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July 19 2024

Entry Point 49 - Skipper & Portage Lakes

Skipper and Portage Lakes entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Gunflint Ranger Station near the city of Grand Marais, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 28 miles. Access is a 320-rod portage from Poplar Lake or a 230-rod portage from Iron Lake. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Latitude: 48.0517
Longitude: -90.5366
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49

Labor Day Week Adventure

by Bigbriwi
Trip Report

Entry Date: August 31, 2018
Entry Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Number of Days: 10
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
My wife and I have been going to the BWCA for the last 3 years over the week of Labor Day. We like the lack of bugs and less people. Looking at the forecast we knew that the weather this year was going to be nicer than it had been the previous years. We decided to go back and use Rockwood Lodge again because they are great people to work with and we like being able to leave right from the lodge. We are going in on Sunday and coming out Saturday for a total of 6 nights. Our main focus is to just get away from it all and to do some site seeing, but I do like to do some fishing. Loving getting smallmouth on top water and some walleyes for a meal, we never got to have a single meal of fish last year!

Day 1 of 10

Friday, August 31, 2018

We were all packed up the night before which helped us get out of Milwaukee by 1pm in hopes that we would beat the holiday traffic. All things considered we were making good time and decided to stop in Eau Claire for dinner. We stopped at Houligans in downtown because they had decent Yelp reviews. Walking in I was a bit skeptical because it looked like an old supper club but the place was pretty good. Their Friday Fish Fry was bluegill with mashed sweet potatoes and steamed veggies and I have to say it was pretty tasty. We wanted to make it to Duluth for the night so my wife got onto and got us a cheap room at the Park Point Marina Inn. Very nice hotel and our room is overlooking the marina which was cool. We noticed that there was some nasty weather moving in and Wow did we get a couple of decent storms that rolled through! So nice being on vacation and taking our time to get up to the BWCA, have to enjoy these last couple of days of civilization!


Day 2 of 10

Saturday, September 01, 2018 Woke up early and went done and enjoyed the complimentary breakfast then decided to walk around the area for a little bit. The weather was perfect! The have a nice river walk that went out to the mouth of the river by the light houses going into Lake Superior. As we are walking along the break wall there is a gentleman looking over the edge and he points out that there is a big northern right by the wall. He wasn't kidding, it was a really nice northern and as we kept looking we saw about 6 or 7 other northerns, very cool. We then walk out toward the lake and we see something moving way out in the lake and as we look closer there is some guys swimming out there! Seriously?? After enjoying our last hot shower for a week we head off to Grand Marais for lunch and some shopping. We decided to eat at the Angry Trout and had a great lunch lake side. We did a little shopping at the Outpost which was a very cool store, and then got our fishing licenses before heading to Rockwood Lodge.

We got to Rockwood Lodge and were warmly greeted by the owners, I just love dealing with these people. They are just so friendly and helpful, Mike and Carl run a great outfitting business and Stephanie and Carol keep the place looking great. We worked out some of the logistics for our departure the next day, and got our portage packs and bear barrel so we can get them all packed up and ready to go for in the morning. We see that they have paddle boards, my wife has always wanted to try one and Mike said go ahead and give it a try. We got our stuff situated in our Bunkhouse, got our packs loaded up, so we headed down to the water so she could go for a ride. As it turned out Carl was out on one of their boards so he gave my wife a quick lesson and the went for a zip around the lake.

After that we headed over to the Poplar Haus right down the road for supper. It is a newer place right on the lake with some killer views. We had a nice meal and headed back to the bunkhouse to chill, enjoy our last internet connection for a while, and hopefully some good sleep.    


Day 3 of 10

Sunday, September 02, 2018 Well so much for a good nights sleep, don't know why I expected to I was so excited to get started! One last check of the weather and it looks like the weather is now changed for the week and the end of the week it looks like lows at night in the low 40s and I didn't bring a beany for sleeping! Luckily they sell some at the lodge so I pick one up in the morning! At the outfitting lodge at 7am sharp to get permits, watch the video, get a canoe and also some leeches. Have a breakfast of PBJ on mini bagels and our last Pop for a week.

