BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
November 29 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 - Moo-ing Mooses!
September 04, 2012
Number of Days:
We started out our journey on Sunday, Sept. 2nd. We visited some friends in Minneapolis and stayed at their cool, awesome woodland but in the city house overnight and celebrated a little Labor Day-ness with bags, ladder golf and horseshoes (I have never played before... and it showed). Waking up on the 3rd, we ate breakfast and continued on our way North.
Now, I should mention here that we have looked at: Bass Pro Shop, Gander Mountain, Cabella's AND R.E.I. for canoe portage pads and found NONE. Seriously!? Out of FOUR supposedly OUTDOOR "premier outfitters", not ONE had a set of portage pads? And 3/4 of those places were in Minnesota for crying out loud. Shame on you, outdoor-stores! Shame on you! Don't worry, I still love you, Bass Pro Shop.
In any case, we ended up renting a set at the Sawbill Outiftters in Tofte. According to Matt, they sucked, but I don't think any amount of padding was going to help a 3/4 mile portage's suckiness with an aluminum canoe. Mostly it was the bar on the back of the neck. Next trip, we'll have to invest in a curved yoke.
So on our way from Minneapolis we headed to Duluth on Monday, and stayed in a hotel downtown for that night. Duluth is only about 2:15 from our entry point, so we figured we could get there early on Tuesday.
Our hotel was nice, but the surrounding town was a little interesting. The first 2 North-South streets of downtown are really quite classy, but a little further West things get a little questionable... and by questionable, I mean NOT classy. But not worry, we survived.
There is a tasty pizza place there, I can't remember what it's called, but I could drive there if I had to. They had KILLER spinach artichoke dip. I could eat it forever. I mean that. Wholeheartedly.
We woke up about 5:30 Tuesday (D-DAY) and drove North to Tofte :) After stopping at the Ranger Station to get our official copy of our entry permit and watching this very educational video (if you've got no brain what-so-ever about environmental protection) we stopped at the outfitter to grab those elusive portage pads; we also picked up some water purifying tablets (more on that later) and a $55 can of bear spray which lasts 7.2 seconds... worth it? I think not, but Matt stashed that baby right next to the tent door. Every. Night. (According to Backpacker magazine, one of the top 10 things to know as a backpacker is if you sight a bear in close proximity, grab the bear spray, not your camera)
Baker Lake EP 39 is our starting destination. I never knew they made gravel roads 30 miles long... but they do. We took this from Tofte to our entry point lake.
When we stepped out of the car to unload our stuff at the lake, you're hit with the most amazing smell of fresh pine needles. I'm not being sarcastic this time. It was awesome. The air was so clean, tingley on your skin. I felt all my surely present pre-cancer cells leaving through my lungs in one breath.
While loading up the canoe, I was a little concerned, because I had one of my random bouts of dumping syndrome and had to run to the hole dug in to the ground surrounded by plywood latrine several times. I really was worried I might start off the awesome fresh journey with a dirty pair of pants. But rest assured, as usual, this only lasted a few minutes. Soon we were off... and this is what we were greeted with...
After slicing through butter we reached our first portage. It was a really rocky landing and take-off, and I'm sure someone could make a small fortune mining aluminum off of the rocks up there. Here I may talk about our canoe...
We borrowed my parents' 1977 Alumacraft canoe... 65# was the stated weight - not too heavy but pretty hefty when compared to one of those lovely Wenonah Kevlar canoes...
**side note: i just spilled pop EVERYWHERE***
Anyway, we so endearingly refer to the canoe as "The Beast". Here she is in all her glory, loaded up.
Our first day, we traveled from Baker Lake, to Peterson Lake, Kelly Lake and then up the Temperance River where we camped at the campsite just before a portage to Jack Lake.
This campsite was open and exposed to the elements, which at the time, seemed like what we wanted... and then it stormed in the evening.
Although in the open was probably not the smartest/best idea, it was pretty spectacular. The lightening was giant and the thunder deafening. If you've ever watched fireworks on a lake, you know how the sound rebounds off of the trees... This thunder rebounded off of the trees back and forth and back and forth. So loud and constant!
