BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 23 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1864 feet
Lizz & Swamp Lakes - 47
A Childhood Dream Come True
July 20, 2017
Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Number of Days:
My husband got out of work early, so we loaded the car, said goodbye to our two toddlers, and dropped them and our dog with Grandma and Grandpa. We left our little Northwest Iowa town by 10:30 in the morning.
We had a gift card for Cheesecake Factory, so we stopped at the one in Edina for a late lunch around 2:30.
After lunch, we did a quick Google search for a good donut shop and found YoYo Donuts. We grabbed some breakfast for the next morning there and continued on our way, making a lot of jokes about the name of the delicious smelling donut shop. It became a trip-long joke.
Because we didn't get out of the cities very quickly, we got stuck in rush hour traffic, significantly delaying our travel. We finally arrived at Rockwood sometime after 10:30 p.m.
There was a note waiting on the office door for us, with directions to the bunkhouse. Mike had left some pillows and sleeping bags for us there, and we really appreciated that they had already gone out of the way to make us comfortable.
We made our way to our bunkhouse room, marveling at how beautiful the night sky looked, had our last showers, and turned in for the night.
We woke up around six the next morning, far too excited to sleep any longer, and craving our delicious smelling donuts. We ate, went over our tentative route, got dressed, sprayed ourselves down with bug spray, and made our way to the outfitting building to get everything organized.
We used an outfitting package that included all of our gear, but not food, and I'm really glad we did it that way. Mike and Carl gave us "gold stars" for not over-packing our food and clothes, which this newbie took very seriously. :) We got all of our gear ready to go, then watched the infamous video before loading the canoe, and then it was time to go! Carl and Mike took some pictures of us getting started, while simultaneously giving us a brief canoe lesson, as my husband had only kayaked, and I hadn't been in a canoe since church camp in 2002. Luckily, we caught on relatively fast, and got some great pictures I will treasure forever. I asked Carl how idiotic I looked trying to maneuver the canoe, and he told me he didn't like to mock customers. :D He's a character.
After we retrieved our camera from Carl, we were off. We paddled through Poplar Lake, until we reached our first portage into Lizz, our entry into the BWCA. We took a little bit of time on our paddle through Poplar, still trying to find our rhythm with the canoe, and still laughing about YoYo Donuts (it was really funny at the time). When we arrived at the portage, I abruptly stopped laughing and looked at the path into the woods. For a brief second, I had one of those "what did I get myself into" moments.
We unloaded the canoe, and prepared for our portage. We had to double portage because we had three packs. We ended up finding that some of the gear given to us by the outfitter wasn't vital for our needs and experiences, so next time, we plan on providing most of our own gear, and having a lighter load so we can single portage.
Portaging proved to not be nearly as bad as I thought it would be, and we enjoyed listening to the sounds of nature during our walk through the woods. My husband carried the canoe on the first trip, and the lighter pack on the second trip. I carried both of the heavier packs.
When we approached the entry point into Lizz Lake, I almost fell over because of how beautiful it was. That probably sounds incredibly cheesy, but its true. The long lake looked like a hallway of trees with a glass floor and I literally lost my breath for a moment. My husband and I admired the lake before heading back for our second portage. Then we got our canoe into the water, and excitedly began our adventure into the wilderness.
We got through Lizz Lake fairly fast, only briefly stopping for some pictures, but I do wish we could've stayed a bit longer. It was so beautiful! We were concerned about finding a good open campsite, though, as we were planning to base camp on Gaskin, and wanted to reach that lake quickly.
We paddled the rest of the morning and early afternoon from Lizz, to Caribou, to Horseshoe, and finally we finished our final (long) portage into Gaskin. I had a similar reaction to Gaskin as I did to Lizz, and truly could not process how beautiful and serene this place was. We had some strong wind on the lake, so we got to experience how we handled that for the first time. We made it through without issue, but learned very quickly to stay even closer to shore than we had been.
Despite being forewarned that the area may be busy, we only saw two taken sites on the lake, both on the Eastern side. We were able to camp on our first choice campsite, 634, which was recommended to me by a member here! It was a large, fairly secluded peninsula site with beautiful views of the lake, a great tent pad nestled in the back, a huge open kitchen area, two entrances, and the ground was covered in soft pine needles. We were sold! We set up our camp, and then had a late lunch of crackers, cheese, and beef sticks.
