BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 04 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 15
Elevation: 1184 feet
Saganaga Lake - 55
Saganaga to South Arm of Knife Lake to Seagull
June 19, 2009
Saganaga Lake Only
Seagull Lake Only (54A)
Number of Days:
Our trip started on Friday at approximately 12:30 PM EST, after I (Dan) got out of work from a half day at the Sheriffs Department. When I got home I called Slick to find out how the last minute shopping had gone while I was at work. Slick, Jones, and Craig had all met here in Middlebury Indiana where we all grew up together. Slick confirmed that they were almost done at Wal-Mart and would be en-route shortly to my house. I knew this meant I only had 15 minutes or so to finish getting all of my supplies around, so I double checked my bag. All 4 of us had been to boundary waters before, however it was with a group from 8th grade back in the summer of 1997. Slick had arrived the night before after driving from Virginia Beach, Jones had flown in from Tampa Florida to Indianapolis where he met Craig. From Indianapolis Craig drove to my house where we departed towards Chicago. Traffic was horrible as we arrived there during rush hour traffic. Once we made it through Chicago we headed North to Milwaukee where we stopped in with Josh, another classmate and friend of ours. After eating dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings in Milwaukee we left at approximately 8pm CST. According to Craig’s GPS we had another good 9 hours until we were to arrive in Duluth.
Total Distance from My house to Seagull Outfitters: 754 Miles
After a long night of switching drivers and allowing each other to sleep (except me) we finally made it to Grand Marais MN. It was about 6AM, and nothing was open. We had to wait for a couple of hours for the Ranger Station to open so we could watch the video and get everything finalized. We decided to eat at the South of the Border Cafe as soon as it opened. After breakfast we quickly made it back to the Ranger Station, when they finally opened we went in, watched our video and were on our way. About an hour or so later of driving up the Gunflint Trail we made it to Seagull Outfitters where we had rented canoes. Slick being the penny pincher he is rented us the heaviest aluminum canoes that Seagull offered, since they were also the cheapest. After a short wait at Seagull, we loaded up and launched at Saganaga Lake with a tow to American Point. Slick and Jones had done this trip last year and were confident in their map reading skills. We borrowed a map from Josh on the way up, and just prior to us leaving my house I had found the map that I bought on my trip in 8th grade. Each canoe had a map, Slick and I started in one canoe and Jones and Craig in the other. As soon as we were dropped off the argument ensued, Slick and I wanted to launch our canoe from where the motor boat dropped us off at (east side of American point) and the other two wanted to walk their canoe to the other side and launch in the more protected west side. As it turned out we met up with each other at the same point so it really didn't matter. After what seemed like an hour or two of paddling in some heavy wind and waves we reached what we thought was the small channel that goes from Saganaga to Swamp Lake. Craig and Jones being the quicker paddlers decided to go ahead of us and make sure that our map reading had been right. Much to our dismay they came back and shouted "it's not back here, maybe its over there". For the next 3-4 hours we paddled all across every point, island, and inlet on the west side of Saganaga Lake not finding our correct opening. We finally decided to paddle to a campsite and get our bearings on our map again. After studying and cussing a bit, we finally decided to go back to where we originally thought it was. After another paddle back to the first spot, we paddled further in and discovered that indeed we had gone to the correct place in the first spot. Finally our first portage was 5 rods all we did was lift our canoes up and over a small rocky area and we were in Swamp Lake. We stopped for a group photo op here at this portage. At Swamp Lake I immediately recognized the surrounding terrain from my trip there about 12 years ago. After a short paddle across Swamp Lake we were at Monument Portage. Our first real portage (90 rods) of the trip, and my first test of my bad back which had been ailing me for the week prior (I found out a week after the trip that I have a herniated disk and a pinched nerve). We double portaged our canoes and equipment through this portage after seeing a couple of Snapping Turtles on the Canadian side of the dock and were quickly on our way. We stopped at the monuments for a picture op, and then set sail on Ottertrack Lake for a short Journey before we hit our next portage (the worst of the trip) to get to Ester Lake. We quickly made it to this portage which was nearly straight up hill and was 80 rods. It was a real test of my physical limits, however after fighting this portage twice, we had made it to Ester Lake. We decided that Ester is where we would set up our first camp, hoping to get one of the campsites on the Island on the South side of the lake, we quickly realized that it had already been taken. We were all wore out after a long day of paddling and arguing that we would take the first campsite to the left. It wasn't a great campsite, but it sure was great to be able to set up camp, build a fire and get some food down. We set up our tent and unloaded our canoes. A short time later Slick and I had the fire going and Jones (the designated trip cook) started our hamburgers that we had packed in a cooler. After eating, we decided to try our luck fishing, Slick and I fished the east side of the lake while Jones and Craig fished the west side of the lake. Slick and I immediately began catching Smallies. We threw them all back since we still had hotdogs in the cooler. We fished until dark and then returned to camp, drank some vodka, reflected on our day, and called it a night.
