BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 19 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1864 feet
Lizz & Swamp Lakes - 47
Our family's first BWCA trip, EP 47 Lizz Lake
August 16, 2014
Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Number of Days:
We left from the Madison, WI, area around 6am for what Google says is an 8-hr drive. We kept a nice pace for the first several hours of the trip with a quick drive-through stop at McDonald's in the Dells for breakfast. We made it to Two Harbors around lunch time and let Amber pick Subway for lunch despite many more interesting options off Hwy 61. Just after Two Harbors, succumbed by the views and a pedestrian bridge over the Baptism River, we pulled over at the Tettegouche State Park rest area to stretch our legs and take in the sights of Lake Superior. This is a really nice park, and according to the videos in the visitor center/rest area, there is a ton to do in the park, including camping, paddling and hiking. We walked across the bridge, went down to the river and lake, threw some stones and took in some sun and nice views. We explored the visitor center, and Amber coveted some of the toys, while I was thinking about getting one of the patches. We didn't buy anything at the time but used the toys as a bribe for good behavior. We ended up stopping here again on the way back to let Amber pick out a small toy as one of her rewards for cooperating. After an hour or so, we headed back on our way to the Gunflint Trail. There was major construction along the trail, so we had some delays. With a quick stop in Grand Marais for gas, we made it to Rockwood Outfitters around 4:30.
We checked in with Mike and Lynn and Rockwood for our stay at the bunkhouse. They really are great people and helped make for a smooth trip for us. Amber was enthralled with the bunkhouse and seemed more interested in hanging out there than outside by the lake. We managed to coax her out for dinner at the Trail Center, which I have heard a lot about from others who have visited the Gunflint Trail. Amber and a couple other patrons saw a fox across the trail, but Lorraine and I missed it. After dinner, Lorraine was tired, so she went to bed while Amber and I played cards and dipped a line in Lake Poplar. I was worried that I would have trouble sleeping because I was excited and not used to sleeping on a bunk, but I got a good night's sleep. I think I got most of my jitters out of my system in the weeks leading up to the trip.
Sunday morning, Lorraine coaxed Amber and me out of bed just after 6 am. I felt pretty stiff and tried stretching out my kinks but had no luck. After showering and navigating the chaos of packing our stuff and trying to sort out which miscellaneous items would stay in the car and which would come with us, we were ready to load the boat and get going. Amber stepped outside to an unleashed pit bull whose owners had no ability to control him. Unfortunately, we would run into it and its careless, disrespectful owners on the portages. The morning was misty and chilly, probably not even 50 degrees F, and there was a SSE wind at about 10 mph. We got on the water just after 8am.
The paddle across Poplar was uneventful, and we found the portage to Lizz with no problem. We took our time as we were figuring out our routine. All of a sudden something rushes past me, and I notice it is the unleashed disobedient pit bull. Argh!!! I ask the group where they are going, and they tell me Gaskin, which means they will be taking the same route as us. We decided to take our time to let them get ahead of us. Apparently, we weren't slow enough as we ran into the group again. This time another group with two well-behaved dogs were coming the opposite direction, and the pit was being entirely aggressive with them. Fortunately, the owners of the pair had control over their dogs and ordered them onward without incident. This pit even jumped in someone else's boat. Some people! Anyway, the thing that struck me most about the trip to Horseshoe was how crowded and muddy the portages were. We've encountered fewer people on some of our state park camping trips. Anyway, people we encountered gave us encouraging news about open campsites, some of which they had just vacated. We were told the best Horseshoe site was the one on the Eastern side of the Southern peninsula. It was taken by the time we got there, so we took the Western facing site on the peninsula. We arrived right around noon, and after a quick break, we set up camp. I had quite a bit of lower back pain for the paddle in and was worried it would put a dampener on our trip, but my back improved, although I could never get rid of some kinks I had in my shoulder blade. We would end up base camping here as we weren't very excited about packing up and moving in the wet weather we had.
Amber was excited to get to camp, as I promised her one of the two gifts I had brought along if she cooperated on our first day of travel. She couldn't decide if she wanted the game or the toy, but ultimately picked the toy. She was incredibly excited to find I had brought along a $15 3-in-1 Lego. It earned me title of "Best Dad Ever" for at least a couple hours. We built the Lego vehicles and played Uno for entertainment.
