BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 03 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1471 feet
East Bearskin Lake - 64
June 05, 2015
East Bearskin Lake
Number of Days:
Since we were entering at East Bearskin Lake, I chose to rent the Aspen camper cabin (at the East Bearskin Lake Campground) for the night. Since there were 6 of us, this was the more economically prudent overnight option versus an outfitter bunkhouse.
After securing our permit at Bearskin Lodge, we returned to the campground boat landing to start our adventure. It was a beautiful day and the paddle east was a taken at a relaxing, pleasurable pace. We chose to take the more convenient southern arm portage to Alder Lake.
This trail is about as nondescript as a portage of this length could be. The aromatic indulgence, from the large pine trees along the way, filled the air and helped put us in the proper frame of mind as we went about the task.
Alder is an exceptionally scenic lake. Large pines guarded the undulating rocky shorelines, as we paddled down this (thankfully) mostly unpopulated waterway. I had targeted either of the 2 western sites on Canoe Lake, (which could be seen from the portage landing) so after reaching the short portage, I instructed everyone to hold off a bit while I ran across to check campsite availability. If they were both occupied, I’d planned on heading towards Pierz Lake, so I didn’t want us to unnecessarily haul our gear across. While the site directly across the lake was occupied, the western most site was open so we proceeded across the portage.
After bringing his first load across, Ross told us that the group using the middle site had pulled up camp and was paddling for the portage. Since I consider this the premier site in the area, our timing couldn’t have been better. So of course, after completing the portage, we paddled over and claimed it as our home.
This large expansive site aided in getting camp up quickly, as there was no need to bump elbows. Afterwards, we all gathered around the fire grate area to relax a bit. Since this wasn’t planned to be an overly taxing trip, we all brought some extra luxury items. Soul Brother had Dan Cooke modify one of his old packs to be insulated. We loaded it down with ice and brought in several pounds of fresh meat. Additionally, I had brought a couple growlers of Blueberry Blonde from The Boathouse in Ely, and it proved to be a most refreshing, ice cold treat. Soon thereafter, Lt. Dan was plying the waters for the first catch of the day.
The hammocks were often occupied throughout much of the early afternoon, and an early supper of jambalaya with devoured with thoughts on hitting the water early to try and get a jump on the fish. Unfortunately, the fish weren’t as eager as we were and we returned to camp with our collective tails between our legs. Never the less, we enjoyed the splendor of the rest of a beautiful canoe country evening.
Daily travels, 2 portages totaling 70 rods.
East Bearskin Lake, Alder Lake, Canoe Lake
A beautiful morning greeted us, and we enjoyed a scrambled egg breakfast. The plan today was to head for nearby Johnson Falls.
We stashed our canoes and gear off to the side of the portage landing and began working our way across this monstrous portage. Of course only having to carry our water bottles and some pocket able gear kept the mutinous comments at bay.
The heat of the day intensified as we made our way back to the falls. Upon arriving, we find a group fishing below the falls & having great success catching bass. We chat briefly then, wanting to give them some space, head downstream to check out the colossal cedar tree located there. When you consider how old this cedar is; (having to survive weather, fire, disease, insects etc.) in my estimation this tree is more impressive than the falls. Awestruck, everyone marveled at this age old sentinel of the forest.
Soon we were able to enjoy the falls as well. This was about as high as I’d seen the water here, and the force of the flow was palpable. Still, most everyone took their turn rinsing off the accumulation of grime that a canoe trip can generate. And of course, the usual battery of photos was taken.
We lingered in the area for quite awhile, just enjoying the soothing atmosphere this enchanting spectacle affords. Our timing for leaving must have been just about right, because another group showed up just as we were climbing out of the gorge.
After working our way back across the portage, we decided to head for Crystal Lake to try fishing there. Yet again our efforts were met with stiff resistance. After awhile our bellies told us it was time to start back to camp. Everyone was looking forward to the fresh steaks & chops!
