BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 27 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1673 feet
Clearwater Lake - 62
July 20, 2016
Number of Days:
Up early and got the minivan loaded. Coming from the Chicago area, I meet up with the three Milwaukee contingent in Madison. We consolidate gear into my van and head on off through Wisconsin.
We meet the Minneapolis guy at Castle Danger Brewery on the North Shore, where we enjoy a couple excellent beers and dynamite weather on their patio.
From there we continue our north shore exploration with a stop at Palisade Head to take in the views and take a few pictures. Very scenic spot.
Then we head up to Grand Marais and convene at the Gunflint Tavern for beers and food. Great spot on their rooftop bar to take in the sights and sounds of the town and harbor...beautiful evening.
As night began to fall, we head up the Gunflint, where Clearwater Lodge would be our destination. By the time we got up there, it was fully dark, but we had little trouble finding it. Found the bunkhouse, which suited us just fine. We ended the night with a couple more beverages and some stargazing on their dock down on massive Clearwater Lake. Finally turned in to get some rest before the next day's entry.
At some point that sky that lent itself so well to stargazing took a turn and we sat through a storm overnight in the bunks. It sounded like more rain and lighting to me than overly heavy winds, but it was clear mother nature was angry that night.
Awoke to much better weather (albeit soggy still from all the rain). Had breakfast in the lodge which was excellent - all the pancakes, sausage, bacon and fruit we could eat.
Got packed up and ready for our tow across Clearwater. We chose the tow out of pure laziness, and I guess some fear of getting wind bound on such a huge lake. It's the consensus of our group that our time is better spent at camp or out fishing rather than humping it across a huge lake.
Since our trip is geared toward basecamping, we naturally like to try to get a good site. After reading the campsite reviews in this area, we of course were drawn to the lone site on Little Caribou...lots of 5-star ratings. So, we decided we would b-line there as fast as we could to at least check it out and see if it was open. I would have kicked myself if we came to this area and we didn't at least check to see if it was available.
The tow brought us to the portage from Clearwater to Caribou. We all did the portage one direction, then myself and one other jumped in the canoe with some gear and bolted off down Caribou toward Little Caribou while the others hung back and waited to get word from us (half our gear was still back over at Clearwater). Our back up plan was to backtrack that portage and go over to West Pike.
We took the little portage from Caribou to Little Caribou and had to paddle all the way out to the site before we could confirm......it was OPEN! We set up a tent and left some gear there and radioed back to the others that we had our site. They went back to finish the double portage (and we had to return to Clearwater and back as well). But all was good because we had the site we wanted so it was just a matter of getting our stuff there.
That Clearwater to Caribou portage is no picnic...it pretty much features all the characteristics that make a portage harder than others...some length, some elevation, plenty of mud/water, not a very wide path, etc. Nothing that should scare anyone away from the area, but like I said, no picnic.
Made it back to camp and made ourselves at home. This is where I'll provide my review of the campsite....I have to say it does not quite live up to its billing. Don't get me wrong, it is nice and has a lot going for it....solitude as the only site on the lake, ample space around camp, some nice large flat rocks and surfaces for a kitchen, good firepit, and great views being elevated up over the lake. But I have to say there are really no good tent pads, and not a great canoe landing, and getting up and down from camp to the water is a little tricky and a little exhausting after 3 days. Again, I was happy, but I'm skeptical that this site is really in the top-10 BWCA type of company that many of the reviews bestow upon it.
Anyway...the afternoon and evening were spent swimming and fishing. We did hook some nice nothern pike, which served as our dinner. Pike get a bad rap for eating, but I have to say that was one of the best fish frys of my life...excellent.
We ended the night at the campfire with some beverages. All in all, a great put in day.
This was a lazy day...it was hot, so we spent a good amount of time floating in the water. We paddled to all corners of the lake throwing lines in but couldn't get anything to bite today. Hung around camp taking in the sights and sounds of nature. Chicken fajitas for dinner - excellent.
And maybe here's where I'll let you all in on our evening "moose cruise" adventures. This time of year in the BWCA, many days can be quite breezy, but then there's that dusk time when everything calms down and the lakes become glass. This is when we make the call to head out for a "moose cruise." I think we call it this with only a glimmer of hope of actually finding a moose - that's not really the point. We just head out onto the perfectly still lake, paddle to an interesting bay or spot of shoreline, and just...float. At times we'll bring the fishing poles because it feels like a very fishy time of the evening, but that can kind of ruin the moose cruise. The dead silence as you float motionless on the canoe in such beautiful country, surrounded by nature and with the sun on its way below the horizon is magical. Every trip we're looking for these perfect moose cruise conditions, and I think on this trip we got it nearly every night.
This day was spent similar to the day before...swimming, hanging around camp, striking out with the fish....but with a trip to Johnson's Falls mixed in.
We made the portage from Little Caribou to Pine. Not the world's easiest portage, but not too bad. Paddled the short stretch of Pine over to the path to Johnson's falls.
I found the path to be quite a brutal little hike. Which surprised me because in all of the trip reports I've perused, I don't think I've ever really seen it described as being such a b!tch to get to! In hindsight, I believe this was a direct result of the storms we got Wednesday night when we were in the bunkhouse. I didn't really put 2 and 2 together at the time (because I still didn't realize how bad that storm actually was (more on this later)), but there was a lot of deadfall and branches, etc to navigate on the way back to the falls...and actually kind of hard to track the trail in a couple spots.
Anyway, we got to the falls and they were raging. Not much opportunity for swimming when they were chugging that hard. It was cool to see though, and we hung around for a while.
Back at camp we finished up the evening with a swim and some dinner (don't remember what we had to be honest).
Pack up and get out day. All went fine - we had a tow scheduled to meet us on Clearwater, which it did. Took us back to the lodge where we began unloading and packing up the cars, showering, etc.
It was sometime after we got back to the lodge that we began to realize how bad that storm was that we sat through in the bunkhouse. People started asking us if we were all ok, or if we had run into any trouble out there on the portages or anything. Then a delivery driver who had come from Duluth (or somewhere south of there) was telling a lodge employee how much debris was in the roads and how much property damage he could see as he drove through Duluth and other areas.
Then at some point we were informed that two campers had gotten killed in the storm...they were a fair ways away from our location - in Quetico on the Canadian side of Basswood Lake. But still a bit of an eye opener thinking of how close we were to spending one of those frightful nights in a tent that you read about. I know some day it will happen, especially considering our current trip dates are mid/late July, and I know many of you reading this have been through days/nights like that, but I'm not particularly looking forward it. It didn't phase me being in the bunkhouse, but out there in a tent not knowing what the weather is going to do would be unsettling. My heart goes out the families of the campers who were killed.
And on that note.....all in all it was an excellent trip, and provided us with everything we're looking for when we choose this as our annual guys getaway.