still amazing weather. North Temperance was a beaut- I wish we had stayed there instead of South. We took the southeasterly facing campsite on Cherokee on the southeastern skinny island. Neat little site.
Day 4 (Cherokee to Sawbill) - Left a little later in the day but it was ok. We took our time going down the river letting out of the southwest part of Cherokee and it was a great area. BEWARE: The area between Ada and Skoop Lakes appears to be floatable, but a dam built recently has made the portion impossible to float. Be prepared for a long portage through muck and water. A guy that we saw there said he had been going to the BWCA for 40 years at least once per year and it was the worst portage he had ever seen. By the time we got to Sawbill it was pretty hot. We paddled all the way down to the site next to the portage onto Smoke.
Day 5 (Sawbill to Baker) - Cooler, cloudier weather for the first time on the trip. We were pretty hungry (I underpacked food a little and I felt really bad) and we were taunting each other with vivid descriptions of the burgers we were going to eat ASAP after getting out. We paddled back to Baker and returned our gear to Sawtooth outfitters.
Overall great route.
Baker Lake Solo
April 22, 2010
Number of Days:
After a long day of work, driving and getting lost and paddling I am at my first night’s campsite on Kelly Lake. I had quite a day with getting out of work early and driving up alone. Passing the Baker Lake campground because I thought it was just the campground and not the lake put me in a predicament about whether to turn around or not but I’m sure glad I did.
My portage through Baker was easy enough but the water level leading into Peterson Lake is so low that I had to maneuver around two areas before I could get into the main channel of the lake. My canoe has some new battle scars to attest to the low water levels.
Once I was in I was greeted by a fly over of 5-6 ducks (not sure which species) but one flew directly over head only about 20 feet in the air and it was a nice treat. Naturally I didn’t have my camera out. I saw a wood duck too but same problem.
I mistook the 3 rod portage in Peterson to be simply low water levels. I tried paddling as far west as I could and gave up. Paddled east past the massive boulder field to an area I could do a simple pull over. And that’s what I did. A little tricky walking through the faster running water but I made it.
Not happy I left my kayak paddle at home. I think I could be making much better time with it versus the canoe paddle. I just don’t have the J stroke down and I am fighting just to keep the canoe in a straight line. Thankfully it is a mild tailwind so it’s not all bad. But, I was absent minded and left the kayak paddle at home so the canoe paddle it is.
Paddling through Kelly I notice the blow down area on the eastern shore. Figure I would like a picture but I’m past the area before I can get a decent shot.
I kept looking for campsites but couldn’t seem to find them. I think I spotted the peninsula site but I was not in the mood to stop so soon.
I got to the north end of Kelly Lake and decided to take the northern most camp site by around 6:15. I’m not sure my clock on the camera is set properly so I’m going to guess it is an hour slow and call it 7:15. It was getting towards dark and I thought it would take too much time to portage onto Jack and paddle it. I had wanted to camp at the northern most camp site on Jack!
I probably had the time but I’m not fond of landing a canoe in the dark. I found that out after a late night paddle on the crow river this year almost turned disastrous and setting up a tent in the dark is not a lot of fun either.
I really don’t care for this site as it is poorly maintained by previous visitors and there is really nothing nice about the site. The view isn’t really that great. People have cut down trees all around. The tent area is small and too close to the fire grate. However, it will have to do for tonight.
The tent setup really easy even though it’s been a while since I last used it. Hardest part is finding a flat spot. Second hardest part is getting the stakes in the ground. At least I found a relatively level site for the tent. Really wish I could spend the money on the hammock tent I would like. No more worries about a flat spot after that. >
I’m on North Temperance Lake now and I just finished cleaning up a bit after eating my lunch of Mountain Lake lasagna. I had quite a day getting here a lot harder than I wanted it to be. However, I feel good and with a sense of accomplishment having traveled over so many obstacles.
My original plan was to be on Cherokee Lake today but I changed plans. The water levels have me worried about portaging through Ada and Skoop Lake so I’m stopped here.
I woke up to very cold temperatures this morning. The water in my filter bottle was pretty solid and my Nalgene bottle was 1/3 ice as well. The fuel canister on my stove seems rather reluctant to burn so I will skip the hot chocolate and hot meal.
