BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 06 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1864 feet
Lizz & Swamp Lakes - 47
First Family BWCA Trip
July 04, 2015
Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Number of Days:
We arrived at Rockwood Lodge & Outfitters late in the afternoon after a relatively leisurely drive up the North Shore and a stop at Betty's Pies for lunch and pie.
We chatted with Mike & Lin about the area we'd be canoeing through when I remembered that board member Ducks asked me to say "hi". Mike immediately remembered who it was that paddled a tandem canoe backwards and had daughters with pink CCS packs. We received our permit, watched "the video", and headed off to the bunkhouse to unload our gear.
We explored Rockwood for a little while then left for dinner at the Trail Center which was very good. We spent a few minutes in the gift shop looking over the selections of "Camp Chow" and quickly added the cinnamon sugar fry bread to the food pack. With stomachs full we headed to the car only to be warned of our first wildlife sighting...a skunk. After giving a wide berth we headed to the bunkhouse for our last night in civilization.
We left the Rockwood landing around 7:00AM with the expectation to find a site somewhere on Horseshoe Lake. We had relatively little trouble navigating Poplar Lake and eventually found our way to the first portage into Lizz Lake.
We crossed into Lizz and encountered our first people of the trip who informed us that the first site on Caribou was available as they had just left a short while earlier. With knowledge that nasty storms were forecast for late Sunday evening I decided that a bird in hand was worth two in the bush so setup camp earlier than planned on Caribou.
After setting up camp, we headed out to try and get my daughters their first ever fish with some general information from Mike. I let them pick out their own lures with K choosing a pearl fluke and M a purpledescent scatter rap. It didn't take long for K and M to simultaneously hook into walleyes each. With both girls each having a fish I had to decide which to land first...so I chose the biggest one. Thankfully the fish cooperated and we successfully landed both. We invited the larger fish to lunch. Thinking we had found a nice hole, we continued to fish but these would be the only ones of this trip. I'm still thankful they were able to get their first fish.
The campsite on Caribou was large, flat, and open, but we didn't like the hike to the latrine through slippery rocks and a swampy area. The girls continued to fish from shore with M finally succumbing to a nice scenic nap.
We ate dinner and headed off to bed with the sound of thunder and clouds building to the West. The storm hit around 10:30 with strong winds, thunder, lightning, and heavy rain, but was soon enough over. Thankfully our daughters slept through the whole thing.
This day turned out to be fairly cold and overcast after the previous nights cold front came through. We spent the day paddling around Caribou Lake and fishing/trolling with no luck. It seemed strange that Caribou was empty in early July, but all the campsites we paddled by were available.
This proved to be the most difficult day of the trip for my wife as she has some difficulty keeping her hands warm. We had stopped at various stores looking for hand warmers before finding some at Sawtooth Outfitters. I don't think they'd ever sold a pair in July, but my wife was happy.
We settled down for a warm dinner of "Thanksgiving in a bowl" (foil chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes, and stuffing). Everything was devoured and with dishes cleaned we headed to the tent for various games of Uno, Farkle, and Go Fish. We pre-packed several items with the plan to head to Horseshoe Lake in the morning.
We left our site after a breakfast of bacon and Camp Chow fry bread (really good!). We made short work of the portage and passed through the first two sites that were open, hoping to find one of the peninsula sites. We headed first to the East facing site only to find it had been taken a few minutes earlier, so we headed to the West site that was conveniently open. It was fun to see the excitement of my daughters as they checked out the site looking for a good tent pad and nice fire area. With a positive report from them (and a quick double check from dad), we claimed the site as ours.
By now the girls and my wife were getting into the rhythm of this place: setting up the tent, inflating air pads and getting out the sleeping bags, hanging the gravity filter, looking for dry wood, etc. All things were done with excitement and a sense that they were helping the family.
After camp chores were done we broke out lunch (chicken salad wraps for the adults, peanut butter/jelly/nutella wraps for the kids). We were QUICKLY greeted by the resident chipmunk and mouse asking for scraps of which we were very careful not to give them anything.
My daughters helped my find dry firewood and K asked to help cut and split what we had brought back.
We left for an evening paddle down the East arm of Horseshoe as it heads into Vista. We encountered several beavers and the associated tail slaps which everyone thought was very entertaining. M did get a little nervous when she thought we got too close. Earlier in the trip we had thought about spending a night or two on Vista but we were told by two kayakers they had paddled through the portage. After seeing the water coming out of Vista, I believed them.
This day would be reserved for a short day trip to Allen Lake to target smallies (we need more fish!!) and general exploring. We left after a breakfast of pancakes and bacon and headed to the Northwest arm of Horseshoe to find the portage into Allen.
Before we could find the actual portage my daughters spotted a moose cow and two calves grazing in the shallow waters. The calves quickly made for the safety and cover of the shore while momma stayed in the water indifferent to our presence. We made sure to stay a safe distance back from mom/calves and enjoyed their company for quite some time. She ate lunch so we ate lunch.
Feeling that seeing a moose and calves was greater than any fish we may/may not catch on Allen, we headed back to camp. M was worn out so she took another nap, this time in the canoe.
I took my daughters out fishing in the afternoon while my wife enjoyed a nice quiet book back in camp. While fishing we saw something odd that I believe was a small water spout. With no luck fishing (we still had fun) we headed back to camp for our last dinner (mac and cheese) and night in the BWCA.
The morning broke bright and calm and we made our last breakfast of oatmeal and coffee/hot chocolate. We packed up camp, loaded our trusty Minnesota 3 and headed back to a much desired shower and clean clothes.
Caribou Lake had filled up since we had been through earlier in the week. The portages were a bit busier now as we waited offshore for a group to finish loading their canoes. We passed through Lizz Lake and officially exited the Boundary Waters. We did have a pleasant experience on the last portage when I encountered a gentleman happily carrying my last pack on his return trip, making my final portage an easy single carry. Thank you!
We marooned our daughters on a small rocky island on Poplar, which then led me to accidentally extend our trip with a wrong turn down the arm heading to the Meeds portage. Once going in the right direction we paddled hard for that nice hot shower and lunch at Trail Center.
We landed back at Rockwood and Lin eagerly greeted us asking my daughters how the trip was. They answered her with much excitement, especially when they were asked if we had seen any moose. Lin finally asked my girls if the wanted to come back. While I nervously waited for their response, they both happily answered they would love to come back! Dad for the Win!!
All in all my wife and daughters did far better than I had hoped. My wife now understands and appreciates why this place is so special. Quiet, no cell phones, no email, no distractions. Just family and doing things together.
This trip was purposefully geared toward their experience level. Just to get their "feet wet" in the BWCA was a success. To have a bit of everything this place has offer: fishing, beavers, loons, moose, blue skies and water, trees and even a storm blew away any expectations we had for this trip. We did learn that we would actually like more travel days and fewer layover days.
Notes: We planned the trip to have the girls single portage (daughters carried a small daypack, wife carried a Granite Gear Solo 35lbs) and me to double (canoe/CCS Explorer, CCS Pioneer). We brought 1 REI Flex Lite chair but wanted at least one more. Meals were kept simple, but we are really intrigued to try some of the Camp Chow meals. We did sample the berry cheesecake dessert that was very good. We need more hand warmers to keep my wife happy. Bugs/Mosquitos were not a factor on this trip but we came prepared with a Sea to Summit mosquito box to hang under the tarp if needed.