There was a gust of wind that hit, and we almost had to put the fire out. There is already a forest fire near Ely (which is the West side of the BWCA), and we didn't want to be responsible for another. But the storm passed, we ate our drowned camp pizza, and all was well.
We tried alittle fishing while we were at this campsite, we didn't catch anything... The water must be too shallow. That's it. I got fooled a few times by the lilly pad stems in the water. I thought for sure I was getting bites... nope. And that lasted about 10 minutes too... not one of my most intelligent moments.
The next day we loaded up the canoe, ventured about 100 ft. downshore to the portage, and unloaded the canoe again. Hiking through the portage with our two backpacks, the food toddler (which would be a food baby by the end of the trip) and the Beast, we made pretty good time... mostly because the portage was quite short. 72 rods... 1 rod is 16 feet... so 72 rods is 16x72 feet. You do the math, I don't have a calculator handy. We guessed about 1/4 of a mile? Maybe slightly less.
From that portage we did Kelly Lake with another small portage to Weird Lake which then went on a weird snake shaped unnamed lake to the mother of portages of this trip... it was Matt's favorite! 240 rods... we calculated it to be a little over 3/4 mile. He loved every minute of hauling the Beast from one end to the other... during this is when I took most of my mushroom photos... While I was helping of course. I carried my backpack all the way through and the food toddler about 1/4 of the way...
I found some gem-studded puffballs (unknown of their identity at the time)... I wish I had know that's what they were since they're supposedly quite a treat!
Once we finished with that little dream of a portage, we arrived at South Temperance Lake, a pretty large lake compared to the others we had been traveling, but nothing compared to Brule Lake towards the East (we did not plan to travel there this trip, maybe next time?). Although this lake was rather large, there were only four campsites available. We set our hearts on one and headed that direction.
As we approached our desired destination, Matt noticed some green tarps already set up there. BOO! Someone had already taken that campsite. We looked northward to the next. At this time, we noticed the wind had picked up and some pretty intimidating clouds were moving in... double BOO!!!
To our dismay, the campsite to the north was taken AND the one to the west of it. Our only hope was to the west (close to the Brule portage) and that wasn't too promising. Brule is also an entry point into the boundary waters... entry points equal more people, so the odds are against us... this was pretty frustrating since it was quite a haul to get to this lake (remember the 240?).
It wasn't getting any less windy, and now the navigator was getting a little disoriented with all of the islands on the lake... the navigator being me. On the north campsite shore there is a guy waving at us, and screaming something... while I'm sure it's a good gesture or even an offer of shelter for the storm, it didn't seem wise to row against the wind to say "hi". We continued east to our last hope and stumbled across a canoe with a couple men in it, they were unsure if the campsite was open, so we paddled onward - they also directed us to where the campsite should be (since my disorientation had my confused).
Seeing a small tunnel in the treeline with no canoe stashed away in it was a relife. We pulled in, and would you know, it didn't even rain. LAME. All that frantic paddling for nothing. In any case, we were happy to be in. It was getting late in boundary waters terms and we needed to get our camp set up and dinner going before dark came. We tried to fish here too... for some reason, these BWCA fish don't like us.
This campsite was kind of poor, in my opinion (or perhaps it's the way it was left). Some idiot decided it would be a good idea to skin fish on all sides of it, as well as in it. I kept smelling rank fish.
"Oh great" I think to myself. "I smell like a giant peice of beef jerky. I'm sure the bears will love that!"
Contributing to my bear-alluring smell of beef jerky, I thought it'd be a fantastic idea to wash/dry my tanktop in the smokey breeze, as well as my pants. Yep. A ripe, delicious, walking peice of beef jerky. Come and get me bears!
We filled up on tasty campfire curry and went to bed. When the sun came up, I was shocked I hadn't been mauled to death. And neither had our food bag, which, by the way, was the source of most of our husband-wife quarreling. You'd think finding a tree among millions to hang a food bag would be easy, but it wasn't. Finding a tree with an outstretched limb high enough (but not too high) to lift the back 10-12 feet, but not within 5-6 feet of the trunk (or another around it) was really difficult! And then our food bag (which was really a dry Ascend bag from Bass Pro Shop) was so heavy we were concerned the handle wouldn't hold up on the back, so we had to craftly put the rope around the back like a Christmas present for more support. Who knew!?