We had nice first day, complete with good weather. After we set up, I was laying on the landing rock to work out my back ache, when I was surprised by a visit from a Forest Service Wilderness Ranger and a guy from the Conservation Core shadowing her. They were checking sites for maintenance needs and asking for permits. After a pleasant chat, they left us to our day. Lunch was quesadillas with foil- packed chicken, which tasted like tuna. I don't think I want to bring this chicken again. Dinner was cheese and summer sausage. We took a paddle on the southwest arm of Horseshoe, and we went to bed without a fire because we were all tired. We traveled about 7.5 miles.
I slept until about 7:30 on Monday morning, which was about ten hours of needed rest. Breakfast was oatmeal, sausage and cheddar cheese. Amber ate two strawberry-flavored oatmeal packages, which is quite amazing considering she usually doesn't even finish one. After breakfast, we took a leisurely paddle around the southeast end of Horseshoe looking for critters. We also took the portage to Vista Lake without the boat and ran into the ranger and her companion, and amazingly, she found a wedding band at the landing. Unfortunately, they had no news of good weather in the forecast. We returned to camp for lunch and had tortilla pizzas for lunch. This is one of my favorite camping meals, and it's pretty easy to make. Amber opted for a bagel with honey. Later, the rain rolled in and was pretty hard for nearly an hour. I looked out the tent to see 1-2 inches of water around, and the bottom felt like a waterbed. Fortunately, we had no leaks and only a little moisture seeped through. Maybe Cliff Jacobson is right that we should put an innie in the tent.
The weather stayed overcast with occasional sprinkles, but it was pleasant enough for us to not be stuck in the tent or under the tarp. Amber dipped a line in the water from shore, and we took a paddle to get some more water to filter. She stood up in the canoe, making it obvious she's getting more comfortable in the canoe. Hopefully, her comfort will not turn into carelessness. Amber has been singing a lot, especially when she goes to the tent to play by herself, but when asked, she claims everything is lame and boring. We know better, and I've been catching her saying "This is fun." We played a bunch of Uno and built some Legos. Despite everything being wet, I built a fire. It took my constant attention for an hour or so, but I managed to get a hot fire to burn away the remnants of the last campers who left the site in a less-than-desirable state. They left uneaten crayfish with meat in the fire pit and shells from the crayfish and pistachios all around camp. The fire pit was full of fairly large, barely charred logs as if they couldn't keep the fire going or dumped their crayfish boil right into the fire before leaving. People are such pigs. I enjoyed the fire and went to bed around 11. We traveled 3.5 - 4 miles Monday.
I slept another ten hours until nearly 9 am on Tuesday. The morning was wet, dreary and foggy.I had visions of waking up early to go fishing while out here, but I love sleeping so much, and my camp bed is incredibly comfortable. Amber also slept in late, giving Lorraine some time alone to soak in the wilderness. We missed two eagles fishing, although with one nested across from our campsite we had plenty of opportunity to watch it. Still, Lorraine got the best of the show from them. Amber polished off an apple cinnamon and a strawberry oatmeal, but I just wasn't hungry.
We took a day trip to Vista Lake, this time with the boat. Vista is a beautiful lake, and the portage from Horseshoe is not bad, but the landings suck. They are rocky and slippery and getting in and out of the boat is not so pleasant. We overshot the southwest campsite and headed to the southern-most one, which is a very nice site with incredible views. We had a snack-like lunch at the site, then moved onto the other site on the southern part of Vista Lake. This site leaves a lot to be desired and has a very steep landing. After looking around, climbing around and seeing the rusty artifacts, we headed back to camp. Amber earned her second bribe, a chess, checkers and backgammon camping game. Amber and I played in the tent for awhile, even making up some games. We had spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner, then I decided to take the boat out fishing. I spent about half an hour paddling around before I got my first bite, a ~12" walleye. I'm not much of a fisher, but I've taken a little interest for the first time this year. The one fish was enough to satisfy my fishing desire, but now I wish I would have tried for some more. It was my first fish caught from a canoe. Hopefully, I'll have many more. We skipped the fire, and we were all in bed by 9 or 9:30. We traveled about 4.5 miles on Tuesday.
