BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 07 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 3
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 loop with a hole in the boat
June 12, 2010
Number of Days:
This day really started late Friday afternoon when John, Josh, Aaron, and Clayton arrived from Illinois to our organizational base at my friend Terry’s place. We all gathered for supper, compared notes and did last minute packing especially with the food pack. We also finalized that with four adult men and an 18 yr old and a 10 yr old we’d stick with two canoes. This left us seriously loaded which did have an effect on our travel in a couple of ways however we were able to over come any real troubles.
Saturday was an early start since we had a couple of stops before reaching EP 39 at Baker Lake - on the road about 4:30. We figure 5 hours to Duluth and made it right on the button. Construction was not a problem as we began up the coast to Two Harbors. Our permit was waiting for us at The Canoeist outfitters. We took time to chat with Mike Keller and met Lena, his dog. He told us about an old abandoned iron mine just off a portage trail we’d be using so we promised to search for it. Then we continued on to Tofte and Sawtooth Outfitters. Terry had purchased a used WeNoNah Champlain over the internet and we stopped to pick it up. We were now set to continue on to the EP.
We arrived at 1:30 and were quickly on the water. We had a “youth” canoe, an 18 ft We No Nah Kevlar49, which carried Aaron (18) in the bow, Clayton (10) as the passenger and Josh (30’s) in the stern. The Old Timers took the Champlain with myself (59) in the bow, John (62) as passenger, and Terry (66) in the stern. We were loaded in both canoes but the old guys rode much lower in the water and seem to stick to rocks a lot more. (Foreshadowing)
The first portage was only a 10 rodder into Peterson Lake but just past the portage we ran into trouble getting through some shallow rocks. Peterson was quiet and welcoming as we began our journey. The next portage of 3 rods was quickly behind us and we began to search for our site for the night . The first two sites were taken so we settled for the third one since it was just for one night. Not a great site with poor landing and most tent pads being small. We needed 3 two man tents and a 4 man tent and just barely fit them in. We had a good laugh trying to hang the food pack. There were no good trees so we tried hanging between two smaller ones and the more we pulled the rope to raise the pack the more the trees would bend. I think we were able to get it about 6-7 feet in the air. Not to worry since Yogi didn’t visit anyway.
We almost always start a fire to boil some water for coffee and oatmeal or other hot breakfasts. Even though we get on the water and moving pretty early. We were up at 5:00 and on the water at 7:30. The sky was overcast with misty fog hanging over the water but we were moving and establishing our rhythm for paddling. Basically it was the young bucks way out in front and us working to keep up but we weren’t too concerned.
As we approached the 72 rd portage into Jack Lake we decided to look for the mine that we had heard about earlier. Near the end of the portage there was the faint path going off to the west. We followed and did discover the mine! What a neat diversion. Apparently some guys started a mine to test the ore quality in the area. They shipped it out by dogsled. This mine didn’t have the quality ore they hoped for and it was abandoned.
Jack Lake gave us two memorable moments. As we approached the 12 rd portage into Weird Lake we found a moose out in the lake. The front canoe being far ahead got the best view and better photos but it was a really exciting surprise for all of us. The second moment was funny/sad/a little worrisome all in one. We came in parallel to the rocks to unload our canoe and John let out a shout “There’s water in the canoe!” We unloaded quickly and pulled the canoe up to discover we’d scraped a really sharp rock that “tore” through the Kevlar side just above the floor and right next to a support rib. Hmmm, second day out and a leaky boat! We dried it off and hauled out my camo duct tape and with a temporary patch in place (worked great) made it to the farthest west site on South Temperance Lake.
This site was again tight for us but there was a blow down area behind the fire grate that John squeezed his tent into. The site is elevated and turned out pretty comfortable for us even though there is huge evidence of cut and chopped trees that people have gone after for firewood. We had a chance to assess the damage to the canoe and we decided to use my McNett Seam Sealer as a patch. After allowing it to dry we put a layer of sealer on inside and outside. The next morning Terry used a super sticky piece of Velcro tape to cover the patch and we upgraded to silver duct tape to give it a final covering. This repair lasted the rest of the week and the canoe didn’t leak one drop. (Lesson learned to carry a repair kit in the future. This was the first time for our group using only Kevlar canoes and we found it can be damaged!)