Poplar Lake is glass calm perfect morning for paddling, although the skies look a little dark. Sure enough, forecast changed again, by noon they are expecting rain and maybe some storms.....Great!!!! We were hoping to make it into Gaskin today for the first 3 days of our trip, but with the looming weather and the thought of the 98 rod portage we might have to rethink that. I will be the first to admit I am not in the best shape!

So off we head across the Poplar, make it easy to navigate since we have been there before and my wife and I get into a nice paddling rhythm. Wow is it going to take sometime to retrain those paddling muscles. We get to the first portage into Lizz and holy crap am I out of shape, up the hill and over we go, nice to see the put in a nice pier on the Lizz side, I remember it being very mucky. Load everything up, I am so proud of my wife and how she manhandles those big portage packs.

So on we go making our way to Gaskin Lake, paddling and portaging and site seeing. Checking out a lot of the campsites along the way just in case we can't get something on Gaskin. Clouds are getting a little darker but we are having a great time. There is something that feels good about doing all that work, it is very rewarding. We see a couple of sites on Horseshoe but we decide to stick to our plan and push on to Gaskin. I will say the 98 rod portage is long but pretty easy for the most part. Although by the time we get everything to the Gaskin side (We were double portaging the whole time) it had started to rain pretty hard. We thoughts about waiting it out at the portage but decided that if it is going to storm we better find a site and get a tarp setup.

We load up the canoe and off we go, and we no sooner leave shore and the rain stops. We come to the first site which is on an island and find it empty, so my wife gets out and checks it out. She really likes it but after a short discussion we decide to go check the next site which is one of the sites we had starred on our map. We head over that direction, come around the corner and YES it is open too. We both get out at this one and both decided it is a very nice site and decided this was home the next 3 days. So I start unloading our gear I get it all up into camp and decide I am so tired, hot, and sweaty that I need to take a dip in the lake. So in I went, clothes and all! It was so refreshing! My wife decides to join me and brings out our soap, day one and I am already bathing??? Nice!

Looks like some rain moving in again so I threw up a tarp real quick and we had some lunch of ramon while it sprinkled a little bit. We then spent the next few hours setting up camp and getting things situated. The last people were nice enough to leave us a nice pile of wood to get us through supper and breakfast tomorrow. All the work done it was time to put up our hammocks lake side and enjoy one of my favorite things to do out here, nap in my hammock!

We have a tradition for our BWCA trips that our first night we freeze some New York Strips and have them with some mashed potatoes. So we fire up the campfire and grill some nice tasty steaks over the fire! So good.

We decide to go out and do a little smallmouth fishing and gather some water, no luck on the fish so back to camp for a campfire and then off to bed. WOW.....the stars are so bright this trip! What a great day, but I am pooped. Time for a couple of ibuprofen, a shot of fireball and off to bed!

Sorry so long winded, but we did a lot this day. I will get shorter.....I hope!

~Poplar Lake, Lizz Lake, Caribou Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Gaskin Lake      


Day 4 of 10

Monday, September 03, 2018 I have to say, I normally don't sleep very well in a tent but I slept pretty darn good last night. As usual I am up early and I head outside to make a few cast from the campsite......nothin'! Soon I hear my wife get out of the tent and she is starting up the morning fire....we are definitely going to need more wood. Our first morning we are having our favorite breakfast, Ovaeasy Eggs, Bacon, and Hungry Jack Hashbrowns.....They are the best!

In spite of all the work we did the day before we decided we would do a day trip today, the reason we picked Gaskin is for some of the loop day trips we can take from this lake. So this first day we decide to do a loop through Jump, Allen, Pilsbery, Henson, and back to Gaskin. So we pack up our day pack with some snacks, water, and stuff for lunch. I load up the fishing gear and off we go. Another great day for paddling. We get to Jump Lake and do a little fishing and end up catching a couple of small smallmouth, at least we got the skunk off the board! Jump is super small and we quickly portage over to Allen and end up getting a few more smallies. We have seen one other person all day and we are having a great time! The portage into Pilsbery was a long one but pretty easy. When we are on Pilsbery the fishing really picks up and we end up getting some pretty decent size smallies on catching smallies! By the time we get to Henson we are getting pretty tired and the wind starts picking up a bit. We found an open site on Henson to stop and have a lunch of salami, laughing cow cheese on flatbread. So good! The portages on Henson are pretty much right across from each other so we decide to save Henson for another day and quickly cross over to the 92 rod portage back into Gaskin.

