Boundary Waters Quetico Forum
Trip Planning Forum
Louse River Route
We went east to west in August. I don’t recall much of a current at the time. You could certainly go the other way as long as you don’t mind going uphill over the beaver dams.
I did it west to east in late June (low water year). Honestly, I never had an area that I noticed the current or wished I was going the other way.
You are correct, it flows into Malberg. I've only done the lower reaches of the Louse (from Malberg to Bose/Frond and back) and there were quite a few areas where you didn't even really notice current. But there were also plenty of pinch points and narrows where doing one direction vs the other is noticeable. This was in spring when the water was just barely high enough to skip the portage on the Malberg end...not crazy high water but not summer/fall lows either.
Yes. Louse flows east to west into Malberg.
The biggest deterrent to going west to east is always having to pull your canoe up all those beaver dams. There are a couple darn big ones along the route. All those narrow spots along the river from Malberg to Frond would give me pause going up the beaver dams.
I also think there are likely to be more route finding challenges going upstream, but that's me. Going downstream you pretty much paddle until you can't go any further. Going upstream sometimes the portage ends are tucked in downstream from the real paddling fault. So you end up backing up and searching for the portage end. Others may have different observations on river travel.
The Louse River flows east to west, right? Is there any reason I should go the other way? I read the report in the link and I was thinking that if there is little to no flow on the river then doing the loop in that direction might give me a lighter food pack on the more remote portages.
I agree with the comments so far. We did Louse last summer. We went from Wine to Trail and stayed on Trail then went to Malberg the next day. It was beaver dams all over the place for those two days. I would not have wanted to try it in one day. If you break it up, consider staying on Trail. We took the north campsite and had good fishing in the bay at the north end.
I just did the Louse River route last summer. It helped to have some great portage details from other folks on this site. The notes were invaluable at saving me time. Despite that I still have one portage that I never found exactly.
I decided to split the Malberg to Wine distance into 2 days since I don't like to run myself into the ground and I wanted to be able to enjoy the solitude of the Louse River. However, adding up my travel times of 3.5 hours (Malberg to Trail) and 4.5 hours (Trail to Wine...including searching quite awhile for that portage mentioned and having to backtrack for a lost map). So if I had done it in a single day, it would have been 8 hours. BTW, that was single portaging and paddling solo. A long day, but doable. If double portaging, I don't think I would recommend doing it in one day. The portages between Wine and Trail are a lot tougher than those between Trail and Malberg.
Here is a link to my trip report on this route: All Loused Up
I have read of those who have done it in one day. I would not recommend it.
Please check with your outfitter about this route. Beavers change the length and number of portages all the time through here. These are my recollections from about 10 years ago.
We did it as you are projecting to - east to west: Wine to Malberg. Day 1 Sawbill, Kelso River, Kelso Lake, Kelso River, Lujenida Lake, Zenith Lake, Frederick Lake, Wine Lake. I am assuming double portaging. The long paddles from Sawbill entry to Kelso River/Lake and up the Kelso River to Lujenida will have you ready to get out and walk by the time you get there. Remember that your food pack(s) will be at their heaviest and you will not have your portage legs yet. The 480 portage will take several hours to complete. Make sure you fill your water bottles to the brim. The route from Zenith to Frederich usually has at least one pull over in it. Not a beaver dam, but not a clear paddle straight through either. By the time you get to Wine Lake you will be tuckered out.
Day 2. Wine, Mug, Poe, Louse, Louse River, Bug Lake, Louse River (with 3 portages), Trail Lake. Beware the portage from Wine to Mug Lake. The Mug Lake end has a very steep and slippery rock face ending. If you have high water look for the waterfall (or double waterfall in very high water) to the left of the portage on Mug Lake (Almost to the west end?). The portage from Poe Lake to Louse lake is entirely a rock garden. As in you have to think about every foot placement or you will break an ankle rock garden. Go as far as you can down the lake and the portage is on your right. It is not always apparent, but get out and look, it's there. The portage from Louse Lake to Louse river starts the same as the last, rock garden. But the rocks get fewer and fewer as you go. There was a very large beaver dam a couple hundred yards upstream from Bug Lake. Bug Lake is a lily pad garden. Very lovely. You do more walking than paddling on the next segment of the river. Somewhere along here is a very lovely meadow with a tamarack grove all along the north side of the meadow (back aways.). The last portage has a ravine you will have to navigate through. Put the canoe down. Climb down, pull the canoe in after you, put the canoe on the other side (15-20 feet), climb up, pull the canoe up and restart your walk. By the time we got to Trail Lake we were all in.
By the way, I saw a picture of one of the biggest northern pike I have ever seen taken on Trail Lake. It was on the Sawbill Canoe Outfitter website several years ago.
There were several places along this day where we thought, does the portage continue over that rock garden ahead of me? It looks like it might, but you missed the turn onto what looks like a game trail back about 15-20 feet. I had to put a pack down and help the canoe carrier get the canoe back to where we knew was portage trail and then look around for that game/portage trail. This happened at least twice. We started scouting some spots without the gear to avoid this. But, that takes time.
Day 3. Tail Lake, Louse River (5 portages), Boze Lake, Pond, Frond Lake, Louse River, Malberg Lake. All the portages through this section are affected by beaver work. We went in Aug of a low water year. Most of ours were longer. Ask your outfitter about the Boze to Frond section. I think there may be a portage that goes all the way from Boze to Frond skipping the pond. We didn't find it, but others told us it was there. When we went all of the narrow sections of the river had a beaver dam in them. We pulled over at least 4-5 dams between Frond and Malberg. Others have reported paddling through. Some trip reports say that in higher water you can skip the last portage into Malberg. We could not.
The last day was over before we were ready to stop, but we wouldn't have made it all the way in one day. Besides, we had one of our most magical BW moments while camping on Trail Lake.
We had another trip on the Louse planned about 5-7 years later, but it was scuttled by an equipment failure.
Hope your trip over the Louse River is a great as ours was.
How tough is the Louse River? Could I make it from Wine to Malberg in a day without killing myself in the process? The guys that might go on this trip are between 30 and 40, mostly dad bod's, but still in reasonably good shape.
I know the river route is going to be a pain with down trees, beaver dams, and so on, I just wonder how bad it will really be. I know that one day is probably unrealistic, but would it still suck to do it in 2?
I'm looking at a loop through Louse River and the Lady Chain to start and end in Sawbill.