BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 20 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1670 feet
Cross Bay Lake - 50
To Canoe or Not to Canoe, that is the question.
August 02, 2020
Missing Link Lake
Seagull Lake Only (54A)
Number of Days:
Day 1 Due to the pandemic the plan was to meet and assemble at the Menards in Janesville, WI as the group was coming from 3 different directions and this seemed to be the most central location where nobody had to backtrack. We met at 7am, consolidated our gear in the Jeep and started the trip to Tuscarora Outfitters off the Gunflint trail. This year’s trip through Duluth was without event and a much better experience than last year. We made great time stopping off at the Earthwood Inn, Two Harbors for a late lunch. Back in the car we continued our trip arriving at Tuscarora about 5pm. The plan was to leave Tuscarora Outfitters on Round Lake and make a loop through Tuscarora Lake over to Little Saganaga Lake up through Ogishkemuncie Lake and out on Sea Gull Lake over the course of 5 days. We talked with Andy to get some expert advice on the best campsites and fishing spots along our chosen route. We had to modify our timing a little due to the bear issues being experienced on Alpine and Sea Gull which set us up for a longer day 5 than originally planned. We received our assigned cabin and got to work unloading the Jeep and consolidating gear to remove any duplicates not needed and cut as much weight as possible. We hit up the trail center for dinner which was order out only and took it back to the cabin to eat. We turned in early wanting to get an early start as we had an ambitious first day planned. I don’t think any of us knew what we were in store for the next day, especially portage wise.
Day 2 Travel Day. The alarms went off at 6am and the cabin started to get busy……. slowly. We packed up and got everything ready and went to the dinning hall by 7am for the French toast breakfast which was just as good as I remembered it. With carbs and coffee consumed we were ready to face the day! We got the canoes to the dock and loaded the packs, gave quick tutorial of how to paddle a canoe for the newbies and off we went. The canoes were to be manned with the same tandems the whole trip, with some challenges and much entertainment. The canoe pairings were mom and dad, with dad in the bow. And Nate and I, Nate in the bow. One would think that the experienced paddlers would pair up with the inexperienced people however this was not the case. It was age vs. youth; inexperience vs. experience. We pushed off about 8am and set off across Round Lake to the first portage taking us to Missing Link Lake. This portage was a little difficult to find but Nate, the seasoned navigator that he is, put us in the right general area. We just had to get closer to shore to see the opening, guess our eyes weren’t BWCA ready yet. As we crossed Round Lake, we noticed the wind was picking up blowing from the East /Northeast. That first portage was to be a challenge as it was as hard or harder than any of the portages we did on the last years trip in both distance and difficulty. 137 rods, rocky with some decent elevation changes. I feel like this portage would be easier coming into Round Lake as opposed to leaving Round Lake. Fueling up before heading out Round Lake, back on the water! Is there any better place than the BWCA! First portage, Round Lake to Missing Link Lake On the Round Lake to Missing Link Lake portage..... does this look moosey to you?
On this trip Nate and I were destined to do every portage twice (except the last one). On this first portage, each person took their own pack and then Nate and I went back and got the canoes giving mom and dad some time to enjoy the solitude and beauty of the BWCA. We tackled this portage with the energy, enthusiasm and excitement that I imagine every return BWCA traveler has as they come back to the place that exudes the quiet beauty and peacefulness offered as only true wilderness can. Halfway through we stopped and took our obligatory picture in front of the sign that lets you know you made it. With the first portage under our belt, we loaded up and took off across Missing Link Lake. This is a smaller more intimate lake that I would like to go back and visit sometime. The couple of campsites we passed looked decent and I could see how the lake would be quiet with the mile plus portage on one side and the other portage’s being more difficult. BWCA sign Nate is holding Nav 101
Did I say mile plus portage? Yes, yes I did. The portage from Missing Link Lake to Tuscarora Lake is 362 rods of ups and downs, twists and turns. In all honesty it really wasn’t that bad, just long. We tackled this one by implementing the leap frog technique. We sent mom and dad off to complete the whole portage with their packs. Nate and I accompanied them on the first third of the portage, dumped our packs and went back for the canoes. We then took the canoes 2/3rds of the way, set them down and went back and got our packs and took them the remaining distance to the Tuscarora side landing. Then went back for the canoes. Once mom and dad finished taking their packs the whole way they came back and helped us get everything to the Tuscarora landing, pretty efficiently in my opinion. Missing Link Lake to Tuscarora portage, not horrible just long Hydration is key on the long portages!! Finally!! Tuscarora Lake!