When we get over to Gaskin we have pretty much cross the whole lake going into the wind so this was going to be a chore, I also wanted to stop off in the burn area and collect some firewood. I find that burn areas are a great place to collect wood. The small burned pines can pretty much be pushed right over and they are usually perfectly dried. I didn't have a hatchet so I never grab any wood thicker than my wrist. It takes me about 30 minutes and I found enough wood to last us a couple of days. So we loaded up and headed back across the lake. When we got back to camp I was pooped and sweaty again, so I unloaded the firewood and decided to take another dip in the lake. Again my wife joined me brought our body soap. To baths in a row?????

After cleaning up and lounging in our hammocks for a while it was time to make some supper. Tonight we are having spam burritos! Don't knock it till you tried it! After supper it was time to try for some walleyes so we load up the walleye gear and leeches and head out......again nothin'! My wife caught one little smallie and that was it! So we headed back to camp for a fire and some chillin'!

We checked the weather radio because Tuesday was supposed to be our one bad day of weather, expecting rain and storms all day so prepared camp for that. We know our tent has a tendency to leak when we get a lot of rain so we setup the tarp over it. We also decide that we really like this site and that we want to do another loop that would take us into Winchell and since Tuesday was looking like a wash we are going to stay another day. Looks like we are all set so the rest of the night was spent star gazing, watching the campfire, and just talking about how grand life is. Ibuprofen and fireball all around to rest our tired bones and off to bed we go.

~Gaskin Lake, Jump Lake, Allen Lake, Pillsbery Lake, Henson Lake     


Day 5 of 10

Tuesday, September 04, 2018 Did not sleep great last night and I think my wife and I figured out that maybe it is because it is so quiet at night. Don't get me wrong, that is the thing I love most about being up there but I think when it is so quiet that you can hear your own heart beat that every little sound gets your mind racing a little bit. 

Today is the day they are expecting to rain and storm all day, but so far it is day break and still no rain. So we are able to have some breakfast and a camp fire in the morning. We decide after sitting around camp for a while that we would go do some fishing and maybe collect some more firewood. It is turning out that the fishing on Gaskin is tough, we manage a snack northern and that is it. I did manage to get some firewood and the rain started so we headed in. My wife found a dry place in camp to make some potato soups for lunch while I made sure I protected our wood from the rain. I also realized that my rain coat is no longer water resistant so I was getting soaked. So we made up our soup and retreated to the tent for an afternoon of reading and napping. It was actually very relaxing. My wife surprised me and had brought along a pop for both of us, what an unexpected treat!

The rain only lasted a few hours and we were able to get out of the tent and have a fire and enjoy the evening outside. Tried some walleye fishing and managed a small smallie and that was it. We typically put together our own meals but for dinner tonight we had some Packet Gourmet meals and WOW was mine awesome! I will be ordering that again. Checked the forecast for the next day because we want to make sure when we do our big loop that we are taking advantage of the wind when crossing Winchell. More Ibuprofen and fireball and off to bed!      


Day 6 of 10

Wednesday, September 05, 2018 We woke up to clear skis and it is a bit breezy so our loop could be interesting. We also need to get some more firewood, we love our camp fires. We have a nice big breakfast, pack up our day pack and off we go. 

Today our plan is to cross Gaskin into Henson, cross Henson into Omega, through Omega in Winchell. The breeze is making crossing Gaskin a bit of a chore going into the West wind. The first portage of the day is over 90 rods and will be the toughest one of the day. I will say, at this point in the trip my shoulders and back are struggling to get the canoe up and carrying it through these portages but totally worth it.

Planned on doing some fishing on Henson but the wind is pretty gusty and we need to paddle just to keep moving forward. It takes a lot of work to cross Henson and our arms are feeling it. We get over to Omega which is setup better with this wind to do a little fishing. I see why this lake is so popular, it is a very cool lake. We fish for about a half hour and manage a couple decent northern, but now we have been traveling for a good amount of time and we are getting hungry. So we decide to portage over to Winchell and find a campsite over there to have lunch. 

