BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 21 2023
Entry Point 55 - Saganaga Lake
Number of Permits per Day: 15
Elevation: 1184 feet
Saganaga Lake - 55
A Paddling Partner for Life
July 01, 2008
Seagull Lake (54)
Number of Days:
Finally! What a feeling it is getting into the car early in the morning for the ten hour drive up to the Gunflint Trail. The anticipation is over. The trip has begun! Many thoughts enter my head along the drive. How will the fishing be? Will we get that campsite on Alpine Lake I've been dreaming about? Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Am I doing the right thing bringing a four year old into the wilderness? What will the wife do to me if anything happens to her baby? Will Lauren enjoy the trip? Have I prepared enough?
I am confident in the outfitter selection. Debbie Mark and the crew at Seagull Outfitters have always taken good care of me on past trips. I know the equipment I will be renting will be top quality. I hope the equipment I have purchased this year will work out which includes: a new CCS Pioneer Pack, a MSR Windpro stove, and a Tigger sleeping bag by the North Face and a pink Duluth Pack for Lauren.
We left our house at 0230 and arrive in Duluth by 0900. Now the fun part of the drive begins: the North Shore Drive and the Gunflint Trail. We make stops and Gooseberry Falls and Temperance River State Parks. It is nice to get out and stretch the legs and see some good scenery at the same time. We hike a couple short trails, check out the falls and dip our feet in the water.
We arrive in Grand Marais by noon and start heading up the Gunflint Trail. Lauren and I stopped at Trail Center for a quick cheeseburger and fries and then continue on to Seagull Outfitters. We arrive a little early, so we spend some time wandering around the shores of Seagull Lake, looking at the used canoes for sale, and soaking our feet off the dock. By then the outfitter was ready for us. We then did the routing session with one of Deb's staffers, Chris and went over the gear and menu and watched the BWCA video. We tried out a Penobscot 16 and a Bell Northwinds in the bay before deciding on the Bell as it sits a tad lower in the water and felt more stable. Plus it was brand new this year. We then got settled in the bunkhouse and did some minor gear arranging to condense our gear into two packs: the CCS Pioneer back and a 60L Bear Barrel. Once settled we head for the Trail's End Cafe for some cheese pizza and sodas. After dinner we fished a little catching one bass from the dock at the outfitters before heading off to bed. I was a very hot and humid evening, but a late storm cooled the air as we drifted off to sleep.
I woke up at 6am for our early tow on Saganaga Lake to the Red Rock Lake portage. Lauren was still asleep, so I decided to double check the packs and haul them down to the truck for our ride to the boat landing on Saganaga Lake off of road 81. Lauren was not easily aroused, but soon enough she and I were both dressed, ate some blueberry muffins and cereal for breakfast and made our way to the truck. After a 5 minute ride from the outfitter's base we had the tow boat loaded and were making our way up the Sag Corridor.
The skies looked ominous as we made our way into the big part of Saganaga and there was a stiff wind out of the north that made the ride a little choppy. Between sporadic sprinkles, the wind carried with it little bits of sand that pelted us in the face on occasion. All the islands on Saganaga make navigation a little confusing as I try to anticipate where we are heading during the ride. The tow boat driver, Tim chuckles at my comment on this as he is now an "expert" with one month experience at finding his way on this massive lake. We reach the Red Rock portage and it is completly under water. Tim helps us transfer the gear to the canoe and departs. Wow, alone.... We are really going to do this! As we watch the tow boat disappear around a distant point, Lauren anxiously tells me to start paddling. We then paddle through the short 10 rod portage and make our way into Red Rock Lake.
It is a little different paddling a tandem canoe backwards with not much help from up front. I don't keep the straightest line, and I am not in any hurry as we are only going to Alpine lake today. Red Rock Lake is pretty with no fire damage until the southern part of the lake. We pass by some decent campsites and take a break on the last site before the portage into Alpine Lake. I'm a little surprised at the condition of this site as it is overgrown with many fallen trees lying about. It appears that it hasn't been used much if at all this year. Lauren really had to go potty and we couldn't easily find the privy. One of my fears on this trip was how Lauren would react to bathroom situation in the wilderness and I didn't predict that her first experience would be having to go in the weeds. Well, she passed the test with flying colors and I took a big sigh of relieve.
