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member (38)member
06/14/2020 04:37PM  
I've been working on my wife for several years to try a trip, and the pandemic has gotten her over the hump. We're both in decent shape (she's a fitness instructor, I work out regularly and have no trouble biking 30 to 40 miles). Not a lot of recent experience with the BWCA, though. I went once when I was in Boy Scouts, and she's never gone. We have a fair amount of camping experience, and I grew up on a lake and spent a lot of time in a canoe.

Here's the route I'm looking at for a late August trip. Each day has 3 to 4 hours of planning according to paddle planner, assuming double portaging.

Day 1 - 47 on Poplar to Henson (or 48 on Poplar depending on permit availability)
Day 2 - Henson to Brule
Day 3 - Brule to Cherokee
Day 4 - Cherokee to Cross Bay
Day 5 - Cross Bay to Round

We'd be using Tuscarora as outfitter.

Big question for me is how does the pace of this trip sound for two people in good shape but unfamiliar with BWCA canoe travel?
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06/14/2020 05:02PM  
Day one = 5mi of double carry portages, way beyond my capacity but probably not yours. these are not hiking trails but are rock, roots and mud with elevation changes and bugs and your on water route is mostly west at first into prevailing winds. Its all doable but I would want a plan B just in case.
member (38)member
06/14/2020 05:51PM  
Thanks. We also could run the trip in the opposite direction -- how much priority should we set on west-to-east? PaddlePlanner indicates 3.1 miles for that route, how accurate is that?
06/14/2020 05:55PM  

You've done some homework, but are wise to ask. My first trips I didn't really know a lot of things. The distance of your route is about 45-50 miles, which is certainly doable in 5 days travel, probably about 4-5 hours a day. BUT, nobody knows what your actual pace of travel will be, not even you. I suspect that portaging won't be a real big issue for you, paddling maybe more.

Then there's the question of how good your navigation is. There's always the possibility of weather issues too - wind (Brule is notorious for keeping people windbound) and lightning (you don't want to be out on the water then). So it may depend on your ability to make up time (&distance) on another day.

There are some options obviously to take an alternate shorter route if necessary. You'll have an up-to-date forecast when you take off. I'd suggest tracking your time and distance in the beginning so you know how you're doing and what it translates to for you.

I'm familiar with most parts of your route except Winchell to Brule if I can answer any questions.
distinguished member(1362)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/14/2020 08:03PM  
Going from west to east is more likely to have the wind at your back, but even that can be hard to predict since it is weather dependent. And on big lakes you can still end up wind bound whether the wind is in your face or at your back.

The nice part about the route you selected is you can start out at Poplar and try out the first day. If getting to Henson feels like more hours than you want to do (or you don't make it that far), you can always skip dropping down to Brule and just meander your way to Long Island Lake the more direct route. But if all goes well and you travel farther than planned, you have some side trip options.

Have a great trip.
distinguished member(838)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/14/2020 08:10PM  
This is a beautiful route. Five days is certainly possible, but a lot of work each day. Any chance you can extend it to six days? That would give you an extra day for weather related delays.

Both Winchell and Brule can be rough with a west OR east wind, also Brule with a south wind for your route. Your toughest portages are day 3 from North Temperance to Cherokee. You cross the Laurentian Divide between Sitka and Cherokee and your legs and lungs will tell you so. Its a beautiful portage, take time to enjoy it!

If you stick to five days I would keep moving hard with early starts through day three to Cherokee as your itinerary suggests. After that the Cross River portages are not so bad at all and you can take your time. If you can get a sixth day I would suggest a short hop day to Long Island Lake, three real easy portages. Long Island is a wonderful lake to go exploring. That makes another short day to Cross Bay Lake, giving you time to explore it as well. Think moose.

If you want a shortened trip go through Omega and Kisskadina to Long Island and skip the big lakes. You still have a doozy of a portage over the divide, but you say your in good shape. Again, that Kisskadina-Muskeg portage is actually pretty nice traveling. This route would give you a much more relaxed schedule with maybe a lay-over day on Long Island Lake. You could even go south to Cherokee on a day trip.

My suggestion, given you haven't been canoe traveling for a long time would be the short route for five days, or the longer one for six. If you enjoy it and feel confident about your ability to travel harder you will be coming back next year to challenge yourselves a bit more.