It was 10:30ish by the time we got everything to the Tuscarora side and we noticed that it looked a little rough out on the main part of the lake. We loaded up and started across the lake stopping in deeper water to refill the water bottles as we drank quite a bit on the long portage as you can imagine. The wind was pushing us around a lot more than we realized as we were filling up our water bottles. We took a bearing from shore before we headed out but after filling the water bottles, we just tried to eyeball it and go. We ended up approx. three quarters of a mile south of where we wanted to be. And to get where we needed to, we had to head straight in to the wind and waves. At one point we got to knee deep water, hopped out and towed/pushed our canoes to give our upper bodies a break. Back in the canoes we rounded a point and thought we found the portage as we saw a canoe on the beach at an opening that was not a campsite. We pulled up and didn’t find anybody around and no trail, odd…. So, we got back in the canoes and kept going. The portage was around the next point which took us another 20 minutes or so. We were elated to finally find the portage and be out of the wind for a little while. Mom and dad did great especially with the wind, waves and extra distance that we had to travel exposed to the elements. At the portage we ran into two gentlemen who asked us if we saw another canoe with two guys and a dog. We told them about the canoe we saw on the beach and wondered if that was them. The two other guys showed up a little while later. Apparently, the dog was not a fan of the waves so they had to beach the canoe and travel cross country to the portage. I do not envy them one bit, the BWCA is a thick mess in most places and canoeing is definitely a more efficient way to travel. We took the portage to Owl Lake which is 67 rods and of no consequence and took a break for lunch. The first lunch is always an adventure
This started our string of smaller waters before we reached our destination lake of Little Saganaga for the night. One thing I look forward to on the smaller lakes is the opportunity to see wildlife. While I don’t want to see a bear in my campsite, seeing one from the water a safe distance away would be a memory I would cherish forever. Same goes for a moose and wolves. Owl is a smaller lake and we had the advantage of watching another group canoe the lake while we were eating lunch so we knew exactly where we needed to go. Another nice plus on these smaller lakes is that the wind doesn’t affect you as much so we were across pretty quickly. The next portage is a short 50 rod portage to Crooked Lake. We wasted no time and started across Crooked Lake taking a left at the point and following the shore around behind an island to the portage. We had some trouble finding the next portage as the landing was very small and really rocky. Luckily there is a sizable rock cairn marking the entrance. Bless the individual or group that set this up as it saved us a lot of time. The landing definitely challenged our skills but we got through it and pushed on. It is definitely a one group at a time type of portage as there really is no place to store canoes out of the way so other groups can make it through. Luckily, we were the only ones around. If a portage landing is any indication of how difficult a portage will be, this portage was going to be a bear. And it was. It starts basically straight up from what is the landing and then curves around to the right and then has a couple of elevation changes until you come out to the landing on Tarry Lake. The landing on the Tarry side is in a cool Cedar stand that is dark and open with a stream and waterfall on the north side. To be clear, you cannot see the waterfall from the portage but there are some little side paths that will take you there. It was pretty cool. We got across Tarry pretty quickly as this is another small lake. The portage from Tarry to Mora Lake is a small 14 rod portage. Up and over quickly we set off on Mora and attempted what we thought to be a shortcut through a little creek marked on the map behind an island. There definitely was a little creek behind the island, unfortunately it did not allow for us to navigate due to the large rocks. So back in the canoe and around the long way. The day was starting to get long and we were just about ready to be done. However, we had one more portage and more big water to tackle before we could call it a day. I always like to have an ambitious first day to get out ahead of the crowds I but did not realize how challenging this route was, especially on day 1. Once across Mora we portage to Little Saganaga which was a pretty portage of 47 rods. There were a couple of challenging spots but definitely not the toughest portage of the day. As we set off on Little Saganaga we reflected on the fact that we had not seen any of the aforementioned wildlife and decided to have a little fun and find a moose through the viewfinder of our camera (see photo). We had a little fun with this when we got to camp and told our parents that we saw a moose after they setoff on Little Sag and they missed it! They got a good laugh out of our picture. Another lake with no moose....... Mora to Little Sag portage, one of the most enjoyable of the trip! Mora to Little Sag portage..... it was beautiful put in on Little Sag Moose!!! well...... its the only one we saw.