We woke up bright and early this morning, ate breakfast, and discussed our plans for the day ahead. Jones and I were going to try and canoe down to Hanson Lake and then over to Link Lake, Gift Lake, and then to Fish Lake. On our way past the Island Campsite on the North side of Ester, a group of guys with a strong Canadian accent greeted us and said "happy fathers day". I had completely forgotten that it was Fathers Day and quickly wondered what my wife and 2 year old boy Wyatt were up to today. Our goal was to make it to Nawakwa Lake, but we couldn't quite make it that far due to a bunch of downed trees, so instead we spent most of the day fishing Fish Lake. We quickly found out that this lake had been named Fish Lake for good reason. We began catching Northern Pike as soon as we got on this lake. I ended up catching a really big one on a 9 inch Jointed Rapala as it was trolling behind the canoe while we paddled across the lake. Jones netted this fish for me, however my treble hooks became so entangled with the net, that we spent the next 2 hours trying to free my lure and salvage the net. We found a rock and parked the canoe here, where I eventually gave up on my struggle to free my favorite pike lure. Jones then began surgery on the net, and eventually freed my lure, Slick's net now had a 1 inch hole in it. We fished a bit longer, however since the weather was in the mid 80ºs we decided to head back to camp due to it being quite a paddle and 3 portages back. The "portage" that we used to get onto Fish Lake was nothing more than a channel that was a foot deep at its most, crossed several jagged rocks, and a beaver dam. When we got back to camp, Slick and Craig explained that they had tried their luck on Rabbit Lake which was much closer to our camp, however didn't catch anything. Craig also explained that Slick had tipped the canoe and they both went for a swim in 10 feet of water. We then built a fire and noticed a turtle had also joined us at camp and was laying eggs on the rock face near our fire grate. After eating our hotdog's for dinner, we decided that we would get up bright and early tomorrow and pack up, heading to the South Arm of Knife Lake. Slick and Craig decided they would take the 55 rod portage next to our campsite over to Ashdick Lake and try their luck for Pike. They made it back a couple hours later explaining that they really liked this lake and did really well on it. And that maybe next year we will stay on this lake.
This morning we woke up as the sun was rising, so that we could get to paddling and get our favorite campsite on Knife Lake. We headed south past the guys who had wished me a happy fathers day. On the South side of the island we noticed that there were a couple other groups camping at these campsites as well. Quickly we were making our way through the narrow channel that flows between Ester and Hanson Lakes. Hanson Lake was nice and quiet, we didn't see another soul on this lake (it was still VERY early). We made it to the Knife Lake portage, which was our only portage for the day, and I believe it was the longest of the trip. It started out by going up a steep uphill climb, however was downhill most of the rest of the portage. About 3/4 of the way through this 120 rod portage there was a beautiful waterfall we stopped and took a few pictures at. This was a mistake....The mosquitoes hadn't been an issue all trip until now. They were swarming us like a flock of angry birds. We quickly made our way to Knife Lake and back one more time through the minefield of robin sized mosquitoes. The guys asked if we wanted to go back to the falls and get a group picture, we all decided that we'd rather paddle up to our campsite and come back at a later time and check out the waterfall. We made it around the first campsite and point and were excited to see that our site was still vacant. We quickly raced to this site and unloaded our belongings, setting up camp, eager to return to the bay near the portage for some walleye fishing. We had brought a bucket of leeches from Grand Marais and were eager to try our luck. Slick and Jones made their way back to our “secret walleye hole” while Craig and I decided to try and go find some firewood, since all of the wood at our campsite was wet and nearly unusable. Craig and I paddled up past the portage to Toe Lake and around the point to the next two campsites to discover that the one directly behind the island was occupied. We then stopped at the other campsite to see if we could find anything of value, however we quickly decided that this was also a lost cause. We started to fish our way back to our campsite since the wind was at our back. Craig and I both caught our fair share of Smallmouth Bass and small Northern Pike. Craig even found some old wood that had been cut up by a beaver some time ago, it ended up being great for firewood. We threw all of our fish back, in hopes of Slick and Jones returning with a stringer of Walleye. When we made it back to camp, Slick and Jones were still across the lake, so we hoped that meant they were having luck. Craig and I built the fire up and enjoyed the call of a couple of loons that were visiting us. Shortly thereafter Slick and Jones returned with one Walleye and a Smallmouth. We cooked them up and ate a good lunch. After lunch Craig and I made our way back to the waterfall and decided to climb up in the falls to take a “shower”. Later in the evening we tried our luck for Walleye and caught our fair share. We had a good meal of Walleye tonight for dinner.