WOW......Winchell is a whole new ball game. Easily the biggest lake in the BWCA we have ever been on and just beautiful, so glad we came over here........but.......with the strong West wind it is rocking and rolling pretty good. There will be no fishing on this lake, we will need all of our attention just to keep the boat upright! First campsite we make it to we decide to stop for lunch, today we are having Packet Gourmet cheese spread and crackers which was awesome! After lunch we put on our life jackets and come up with the best strategy to get across the lake safely. The bad news is we have to be on our toes and make sure we don't get sideways in the waves, the great news is that it made for a super easy paddle. All we pretty much did was just course correct and we were cruising! Such a cool lake, but it is a bit intimidating. We cross the lake in good time, the longer we went the more comfortable we got with the waves. Once we got to the East end we found a little cove to do some fishing but got nothing. Coolest part of our trip is the fact that we had spent all day traveling and we never saw another person, every campsite we passed were empty too. I still wanted to collect some firewood so we got moving. The portage from Winchell to Gaskin wasn't bad, but when I got to the Gaskin side it was super mucky and I ended up sinking to me knees and it was struggle to not lose my portaging shoes. We headed over to the burn area and collected some more wood and at this point we have been traveling for 7 hours and I am ready to be out of the canoe. Time to jump in the lake and bath again, I am a sweaty mess! 3 baths in 4 days?? What is up with that?

The bad news is that when I left this morning I must have not closed the leech locker all the say and I lost all of my leeches, that is drastically going to hinder our chances for a fish fry! Oh well, we spend the rest of the night making dinner and sitting by the campfire! Stars are amazing tonight but we need to get to bed, tomorrow is moving day!      ~Gaskin Lake, Henson Lake, Omega Lake, Winchell Lake


Day 7 of 10

Thursday, September 06, 2018 Slept pretty good last night but it got done into the 40s and was a bit chilly, doesn't bother us much but glad I bought my Rockwood beany. So time to start packing up camp, no real rush I will just take things leisurely. It still pretty early and my wife gets up while I went to use the privy, that is one thing about this campsite, the privy is a pretty long walk. On my way back I think I hear something so I stop and listen, sure enough I hear a pack of wolves howling off in the distance, by the time I make it back to my wife they are still going at it, so cool! She heads back to the tent and I grab my book and sleeping back and head for my hammock. Next thing I know I hear some splashing and a look out and across the bay from us there is a deer trying to cross the bay toward our campsite. So tell my wife who comes out and we take some pictures and watch him come to our shore and head off into the woods. I really wanted to see a moose this trip, but I will take that. 

So we packed up camp and decided that it was time to head out. We wanted to go back to Horseshoe making our last day easier not having to deal with the long 98 rod portage into gaskin. I can tell that my body is getting used to all the portaging because the long one doesn't seem that bad. We run into a father and son that we meet the day we went out and sat and visited with them for a while, they were leaving Friday and were getting closer too for their last night. When we got loaded up on Horseshoe the first campsite we get to is open but we don't really like it. We come around the corner and the next campsite has a big rock facing West and it looks open. We get out, check it out and decide that we like it and this would be home the next couple of days. We like sites that we have a view of the lake. So we setup camp and have a little lunch of summer sausage and cheese sandwiches. We are getting really nervous because there is a campsite on the backside of the peninsula from us and the people on that site are extremely loud! I mean come on, that is why we come up here is to get away from all that. We decide to take a quick nap and just relax for the afternoon before going out to do a little fishing and collect some firewood. Tonight is one of our favorite BWCA meals, chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. So easy and so tasty! Then we site by the campfire and plan our next day, I really want to have a fish fry so tomorrow we want to go to Vista where we did well on walleye a couple years earlier. And guess what? Our loud neighbors from this afternoon have been quiet ever since, so nice. Nights like tonight remind me how much I love being out here, the stars are amazing again tonight!      


Day 8 of 10

Friday, September 07, 2018 Another great night last night, still amazed on how peaceful it is up here. I am truly going to miss this place, but I will say I am looking forward to a comfy bed, a hot shower, and not having to lug around everything on our backs. My wife made a comment that I was getting a bit ripe so decided that despite the fact that it was below 50 this morning it was time to jump in the lake and clean up. It is cold but very refreshing. While we are eating our breakfast this bird lands real close to us and he didn't really look to afraid of us, we found out later it was a Canadian Jay. I put some eggs in my hand and held it out and sure enough he came and ate right out of my hand.