On Little Saganaga we had about an hour of paddling to get to the campsite we wanted, campsite 820. During the paddle over to the campsite we saw our first bald eagle perched in a tree along the shore. It was a little after 5pm at this point and we were all tired with fingers crossed that the campsite would be open. I had a feeling it would be as we had not seen anybody since we left Owl Lake. And sure enough, the site was open. We pulled up and checked it out and deemed it good enough for the next two nights. We unloaded the canoes and started setting up. It is amazing how different things are when you have some BWCA experience under your belt. We got the main tarp set up in no time with the tents and hammock shortly after. Campsite 820 is on the northwestern most island on Little Saganaga Lake and is a nice site. The campsite has 3 good tent pads and plenty of trees to hang a hammock(s). The firegrate area is elevated with windows facing north and west to the Lake. There was little to no wind so I cannot speak to wind protection but if I had to guess, with a north or west wind it would have been a pretty breezy site. We also had to get creative hanging the bear bags. Our home for the night, campsite on the Northeast corner of Little Saganaga. A view of little Sag from our campsite
With everything set up and the fire started, it was dinner time. As mentioned earlier, we planned and packed our own food. I took the responsibility of packing for mom, dad and myself and Nate packed his own. The difference between what we packed couldn’t have been more different. I packed some fresh fruit, eggs, bacon and other luxury items while Nate packed strictly dehydrated meals. Since one must pack out what one packs in, we (mom, dad and myself) had a much larger garbage footprint and the weight of the fresh food did not seem to dwindle as fast as I thought it would. Even with rest days baked into the trip, my pack would not get any lighter than approx. 50 pounds. Lesson learned. There are so many options for dehydrated meals these days, Backpackers Pantry, Packit Gourmet (thanks Shug!!), Mountain House to name just a couple, you can get the variety needed to skip the heavier items. All that is required is water and there is plenty of that around! With dinner done and cleaned up, we fished (with no luck) while watching the sunset and the off to bed.
Rods portaged: 720 (2.25 miles) Lakes traveled: Round Lake, Missing Link Lake, Tuscarora Lake, Owl Lake, Crooked Lake, Tarry Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake
Day 3 Rest day. It was decided that on this trip we would try a travel, rest, travel, rest, travel sequence to our days. This would allow for some additional exploring and fishing as each member of the party wanted. At this time, it is worth mentioning the weather. Although it was mid 70’s yesterday August 2nd, something happened overnight and the temperature dropped. I woke up sometime in the night and added my jacket to keep warm. My main problem was in an effort to cut weight, I didn’t bring a sleeping bag. Instead I brought an insulated blanket, kind of like a top quilt. Needless to say, it wasn’t enough. I checked the historical weather when we got back to civilization and the low for our trip was 43 degrees (Aug 4th)…. In August….. wwwwwwhhhhhhhaaaaaattttttttt??? The low for the night of August 2 was a balmy 51, needless to say I was not prepared for this. I will ALWAYS bring my 20-degree sleeping bag regardless of what month I travel to the BWCA. We slept in a little this morning as we were all tired and needed the rest. Breakfast planned for this morning was to be our only non-oatmeal breakfast. We were going to treat ourselves to egg, cheese and bacon sandwiches!! The only question was, did the eggs survive day one. They were packed away in the bear barrel and their own egg protecting carry case. However, the bear barrel took multiple tumbles off the back of my pack as it slipped its rigging and crashed onto the ground, wood and rocks. I fully expected a mess when I opened the bear barrel. I am happy to report this was not the case and all 6 eggs were intact and good to go. I was amazed!! I was totally convinced that we would be having bacon sandwiches for breakfast. After breakfast was made, consumed and cleaned up Nate and I went out to try our luck on some lake trout. Little Sag is a very deep lake and we have zero experience in catching lake trout. Whatever we tried didn’t work so we explored a little. We saw a really high vantage point that we were going to try to get to and ended up finding a campsite that had a path leading up to the lookout. We spent some time up there and took some pictures before heading back down and exploring some more. As we were following the shoreline back north towards the campsite, we ran into a friendly otter. Well he wasn’t that friendly; he didn’t stick around for a photo op that we hurriedly planned for our new animal friend. After some more canoeing we went back to camp and hung around lounging and resting with a little fishing mixed in. We had a great sunset that night, another fire, dinner and off to bed. We were going to get an earlier start in the morning to try and beat any wind that might build throughout the day.