Slick woke up before everyone else, agitated that no one else wanted to get up as early as he. He was catching bass off of our campsite, and came in the tent with one threatening to slap us in the face with it if we didn’t get up and go fishing. Craig got up and they went over to Toe Lake to try their luck for some pike, while Jones and I decided to sleep in and rest up. While we stayed at camp about an hour after the other guys went exploring, it started to rain HEAVILY. Jones and I in our infinite wisdom decided to put our rain gear on and head out near the islands just up the lake from us for some Smallies. Craig and Slick returned in the afternoon with a stringer full of pike and explained to us that we all needed to check this lake out tomorrow. We spent the rest of the day goofing off around camp, and decided to go for a swim as well as some cliff jumping (right behind our campsite). This evening Slick and I again returned to our “Walleye Spot” and we each caught some nice ones for dinner. We came back and Jones again cooked them up for us as we enjoyed some “Jungle Juice” (lake water, Gatorade Mix, and Vodka). This hit the spot and we discussed our plans for the next day as well as told stories since we rarely get to see each other anymore.
Again Slick woke up before everyone else, and he got Craig up and around so they could go to Toe Lake first thing in the morning. Jones and I got up about a half our later and headed to Toe Lake to meet the other guys. On our way down the portage from Knife Lake to Toe Lake I decided that wearing “crocs” in a portage wasn’t a great idea. I noticed a large pile of what I had decided was “moose crap”. It looked very fresh and was right in the portage. We started fishing Toe Lake and I caught a nice Largemouth right away as well as about 6 medium sized Pike. Jones was off to a slower start, but he was getting used to it, since he and Craig were the two “non fishermen” of our group. A few minutes later we spotted Craig and Slick and made our way over to them to find out that they had stumbled upon a Cow and Calf moose on their way down the portage. We then went our separate ways on this lake and continued to catch some nice pike. Jones and I thought we heard the moose’ off in the distance behind an island, only to find out that it was 3 beavers. We got some nice pictures of the beavers and then headed back down across the lake towards the portage again where I had caught my Largemouth. Craig and Slick were over in this area drifting and catching some more pike so we decided to do the same. Jones finally caught a pike, and I was in the process of catching a nice one when someone in the other canoe said something about an eagle across the lake. I caught my fish, let it go, and looked across the lake to notice a Bald Eagle swooping down towards the lake apparently to pick up a fish that it had spotted. I immediately got my camera and began recording. The loons were also noticing the eagle as they began calling very loudly from across the lake. The first eagle picked the fish up and began flying away, only to lose it. Shortly thereafter another eagle swooped down and got the fish from the water with much better success than the first one. We then decided to head back to camp and call it a night since we knew tomorrow was going to be a long day of paddling and portaging.
Today we slept in until about 8AM, fully knowing we had a long day ahead of us. Our plan was to head out of our site on Knife Lake and hopefully make it over to a site on Jasper Lake to spend our last night on. We made it to our first portage of the day, a 25 Rod Portage going to Eddy Lake at Eddy Falls. We were met at the portage by a group with 4 canoes. We talked to a lady from this group who asked us where we were headed to today, and we told her that we hopefully could make it to a site on Jasper. She indicated that her group was going to Alpine Lake, which meant they would be passing by our campsite. After making this portage in record time, we clearly observed that the group ahead of us, much to our dismay, were a lot quicker than us as they were using lighter gear. We hoped to be able to follow them all the way to our next site, however by the time we made it to the 15 rod portage into Jenny Lake they had already lost us. In no time we were across Jenny Lake and doing another 15 rod portage into Annie Lake with another 15 rod portage to Ogishkemuncie Lake. By the time we made it to Ogish we had the wind to our back and were making pretty good time, making it through the narrows and after a 38 rod portage we were on Kingfisher Lake. On Kingfisher we attempted to make the rapids into Jasper, however after checking it out, we decided we would paddle back and do the 25 rod portage into Jasper Lake. Again we paddled across Jasper with the wind at our back and found the last campsite before the falls into Alpine. We were exhausted and decided to pull up to this empty camp site. By this time we were in the Burn Zone and there was little to no shade. I found the only spot of shade on the rock face on the edge of the site and took a 30 minute nap. I was then waken up by Slick again, and was informed that we would be doing one last portage today, and we were going to find a site on Alpine