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member (10)member
01/14/2020 01:00PM
Hi everyone, I am hoping to take our first and definitely not last weeklong paddling vacation to the BWCA. We plan to start paddling Monday September 7th and spend 6 nights and a short 7th day for this trip. I have been reading here and looking at the maps but feel overwhelmed with the number of amazing trips we could take and would love some help narrowing down our options.

A little about us - We are extremely experienced backpackers and more new to paddling which we only started doing with any frequency 2 years ago. Our longest paddling trip has been 4days-3nights and we have canoe camped in NY (Adirondacks) and PA and NJ on more than a dozen separate trips. We have paddled in some pretty windy conditions on large open lakes but also enjoy smaller lakes. We recently bought a Wenonah Minnesota II (named Four/For Portages because we bought her after hauling our 80 pound Old Town through four portages in the ADKs and realizing that was NO FUN). The Wenonah is the canoe we will be bringing with us.

A little about what we are looking for in our paddling trip:
Beautiful views, minimal and/or easy portages, nice campsites with lower likelihood of having to hunt into the dark for a campsite due to heavy traffic BUT generally aren't bothered by seeing other people and complete solitude is NOT a must. Don't want to be pinned down for days by wind but also don't mind paddling in windy conditions and have done so in the past. We generally paddling at a leisurely 2-3 mph to take pictures and enjoy the scenery and like to spend relaxing camp time so paddle 5-6 hours a day.

Here are the EPs we have been considering:
EP 30 - Lake One
EP 54 - Seagull Lake
EP 41 - Brule Lake
EP 52 - Brant lake
EP 55 - Saganaga Lake
EP 38 - Sawbill Lake
EPs 68/69 or 62 - Pine/John or Clearwater

Kind of all over the place and any advice or suggestions are super appreciated. Thanks :)
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distinguished member(531)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
01/14/2020 01:44PM
"minimal and/or easy portages"

This is the one part of your plan that is really going to limit you. If you're out for that long, and plan on moving campsites every day, or almost every's inevitable that you'll have to take on a few rough and/or longer portages.

With your backpacking experience, I don't see why you'd be so shy of portaging. Really, what we consider to be "long" portages in the BW really are not all that long. With the right mindset, you can tackle a mile portage and be done with it before you know it, especially with your sweet new Kevlar boat. And there are only a handful longer than that. You can feel free to try to avoid those beasts, but I'd encourage you not to limit yourself too much.

"lower likelihood of having to hunt into the dark for a campsite due to heavy traffic"

Regarding should be OK that time of year. It can still be "busy", but kids are back in school, etc. It's not really something you can plan around anyway, so I would probably just take that out of the equation. The reality is, you never know when you're going to find an empty or a completely full lake.

Beyond those thoughts, I don't have a specific trip to recommend. With that amount of time, you have a lot of options, and many of the EP's on your list will take you to awesome places.

And not to make things more complicated, but another area to consider would be EP's 14/16...working your way up toward the border, then back down. A lot of route options through there, and everybody raves about it. I've only been to a small portion of it, but it's a nice area for sure.
distinguished member(962)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
01/14/2020 02:15PM
There are many options available to you. You just need to decide what is important to you. Do you want to travel everyday? Do you want to do a loop? Do you want to cover ground while traveling or just meander?

Then you need to decide on some destinations. As in, do you want to visit falls? Pictographs? Are there any certain lakes that you want to see, explore, or fish? Do you want to paddle up or down a river? If you are going in for 7 days then the EP you go in on does not matter nearly as much as where you want to go. So look at the map, read some trip reports, and see what interests you.

After picking a few options, try to map a route that hits as many of them as you can in one loop or with base camping and day trips. This is where you see what EP's are close by and serve your needs the best.