Day 4 Travel Day. It was another cold night with a low recorded at 51 degrees. We woke up to an absolutely beautiful morning! We were up early and there was mist all across the water, we were completely misted in. After about 20 minutes you could feel the sun burning through the clouds and the lake changed so quickly!!! There was literally no wind and as patches of fog were disappearing and the lake was being exposed bit by bit. I have never seen anything like it, it was really something to behold!! Morning Fog Clearing quickly absolutely beautiful
While this interrupted our packing, we still were on the water a little before 8am. The skies were blue, no wind, the water was a mirror and it was warming up quickly!! We made great time and were at our first portage before to long. The Little Sag to Rattle Lake portage is really beautiful in my opinion. It is only 26 rods and some up and down but takes you a long a stream that is really peaceful. It was one of my favorite portages of the trip. Maybe it was the angle of the sun, no clouds in the sky and the time of day. This is burn area although I am not sure from what fire so there was newer growth everywhere. I loved this portage Entrance into Rattle Lake
We were across Rattle Lake in no time and on to the portage to Gabimichigami Lake. Gabi Lake is big. The map doesn’t give it justice. I think its an illusion as there are other lakes in the BWCA that are just as big (ala Little Sag), but Gabi is an unbroken expanse of water. There are no islands to break up the lake or hide behind. We were feeling very blessed and fortunate that the day had no wind to speak of. With a north, south, east or west wind, or any combination of directional winds of any substance would make this lake a challenge. The next portage was a float through. We paddled to the beginning of the stream/river between Gabi and Agamok Lake, got out and wadded/floated the canoes to the other side. Easiest portage ever! If one were to take the actual portage its only 18 rods, but why do all the work if you can leverage your natural resources? Work smarter, not harder. Right? Gaby, the lake with no islands Gaby, no wind, blue skies = perfect Gaby - objects in picture look larger than they appear Float portage!! I will take one of these every time!
Agamok Lake is a smaller lake and we were across shortly. This lake had some shallow spots that we had to look out for but we got across with no major issues and started the portage to Mueller Lake which was 114 rods and had some degree of difficulty. Just from reading reviews and stories on this website I knew the next two portages would be challenging. But reading about portages and experiencing portages are two different things. The one saving grace on this portage is that once we got the canoes across, we took a little break and saw Agamok Falls off the Kekekabic Trail. Totally worth the side trip!! The falls were impressive!!! We had lunch at the falls and then turned back and went on our way. Amagok Falls
Mueller is a smaller lake as well and we were across in no time. The only bad thing about a short paddle is your legs have not recovered from the last difficult portage and your back at it. And the portage from Mueller to Ogishkemuncie Lake was the hardest albeit not the longest of the trip. Measuring 107 rods in distance, there is quite a bit of rocky elevation change to contend with. When we got done with this portage, we were all ready to find a campsite. Luckily for us we planned on staying on Ogish Lake that night. As we were paddling, we started to notice more and more people. We wanted to be on the eastern portion of Ogish to make our last day a little shorter while still avoiding the bear trouble areas on Alpine and Seagull. It was early afternoon as we paddled through the narrows on Ogish and as we came out into the main part on the eastern side, we just happened to see a group leaving a campsite that we were interested in. We stayed on Ogish last year and wanted the same campsite but could tell that it wasn’t available so this site almost straight across the lake would work so we snagged it. The timing worked out perfect!! setting out on another lake, I think this was Ogish..... I need to take better notes.... Campsite for the night, not the one we wanted but there were a lot of people out and we weren't going to let this one pass.