Didn’t sleep well last night, my legs and feet were cold by about 2:00 am. I was too lazy to get out of the tent and get my long johns out of the pack. That was a mistake, leaving my spare clothing in my pack. Eventually I went back to sleep but lesson learned; at least bring them into the tent.
Just killed a mosquito and that made me feel good!
Got packed and up before sunlight hit my campsite on Kelly Lake. Did the quick portage to Jack not before stepping on my cheap sunglasses and cracking one of the lenses. I forgot my life vest at the portage on the entry to Jack. Don’t know what’s going on there. My life vest and I are playing return to the portage and come get me! At least all I had to do was paddle back to get it.
Not sure of the time but I think the camera clock is on standard time. It said I got up at 5:25 and I’m pretty sure it was 6:25 by my internal clock. Once I was back on Jack with my life vest I had a confusing paddle. Wasn’t sure I was going in the correct direction to the narrows or not. I should have had my compass out as later in my journey it was nice to have it reassure my general direction. However, going north it wasn’t too hard to find my way.
I never didn't see any of the campsites on Jack Lake that I can remember. Saw one area I thought should be a campsite but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t feel like getting out of the canoe to check. Eventually I found my way to the Weird Lake portage but not before I had to cross over a beaver dam to get to it. Not a hard pull over but being alone I was a bit concerned about getting wet.
It was while I was getting ready to portage into Weird Lake that I realized I was having fun! Man did that make me feel good. I was concentrating so hard on taking it easy and being safe that I almost forgot why I was up there. I will have to make a point of reminding myself next time.
The portage at Weird was very scenic with the morning sunshine lighting things up. The water going through the large boulders, the fallen tree and the view of the portage end really struck me as nature at its finest. I took lots of pictures but I’m not sure the borrowed camera did it justice.
Onto the portage and of course a pine tree is blocking the path. Oh well, guess I will double portage this short section. No need to break my back so early, plenty of longer portages ahead.
Made it over to the end of the portage and what awaits me, another beaver dam. Yea! What more can a guy ask for in an adventure. I think that is number three beaver dam since I think I forgot to mention the one just on the south side of Jack Lake.
Looking over the sole campsite on Weird I can’t say it’s much to write home about. But at least a person would have that beautiful area on the portage to get familiar with.
Paddled Weird Lake and I enjoyed that small lake with its grassy area off to the west. I would have liked to stay at that campsite on Weird just to check out the lake some more if I had the chance. Not a great site just a nice location if you don’t get a lot of traffic portaging through.
I paddled up to the 80 rod portage into the unnamed lake are prior to the South Temperance Lake portage. Didn’t care for the 80 rod portage but it was doable and made it in a single trip. After getting onto the water of unnamed lake, you guessed it I had another beaver dam to pull over! At least I didn’t leave my life vest on shore. Guess I won that game.
Paddled unnamed lake and enjoyed the grassy area you have to paddle around to the west. Way too short a paddle before the big one. It’s getting pretty warm when I reach the 240 rod portage to South Temperance. Stripped down to shorts and a t-shirt and put everything away and get it all secured for the portage.
I got going but boy was I hot and thirsty on this portage. I trudged while taking care where I stepped while trying to enjoy the scenery. I liked the short board walk and was grateful for the forest service putting those down. I didn’t stop at the somewhat dangerous boulder step around near the swamp. I wouldn’t want to have to step through there on a rainy day.
About 2/3 of the ways to the end of the portage near South Temperance I ran into a downed tree. Just high enough that I can’t step over and just low enough I can’t step under either. I gladly put the canoe over the tree to take a short rest and ponder how I would do things. Easy enough, I hiked up slope and stepped over the tree with my pack on. Hope I didn’t pick up a dozen wood ticks in the process. Grabbed the canoe and was on my way once I got it up on the pack uprights.
I was really feeling tired and worn out by now and the end of the portage couldn’t come soon enough. Finally, I saw the end and boy what a welcoming site at the portage end into S. Temperance. Beautiful boulder area to take in the lake! Nice view, I could have stayed there I liked it so much at the time.
I gently put the canoe down as best I could while trying not to slip. A bit of a breeze off the lake to cool me down but just not carrying my gear is doing that. I got out my water filter bottle and refilled at the lake. Boy did the water taste great and refreshing.
I was stepping over the canoe to sit when a gust of wind came off the lake and nearly pulled the canoe into the lake. Glad I was right on top of the canoe at the time. Have to be more careful about where I put the canoe as even rocks are slippery with a little wind.