We cleaned up camp and packed our day pack end headed out for our adventure. Today's goal, catch enough fish for a fish fry. It was still fairly early so was hoping we might come across a moose on our way to the Vista portage, it is prime habitat for them but with no luck. It is just a perfect day for exploring, not a cloud in the sky and next to no wind. We were considering do a small loop through some other lakes but we checked out the portage and it just looked like it was going to be too tough to get into the next lake and we were looking for it to be a little more relaxing for the day. So we casted the shorelines looking for some smallmouth and got nothing. After fishing for a couple hours with crankbaits we came to a spot that we had caught some walleyes a couple years prior so I decided to give something a try. I put on a fluke with a bullet head jig and within the first couple of casts I had a smallmouth. A couple casts later I hooked into a walleye but lost it. I quickly changed my wife to the same thing and for the next hour we caught walleye like crazy. Ended up keeping 5 for a meal. 

We then decided to go take the fish to a rock in the middle of the lake to clean the fish and have some lunch. Today was cheese, sausage, and crackers for lunch. My wife made lunch while I cleaned fish. Vista was actually pretty busy today, we wanted to have lunch at our campsite from a couple years ago but there were people there. Bellies full and fish cleaned we headed back to Horseshoe for an afternoon of chilin and enjoying our last day in the BWCA.

We actually used the leech locker to keep our fillets cool until supper time which worked out well. All I can say is there is nothing like having a fresh walleye in the BWCA, best meal of the trip. We spent the rest of the night just cleaning up camp and packing away a few things we didn't need anymore and relishing the last gorgeous night in this amazing place.      


Day 9 of 10

Saturday, September 08, 2018 Up and early, it is another beautiful morning. My wife made some peach smoothies while I packed up the tent and we got everything packed away. It is such a bitter sweet day, on one hand I am looking forward to the comforts of civilization but on the other hand I am so going to miss the beauty, peace and quit of this place. I am so grateful to be able to experience this with my lovely wife, it is something that you can't explain to somebody that has never done it! That being said, we are ready for this last day of work to be done and not have to carry another portage pack or canoe for a while. After all of our hard work God has graced us with a nice breeze at our back which is making our last day of paddling so nice. Portages are pretty quit until we get to the last portage from Lizz into Poplar where a couple of groups are heading in. We just stayed back and gave them a little space, we were in no big hurry.

We made quick time and were greeted at the lodge by Mike who helped us out. We emptied all of our portage packs into our car, used the shower house to clean up, and settled up with Mike. Off we were heading back to civilization, hope I can remember how to drive! We have a tradition for the last 2 years that we stop off at McDonalds in Two Harbors for our first meal. Got some food and my LARGE DIET COKE I had been craving and we were back on the road. 

Was a great day for traveling and we made quick work of the drive to Eau Claire where we had a room booked at the Fairfield, we had stayed there the year before and loved it. So it was a race to a hot shower and to put on some clean clothes. It felt so good to be clean and to lay on a comfortable bed. So we just sat in bed and chilled for a while and then headed out to dinner. We went to the Northern Tap for dinner which was good but after spending 6 days in the BWCA it seemed unbelievably loud. So we had a nice dinner and head back to the hotel where we both passed out pretty early.   


Day 10 of 10

Sunday, September 09, 2018 So it is officially the last day of vacation and time to finish the last few hours of our drive. We ended up having some friends that happened to be visiting their son at Winona State and we decided to meet up with them in the Dells for lunch. We were not in a big hurry to get going because we had till noon to make it to the Dells so we just enjoyed the hotel. 

We meet our friends at Ravina Bar and Grill on Lake Delton and had a great lunch with friends. It happened to be the last day they were open for the season which meant they had a limited selection but we all found something to have and it was really good. We said our good byes and finished off the last couple of hours. We quickly unpacked everything from the car and flopped down in our comfy chairs and were pretty much zombies for the rest of the night.

In reflection it was another great trip to the BWCA and solidified why I love it so much. I was ready to be done this time because we put on so many miles, but I am already thinking of our next trip.


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