We leave South Temperance Lake at 7:40 eager to make Cherokee Lake. We count about 18-19 or so campsites so figure our chances are good at what we have heard is a very popular lake. South Temperance into North Temperance was good traveling. As we left North Temperance it felt more like we were in a river than on a lake. Sitka Lake was a jewel. The sun finally started to peek through for the first time on our trip and the mirror smooth lake had a pair of loons waiting for us and watching every move.
Both canoes got a little turned around as we thought the portage was straight west across the lake but with some searching we headed more north and found the portage. Thus started the worst portage of the trip, at least for me. This 140 rod roller coaster is filled with some treacherous rocks and off balance steps to take. I chose to take two packs front/back on this one and sweated out foot placement many times. Cherokee Lake was an absolute beauty worth the effort it took to portage in. We chose to head directly west and took the site on the large island near the southwest corner. No site thus far had a good landing and this one didn’t either but that was about all I’d complain about. We found plenty of tent space, a fire grate we could easily hang a tarp over, a fairly flat kitchen rock near the grate, plenty of firewood nearby, and good trees for hanging the food pack. There is a nice shoreline rock that gave us some swim area and a place to sit and read while watching the loons and otters.
That evening Terry and I took his canoe out for an unloaded spin and found it to be a joy to cruise around in. Luckily for us the sun broke through with a vengeance as we headed clockwise around our island and continued past a string of islands to check out the other campsites. A stunningly calm and beautiful lake with some fantastic scenery welcomed us on a leisurely paddle. We got back just in time for sunset. Funny how at home we let sunsets come and go but this evening we all pulled up a rock on the shoreline and sat there to watch the setting sun. Best show on earth.
Layover day! Slept until 7 which is late for us. Again we wake up to overcast with a wind coming from the East/Southeast. Time to cook up a fantastic pancake and bacon breakfast which is so much better than the oatmeal or nutrition bar breakfast.
Rain is on and off as we plan to travel up Cherokee Creek and bushwhack into Cede and possibly Tent Lake. We battled the wind into the creek only to have the rain pick up and become steady. Out comes the rain gear. Somewhere about halfway down the creek there is a cool beaver dam. The right hand side was muddy and slick and we dragged the canoes quickly over and were on our way. Our crew made it through to Cede Lake before returning. The rest of the afternoon was spent resting, reading and being lazy. That evening during supper and beyond there was thunder to the S and W of us. A steady rain fell for a while which meant we packed wet tents again the next day.
Up early and off at 7:15. There was a promise of broken clouds and possible sun. Cherokee Creek was calm and pleasant. The beaver dam was an easy lift over on the right side again. Shortly after the dam we caught up to the other canoe that had come up on another moose so were sitting motionless. This was a bigger dude with better antlers and we had him up close and personal! We glided up and sat still until he got tired of us and moved on but what a thrill to be so close to such a large and powerful animal.
The portage in to Skoop Lake was hard on the legs and hips with a lot of up and down. My legs were feeling the effects of the portage into Cherokee Lake and a day of rest that only tightened everything up. Little did I realize we’d get a lot of help from Mr. Beaver as we moved into Ada Lake. The portage of about 100 rods was only a few rods long! With a beaver dam backing up the water we paddled right along the old portage and could see some of the boards used as bridging as we floated along. At the entrance to Ada we had another beaver dam but we were getting used to them by now.
Entering Sawbill Lake the loons were plentiful and noisy. We took the third site on the left which gave us a fantastic view of the lake! We enjoyed a rain free evening, had some fair breezes blowing away any bugs, and really enjoyed this site. Again there was no landing to speak of but we found plenty of tent pads and the view of the setting sun was incredible.
