CalTopo is awesome. It's also totally free!
It just uses USGS and Forest Service maps, which you can download for offline use, and you can import or export geopositional data in multiple formats. I like to use it to plan all of my long distance hiking trips and then print out and laminate the maps.
Have an old phone? You can use it as a GPS instead of buying one by downloading the maps for offline use, and exporting your route data from CalTopo to your favorite GPS app, whether that's Google Earth or something more serious like Gaia GPS. You can then put your phone in airplane mode, take it into the wilderness, and you have a GPS!
Those CalTopo maps look really nice. May have to look at getting them.
Well here is our revised route. After talking about it we decided to take the Cam lake portage if it gets us away from the crowds. Thanks again for all the help and let me know if you think of anything else. I'm getting really pumped to get out there and I'll be sure to report back on how everything goes!
quote nofish: "Personally I'm not deterred by hard portages, often times I seek them out in an attempt to get away from crowds. I'd much rather deal with a hard portage than paddle a big lake with a stiff head wind. For me I feel like I'm getting to experience more when I'm on a portage versus just paddling along a shoreline."
I was assuming 6 days and 5 nights, so with 7 days and 6 nights, you should have plenty of time. I guesstimated your route around 45 miles assuming you'd walk each portage 3X to double portage, so about 7-8 miles per day for 6 days. That would just be 3-4 hours per day. Enjoy yourselves!
Personally I'm not deterred by hard portages, often times I seek them out in an attempt to get away from crowds. I'd much rather deal with a hard portage than paddle a big lake with a stiff head wind. For me I feel like I'm getting to experience more when I'm on a portage versus just paddling along a shoreline.
Kalvan, thanks for the info on fishing. That thread was a good read and it definitely sounds like I'll have to see how long I can keep some live bait alive, according to what people are saying on this forum. Thanks for the potential fishing spots as well!
nofish, there isn't any particular reason we chose to head West, we just knew we were going to be in the Gunflint area and the website of our outfitters suggested a couple of routes from Poplar to Ham, so that's what we've been working with. Also, the Meeds permit was one of the only ones available for our entry date.
I think we will take you guys' advice and head to Omega to avoid as many crowds as possible as well as a long paddle into wind on Winchell. Though after reading this thread, going up Cam lake is a tougher decision because it seems likely we will be able to get a campsite there as opposed to some of the more easy to reach areas. Might be worth the rough portage.
I forgot to mention that we will be there 6 nights, 7 days.
Couple of thoughts.
1. Any reason for picking east to west versus west to east? If you stick to this route you'll heading into the prevailing wind and you'll be paddling some lakes that will be pretty tough and not much fun if you're dealing with a stiff west wind. Winchell isn't nicknamed WindHell for nothing. I've done both Winchell and Brule with a bad west wind and it was absolutely brutal. If you take Ducks advice and stick to Pilsbury, Henson, and Omega you'll portage more but avoid the bulk of potentially bad paddling on Winchell. Maybe leave that section of the route flexible based on wind conditions.
2. Wake up early and plan to set camp by early afternoon. The closer you are to Brule the more important this becomes. Brule can be VERY busy and campsites can be hard to find on Brule and surrounding lakes.
3. I think this will be a challenging route as it stands right now. Its a good mix of tough portages, potentially tough paddling depending on wind, and also the challenge of navigating crowds and finding campsites. Did you mention how long you expect it to take?
4. Fishing...If you make Winchell a camping stop don't have high expectations for fishing. Its a really tough lake to fish. I've heard rumors of people doing well on it but they are very rare reports and from my experience I don't know how much I believe them. Its a deep lake with almost immediate drop offs. If you want to fish you may want to lay up a little short of Winchell or push past it before setting up camp.
I'm doing close to the same route (but other direction) in about two weeks. Ham Lake to Poplar, but we are going through Kiskadinna instead of all the way down to Brule. We'll be on Long Island Lake Aug 23 - 25, maybe we'll paddle by you.
For fishing, check out this thread: BWCA August Tackle Box
Lots of good info in there. You can target Walleye and Smallmouth early in your trip (Meeds to Gaskin). Winchell, Cherokee, Gordon, and Long Island are mainly trout and pike lakes. If you can, get over into Frost Lake. Much better trout fishing there than in Cherokee.
I've been compiling various potential fishing spots from forum threads in a KML file. Just be sure to save some for me. ;-)
Excellent info guys, I'm very glad I posted here. I knew that we would have to enter at Meeds, I just didn't change the map. However I will definitely take the Cam lake portage into consideration, along with your advice about staying on the interior lakes to avoid crowds. That's exactly the kind of heads up I was looking for. I will have to discuss this with the guys and see what they think.
