Thank you everyone for the great feedback!
Above Upper Johnson is an awesome place. It's a bit of a challenge to get there but worth it.
Have you looked at the availability of the Clearwater EP? I have spent many trips in that area (through E Bearskin) due to the unavailability of Clearwater permits.
Does anyone know what's going on with those permits? I get that area is popular but there are so few permits at this stage of the year...
The portage to West Pike from Clearwater does go up quite a bit before it levels out and then goes down hill to the West Pike lake.
I'll sort of echo what others have said here. Clearwater to West Pike is long but a pretty easy portage. Nice trail with no issue. The Eastern portage from Clearwater to Caribou is not my favorite, if it's been at all wet there's a spot that gets a little mucky.
If it were me I'd aim for West Pike and day trip from there. There are a couple of really nice sites on the Northern shore with towering pines. In my experience you won't have 'solitude' but it's a large enough lake that the people you see will be quite a ways off. I'm a fan of the access to the BRT too, a nice walk in he woods is hard to beat.
We base-camped on the first site on W Pike in spring 2019. The Clearwater-WP portage isn't difficult--just kinda long and dull. There are plenty of opportunities to have the space to rest if you need to along the way. The most challenging part is where it can get a little rocky and slippery nearing WP, but it's still quite simple relative to how many BWCA portages are.
I can also speak for the eastern Clearwater-Caribou portage being a bit of work, but quite nice. It is quite steep at the beginning and ends, but once you're up, it's a wonderful cruising hike to the other end. There's nothing super special to see along the way like some portages, but there's just something about it that I enjoyed quite a lot, and the landing on the Caribou end is a great place to take a break if you're on your way to or from Johnson Falls and are camping on WP, Mountain, or eastern Clearwater.
If you're just base camping for a relaxing getaway, eastern Clearwater, Mountain, or WP are all great because you're situated to be able to reach palisades, Johnson falls, lake trout, pike, bass, possible brookies in Gogebic, BRT overlooking Mountain... I did that Clearwater entry in 2019 and was back in that general area again last year from a E Bearskin entry. I'm love that area and will likely be back again in 22 or 23.
If visiting Johnson Falls, make sure you don't just stop at the lower falls. Keep going to see the upper falls. And don't just stop there either; there is a little more trail leading up to a spectacular view at the end.
The motors on Clearwater are really not that much of a major annoyance. Sure, the whine lasts a bit longer due to the 10 HP's slower speed as it cruises by, but not bad. We spent a few nights at site 681, which is tucked into a small bay on the north side mid-lake, so that helped. Most seemed to be headed to the east end in the morning for some fishing and then back west again in the late afternoon.
If you've listened to the podcast already...give Erik a call or email. I'm sure he could walk that portage in his sleep probably and give you a review. And the campsites he has on the website all reviewed
I did a similar trip 2 years ago. We stayed on Clearwater near the Mountain Lake portage. So when we day tripped to the Johnson Falls, we took the eastern portage from Clearwater to Caribou. There was a significant slope on the Clearwater side then mostly down hill to Caribou. We had an issue with our portage pads so maybe that made the portage seem worse than it was, but the hill on the Clearwater side is no fun. If you are going straight to Caribou, then taking the western portage is probably going to be far easier.
The other portages between Caribou and Pine were pretty forgettable. They were short and we got across them pretty quickly. It was a day trip without our packs, but we did haul the canoes there and back. I have also been on the Snipe to Missing Link portage. That is a rougher portage, mainly because it is overgrown and there is a lot of elevation change. It was pretty muddy when we were there too. Nothing like that in the Clearwater area that I know of. There are plenty of people going to see the falls so the portages are pretty well established, there is also no rock wall in the middle of the portage that you have to climb up or down.
I did that trip in 2016 and the trip report might answer a lot of your questions: Clearwater area trip
I'm bringing my dad on a 5 day BWCA trip on May 19. He's in good shape for his age, but I don't want to plan too aggressive of a trip and risk injury. We did the little loop from Cross Bay to Round last year going trough Snipe, and he wasn't a fan of the Snipe to Missing Link portage. I'm finally getting to the Clearwater Lake area after 11 trips! I was thinking of base camping on West Pike, Caribou, Little Caribou or Pine, and fishing and day tripping from there. I know it's a busy area, and plan to start early. I've been all over the forums, and listened to the appropriate Tumblehome podcasts. Any thoughts on what to expect from the portages leading to these lakes? I know portage difficulty is somewhat subjective and based on fitness level, but I'm especially curious about the portage from Clearwater to West Pike. I'm also taking my 2 kids and dog into the same EP for a 7 day trip over Father's Day, and want to take them to Johnson Falls as part of a route going through Clearwater, Caribou, Little Caribou, Pine, etc.. with multiple layover days. Also, any suggestions from the many vento vets on this forum regarding either trip would be greatly appreciated.