BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 27 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1500 feet
Brant to Tuscarora via Little Sag Route:
Bat - Mud
Gillis - burn area is evident:
Peter - first lake trout:
Little Sag - green trees again!
Mora - gorgeous divide of burn and green
Tuscarora - second lake trout!
Missing Link - with lighter food pack, the portage is OK
First Family Adventure Trip
August 03, 2020
Missing Link Lake (51)
Number of Days:
We arrived just after a rain storm and right in time to grab a quick dinner and a "before" photo by the lake. We then headed up the Gunflint trail to Hungry Jack Lodge where we spent the night in the campground. It was cold (low 40's) and misty and we were all freezing cold. Definitely not the weather we were expecting for August. We had warm clothes packed for our trip, but decided to tough it out over night rather than digging to the bottom of our perfectly packed packs. In hindsight that might have been a poor decision. . .
With a very cold, early start we quickly packed up our tent and headed to Rockwood Outfitters to pick up our life jackets and paddles and to arrange to have them transport the Northwind 20 we were renting for the week to Round Lake. They were ready when we got there and we had everything loaded in the canoe and were shoving off the landing at Round by 8:30. The kids had pretty much zero canoe experience, so we spent the trip across Round learning to paddle. After a quick paddle we were across Round and ready for our first portage. That would indeed be the theme for the day-quick paddle across the lake and then portage. While the constant in and out of the canoe drove me a little nuts, for my kids that felt more comfortable hiking than canoeing, it was a great intro to the Boundary Waters.
The first portage was a learning lesson, but we quickly figured out how to get everyone and everything out of the canoe, and then get it all loaded on to our shoulders for the trek across the portage. We had many opportunities to practice during the 8 portages of day 1.
We packed light in hopes of being able to single portage. My husband was a rockstar and took both the canoe and a canoe pack in one fell swoop so we were able to do it. The kids also loved the portaging and felt like 100 rods with a pack was nothing compared to the 8 mile hike we took them on last summer on vacation. I guess it's all a matter of perspective (and how much weight you are carrying on your back-we kept their packs pretty light).
In the end all of the portages kind of blurred together into one memory of rocky, hilly and some tough landings. We also came across three other groups which required some waiting for our turn.
We arrived at Gillis at 12:20 and began the hunt for a campsite. When we arrived all but two campsites were taken. We ended up at campsite 509 right next to the portage into Fern. It was a great campsite, our 12 year old declared it his favorite of the entire trip. We have a pretty big tent (we bought it in anticipation of bringing our younger two along on trips in the future) and there were only a few smallish tent pads, but we made it work. The boys loved the rocky point/peninsula they could fish and swim from.
We quickly got camp set up. After a swim to cool off, the boys tried some fishing from the point and the adults took a nap in the hammock. We ended the evening with steak grilled on the fire and roasted veggies with s'mores for dessert. All-in-all a great first day in the BWCA.
~Round Lake, West Round Lake, Edith Lake, Brant Lake, Gotter Lake, Flying Lake, Green Lake, Bat Lake, Gillis Lake
We got a slightly slower start to the morning, but were packed up and in the canoe by 9. After a quick paddle around the corner from our campsite we were at the portage to Fern. The theme for this day was solitude (we didn't see any other canoers until we got to the portage to Little Sag) and overgrown portages that were a little trickier to find in comparison to the portages from our first day.
It was a beautiful morning. All the lakes we paddled across were smooth as glass. It was very interesting to see some of the burn areas and to see the process of the forest recovering. The area was absolutely beautiful. If you don't need tall trees for hammocks or hanging food, it would be a great area to stay in. You would have the area all to yourself. We saw lots of loons and an eagle.
Overall it was a fairly uneventful day of paddling and portaging. The portages themselves weren't overly difficult, a few of the landings were a bit rocky/tricky to get the canoe out of the water but other than that they included some elevation and lots of overgrown branches and weeds to push through along the way. The only excitement of the day was getting attacked by leaches both coming into and leaving Powell.
We had our first human contact of the day when we reached the portage landing on Virgin heading into Little Sag. We enjoyed a quick snack break while we waited for them to finish loading and then we knocked out our last portage of the day and canoed on in to Little Saganaga.
We entered Little Sag a little before noon and began hunting for a campsite. We were hoping for one of the sites on the island at the north end of the lake, not too far from the portage and we were successful. They were both empty so we chose the one with the sand beach (campsite 821), although we didn't actually find the trail through the woods to the sandy beach until later in the afternoon.
We quickly set up camp and enjoyed the afternoon. My husband (the portaging rockstar) took a well deserved nap in the hammock, while the boys and I swam across the bay to one of the islands.
We had planned a rest day for the next day so we enjoyed a lazy night of fishing and relaxing. We had bacon and cheese quesadillas with rice for dinner and then attempted to make brownies over the fire with our jello mold oven. The mosquitoes came out in full force before the brownies were finished cooking so we enjoyed "lava" cake instead, and then headed to the tent to avoid the bugs.
~Gillis Lake, Fern Lake, Powell Lake, West Fern Lake, Virgin Lake, Little Saganaga Lake
We slept in a bit and then enjoyed a nice lazy pancake breakfast. After breakfast we headed out on a slow paddle/exploration session around the island we were staying on. We explored the other campsite, which was still empty, and did a little fishing. Our son caught the only fish of our entire trip-definitely not a keeper.