Now for the next test, portaging. We then headed for the 48 rod portage to Alpine lake. My goal was to double portage carrying the equipment pack on 1st trip and the food barrel and canoe on the 2nd trip. Lauren would carry her pack on the 1st trip with me and then just walk with me on the 2nd trip. My thinking was that I could assist her on larger rocks and roots with my free hands on the 1st trip when she carried her pack, since on the 2nd trip my hands would be busy with the canoe. We started across and everything was going as planned. I thrilled to see my little girl cross the entire portage without complaint until the very end. The landing on Alpine was very muddy and swampy and hence very buggy. The mosquitoes instantly swarmed around Lauren (I guess they prefer younger blood) and she was miserable. I rushed to get her head net back on, drop the packs and head back across the portage for our remaining stuff. Lauren walked the entire way again on the 2nd trip and only complained at the very end calling it, "the Mean Bug Forest". We rushed to load up the canoe and get back onto the open water and head for a campsite on Alpine.
I had dreamed on staying on the North campsite on Alpine. Many of my BWCA.com buddies had suggested it to me as a great site and a suitable one for a young child. It was open (YES!!) and it met all the criteria I was looking for with Lauren along: flat and open for her to run around, on a point for wind to keep the bugs at bay, shallow water around the edges with no major drop-off's, and easy spots to fish from shore. What a great site! We arrived around 1030 and had camp entirely set up by noon.
We sat down for a lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, GORP and cookies. There is something about paddling and portaging that makes you hungry and almost any food taste good. The wind picked up changing to out of the west in the afternoon and kept us confined to land. We spent the afternoon exploring camp, collecting rocks and drawing pictures of the day's events in Lauren's "pictorial journal". We didn't encounter any other people today since we left the tow boat driver and had this area of the lake to ourselves. We did paddle around the lake a little and explore, but my partner fell asleep and left me to do all the paddling. Amazing how kids can fall asleep anywhere!
After a dinner of beef stroganoff, green beans, and apple delight, we fished from shore catching two bass and a pike. A nice breeze continued to keep the bugs away as we enjoyed the campfire and a beautiful sunset. As soon as the sun drifted below the horizon the surface of the lake became like glass. With the wind gone and darkness setting in, the forest became alive with the loud hum of millions of mosquitoes. We ran to the tent and quickly drifted off to sleep.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning on Alpine lake. The birds were singing and there was a gentle breeze. A great time for a day trip. After a breakfast of pancakes and bacon, we buttoned up camp and headed south on Alpine towards Jasper Lake. Lauren enjoyed seeing the turkey vulture and was full of questions. "What do they eat? Where do they live? Where are the babies?" All of my answers were followed by a series of "Why's?" as we made good time across the lake.
We took our time crossing the short 44 rod portage into Jasper Lake. It was much easier with just a canoe and day pack. The portage is a little rocky and slightly uphill as it follows a stream with a few rapids that ends with a nice waterfall where Jasper Lake empties. The damage from the Cavity Lake fire was very evident in this area and so was nature's recovery. Amongst the burned out tree trunks were flowers, green shrubs and miniature birch trees. We took time to wade and soak our feet in the pool above the falls as we enjoyed the view of Jasper Lake.
We paddled south then west through the narrow channel and into the main part of Jasper. We passed a gentlemen in a kayak with a border collie balancing on the bow and two groups of six in canoes. Lauren anxiously greeted them all saying, "Hi, I'm in a canoe with my daddy. It is green. What color is your canoe? Where are you going? Why?", giving them no choice but to smile and wave back.
We stopped for lunch at the NW campsite on Jasper which sits on a point high up on a hill overlooking the lake. Amazingly, this site was about the only spot on the entire lake that was untouched by the fire. We had a great view of the lake during a lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches and then decided to head back to Alpine. We fished a little on the way back with no luck.
Back at camp we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the sun and having a snack of GORP and cookies. Lauren wanted to draw more pictures as I wrote in the journal. A couple paddlers stopped by to ask for directions and marveled at my little outdoor girl. Aside from this group, we didn't see anyone else on this part of the lake today. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the paths behind camp and collecting more rocks.