Paddled through South because I didn’t much care for the scenery and I was on a mission. Also, I’m sure in time South will look nice but for now there is nothing special about the lake other than the numerous islands and coves. I would make it to North Temperance now that it was within my sights.
Found the North Temperance portage after some hunting by water. At least I went the right direction and was in the right cove with no back tracking on this trip so far.
The portage seemed farther than it was because I was tired. Then hallelujah I was there! No more portaging!
Stopped at the first camp site on the south end and didn’t much care for it. I’m sure it was once a very nice site but with the tornado there were quite a few trees blown down. Loved the landing though, real nice and easy to get in and out of the canoe.
I paddled and found the second camp site way sooner than I thought I should. So I passed by the site without getting out. It didn’t look like much from the water. Thought to myself that maybe there were more than 3 sites on the lake.
My mind was set on camping on the island camp site so I paddled to the north end of the lake. Passed a loon in the channel between the mainland and the island but couldn’t find the campsite. That lifted my tired spirits. It turns out the campsite is on the east side of the island and not the west as the map seems to point out.
I was disappointed by how small the site looked from the water. I’m sure I should have gotten out and scouted the site but I was tired by then and didn’t feel like it. So I paddled back south to take either site 1 or 2.
By now the wind was picking up from the south. I was tired and I didn’t appreciate paddling into it. I stopped at the second site this time and got out for a look. Found that I really liked the 2nd site and and made it my home.
Got up fairly early today but I didn't rush myself. I want to make sure I get things packed properly. Make sure I eat a decent meal so I have fuel for the numerous portages as well.
The lake is dead calm so I'm off to the portage. I was surprised how easy that portage was today. I thought I would be sore from yesterday but things went quick and soon enough I was on S. Temperance again heading back.
Naturally I stayed too far to the east and ended up in a cove where there was no portage into N. Temperance. Paddled around a peninsula and I was on the right course. Things looked a lot different this morning with the overcast and due to the fact I was heading back.
The landing at the portage didn’t look so spectacular on my way out. However, it sure looked good when I knew I was safe and sound at the right place. I took a deep breath when I got going on that 240 rod out of S. Temperance.
Things weren’t much lighter today but somehow with the lower temperatures, lack of sun and the fact I was well rested and fed the portage was easier today. I found my fallen tree at the 1/3 point and I knew what to expect. Moved on and took my time getting over the portage.
I was a little disoriented portaging for some reason, maybe since I hadn’t looked at the trail much on my way in. But I found reminders along the way that reassured me I was going the right way. At last I was at the end of the portage and unnamed lake looked good to me!
Taking a much need break on the portage from Jack into Kelly Lake (65 rods). Making good time and enjoying the day. Have to fuel up for the portage and paddle on Kelly Lake. The narrow strip before the portage is really low and I got hung up on the rocks in the water just like the first day. Just able to get through.
Finally made it to Baker Lake through the numerous rocks here in the channel. I'm just happy to have had a wonderful paddle back and a nice trip. Of course the wind has really picked up since starting this morning but I really can't complain that I have sunny skies and warm temperatures for this time of year it's awesome. This time I will launch from the official portage point and skip hauling stuff over the downed tree.
Always keep the sunglasses either on a granny cord around your neck or in a protective case. That way you don't step on them at the portage.
Single portaging with a kayak deck bag is a pain. An under the seat canoe bag that is strapped to the canoe would have been much better. Update: I purchased a Granite Gear "Original Stowaway" under seat bag just like my buddy has from years ago. Thwart bags get in the way when portaging. This just sits on the underside of the seat even when portaging. Nothing fancy and relatively cheap. I tried contacting CCS to see if they would make something like this but they never responded to my email. I guess I'm not a big enough fish.
I'm a kayak paddle man and always will be. I really missed not having my paddle and I especially missed it the first day when I had a tailwind and the last day when I had a head wind.
I brought too much food but at least this time I was able to pare it down this time. Real food with a mixture of dehydrated makes a world of difference. I love the Nutrilite bars my wife sells (sorry for the plug) and will bring them again.
Carrying magazines in a bag that gets wet is not the way to bring them to the woods.
Put sunscreen on before you will need it.
Big mosquitoes in the evening can sound just like flies. Never have seen them this big before but at least you can see them unlike the small sneaky ones!