showalbc: "I really appreciate all the input. Sounds like the consensus is to try to do the Meadows portages at the end of the trip vice the start which is making me reconsider my original plan. Doing the S-Chain looks great, I'm just thinking that might be a little too much paddling for the little guy with. us.
I did a 2-week solo in late-Aug 2016 that took me from PP to Agnes/Woodside/Payne via North Bay/West/Jeff and return through Sunday/Burke/Bayley Bay. I double portage and on Day 1 stopped for a quick lunch on South Lake and then made it to a decent campsite on the far eastern side of Jeff Lake about an hour before dark (it was a very tiring travel day). The paddle from West Lake to Jeff via the narrow channel wasn't bad with one liftover as I recall. After that liftover, I paddled into an area of the creek that was a couple inches of water on top of mud, got stuck, reversed direction, and then headed in what I know now was a southerly direction. After a bit, the creek channel which was about 4-6 feet wide just ended. I didn't want to exit the canoe into what appeared waist-deep stinky muck, could not paddle backwards, but was able to stand up and luckily turn my canoe around. An hour later I poled/pushed through the shallow muddy area and eventually made it to the portage leading into Jeff.
I would think in early July, you'd find the water level between West and Jeff to be a bit higher than I experienced. My suggestion for you is to spend your first night on North Bay or South Lake (nice little campsite fairly close to the portage from the creek (I recall one liftover near the North Bay side of the creek). There's a really nice campsite on the eastern side of East Lake (high up on a cliffside, super scenic). From there I'd suggest going with the portage on the North Side of East into Agnes, paddle through the Bay and then head south toward Louisa (several decent campsites to choose from along this route. Spend your last night on Sunday Lake or Bayley Bay.
As for fishing, North Bay is fantastic, I've heard good things about Jeff Lake, not sure about East Lake, excellent fishing in some spots on Agnes, good fishing on Sunday (although it's always been very windy for me), and Bayley Bay can be exceptional when not windy.
Best of luck on your trip.
From North Bay to South Lake, you'll paddle the entire length of the stream and have a very short portage into South. If the water level is very low, you may have a beaver dam to pull over; I doubt that will happen. You will have beaver dams to pull over on the stream from West to Jeff. The portages from West to East can be wet.
If you get to Prairie Portage early in the morning, say at the time the ranger station opens, you should be able to reach South by noon or early afternoon. If you choose to go through Sunday into Agnes the first day you should be able to be on Agnes by mid afternoon if you get an early start.
An alternative to the Sunday Bay to Sunday Lake portage is to paddle to the Bayley Bay portage to Burke Lake, then paddle northeast to the very short portage into Sunday Lake. You'll be paddling more, but the 2 portages are easier than the long Sunday Bay portage.
With two adults and two teens, I don't think that the 2 meadows portages would be terribly difficult on the first day, if you should choose to go directly to Agnes on the first day. Your nine-year-old will likely just be carrying a very light pack.
West to Jeff involves a bit of pulling through or over obstructions in a narrow marshy flow. Ease of passage depends on water levels but even at the low end it is not that difficult. It's a very nice route. Good camps on South and Jeff Lake. The southern portage out of East to Agnes involves some steep up and down- more fatiguing than technical- they can be avoided by taking the relatively level portage out of the north end of East Lake. Heading out of the north portage of East lake lets you paddle through the Agnes Narrows one of the most spectacular paddles in the park.
I haven't done the South to Agnes trek via West but my son has. He talked about a lot of out of canoe time, wading and pulling through. Not sure carrying a little one over the portages is easier.
I really appreciate all the input. Sounds like the consensus is to try to do the Meadows portages at the end of the trip vice the start which is making me reconsider my original plan. Doing the S-Chain looks great, I'm just thinking that might be a little too much paddling for the little guy with us.
After looking at the map and reading some other threads, it looks like an alternative may be to head to North Bay or South Lake the first day. Then make our way across to Jeff and East Lake, then back down Agnes and into Sunday at the end of our trip. Any thoughts on this being a shorter loop than going up through the S-Chain? It looks a lot shorter on the map.
My preference is not to move camp every day. We are thinking 5 nights, so first night on North Bay or South Lake, next day move through Jeff and East and camp on Agnus. Next 2 days explore up Agnus and down towards Louisa Falls from same camp. Next to last day down Agnus through the 2 Meadows portages and camp on Sunday or Burke. Last day paddle out to PP.
From North Bay to South Lake, do you paddle up that stream/river most of the way? What about the paddle between South and Jeff, no issues?
billconner: "If you make the climb, there are some great sites on Louisa at that end. Also reported to be a great trout lake.
I've done the Meadows portages 3 different trips and the last time in 2016 I paddled down Agnes from Silence with a headwind. I really was worked when I did those two portages and pulled into Sunday Lake exhausted. Then again, I'm not 25 or 30 years old.