For dinner we had vegetable parmesan and banana cream pie, which were both very good. Once dinner was cleaned up, we had an enjoyable evening of fishing from shore, building a campfire and watching yet another gorgeous sunset. We didn't catch any fish and it didn't matter as the night was filled with quality time with my daughter. By 2200, darkness set in over the glass-like water. We retired to our tent to the sweet sound of the loons and the increasing "Hum" of the mosquitoes.
We woke up at 0700 to another wonderful morning. I decided it was best to move to Seagull Lake today so we wouldn't have to portage and be potentially put in a position of dealing with big water on a windy day tomorrow. We broke down camp, had breakfast and were on the water by 0900. It was another great day for a paddle with a gentle breeze to our backs. The area of Alpine Lake near the portage to Seagull Lake was much busier than the northern bay that we had left as all the campsites here were taken.
We did the 104 rod portage to Seagull Lake in two trips and again Lauren did very well walking the entire way with the pink pack on the 1st trip and "helping" me watch for rocks and muddy spots on the 2nd trip as I carried the canoe and food pack. I barely even noticed the weight of the packs because I was too busy smiling as I watched Lauren continue to flourish in canoe country. I marveled at how she plowed through the mud and found ways to climb up and down rocks that are bigger and taller than her as she tells me, "Watch your step daddy. Mud! Rocks!" The landing on Seagull Lake was buggy and muddy since all the lake levels are high this year. We get the canoe loaded quickly and head out on to Seagull Lake.
I'm relieved at my decision to move on the Seagull today. The wind is still calm and crossing the big part of Seagull is nothing more than a relaxing paddle. "We'll be across the large part of the lake and have all day to find a good campsite. Seagull has plenty of them!" I thought to myself. I threw out the fishing line with a spinner and casually trolled across the lake on our way to the palisades area, catching a nice size smallmouth bass on the way.
As we got closer to the palisades I started noticing how busy Seagull was. All the good sites I had circled in this area were full: Miles Island, the beach site behind the palisades, the palisades site, and the island sites south of the palisades. We moved on to check the sites on the north side of Three Mile Island. Although they are open, I decided to move on as they were pretty steep with high drop-off's into the water and not very nice. We ate salami and cheese for lunch as we drifted between the islands in Seagull's north bay. I decided to check the camp sites in the "Narrows" and along the southern shore of Three Mile Island. Again, none of these sites were very nice and most of them along Three Mile were heavily burnt with no cover and not very attractive. I was starting to get anxious as mid-afternoon was approaching and the wind was starting to really pick up and blow directly in our faces. Soon we'd be past the cover of Three Mile Island and onto the big part of Seagull again. We definitely needed to find a site fast and get off the water. The wind was starting to really pick up and I could see white caps forming in the distance.
As we neared Shirttail Point on the southern shore of Seagull, I noticed a few islands sites just north of our position as we rounded the western end of Three Mile. Finally, we found a great site on one of those islands just west of Three Mile overlooking the big part of Seagull Lake. It was perfect! In reality, I would have taken this site no matter what. I was spent and I desperately wanted to end the campsite hunt. I had promised myself (and the wife) that I wouldn't take any risks with Lauren along. So it was settled. This would be our home for tonight.
It was 3pm when we arrived at the site and we quickly had camp up by 4pm. We explored the island a little and found the privy up on the hill with probably one of the best views for a privy anywhere in the BWCA. The size of the burnt tree trunks in this area were huge. They must have really been grand old cedars before the fires.
This site had a great rocky point that you could fish from on three sides. Lauren caught her first fish of the trip here and was very excited. At first she wanted to keep the bass to bring home, but then decided it was best to let the "baby bass" go back home to mommy and daddy.
We had sun dried tomato pasta and chocolate pudding for dinner. It was a beautiful evening and a good breeze from the west kept the bugs away all night. We fished a lot from shore and caught several nice bass. Another great sunset made for a fabulous last night in the woods. After watching the sunset and a crescent moon rise from our rocky point, Lauren went to the tent to draw pictures and read some books. It didn't take long before she fell asleep with her headlight on and "Go Dog Go" still in her hands. Since the tent was right next to shore, I continued to fish well past dark enjoying the breeze and the heavenly silence of the night.