Campsite 790. This campsite is on the south side of the lake in the eastern portion before the narrows if you are heading west. Its is not a bad site. It has a really nice hammock set up right on the water that I enjoyed for two nights despite the colder temps. The nicest tent pad is on the south side of the campsite in a little grove of trees with another bigger tent pad behind the firegrate area. There was a nice tree to hang our bear bags about 100 yds if you take the trail that goes east. We had both bear bags hung there with no problem. Definitely not the best site in the area but it did the job. It was still relatively early so we set up camp and took a BWCA bath also known as a swim. It felt really good after the long hard day. Once changed and dried off we lounged and decided to break our streak of catching no fish for the trip. We had a fair assortment of lures and leeches at our disposal so cast we did. Nate was the first one on the board with a smaller smallmouth bass. We would go on to catch 3 northern and the aforementioned smallmouth that night right off the front of the campsite, no size of consequence, in about an hour right at sunset. With tomorrow being a planned rest day, Nate and I were going to check out a fishing spot that Andy gave us a heads up on.
Rods portaged: 287.08 (0.89 miles) Lakes Traveled: Little Saganaga Lake, Rattle Lake, Gabimichigami Lake, Agamok Lake, Mueller Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake First fish of the trip!! Another spectacular sunset!! And the night cap
Day 5 Rest day. Wow…... that was the coldest night of the trip. It got down to 43 degrees…………. I literally had every piece of clothing on, including my rain gear to stay warm enough to sleep. We woke up at no specific time as we were taking another rest day. The sun was out again and warming things up quickly. After breakfast and just hanging out for a little while, Nate and I took off on our fishing expedition at roughly 10am. This included one portage which was pretty tight and included an up and over a beaver damn, my first such experience in the BWCA. Leaving on our fishing trip Beaver damn
We arrived with no problems and started fishing. Nate was all ready to go and bagged the first smallmouth within 10 minutes of our arrival. It was maybe 8 inches and was released to grow some more. As we worked our way down a channel, we decided to try a small shallow bay, maybe 4 feet of water. Nate had a crankbait and as I guided us into the bay, he hooked into the first keeper sized smallmouth of the day. It was an absolute football!!! Probably went 18-19 inches and was at least 4lbs. We decided to keep this one and hoped to give it some friends to hang out with on the stringer as the day progressed. As we were coming back out of the bay, we noticed that it got really deep really quickly, also known as a drop off, where fish like to hang out. It also had a cliff face that went straight down into the water with timber hanging out into the water. Jackpot. We switched to slip bobbers, jig heads and leeches. It was a bonanza!!! I had two jig heads that were bent because of the weight and strength of these fish! But the biggest fish of the day came from Nate. He hooked into a good-sized fish and when he got it to the boat and got the head above the water, it was a northern that would have probably gone 15 lbs easy. I say probably because we didn’t have the net which we accidentally left on the portage between Tuscarora to Owl (or so we think) on day one. And in all honesty if we did have the net, I think the fish would have been to big for it!! When we both saw the fish, we looked at each other surprised and that was all the time it took. The fish shook its head, broke the line and disappeared. Although we were never going to keep that one it would have been nice to take some pictures because it was a good-sized fish! I have never in my life had such a day as that on the water catching fish after fish after fish with a majority of them decent sized!! The last fish we caught was an absolute battle-axe of a smallmouth, a dark bronze with scars marking its sides. We released it back for someone else to catch, it seemed a fitting way to end the day. We probably caught over 40 fish on the day, a majority smallmouth bass. We ended up keeping only 3 for dinner and couldn’t wait to get back to camp and fry them up! First keeper (of many!!) Nate's average fish my average fish I did catch a couple of footballs! Last fish - The Battleaxe, note all the scars The special guests of honor at what we hope to be our inaugural fish fry.