I did much of your route selection as a 10 day loop from Tuscarora Outfitters in 2018. Its in the trip reports as Three Headwaters or some such thing. Tuscarora folks are great, enjoy.
distinguished member(565)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/14/2020 08:22PM  
If it were me I would pick a shorter route the first time out. As mentioned you don’t want to be caught on Brule in the afternoon.
distinguished member(1753)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/14/2020 08:28PM  
An easier route in case it gets tough would be from EP 50 to EP 47 or vice versa. Going from 50 to 47 would give you a pretty good chance to have the wind at your back. Tuscarora is a 1 minute drive from EP #50. This route can be done in 3 fairly easy days. Let's put it this way, I did it last year at 285 lbs. and knee deep snow on several portages. Day 1 could get you from #50 to Long Island Lake fairly easy. If you still have energy keep going to Frost or Cherokee. Frost has some sites with sand beaches, Cherokee is just a pretty lake. I would try to get to Omega, Henson or Winchell on travel day 2. Again this would be very doable and get you to a campsite by early to mid afternoon. Travel day 3 could get you to Horseshoe or Vista (dead end lake). From Horseshoe to EP 47 it is only 2+ hours. I would build in some layover days for fishing, swimming, relaxing, exploring, day trips, etc. Winchell has some cliffs you can climb to the top of, a waterfall too I think. Gaskin has some really nice layover campsites. Horseshoe has frequent moose sitings. Poplar is over-used so that's not my first choice for camp sites. There are some very nice lakes to paddle through for day trips. Brule can be brutal with wind, it's also an EP lake and gets a lot of use. Since you don't have to portage to get to it, you get a lot of people that aren't very experienced. It's still a great lake. Winchell is another one that can be like a wind tunnel from late morning until late afternoon. Going W to E is often recommended. I have never portaged between Brule and Cherokee but I think I read some reports that list the portaging as very tough with ankle-busters (sharp rocks), but I could be wrong. The portage out of the east end of Long Island Lake is known as "The Wall". Steep elevation gain, keep hydrated on this one! This would give you some layover days for weather, wind, etc.
member (38)member
06/14/2020 10:18PM  
Lots to think about -- I’m blown away by all of your great feedback.

In particular I was curious about everyone's impression of Brule. Looked right past the point that I was taking us to an entry point lake.

Considering routes that stay north of Brule, a couple options I came up with. The second one is a bit easier with a layover the second day and doesn’t go as far south as Winchell. We could also modify the second one by moving the layover to Omega and exploring up to Finn or down to Winchell as a day trip for a layover. The values are in miles to a randomly selected camp site.

Day 1 -- EP 50 to Long Island Lake (Paddle 6.3, portage 2.4).
Day 2 -- Long Island to Frost (Paddle 2.9, portage 1.6) or Cherokee (Paddle 4.4, portage 0.5)
Day 3 -- Cherokee to Muskeg (Paddle 6.9, portage 0.8)
Day 4 -- Muskeg to Gaskin (Paddle 8.1 miles, portage 3.2)
Day 5 -- Gaskin to 47/48/49 (Paddle 6.6, portage 2.3)

Day 1 -- EP 50 to Long Island Lake (Paddle 6.3, portage 2.4)
Day 2 -- layover, visit Cherokee?
Day 3 -- Long Island to Kiskadinna (Paddle 3.7, portage 2) or Omega (Paddle 4.8, portage 2.3)
Day 4 -- Omega to Caribou (Paddle 8.2, portage 2.3) or Horseshoe (Paddle 7.4, portage 2)
Day 5 -- Horseshoe to 47/48/49 (Paddle 3.9, portage 1.4)

06/15/2020 07:29AM  
All of your suggested routes are in my very favorite part of the park. We have been on all of these lakes at one time or another but most of them on our long trip in 1992.

The Long Trip

We always wanted a loop, to come back to where we started. And we sometimes took layover days. IMHO six days is the minimum necessary for a BWCA trip and more days is better. That allows for good travel, but also for a day to be windbound or just enjoy a place a little longer.

You can't go wrong with this area, but I would suggest a shorter trip in miles and portages might be good for your first time. Whatever you do, please write up a trip report so that we can enjoy it with you later. :-)
senior member (67)senior membersenior member
06/15/2020 07:58AM  
Hi Steve,

I was excited to see you looking at this route. In 2018 I was like you, I had been to the BWCA back when i was younger, and my wife never been. We are both in good shape, my wife being a total workout enthusiast, being a PE teacher and fitness instructor. In 2018 and in 2019 we did a route similar to what you are looking at. We went thru Tuscarora Outfitters and they are awesome. In 2018 we were fully outfitted and in 2019, we only rented a canoe and portage packs. Both years our trips were 4 days 3 nights with our last day being shorter so we could get back to Duluth where we stayed and had some beers and supper and relived the trip. We went from east to west as we could end right at Tuscarora's dock. 2018 we had wind in our face, 2019 wind wasn't an issue and more at our backs. Here is what each trip looked like.

2018 Trip (July 31 - Aug 3)
Traveled to Tuscarora and stayed in their bunkhouse.

Day 1: French Toast breakfast at Tuscarora - Shuttle to Entry Point #47 (Lizz) on the lake at 8:30.
Lakes - Poplar, Lizz, Caribou, Horseshoe, Gaskin, Winchell.
Camped on Site #761.
This was a full day, finding our site at about 3:00.