I kind of favor ducks route as he suggested. Since Brule is another entry point, you are heading back into the chances of being on lakes where some folks who don't want to travel as far may be camped--possibly a bit more occupied sites. If you go through Omega, Henson, etc.. your are hitting interior lakes and will continue to put distance between you and any entry points as you travel and have much more opportunity for solitude.
Great advice above.......
As mentioned by others you will need to enter at Meeds not Lizz. If I was entering at Meeds w/ a destination of Winchell I would go Meeds, Swallow, Pillsbury, Henson, Omega, and Winchell. I have been to the area several times and I really like the stretch from Pillsbury to Omega because it is a lot less busy than the Caribou to Gaskin stretch.
that section you have from Brule to Cherokee is among the toughest stretches of portages ive encountered in the BWCA
I'll echo what has been said. Biggest thing I see is the Cam route vs the Temperances route. It's rugged but you may like it. Temperance route isn't too bad except for Sitka to Cherokee.....that one is tough.
I'd also like to add that you will be entering during one of the busier weeks in the BW .....on a seasonal basis. Put some distance between you and your entry point on the first day and don't plan to lay up short your second to last day for a quick exit your last day. The lakes near the entry points will be busy and campsites may be tough to find.
Hi, it looks pretty good with a couple of caveats:
Your map shows you entering at Lizz Lake with a Meeds permit. You will need to enter at Meeds. The portage to Meeds is in the end of the long west bay on Poplar that is north of the Lizz entry and runs straight south to Meeds.
From Meeds you can go to Horseshoe, but may want to consider alternatives. Horseshoe is a beautiful lake and often very busy since it is only a short, easy travel day. From Meeds you could go directly south to gaskin or turn west to Omega, which is a very nice lake.
I'm assuming from the campsites that you're doing 6 days, 5 nights for the route . . . ?
Not sure if your canoeing experience is the same kind and includes portaging (backpacking with a canoe). Mine wasn't - it was floating downriver with the current and no portaging, not flat water paddling on big lakes with long portages. But the route mileage should not be a problem even if you double portage, but some days may be long. If flat water paddling big lakes is new, you should consider that paddling early avoids the worst of the winds or storms that could leave you wind bound, and also allows you to find a campsite early before they fill up. Brule is notorious for being windy.
Other logistics: At the end, you'll have to continue on from Ham Lake to the Cross Bay landing a couple of portages and a ways farther to get to your car or pick up. If you plan to leave your car at the exit, which is the simplest thing to do as far as logistics are concerned, you may want to consider doing it the night before so you can get the earliest start to Meeds.
I have heard that the portages going through Cam are very rocky and lesser used as many people avoid that and go through Temperances. Nonetheless, I'd probably go the Cam route too for the solitude.
It should be a very interesting route. Have fun! And let us know how it goes when you get back.
Solvet, your map shows a Lizz Lake entry but I presume entering from Meeds, you know you can just head east from Meeds to caribou and pick up th eoriginal intended route. Or you could go south from Meeds through Henson and Pillsbery and get to Gaskin or Winchell that way. Gaskin or Winchell would be a good and likely area for first night camping.
There is also an alternative at the west end of Brule to go to South Temperance and up through North Temperance to get to Cherokee. The Temperance Lakes are beautiful, have some good campsites and decent fishing. We walked the portage to Cam Lake a couple years ago and it was not very nice. From North Temperance there are a couple tough portages too but I have to believe they would be in better shape than the Cam Lake portage.
Fishing wise I would say to consider bringing in leeches and would add hooks, split shot and slip bobbers. I believe this will increase your luck and also allow for some casual fishing while in camp.
If you get to South Temperance, the site in the NW corner of the lake is a great site, secluded and has a huge raspberry patch in it.
Looks like a great trip, enjoy.
In a little over a week I'm going to go to BWCA with five of my friends. None of us have ever been in the area, but some of us have canoeing experience and three of us are well seasoned back country campers. I've taken the liberty of plotting a route for us, and reserving an entry permit for Meeds lake. I would have liked to get Lizz but it was all reserved. We will be renting kevlar canoes from Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters.
The route we're planning on is attached as a JPEG, with preferred camping sites marked out. I know we may or may not be able to get the sites we want, but they are more or less there as a guide for how far we should go each day in order to see the lakes we want to and remain on schedule.
We have all of our personal gear sorted out and we know what we're doing in the wilderness, but I would appreciate any tips or guidance you guys have. Especially when it comes to fishing ;)
As far as that goes, so far my tackle box contains: Rapala Shad Rap, Johnson Spoon, spinners, jig heads, white curly tail grubs, Z-Man Streakz, Jitterbug and some PowerBait minnows.
So what do you guys think?