When we finished lunch, we got back in the canoe to paddle out a ways into the lake so we could try out the Platypus filter from Rockwood for the first time. While the water filtered we went swimming and watched a group of loons across the lake. We got a kick out of that.
After swimming, we realized how hungry we really were, and started prepping for dinner. We enjoyed garlic pasta with foil packed chicken we found at the grocery store and some mashed potatoes. It was easy to make in the large kitchen area, and definitely hit the spot!
When dinner was done, dishes were washed and we enjoyed the incredible views of the sunset from our camp site, feeling so blessed to be in this incredible place.
When the sun went down, we headed into our tent for the night, drifting off to sleep to the sound of the loons. I had some of the best sleep I've had in several years, and I couldn't wait to wake up in the morning and explore more of the BWCA.
Lakes visited: Poplar, Lizz, Horseshoe, Caribou, Gaskin
We woke up early the next morning for a breakfast of hot chocolate, Mountain House Breakfast Skillet, and failed pancakes. We forgot to bring oil (the only thing we forgot!) for the just add water pancakes, and it was a pan-sticking disaster. Luckily, the MH Breakfast Skillet was plenty of food.
After breakfast and dishes, we headed out for our day trip to Winchell. We paddled through the rest of Gaskin, admiring all the beautiful sights on the lake, and arrived at our portage into Henson. We were grateful to only have to portage our canoe and a day pack this time!
Henson was probably my least favorite lake of the trip. We noticed the water was slightly yellowish and didn't taste as great as the water from Gaskin, but we did find a lovely spot to stop for lunch towards the end of the lake. We had our fill of pita bread filled with chicken and cheese, summer sausage, and snap pea chips. After a few pictures and letting our lunch settle, we headed back on the water to reach our portage into Omega.
Omega Lake, on the other hand, was my favorite lake of the trip. I loved all the coves and branches, and how peaceful (even more so than the other lakes we visited) the lake seemed. We found ourselves stopping frequently to just admire the scenery and listen to nature.
When we reached our portage into Winchell, we really didn't want to leave Omega yet, but knew we didn't want to go home without seeing the cliffs. We stopped for a bit to snap some pictures on the big rock, and then made our way into the woods to find the next lake.
Winchell was lovely, but we were a little intimidated by its size. We enjoyed the cliffs, but forgot to snap pictures, as we were pretty deep in conversation about our favorite parts of the trip so far. We stopped at campsite after awhile on the lake, and had a snack of cheese, crackers, and Sweetarts. That's when I heard running water across the lake and remembered reading about the waterfall on Winchell. We finished our food and crossed the lake to investigate. When we thought we found the source, we tied off our canoe and went into the woods to find it. We were not disappointed. We made a new friend with a frog, and had a great time exploring the hidden waterfall!
After we finished our detour at the waterfall, we headed back onto Winchell to start paddling to camp. We took our time on the lake, and saw a lot of loons. The loons were probably my husband's favorite thing about the entire trip. We were able to get pretty close and get some neat pictures. We couldn't believe how many we saw!
We got back to camp later in the evening, and the mosquitoes were insane. It was like the constant whining of a violin on an excessively high note. We quickly ate dinner under the last light of the sun, and then headed into our tent to escape the mosquito nightmare outside.
Lakes visited: Gaskin, Henson, Omega, Winchell
We were worn out from our long day trip the day before, so we slept in just a little later on our second full day. We had more hot chocolate, and another MH Breakfast Skillet. This time we wrapped it in pita and added some cheese. It was amazing.
We originally had planned to check out Pillsbery or take a day trip to Vista on this day, but we ended up opting to stay on Gaskin and explore the lake more because we loved it so much. It turned out to be a great decision!
We saw some more loons, and then we found a stream near the portage to Allen. We wandered around there for awhile, enjoying the running water and foliage.
When we were done at the stream, we paddled over for a bathroom break at the first site on Gaskin. We'd heard from a couple on the way in that it was a really neat site, but it was taken on our way into the lake on our first day, so we didn't have a chance to see what it looked like. Since it was empty today, we thought we'd check it out. It was nice, but we were glad we picked our site on the peninsula.