Wednesday, we were all up early and on the water by 6 am to look for some critters. Amber has been desperate to see a moose, but unfortunately, we never got to see one. However, we did get a treat to see a family of beavers. We went to the SE campsite, back down to the Vista portage and back to We paddled to the northwest arm of Horseshoe and took the portage to Allen sans the boat. There's a rocky shallow section near the portage in which we got stuck, so be careful if your heading that way. We saw plenty of paint on one of the rocks, so we were not the first to hit it. Amber enjoyed playing on the rocks on the Allen side of the portage, and we took a bunch of pictures. We also followed a loon around Horseshoe Lake on the way back to camp. Dinner was garlic parmesan bannock with parkay squeeze butter. Amber went to the tent to play around 7 and amazingly crashed for the night. That almost never happens at home. I built a fire while Lorraine cleaned up camp, then we listened to the weather forecast on the radio. The forecast was not promising for Thursday afternoon nor all day Friday, when we planned to leave, so we floated the idea of leaving early if we had a window. We decided to wait and see. I watched the fire until about 10 pm before putting it out and heading to bed not knowing if we would be leaving in the morning.camp. Once again, Amber had two packs of oatmeal, and Lorraine and I had hash browns and Spam. Amber and I dipped a line from shore, but it was not a good spot for fishing as the water is only a couple feet deep there. The morning was terribly overcast despite a forecast suggesting some sun, but we finally got treated to a few hours of sun in the afternoon. It was enough to charge some batteries for the phone, which I use for GPS, and the camera and to dry our clothes, much of which was wet due to the weather and muddy portages. The forecast was for more rain, so we decided to move the tent in preparation. We ate taco meat, beans and tortillas for lunch. Amber had ackaged buttery noodles (Knorr brand, which is similar to the Lipton ones). We paddled to the northwest arm of Horseshoe and took the portage to Allen sans the boat. There's a rocky shallow section near the portage in which we got stuck, so be careful if your heading that way. We saw plenty of paint on one of the rocks, so we were not the first to hit it. Amber enjoyed playing on the rocks on the Allen side of the portage, and we took a bunch of pictures. We also followed a loon around Horseshoe Lake on the way back to camp. Dinner was garlic parmesan bannock with parkay squeeze butter. Amber went to the tent to play around 7 and amazingly crashed for the night. That almost never happens at home. I built a fire while Lorraine cleaned up camp, then we listened to the weather forecast on the radio. The forecast was not promising for Thursday afternoon nor all day Friday, when we planned to leave, so we floated the idea of leaving early if we had a window. We decided to wait and see. I watched the fire until about 10 pm before putting it out and heading to bed not knowing if we would be leaving in the morning. We traveled about seven miles on Wednesday.
Thursday morning I got up around 8 am, hours after Lorraine as usual. The forecast was for rain most of Thursday and Friday with chances of thunderstorms, so we decided to pack up and leave early. We were packed and on the water just after 10 am. We arrived back at the outfitter shortly after 1 pm after a slight detour due to an overshot of Rockwood by paddling around (instead of between) the islands on Poplar. We showered, chatted with Mike and Lynn, bought some souvenirs and headed out around 3 pm. We stopped at Tettegouche to pick up a patch for me and a small memento for Amber, then we ate dinner at Betty's Pies. While waiting for dinner, I saw that the detailed forecast specific for the area in which we camped was much better than the general forecast we heard on the radio. Although it was a little disappointing to leave early, I think we made the right decision based on the information we had at the time. We decided to head home instead of possibly getting a hotel and doing some sightseeing as we had contemplated. We made it home around 1am.
Overall, I think we had a really successful first BWCA trip, and there's not too much I would change. Our food barrel was pretty heavy, so I might want to lighten the load a little by leaving out some heavy items. We didn't portage very far, but if we plan to go any farther, I think an ultralight kevlar canoe is in order. If I'm not a more experienced fisherman by the next trip, I will be tempted to leave the fishing gear at home, although it wasn't a great burden to carry it. We just didn't spend enough time fishing to justify it. Now, I look forward to planning the next adventure to new waters.