We headed back to the campsite for lunch and then spent the afternoon napping, swimming, reading, and playing cards. Late afternoon we hiked the trail through the woods to the sandy beach side of the campsite/island and explored the little cove. The boys found frogs and a baby turtle.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner of Chicken Pad Thai and s'mores nachos and then headed out for an evening paddle. We attempted a little fishing and then found a small rocky island to enjoy the sunset from.
Thanks to our weather radio we knew that wind/rain/storms were in the forecast for the following afternoon, so we packed up everything except our tent and sleeping gear in hopes of an early start the next morning. After a game of yahtzee in the tent we braved the mosquitoes to take in a bit of the meteor shower. We saw a few shooting stars before fleeing the mosquitoes.
~Little Saganaga Lake
The portages on this leg of the journey were definitely more well traveled and generally easier to navigate than the first leg of our journey. We fairly quickly made our way across Mora, Tarry, Crooked and Owl. Crooked seemed like a nice place to stay, maybe on another trip. . .we had one beaver dam we had to get out and walk over, but other than that it was fairly smooth sailing until we got to Tuscarora. By that time (10:30ish) the wind had picked up. We stopped at the first campsite to take a look. It was a beautiful campsite, but the only place our tent would fit was out in an open field area on the point that was directly in the wind. We knew that storms were coming so we decided to attempt to cross the lake to find something a little more sheltered.
The paddle across was rough and all the campsites we passed were taken. After almost an hour of paddling we made it to the campsite on the far end of the island, right between the two portages (campsite 542). It was empty, but also exposed to the wind. There were some tent pads back in the woods so we decided it would do if need be. We quickly paddled around the corner to checkout another campsite (543). It was slightly less windy, but not by much, and there wasn't a great place for our 4 person tent. We headed back to 542 and made a go of it.
We set camp up, making sure to get the rain fly stretched extra tight and secure. The twelve year old took a nap in the hammock and the rest of us did some exploring. We enjoyed wading on all of the rocky ledges and our 10 year old caught a few frogs that were warming themselves on the rocks.
We cooked an early dinner (Mountain house Beef Stroganoff and Chili Mac) and then packed up everything that wasn't needed for the night and prepared all of our gear for the incoming storm. The rain held off and the wind died down enough for one more try at fishing in some of the bays near our campsite. No luck, but we did get to see the sunset in the BWCA one last time.
We headed to bed and had almost fallen asleep when the first storm rolled in. It stormed off and on during the night. Thankfully our new tent (MountainSmith Conifer 5) kept us nice and dry.
~Little Saganaga Lake, Mora Lake, Tarry Lake, Crooked Lake, Owl Lake, Tuscarora Lake
The rain had stopped by the time we woke up. We packed up the wet/muddy tent, ate the last of our Cliff bars and headed off to conquer the monster portage from Tuscarora to Missing Link that we had been dreading the entire trip. We adjusted a few of the packs before heading out, hoping to take some weight off of my husband's pack since he would also be carrying the canoe. Our hope was to single portage, even if it meant taking some rest breaks.
The portage was quite busy (we passed one group heading the same direction, and one group heading the opposite direction). Thankfully there are quite a few places where it is wide enough to step aside/rest so that wasn't too big of an issue. We made it through single portaging with several stops to rest. Overall it was long, and we were hot, sweaty and muddy when we finished, but it wasn't that awful. It was well maintained and not nearly as treacherous as some of the portages we traveled on the first two days of our trip.
After a quick paddle across Missing Link we hit the final portage of the trip. This was our second longest portage of the trip, but my rockstar hikers were ready and they could taste the Dairy Queen in Grand Marais. . .we knocked it out with one tiny rest break and paddled our last few strokes across Round. It took us 2 hours to get from our campsite to the landing on Round. It wasn't nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be, and definitely much quicker than we thought it would be. We passed a lot of wet campers on Missing Link, making us even more thankful that our tent managed to stay dry. We pulled in to the landing at round hot, tired and dirty, but also proud and happy. We made it!
A quick stop at Rockwood to drop off paddles and life jackets and then off to Grand Marais for some well deserved ice cream. Next a quick trip down to the campground in Silver Bay to be reunited with our littlest two ,who had a fun week filled with their own north shore adventures. A few quick showers and then pizza in Duluth while watching a 1,000 footer go under the lift bridge. A great way to end our north shore vacation.
Overall we canoed across 21 lakes (Round lake X2) and portaged 1,439 rods. It was a strange mix of really hard work and relaxation. We loved the solitude and the quiet, as well as the special time we were able to spend with our oldest boys. It was a bit of an ambitious route for a first time trip for the kids (and my first trip in 20 years), but they handled it like pros and have already claimed the right to plan the route for next year all by themselves. The seven year old has also asked to join in next year, and in hindsight he would have done fine on this trip, so we will probably bring him along as well. Send us your recommendations. . .my 10 year old really wants to catch fish next year so any ideas of places where it's easy to catch fish in August would be great. . .
Thanks to all of you who have posted trip reports and answered questions on the trip planning forum. I spent a lot of time reading through all the posts this summer and it helped us plan and prepare well. The only two items we forgot were chapstick and syrup for our pancakes.
~Tuscarora Lake, Missing Link Lake, Round Lake