So morning came, our food bag was unharmed (good! we wouldn't starve to death!) and no bears came for my beefy jerky body. We set out back towards Matt's favorite portage since it was now that he tells me he'd like to be able to watch the Iowa/Iowa State game. We did the portage and set out back to Jack Lake for a campsite there.
On the way we spoted Henry, the bald eagle. He just starred and starred at us... not moving, not flinching. His friend was also high up above in a tree across the lake. They are huge. And scary looking. I feel like they were stalking my beef jerky-ness.
On the portage trail (yes the long one!) we saw several moose tracks. HUGE tracks. I can't imagine how they get around in the woods as thickly grown as they are... but then I think... if I was 2000 lbs. I'm sure I would just plow everything over. This makes sense. I'm sure that's what they do.
The Great 240 went a little better today. Instead of hauling the canoe over at one time, Matt brought the canoe in 1/3 way, then went back for his backpack and brought that halfway, then went back for the canoe, so he had some breaks along the way. Prior to this, we had rigged the paddles in under the back seat with our camp tarps, which Matt discovered on this portage day that they actually were causing some balance problems and making it harder. After adjusting those, the portage went much smoother as well.
After we finished the monster portage and headed out down Weird Lake, Matt spotted a few otter on Jack lake just before the campsite we had picked out on the map the night before. They quickly scampered off in to the woods before I got a good look at them, though. Definitely no time for a picture. But... I did get some scenery :)
We loved the Jack lake campsite. It was on a penninsula and very breezy. I like sleeping when the air is really cold, so this suited me well. This day ended up pretty chilly, tomorrow as well, actually. We tried fishing some more, off on and on for the rest of the day really... nothing. Not even a bite. What the hell!?!
The dinner for this night was Velveta Shells and Cheese. YUM. Also tried to make these "cake orange" things too. You cut the top off of an orange and eat the insides (really difficult to do if you've ever tried it). Then you fill it with cake batter (we just used pancake mix). Replace the top and over the fire they go. Pretty much I think they'd have worked a lot better if we only filled them 1/2 way. Filling them to the top caused them to spill out when they batter rose. But they still tasted fantastic.
This place had the best tree for food bag hanging by far! It took a few throws to get the rope over the branch we picked out, but it was perfect.
This site and the next we have picked as favorites, and will probably go to them again at some point. Maybe I will have to hit Alex up for some fishing tips before then though... I had really wanted to try Northern Pike but didn't ever get the chance.
When we woke up, again untattered by a bear, we ate our eggs and bagels. We had these every morning except the last. The eggs, of course, came from our backyard ladies (which are enjoying their "cage free" time this afternoon as I write this).
Today would be a short travel day. We spend the majority of our time at the campsite on Kelly lake (northern most). This campsite was our FAVORITE. We chopped a lot of wood, played extensive adult fort building, and fished some more (unsuccessful, yet again). It drizzled on and off, but it was still enjoyable. We had set up a lean-to tarp with our chopped wood as the back wall, when the drizzle came, we hopped in there and drank apple cider while Matt read a book outloud. Story time :) This is how he put me to sleep every night. Loved it! (Don't speak, haters!)
It was at this campsite that I will be returning for the King Bolete mushroom I found!! Had I known what it was at the time, I'd have snarfed that puppy right down! According to my "Mushrooms of North America" book, these are CHOICE eating, and the one I found was HUGE! Coulda fed the both of us. Better than steak.
Also, the lake of Kelly must be quite moose-ful. All evening there were several moose calling/honking/mooing nonstop! It kept raising my hopes higher and higher that we might just even catch a glimpse of one, but all we got to see were their tracks and hear them. A little calling in the morning too... very interesting...
The trip back from that campsite to our car was pretty uneventful except for fighting over rock/boulder navigation.
That night, we slept in Cloquet so we could watch part of the Iowa/Iowa State game (go State!). Actually, we spent most of the time at the hotel watching TV and napping. So nice to be in a bed again, but sad really. We ate lunch and watched the first quarter and a half of the game and Applebee's. Neither of us wanted to come back to reality. It's a whole lot easier when all you have to do is make sure you have what you need to survive than paying bills and working.
And what trip would be complete without an epic DVD movie cover!?!?