We cleaned the fish before heading back on through the portage and got back to camp about 5:30pm. We fried up the fish with some shore lunch and it was absolutely delicious!! Once dinner was done, we started to get ready for our exit day. We packed up what we could and laid things out for the next morning to make it easier to get an early start as we had to get to entry/exit point 54 on Seagull Lake. Once this was done, we were treated to a nice sunset…….. and bugs. You could tell it was going to be warmer that night because the mosquitos were out in force. They say ignorance is bliss and I can attest to that. We had a fire and while some of our party were complaining about the mosquitos, I wasn’t having any issues. I could hear them but they weren’t biting me, they must have had better hunting elsewhere. Then mom and dad went to bed and Nate and I started to garner more attention but it still wasn’t that bad…... until I turned on my headlamp to check things out. Wow…… they were everywhere. That ended the night as we doused the fire and scrambled to our respective shelters to get away from the bugs. But overall, this was our only night with actual bugs as every other night was too cold.
rods: didn't care, it was totally worth it!! lakes traveled: wouldn't you like to know :)
Day 6 Travel day. We were up early again as we wanted to get an early start since we had to get out and back home today. We had approx 9 miles of travel today to get to entry/exit point 54. First up was Kingfisher Lake. Since we did this part of our route on last years trip, albeit heading west instead of east, we knew what to expect and the portages were going to be easy compared to what we already traveled. The Ogish to KingFisher portage is pretty tight, lots of growth that the portage cuts through although its not a difficult one measuring only 34 rods. Across Kingfisher we went which did not take very long as it is a pretty small lake. Next up Jasper. The portage between the two is only 29 rods and a quick up and over. The landing on the Jasper side is nice and shallow and easy to navigate. In no time we were loaded up and on our way. Jasper took us a good 45 minutes to get across and then it was on to Alpine. The portage from Jasper to Alpine is only 37 rods long but is a bit tricky in some spots especially as you get to the Alpine side. Since today was our exit day, we were all business and moved as quickly as we could and were making good time. Across Alpine we went and after waiting for a couple of groups that were hanging out at the portage we moved through and on our way. As a right of passage, we decided to have mom and dad portage the canoe’s on the last portage of the trip. And they did great! The portage from Alpine to Seagull is 101 rods but relatively flat and well-traveled. As Nate and I were waiting on the Seagull side for the canoes I noticed some movement in the grass. I went to investigate and to my wonder and astonishment there was a decent sized garter snake holding on to a decent sized toad by its backside. I was not even aware that garter snakes went after toads. I snapped a few pictures and let it be. After a short while the toad came and joined us on the portage snake free. Apparently, the snake got tired or the toad got free somehow and came close to us for protection. As the day wore on it started to get hot (low 80’s), we would dip our hats in the water and put them back over our head and let the cool water drip down and cool us off. It was great especially as we crossed Seagull which was our last but biggest lake of the day. We made it across about halfway and stopped in the shade for lunch before continuing on our way. Back in the canoes we paddled our way along the north shore of Three Mile island and found our way to the entry/exit point and called to be picked up. Back at Tuscarora we had showers and relaxed for a short time before leaving for the long ride back. We stopped in Duluth for dinner and ended up staying the night in a hotel before finishing the trip home the next day.
Rods portaged: 202.73 rods (0.63 miles) Lakes traveled: Ogishkemuncie Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Jasper Lake, Alpine Lake, Seagull Lake The landing on the Kingfisher side, portage from Ogish to Kingfisher Portage landing heading east from Kingfisher to Jasper Portage from Jasper to Alpine The waterfall between Jasper and Alpine Canoeing on Jasper Lunch on the shore of 3 mile island And the trip comes to an end. happy but tired
While there were many obstacles facing us even before we even left on this trip it was great to once again embark on a canoe trip in the BWCA. A couple of lessons learned, I will be bringing a sleeping bag on every trip going forward no matter what time of year and packing food that does not weigh a metric ton. I know I said this last year and it still holds true, you cannot put into words the range of emotions you go through as you travel the BWCA. The feelings of adventure, challenge, accomplishment and satisfaction to name a few and not necessarily in that order. And having the chance to introduce and watch others experience and enjoy the BWCA for the first time adds another level of emotions as you get to share one’s passions with those closest to you. I have only been to the BWCA twice now and it amazes me how each trip has been so individually specifically different from the other. While certain aspects of a trip may be familiar, the motion of paddling, the call of the loon to name a few; each trip has its own challenges and adventures to be experienced. As life pulls us in different directions and priorities change, one priority will always stay the same. I will be back again on another BWCA adventure.