Day 2: Stormed during the night, was raining in the morning so we didn't get on the water until around 11:00.
Lakes - Winchell, Omega, Kiskadinna, Muskeg, Long Island.
Camped on Site #564.
Traveled in light mist all day, cool weather. We were both ready to get camp set up arriving at our site around 4:30. Portage from Kiskadinna to Muskeg is "The Wall" 178 rods of total up and down. The nickname suites this portage well. The short portage from Muskeg to Long Island is a beaver dam mess. The portage is nothing but huge boulders.

Day 3: Nice cool morning and was on the water around 9:30.
Lakes - Long Island, Karl, Lower George, Rib, Cross Bay, Snipe.
Camped on Site #2011.
Easiest day of paddling so far. Easy portages, no wind, also turned out to be the best evening of the trip. We arrived at our site around 2:00.

Day 4: On the water at 8:30 and back at Tuscarora Docks at noon.
Lakes - Snipe, Missing Link, Round.
More portaging than paddling today, not easy ones either. We showered at Tuscarora and headed for Duluth.

2019 Trip (Aug 2 - Aug 5)
Stayed at Tuscarora Bunkhouse

Day 1: French Toast breakfast and shuttle to entry point #48 (Meeds). On the water at 8:30.
Lakes - Poplar, Meeds, Caribou, Horseshoe, Gaskin.
Camped on Site #633.
290 rod portage to start this trip off. Found campsite at 3:00. We were seeing full sites as we traveled.

Day 2:
Lakes - Gaskin, Henson, Omega, Kiskadinna, Muskeg, Long Island.
Camped on Site #585 (our favorite site of the 2 years)
Found Campsite around 3:00. Had to wait at a portages because of traffic. Traveled same route here as last year. Beaver dam mess portage is now completely flooded and the boulders are covered with water. Much of the portage is knee deep water.

Day 3 - Same route as last year
Lakes - Long Island, Karl, Lower George, Rib, Cross Bay, Snipe, Missing Link.
Camped on site #548
Had to wait out a rain and lightning storm on a poor campsite on Snipe. Other Snipe sites were full so we pushed on to Missing Link.

Day 4 - Very short day
Lakes - Missing Link, Round
We packed up and were back at Tuscarora docks at about 11:00. Showered and headed for Duluth.

These routes come out on the maps as about 25 miles of paddling 10 miles of portaging. They both were a challenge physically, but left time to relax and enjoy the BWCA too. The route also gives you options to have longer or shorter travel days, wait out weather, or whatever comes up.

Hope this helps you out, it was fun thinking back on these trips.
distinguished member (351)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/16/2020 07:54AM  
A lot of good feedback for you so far..... a few more thoughts....Once you get North of Long Island, you are very limited on campsites. There is one on Rib (very nice), two on Cross Bay....The first is right off the portage, it's tiny and sits up on a granite ledge (great stargazing) you can also hear the falls behind the portage. The second site is not so nice....The time of year you are going, those sites are likely to be taken....if that's the case, you have 3 options....continue on your original route to Snipe which is a cool lake, but not so nice campsites, then the next morning work your way to Missing Link and out thru Round.....paddle across Cross Bay and take the portage to actually leave the BWCA when you hit Ham...there are a number of so-so campsites there, but good fishing....exit at EP 50 the next morning.....45 minutes or so to get out thru the Cross River and a couple of short portages.....Or just exit a day early thru EP's a half mile walk up the road to Tuscarora Outfitters...I've walked it a few times, not bad at all...

A couple of other things to consider:
- If you are on a trip of 5 days or longer, you can just about count on having a day stuck in camp due to storms and/or high winds.

-The entry points you are entering/exiting can be popular and it's not uncommon to get stuck behind another group or two for the first couple of portages which can throw off your schedule.

-Long Island and Cherokee are beautiful "destination" lakes.... you could head down there from either EP-50 or 51 and do some side trips and then exit thru the EP you did not enter for a different view. As previously mentioned, Frost is kind of a "dead end" lake accessed from the Long Island River as you head South from LI towards Cherokee....It's the jump off for the "Frost River" route...other than doing the Frost River, you have to leave the way you came back to LI River....Well worth the stop if you have time....

06/17/2020 09:31AM  

There are advantages and disadvantages either way. If you go W to E through Muskeg-Kiskadinna you'll be going up "The Wall" on that portage, which gains about 150' in about half that distance. Check out the portage in the "Maps" section. That won't change no matter when you go.

The weather changes all the time and the prevailing winds may or may not prevail. A strong tailwind is not necessarily a good thing. You could be windbound either way. If you are not going through Brule wind will be less of an issue anyway.

Small details can make a big difference in your enjoyment of a trip. You can learn a lot by reading through old threads and trip reports, especially first-timer trip reports. We've all got some stories about the early ones. :) There's more than one way to do a lot of things, so think about the options.

One thing that helps a lot is to make a packing checklist and use it. It can include things to do as well as things to take.

Hope you have a good trip!
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