I really wouldn't worry too much about portages. Yeah, they suck, but without overcoming them, you aren't going to go very far. Just double portage and take your time with it. Also, some portages are worse than others and might be more worthwhile to avoid. I've had 80 rod portages be worse than 250 rod portages. A long distance over flat ground is so much easier than half the distance with rocks and steep slopes. Just try not to hit more than 1 or 2 bad portages a day and you will be fine.
senior member (85)senior membersenior member
01/14/2020 03:48PM
I am far less experienced as treehorn and A1t2o in the BWCA but I have done my fair share of trips over the last few decades. I have only ever soloed and while a native to the upper Midwest I am now driving from the Washington DC area so I plan the crap out of my trip and allow for deviations on lakes, camp sites, weather ect. As treehorn says, EP 14/16 are always nice and I have done both several times and outside of one or two or the portages the rest are not "bad" at all moving north, and I usually double portage and on a sore day, triple. Early September is a great time to go as A1t2o stated, and as portages go even doubling then as I do it really doesnt take that much time off the clock. Also from my trips I have learned (not always the case) depending on where you are going and the month, even week, there can be a sweet spot when sites open, I for one have not been a fan of rolling into a spot at dark. Guess my bottom line is plan what will make your trip fun, be flexible, and read the heck out of the posts/thread on this site. Last, in my personal opinion, I would put EP 30, Lake One toward the bottom of the selection, while an "easy" trip, it feels more like Elys back yard to me then out in the far BWCA.
01/14/2020 04:12PM
Try the Magnetic River route - enter Gunflint and follow the border up to Saganaga. It's a pretty easy route that experienced people can traverse in a day but can be easily spread out over a week of leisurely paddling. Devil's Elbow area could get interesting depending on wind, same on Sag when you're opened up to the lake to the West as you turn South to go into the narrows.

After Labor Day you'll have less crowds as a general rule throughout the park.
member (10)member
01/14/2020 07:14PM
Thank you for your input; I know you are right about the portages. I think I am just scarred from dragging that heavy boat previously ??. My husband is not as concerned as I am about the portaging and we do carry 50+ pound packs in the winter so we should be able to handle it.

I will look at the suggested EP. Again, thank you for your thoughts and input.
member (10)member
01/14/2020 07:22PM
Thanks! I will definitely not shy away from the portages because I want to see and enjoy as many lakes as possible and am not opposed to making 2 trips if needed.
member (10)member
01/14/2020 07:25PM
I am a super planner but once out there change to a flexible attitude which allows me to think about and look at routes but then just go with the flow. We added EP30 to our list last but it got moved up to the top as we thought it had the most campsites but I hear you on how close it is to Ely. I am going to look at 14/16 now also.
member (10)member
01/14/2020 07:31PM
Thanks for the suggestion; I’ll go take at look at that route.
distinguished member(2340)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
01/14/2020 07:47PM
You don't say, or maybe I missed it. How many of you are there?

My first question is what kind of trip do you want, paddle every day, loop or out and back, point to point with an extra car or shuttle? Loops are great if they work, point to point is also great if you have two cars or are willing to pay for a shuttle. Out and back is a fine way to go, although your initial reaction might be that you are retracing strokes over lakes already seen. But on the upside, it allows you to investigate an interesting spot or stay at an interesting campsite you saw on the way up and believe it or not, it does look different on the way back.

I would also encourage you to consider a layover day or two on your trip. First for the possibility of being windbound but second because it's nice to have a day of leisure to relax and explore, perhaps fish and then move on again the next day. Taking down camp everyday is not a big deal but not having to do it is nice.

Another thought, you say you are not too concerned about big windy lakes but to me they can significantly impact a trip and not for the good. We avoid them for the most part and you are usually not missing much. Worst case you lose a day to the wind and waves, but even if travel is safe it is just not near as much fun as paddling across a calm or moderately windy lake. Brule, seagull and Saganaga are all very large lakes with windy conditions common.

Of your ideas the one that stands out to me is the John/Pine entry. Beautiful area but Pine itself, and both East and West Pike to a lesser degree are west to east oriented lakes that will kick up pretty good if there is a wind. If nothing else I would plan on paddling Pine from west to East to take advantage of the likely winds. At the west end of Pine there is a great spot called Johnson Falls which is a classic BWCA destination, really nice. Could also go in or out from Clearwater which is another classic BWCA lake thought by many to be one of the prettiest in the whole area.

Other entries I might consider:

Kawishiwi lake up to Malberg, lots of route options from there, return the way you came. Fishing, seclusion in the northern parts, medium lakes and portages, and some sand beach campsites, at that time of year swimming might still be tolerable. Malberg is a crossroads of the BWCA and a gateway to some lesser travelled areas, and a beautiful lake in itself. Great area.

Baker Lake entry north to South and/or North Temperance Lakes. From there you can get over to Brule and see the lake and the incredible rockslide cliff on the west end. We did it as an out and back but you could head over to Cherokee Lake which is another classic BWCA lake, and down the lakes and creeks to Sawbill. Could also be done in reverse. There is also a loop route available by adding Smoke, Flame and Burnt lakes to your agenda, regardless of which way you go. South Temperance is one of the prettiest lakes in the BWCA IMO, full of points, bays and islands and good fishing. At the north end of the Kelly lake to Jack Lake portage there is a short trail to an old abandoned gold mine which is kind of cool to see, lots of artifacts lying around. This is know as a very moosey area, maybe you will get lucky. Again small to moderate sized lakes, no real difficult portages on the out and back, one or two challenges on the trip to Sawbill. From Baker to Temperance there are long stretches of river like paddling that are absolutely beautiful.