We spent another hour or so paddling around Gaskin and watching the loons. Eventually we stopped and had lunch (the same as the day before) on a large rock in the water that was connected to a little bit of land jutting out into the lake. I found some left over fishing items and put them in our trash bag. I'm glad to report that it was the only trash I had seen on the trip so far, other than a hair tie at the entrance to Lizz.
After we finished lunch, we sat on the rock chatting for a bit, when we suddenly noticed a large bird perched in the trees across the lake. We had seen an eagle's nest on Winchell the day before, and were wondering if we would be lucky enough to see it's occupant before we left the BWCA. Using our camera, we zoomed in on the bird, and sure enough, it was a bald eagle. I had seen one in the wild once as a little girl, but my husband had never seen one. We started to climb down the rock to cross the lake and get a closer look, but just before we began to load our canoe, the eagle swooped out of the tree and flew right over to us!
We spent over an hour watching the eagle perched in the tree right next to our rock. It was fascinating to watch! Eventually he flew off, back in the direction he came, and we watched him circling over the trees, searching for food. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
Soon after, the sky started to cloud up, and a few sprinkles fell. Concerned about storms, we decided to head closer to camp. We made our way back to our site, had a snack, and played cards before taking a short nap. It sprinkled on and off, but nothing serious.
After our nap, we had dinner, with MH freeze dried Neapolitan ice cream for dessert. I probably wouldn't buy again unless it was on a really good sale. The MH ice cream sandwiches we had the night before were a little better.
After dinner, we went out to get water, and explore a little secluded section of Gaskin that was near our camp. It rained while we were paddling around, but when the rain stopped, we saw a beautiful rainbow, and lovely beginning of the sunset through the hazy clouds. We also saw a couple of beavers swimming around, but weren't able to get any good pictures of them.
It started to sprinkle again, so we paddled back to camp. It was the chilliest night of the trip, so we had a small fire and roasted a few marshmallows to keep warm. We looked through all of our pictures from the day, extremely happy about all the wildlife we got to see.
After put our fire out, we got as much organized as possible for our trip back to civilization the next morning, and then headed into our tent for the night. We were sad it was our last night in the BWCA, but we were looking forward to telling our family all about our adventure.
Lakes visited: Gaskin
It rained most of the night before, and was still raining pretty steadily until around 8 the next morning. Partly because we didn't want to get drenched, and partly because we were procrastinating on leaving, we stayed in our tent until the rain stopped completely, around 9.
We ate the same breakfast we'd eaten the entire trip, not yet sick of it, and broke camp, checking thoroughly for any traces of our presence before leaving. Then, we got on the water and began the trip back to Rockwood.
It was a beautiful morning, and the trip went by quickly. We stayed quiet, paddling very close to shore, on Caribou and Horseshoe in hopes of seeing a moose. We didn't have the fortune of seeing one, but hope we'll have a chance to spot one in the future. The beauty of the BWCA was more than enough.
We stopped on Caribou for lunch, and finished off all of our cheese, crackers, and summer sausage. We stayed on that empty campsite for awhile, savoring every last moment we could. There were a lot of beautiful water lilies near the campsite landing, and we sat watching them float for a long time.
We finally agreed we had to get going, and got back into our canoe to find our portage into Lizz. We had become pretty efficient at getting across the portages at this point, and got everything across the 73 rod portage relatively quickly!
When we got onto Lizz, we were paddling noticeably slower, procrastinating as much as we possibly could knowing we had a nine hour drive ahead of us. Reaching the portage into Poplar, we took one last look at the BWCA, comforted by the fact that we knew we'd be back.
We got a little mixed up on Poplar, and ended up taking a longer way back to Rockwood, but we made it! Mike and Carl were there to help us unload, and then we happily made our way to the shower house to get cleaned up.
After showering, we said goodbye to the wonderful Rockwood staff, and headed out, promising to see them again soon!
We had dinner at Trail Center Lodge. It was the most incredible malt and hot beef sandwich I'd ever eaten, and now I find myself craving their food all the time! We picked up a couple jars of blueberry jam for our family, and hit the road for home.
Reality was waiting for us back in Iowa, as I was scheduled to have a minor operation to remove a benign tumor on my back...the very next morning (I'm aware I'm crazy), but little did we know we were heading back to our little Iowa town with more than just beautiful pictures and wonderful memories...
The world's newest BWCA enthusiast is due this spring.