BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 04 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1276 feet
Little Isabella River - 75
Little Isabella Trip
July 31, 2018
Little Isabella River
Number of Days:
We left our home in Southeastern MN around 7 AM, and had secured our permit and had lunch by 1 PM. Then we had to backtrack 20 miles for gas. Whoops. With a full tank, we took off to our trailhead, with Google Maps said was a little under 2 hours away. After getting stuck in road construction for about 15 minutes, we got lost. Google Maps cut out. It left a vague screen behind, that showed only lines for roads. Okay…. In addition to hard copy map for out trip, which had road numbers on it, we drove off.
Ah bad idea. We ended up on an ATV trail. For over 12 miles. It was all white knuckled driving and heads out windows to check the canoe straps for an hour and a half. Thee were not well kept ATV trails either. They were overgrown, with huge rocks strew about, and parts were the right side of the road was 3 feet higher than the left side.
We have a good laugh about it now, picturing our Pontiac Vibe bouncing through the woods with a 22-foot canoe on the roof.
Once we arrived at the trailhead, we feared we had a flat tire, but pushed it to the back of our minds, as nothing was to be done about it now. The initial portage was easy, and the first ? of the river was too. It is a narrow river, not more than 10 feet across, but we had no troubles with the depth. We have a shallow draft canoe though.
I believe there were 5 small portages on the Little Isabella River, and 2 dams. There were also large patches of reeds that you have to build up some speed to coast through. The second half of the river had more turns and took some maneuvering. I wouldn’t recommend this specific River if you don’t have someone along that knows how to steer a canoe. Haha. In total, the trip down the Little Isabella took about 3 hours. (We don’t bring watches)
As we neared the end of the Little Isabella, the sky clouded up and it was growing dark. We were lucky to find the campsite right off the Little Isabella, on the Isabella, open, and we stayed there the first night. It rained most of the night, but the fly was on the tent and all of our gear was under the canoe.
The rain stopped eventually, but it must have been after noon by that point. Again, it was difficult to tell as it remained overcast. We went down the Isabella River, which was gorgeous, and stopped at the end to eat. We had macaroni in a cardboard box. Mistake. The cardboard was soaked from the night before, ad the noodles had taken on a weird, almost boiled look.
After dinner, we portaged from Isabella River into Bald Eagle Lake. It was a large lake, and windy, but the wind was to our backs. We paused for a brief while at a site there to wait out a bought of rain, and considered spending the night, but ended up continuing onto Gabbro Lake. It was sort of difficult to find how to get there, and had an audience when we eventually did.
It was a little, I don’t quite know how to put it, a little waterfall maybe. We had to exit to canoe and carry it across about 15 feet or rock, the place it in the other side. That went well, I got back in the front, the my Father went to push off the rock to get us clear of the rapid water, but he slipped. He fell into the canoe, and snapped the back off his seat. It was still usable, and he was uninjured, save for a small cut on his knee, so we were rather lucky not to tip.
Anyways, there we 4 men in kayaks watching, and they offered us a spot at their site after informing us that Gabbro was crowded. We thanked them, everyone you meet in the Boundary Waters is so nice, and continued up the Lake. It was windy and cold, sputtering rain, but we did eventually find an unoccupied site. We had supper and hit the tent early.
In the morning, it was still overcast, but it was dry. We spread our things over a line and out on the large flat rock of the site to dry. We hung around all morning, not wanting to make the same mistake as yesterday. Then, a patch of blue sky opened up. My dad has a name for that. He calls them “Sucker Holes.” He told me a story of when he was climbing Mt. Rainier, and had seen a Sucker Hole, so his group had continued up, only to be stranded in a tent for 3 days.
But, the sky cleared some more, but not completely, so we set off. We had made the decision to try and make a loop, up through Turtle Lake, Clearwater Lake, Camdre Lake, Pietro Lake and Gull Lake, then back into Bald Eagle. Turtle Lake was half burned, but absolutely gorgeous. I have to say I had never felt for isolated in the BWCA then I did on Turtle Lake. Clearwater Lake was beautiful, and correctly named. We could see down a good 20 feet or so. There were also many loons on Clearwater.
It also soon became apparent that not many people came back here. The portage from Clearwater to Camdre was horrendously overgrown. It was very difficult to find, and we lost the trail halfway when we crossed over an open grassy area. Cambre Lake was small and desolate. And the portage from Camdre to Pietro was nowhere to be found. We must have searched for the better part of an hour, both from the canoe and on shore. In the end, I think we did find it, as a water portage part of the way at least, but it was impassable. Just from the beginning, we could see a half dozen trees downed over it.
We had to admit defeat and take the grueling portage back to Clearwater as the sun was setting. We crossed Clearwater, and set up and an overgrown site. It was little used. We made a new trail back to the latrine, dug out the fire grate from its prison of weeds, and cleared off the single tent pad. We pitched the tent in the dark and ate some sad ramen noodles. It had been a long day.
We backtracked across Clearwater and Turtle, and fought the wind on Bald Eagle for what seemed like hours. As we portaged back from Bald Eagle to Isabella River, we weighed whether to spend a fourth night at the site we had previously stayed at, or call it a trip and get a hotel in Ely. We ended up staying, and the sun came out in the late afternoon, the first time the whole trip. We made an early camp, and hung around reading most of the evening.
We left early, knowing we might have a flat tire to deal with, and paddled up The Little Isabella River for probably 4 and a half hours. We were in no rush, enjoying the last bit of wilderness. We took out time crossing the small portages and dams, then hauled everything back up to the car.
Upon further inspection, the tire was not flat, just very lower. We loaded up and set sights for Ely. We filled the tire and had ice cream before starting the 5 hour drive home.
It had been a good trip, despite the weather and setbacks, and it was more of an educational trip then anything. It was my first experience paddling on a river, and the longest trip I had been on thus far. I adore the Boundary Waters, and the week with my Father is my favorite of the summer.
Thank you for reading, and happy trips!