Mudro entry also offers many great options, going both east and west from Fourtown. Others can speak to that route better. It is a very popular entry for a reason but at the time you are going it should be quite nice.

I have posted trip reports with photos of the first two options if you are interested, many photos of the area.

There aren't many bad options, IMO extremely large lakes don't have enough to offer to offset the potential issues. Many folks differ. Ask away if you have more questions and hope you have a great trip.

distinguished member(7308)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
01/14/2020 07:49PM
I just moved to Adirondacks and relatively I find most BWCAW portages are "minimal easier".
member (10)member
01/15/2020 01:46AM
Wow! Thank you so much for all the excellent suggestions and advice.
There will very likely just be my husband and I going. Small chance that his best friend might join us.

We won’t have 2 cars as we are driving up from NJ, stopping to visit family in Michigan before heading up to paddle; so, either a loop or an out and back is best. I absolutely love moose so that suggestion has caught my interest. We also love exploring little inlets and random nooks so we would like to paddle every day but 1 day to stay put sounds appealing also.

I didn’t even think about the wind on a west to east lake so thank you for making that point. And, we definitely don’t want to be windbound for large lengths of time so I will try to minimize the big lakes. Mostly my point about the wind was that we have experienced high winds and wouldn’t shy away but definitely agree it’s better to have calmer waters.

Thanks for all the suggestions and I will definitely read through your trip reports. I’m so excited and can’t wait for this trip
member (10)member
01/15/2020 01:57AM
The Adirondacks are beautiful but trails can be very rugged and muddy in spots. Thanks for your portage comparison; it helps.
distinguished member(2684)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
01/15/2020 08:31AM
The concerns I pick up identify finding a campsite and long portages. It seems you have been reassured that you will be fine with the portages. The permit system is designed to not have more folks in an area than campsites support during heavy use. There will be some holiday traffic on the 7th but with four hours or more travel you should have no problem finding a spot. That leave the question which route.
There are no bad routes and there is no way you can see it all so look at the trip reports and compare to what you want to experience. There are no bad routes and you can always come back and check out one of the other areas. And to my knowledge there is no one route that if you could only trip once that would be the route to take. It is really all good except for some of the entry lakes that do get over used.
You may want to consider campfire issues. At the end of the season finding firewood is not a problem, but you will have better luck paddling down the lake and bushwhacking in a ways rather than finding wood around the campsites. You may experience a fire ban that time of year so plan cooking without a campfire.
And consider water levels in route planning. There are some nice river routes that offer good Moose sighting potential, but can be low and very difficult travel when water is low which is most likely in early September.
IMHO route planning is more connected to weather and length of day, the factors mother nature controls, than which route. I have been all over the BWCA and there is no one best route and no bad routes. Some are more difficult....and I am confident you will enjoy the route you take.
distinguished member(4620)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
01/15/2020 12:26PM
Here are some options/information for the trips you mention...

Lake One do this trip in reverse.

Sea Gull Lake

Brule Lake

Brandt Lake

Saganaga Lake

Sawbill Lake

Clearwater Lake do this one in reverse.
member (10)member
01/15/2020 02:03PM
Thank you for your response. Questions about a fire ban. Do the bans generally cover the entire BWCA or are some parts more likely to have a fire ban? We usually use a Jetboil but recently bought a Biolite stove. Would a Biolite stove be included in a fire ban? Sorry for the naive questions but just want to understand a Fire Ban better.
member (10)member
01/15/2020 02:08PM
Oh, wow, THANK YOU for doing searches and linking reports.
distinguished member (108)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
01/15/2020 04:03PM
hikerchick: "Thank you for your response. Questions about a fire ban. Do the bans generally cover the entire BWCA or are some parts more likely to have a fire ban? We usually use a Jetboil but recently bought a Biolite stove. Would a Biolite stove be included in a fire ban? Sorry for the naive questions but just want to understand a Fire Ban better."

Fire bans are going to be for an entire region generally. Ask your outfitter or call a ranger station (Kawishiwi or Grand Marais/Gunflint) and they'll let you know. Fire bans do not affect fuel stoves but I'm not sure about the Biolite/Bushbuddy/Solo Stove since they use actual wood to burn. I would call a ranger station and ask as well. Personally I'd say it's probably fine since it's contained in a very small vessel, but the USFS might feel different. Make sure to clear an area around your stove so it can't accidentally ignite any duff, ban or not, and you're good to go!
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