Again an early start (7:30) for which I am grateful. We came through Smoke Lake and as we entered Burnt Lake we took the elevated site on the right. We were in by 10:30 and so glad we found something. The lake was filling fast or already filled as we found out later. There was a huge elevated area surrounding the fire grate so we settled in comfortably. Josh took out the weather radio to catch up on the latest forecast and we found we were in for some potentially dangerous storms that evening. We strung a couple of tarps together, covered the fire pit well enough, and battened down the hatches. As the afternoon wore on it was breezy/windy and cool but the back side of our site was protected and gave us a place to jump off rocks into the lake and have a great time. Terry and I explored into Flame Lake and found it to be a beautiful little spot. As we came back to Burnt Lake we found the wind was stronger and some whitecaps were forming. Dark clouds were looming to the west.
We sat down to supper around 6:00 and were met with a shout from the north side of the camp. An older gent with a young man in the front of his canoe was there with another canoe filled with young women. He was checking for an open site quite late with a nasty looking storm bearing down on us. When he found this site taken he told us he’d take the site by the Flame Lake portage but Terry and I found no site there even though it showed one on his map. By this time the weather was getting darker and much windier. We tried to catch their attention to let them share our camp but they couldn’t hear us and didn’t look our way as they went past us at a distance and headed north up into the end of the lake. They never came back around for us to see again so we figure they either found someplace to hole up or someone let them into their site. We talked about this for some time wondering if we should have offered to let them in right away. Anyway it bothered us to find someone put themselves, and us, in that kind of situation. The guy was astonished to find out we’d been there since 10:30 and seemed less than realistic by showing up so late in the day to try and find a site.
We sat on the north side of our peninsula and watched a steady string of ugly looking clouds and lightning stream past us to the north. I ended up moving my tent because I didn’t like the looks of some dead trees but it was unnecessary since we only got some wind but mostly rain for the rest of the night. Before going to bed we took down our tarps and packed as much as we could anticipating a 6:00 departure the next morning.
An actual sunrise! The wind had dropped and it was a pretty nice morning. Since we had repacked a lot of our gear we had a cold breakfast and hit the water by 6:15. The 230 rd portage into Kelly Lake was muddy and the skeeters were active already but being eager to get home the long portage was soon behind us and we were soon at the 3 rod portage into Peterson Lake. We let John and a heavy pack off on shore and Terry and I maneuvered through the rocky little rapids. After picking up John I felt a large pang of sadness to be leaving as the sun began to burn bright and the water was smooth with easy paddling to see us off. Just before the 10 rod portage into Baker Lake we got hung up on some rocks in shallow water again. Both John and I were out of the canoe to help us through. Then, just like that we’re back at the EP and loading up to go home. We arrive at the EP at 9:00 and were back where Terry and I live just before 6:00 PM. Man, on Burnt Lake at 6 in the morning and home having supper with my wife 12 hours later. I loved this trip and fell in love with Cherokee and Sawbill lakes!
A couple of lessons learned or at least reinforced: 1. Bring canoe repair material. For some reason we didn’t really plan for it. I think with Kevlar canoes we must have thought they’d be indestructible and we found out the sharp rocks in the BW don’t care what your canoe is made of. 2. Continue to get up early and get moving on to the next destination. If you don’t find a site on the lake you wanted to stop on at least you give yourself time to continue on and still have luck finding something. 3. We had a lot more rain on this trip than others I’ve been on. This year I used a ground tarp to protect the tent bottom and an “innie” for the first time. Everything stayed dry so I like that arrangement but need to find a better material than clear plastic for the inside. It was like my gear and I were in an ice rink the way things would shift around in the tent. 4. If someone seeks shelter in your site with a storm bearing down don’t let them talk you into “well, we’ll find something over there” because they might be clueless as to what’s available and you could do them a real favor by letting them in. 5. The more you move toward the interior of the park the easier it is to find campsites. Last year on the Kawishiwi River it was a real struggle. This year wasn’t so bad. 6. I didn’t pack fishing gear and found that with the right mindset I didn’t miss it…much. The others in my group don’t fish so I found ways to stay busy with them and the time went by just as fast. 7. Check for dead trees before setting up the tent. Don’t wait until you see the weather could be bad.