My point is it will be easier to do them with lighter packs and early in the day.
If you make the climb, there are some great sites on Louisa at that end. Also reported to be a great trout lake.
I actually don't think the Meadows portages are all that bad. Worn and wide, Sunday to Meadows is maybe 40 minutes for a tripple, a into Agnes under an hour.
I also agree with DD and Bill. I got to Shade Lake from PP around 1:00 back in 2011 on a solo. You probably will be slower with a group and it being your first day but it's doable unless the wind god is not in a good mood that day.
When you get to Louisa Falls make sure to hike up that portage to get a view from the top of the falls. My dog had a heck of a time getting up those rocks and I remember having to lift her up. It was raining at the time and dangerous. Great spot though.
I agree with dentondoc, though not so emphatically to post it twice. :)
The portages to North Bay and S chain are not hard, and if it's going poorly, North Bay has lots of nice sites. I find S chain to be classic canoeing - smaller water.
That seems like a 4, better 5 night trip based on your experience description.
If on the water earlier, good weather, and feeling good - go through Meadows. I'd go by Burke rather than Sunday Bay portage - a little longer but very easy.
It has been suggested that you might consider using the S-chain as a potential return loop from Agnes. If you want to consider this, I'd recommend going in via the S-chain and come out via Agnes/Meadows/Sunday. Doing it this way, you save the Meadows portages to nearer the end ... giving you an opportunity to consume some of your supplies and toughen up a bit before tackling "Little Agony" and "Big Agony" (the Meadows portages).
Headed in this way, the portages through Burke to North Bay are comparatively easy and with a little effort, you could make Shade Lake on Day 1. (If you find yourself tiring or not moving efficiently, you'd simply stop on any of a number of decent campsites on North Bay before pushing further into the S-chain.) With reasonable ease, you could then move from Shade Lake to Agnes, then the jump from Agnes to Sunday putting you in position to paddle back out to Prairie Portage on your final day.
In any case, I've been all over Quetico. I don't think you can select a route that doesn't offer something that is memorable and fulfilling.
showalbc: "Thanks for the info so far. I'm leaning towards getting to the northeast corner of Sunday Lake the first day then tackling the 2 Meadows portages the next day. Any suggestions for campsites on that end of Sunday Lake or good spots on the lower end of Agnes once we make it there?"
I stayed at a pretty nice spot on the east side on a point not far from the Meadows portage in 2016. There's a nice front porch with a place to swim too. The tent sites are well protected.
There are good sites all over those areas. If you happen to get the site at the base of the falls you won't be lonely.
Thanks for the info so far. I'm leaning towards getting to the northeast corner of Sunday Lake the first day then tackling the 2 Meadows portages the next day. Any suggestions for campsites on that end of Sunday Lake or good spots on the lower end of Agnes once we make it there?
Stay on Sunday your first night and that will make the Meadows portages much easier. I thought the Louisa portage was much worse but it was raining when I went through. I've always done well on Agnes. LT are good on both.
The Agnes loop is a good one but you will be working to get there. Louisa Falls on a July day could be memorable. You can get in and stand underneath the water pouring down. If you don’t want to work so much I suggest basecamping on North Bay. There real good sites, fishing, and day trips from there.
The 3 portages from Basswood's Sunday Bay to Agnes will seem long, especially if you do them in the same day. The portage from Basswood into Sunday Lake can be muddy and the landing on the Basswood side is rocky. The portage from Sunday Lake into Meadows Lake is just long. The portage from Meadows into Agnes is a bit shorter, but it is filled with boulders that can make footing difficult at times. Take your time going through these portages, resting as need be, and stay hydrated.
Fishing is good.
Meadows has a few mediocre-to-good campsites and the bass fishing is OK. I wouldn't base camp on Meadows, however.
Agnes is a great lake. Lots of campsites. I've never hauled my gear up to Louisa, but that lake is on my bucket list.
Depending on how you are all doing, you could return by going SW through the S-Chain or through Jeff to North Bay and then back to Prairie Portage.
I'm planning a Quetico trip for the week of July 5-12 2019. Thinking of a Prairie Portage entry. We'll have a group of five - 2 adults, 2 teens and a 9 yr old. Both adults have been on multiple Quetico trips, one teen has been once, and the other will be first timers.
I've done a Carp Lake entry and went to the Man Chain. I've also went towards Sarah Lake but only made it as far as Point Lake. Looking for something not too hard for the younger kid. Fishing is our primary goal. Probably 5-6 days in, doesn't have to be a loop.
Was thinking maybe going towards Louisa or Agnes? The portages from Sunday up that way look a little long, are they bad? Is there good fishing that way? Any suggestions?