After supper we tried fishing yet again. The results, again, were nil! The only difference was that this time we got chased back to camp by rain showers. The CCS tarp came to our rescue and we were still able to enjoy a pleasurable, dry, evening amid a persistent soaking rain.
Dailt travels, 2 portages totaling 96 rods.
Canoe Lake, Crystal Lake
The rain had stopped, but it was still overcast & gloomy this morning. The plan was to hit Crystal Lake and see if we’d have better luck fishing there.
Lt. Dan had a strike early, but wasn’t able to close the deal. Fittingly, that was as much luck as any of us would have on Crystal. So, we decided to head across to Spaulding Lake and look for the old prospectors’ cabin. The portage to Spaulding was slightly overgrown with some very moderate elevation change. I also thought some of the rock outcroppings on the southern shore were particularly unique.
The landing at the creek was deplorable! Large slippery boulders made exiting the canoe safely a dicey affair. After some erstwhile searching, Clay finally called out that he had located the cabin. The best way to describe how to find it is just follow the north side of the creek until you come upon the huge beaver dam, then walk straight up (north) the hill about 100 feet or so. (GPS coordinates N 48 3’ 9.98” W 90 12’ 45”)
This cabin was put together a lot better than most of the other old cabins I’ve run across in the BWCA. There were even pieces from an old stove with marking on it from 1885. A short distance away, was piled old garbage and cans. Unfortunately everything was too rusty to be able to discern exactly what they had been. Still, I think everyone was satisfactorily fascinated with this remnant of Canoe Country history.
Since we hadn’t any luck anywhere else, I decided to lead the crew down to Bench Lake to try for some brook trout. I didn’t know it until we got back to camp later that evening, but this portage did nearly cause a mutiny. The trail was easily followed, but there were so many overhanging branches and tight squeezes for the canoe making walking down this slick path an arduous affair.
Once there, our luck didn’t improve in the least. Even though fishing was horrible, we lingered on Bench for quite awhile; undoubtedly the portages back out made procrastination the word of the day. Cedar trees rimmed the shoreline of this quiet little lake with an impressive wall of large pines looming just behind. I don’t think anyone really took the time to adequately appreciate the beauty of this scene.
Mercifully we did make it back to camp without serious incident or delay. Hell bent to catch a fish, Clay & Ross stayed out fishing on Canoe Lake while the rest of us retreated back to camp. They were finally able to hook into a decent smallie to salvage a measure of dignity.
Once back in camp it was all about supper and getting dried out - which everyone did. This being our last night, (although we were all utterly astounded at how poor the fishing had been), we sat up telling stories enjoying each other’s company as the sun eventually disappeared over the western sky.
Daily travels, 6 portages totaling 386 rods.
Canoe Lake, Crystal Lake, Spaulding Lake, Bench Lake
It was still a little gray this morning as we woke, but the sun would eventually win out. A quick breakfast & we’re on our way.
There isn’t a lot of traffic as we retrace our entrance route back to the East Bearskin Lake landing. It’s an absolutely gorgeous day for a paddle and we are now essentially able to single portage.
Once back at the landing we load up and head for burgers at Trail Center. From there we say goodbye to half the crew while Ross & I head to Gunflint Northwood’s Outfitters with Lt. Dan. His daughter Jodi was working there and we stopped in for a short visit before officially heading for home.
I can’t recall a trip where fishing was so poor for so long. But, even considering that fact, everyone still had a great time & was already talking about doing another trip next year. (Hopefully with better fishing!!!) It helped ease my psyche when I read a thread on bwca.com where several people also admitted lackluster fishing results during this same time period.
It was kind of ironic, since fishing was so spectacular on the trip I did with my wife & daughter just the week prior. I guess this was Gods’ way of equalizing things? Since my daughter caught her first ever fish (and several others) on that trip; in the final analysis, I can still call myself extremely grateful how things worked out.
Daily travels, 2 portages totaling 70 rods.
Canoe Lake, Alder Lake, East Bearskin Lake