I always dread the last day of a canoe trip. I am not as motivated to get out of bed and tearing down camp seems to take longer. After camp is dismantled, we have a quick breakfast of bagels and cream cheese and load up the canoe. It is another great day on Seagull Lake--sunny, warm and a good breeze out of the west. At least the last day of paddling will be easy. We head northeast towards the palisades and the many islands in Seagull's northern bay.
It is a very scenic part of the lake and an area that hasn't seen fire recently. Most of the way we just coast with the wind and soak up the experience. There is no hurry today. At the palisades we see a group of young ladies setting ropes to climb the cliffs and another guy attempting to find a good cliff jumping spot. His wife, still in the canoe, was not pleased at all and muttered something about the idiot she married to us and we passed by.
I troll a Rapala most of the way across the lake with no luck. Oh well... We stop by "the chute" where Seagull Lake empties towards Gull Lake and then Saganaga. Man is the water really rushing. We watch a party struggle to paddle upstream and almost get turned and capsize. Eventually we paddle past the church camp on Fishhook Island. It is nice to see activity there and rebuilding after the Ham Lake Fire last year. Finally, we turn the corner into the small bay where Seagull Outfitters resides. I don't even want to paddle and part of me wanted to turn around. But the wind wouldn't have allowed it anyway as it was really started to gust. My mind relents to the fact that the trip is over and we ride the waves back to the dock.
The Seagull crew is really efficient. Before I know it all our packs are unloaded and I find myself standing on the dock watching the canoe get carried away. I appreciated their help, but part of me wanted to savor the moment a little longer. Sigh.... After sorting through the equipment, having a cold drink and a hot shower we are off to meet Cowdoc and family at Tuscarora Outfitters.
We have a nice dinner at Trail Center. A good crowd was enjoying a guy out back playing music and singing. Porterhouse steaks were the special and man did they taste great. Lauren had the fries and ketchup that I promised her for being such a good trooper. We exchange stories with Cowdoc's family about our trips and had a nice time. The time passes quickly and before we knew it the place was almost empty. At 2200, we drive in the dark back up the trail to the bunkhouse and retire for the night.
Here is our trip map.
It is funny how one jumps out of bed to make a long drive at the start of a trip, but then reluctantly rolls out to make the drive home. This is definelty the case for me. After hitting the snooze button a few times, we are out of bed by 0700 and start getting ready to leave. We pack the car and head over to the outfitters one last time to say goodbye to Debbie and staff and purchase some last minute gifts and t-shirts. We take one last look at Seagull Lake, resist the temptation to take a quick paddle, and finally start the car to head home. I'm already looking forward to the next trip as we drive away.
The drive home takes about 10 hours and in a way my therapist might say that is a good thing, since after being in the wilderness for 4 days slow immersion back into the real world is all I can take. Every mile closer to home brings increased traffic and reminders of exactly why we escape to the North. I actually think about work for the first time in a week. Sad.
I don't even listen to the radio the whole way home. It did not even occur to me to turn it on. Guess my mind wasn't ready to hear about the outside world yet. And besides I had plenty of fond memories to keep my mind busy. People will surely ask me if it was worth bringing a four year old to the Boundary Waters and I will emphatically tell them, "Yes!" I saw my little girl grow up in so many ways on this trip. It was an amazing experience and we did it. Seeing the Boundary Waters through a child's eyes changes the way you see it. I found myself enjoying the slower pace and noticing the flowers, the rocks, the toads.
What suggestions would I give others who might consider bringing a young son or daughter to the Boundary Waters? Plan the trip around your child's abilities and not yours. Be smart, be safe. Slow and steady is OK. They will not care if you paddle in 1 mile or 20 miles. To them it is all new and exciting. Include them. Buy a small backpack and have them be responsible for carrying a few of their own personal items. Lauren brought a couple books, a box of crayons, a coloring book, a deck of cards and her stuffed bunny in her pack. It worked great. Let them help set up the tent, cook dinner, and build the campfire. Who cares if it takes longer? They will enjoy just being with you. Talk to them. They are dying to learn from you. Listen to them. You would be suprised what might learn from them.
So yes, bring your son or daughter to the boundary waters. Teach them to enjoy the simple things in life and to love the great outdoors. Just maybe you will find a paddling partner for life. I think I have.