Lake. We quickly made it to the 45 rod portage into Alpine, doing this portage was a bit more difficult for me as I was exhausted from travels of today. My back was aching and the temperature had to have been around 90º all day. After posing for a group picture at the falls into Alpine, we found an interesting rock just below the surface of the water. We then paddled around a couple of islands before we spotted an open site. As we rounded the corner, here came another group heading right for it. Jones shouted to them, hey do you guys want this site? And they answered that we could have it. We quickly parked our canoes and set up camp. Immediately Jones and Craig paddled back to the large rock under the water so they could pose for a picture. As they were leaving two members of the National Forest Service stopped by and asked Slick and I if we minded if they checked our site for “Hawkweed”. We told them to go right ahead, and discussed our travels with them. Shortly thereafter they were on their way to another site, and Jones and Craig were returning. We built a fire and ate some rice and canned corn. Slick decided to cast his line off the campsite, and quickly got snagged on a rock or limb about 50 feet from the shoreline. He decided that his tube bait was worth wading in the water to go get. On his way back I spotted a brand new looking rattle trap, about 20 feet off of the rock I was standing on, and he made his way to it, diving down about 8 feet to get it. After finishing dinner and dishes it was getting close to dark, so we decided one last night of fishing was in order. Jones and I set sail one direction, and the other two went towards Seagull Lake, where we would be heading in the morning. We all caught a few fish and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. When we made it back to camp it was already dark. Earlier in the day it was decided that we weren’t going to set up a tent on this site due to lack of mosquitoes in the burn zone. We all stretched our sleeping bags out on the large rock at waters edge. It was a perfect “last night” in the wilderness. We stayed up late discussing what we had just experienced, how we all plan on doing it again, and what the trip ahead would entail. We were all amazed at the number of stars that we could see and how dark it got up here compared to at home. Sometime in the night I was awakened by some cussing at me about my snoring.
We woke up today hoping to take advantage of a wind at our back by the time we made it to Seagull Lake. After packing our gear for the last time, we headed out, past a group of boy scouts that were camped on an island campsite on Alpine. After some arguing as to which way we would take to get to Seagull Lake, we decided on trying the 65 rod portage to Rog Lake. We were all happy that this was our last “big portage” of the trip. Knowing it was only listed as 65 rods on the map, I volunteered to carry the canoe. By the time I made it to Rog Lake we all had agreed that this measurement had to be incorrect, as it seemed more like 85-90 rods. We passed another canoeist on Rog Lake and were quickly to our last portage of the trip. Excited at getting to Seagull Lake, Slick and I decided it would be a good idea to leave our gear in the canoe and just carry it with two men down the 20 rods to Seagull. This was a mistake, as we quickly learned that even though it was only 20 rods, it had several sharp rocks that dropped off, as well as a lot of mud. We finally made it to our last lake of the trip, and it appeared that the wind was at our back as we had hoped. We checked the map, went from one vantage point to another and shortly we recognized that we were at 3 mile island. Seeing several motor boats go by we knew we were getting closer to the end of our adventure. After a couple of hours arguing with Jones and Craig about whether we should be paddling harder than we were, we made it to the dock at Seagull Outfitters. It was a bittersweet feeling. We were greeted by a gentleman at the dock, explaining to him that we were actually back a day earlier than we had scheduled. We unloaded our gear, borrowed some towels and made our way to the shower house. About a half hour later we were done showering and carefully fit our gear in the back of Craig’s Jeep. After a last stop in the outfitters, Craig purchased a knife, and Jones and I each purchased a map of our route (now I have 2 maps). After about a 60 mile drive down the Gunflint Trail we were finally back to civilization. We remembered seeing a pizza joint in Grand Marais a week earlier. We made our way downtown and found “Sven and Ole’s Pizza”. As we ordered our pizza and I got my ice water I had so badly been craving out in the wilderness we quickly ate what we had purchased. Slick had a craving for Goldfish crackers, so he drove up to the nearest grocery store. On our way out the door Slick grabbed a Sven and Ole’s bumper sticker, for which we later stuck to the back of Josh’s truck in Milwaukee. It was about a 10 hour drive back to Milwaukee where we stayed for the next couple of days and enjoyed some beer at the Lakefront Brewery Tour, as well as enjoyed some music and beer at Summerfest. It was a great time with great friends. We hope to make this trip an annual tradition.