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      A bit overwhelmed with options. Help please!     
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hfpedersen
member (14)member
 
03/02/2021 09:21AM  
Hello all!

I'd love a little help planning our first excursion into the BWCA. I've read through a ton of posts, read books and poured over maps, and I just can't seem to make up my mind. I'll settle on one area, then something else enticing pops up, and so on.

The details are these: It will be my wife, our 8 year old and me heading up one of the last weeks in August. We are all experienced outdoors people and paddlers and don't mind putting in work. We'd like to do a trip that is probably 4-5 days long and my guess is not moving every single day (rather not basecamp) to give the kid a rest. A loop route/lollipop would be ideal and I'm thinking of sticking to the middle or eastern side of the BWCA as we'd like to drive up Hwy 61 for the scenery. Fishing is not a real concern. While it would be nice, I'm not planning the trip around that. First on the priority list would be scenery/wildlife and then trying to avoid overcrowding.

Some areas I've considered are loops out of Sawbill, Poplar or Missing Link. They all look amazing, but settling on one is proving to be difficult.

Thanks in advance for the help!


And... we will also be paddling the two new canoes I built last year during lockdown!
 
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03/02/2021 10:36AM  
Are you renting equipment from an outfitter? This is the first question that you need to answer before you can narrow down your choices. If you do need to go to an outfitter, then you are going to want to stick to entry points that have an outfitter right there. There are ways to go around that and haul the gear to a different entry point, but for your first time that is an unnecessary step. Most people do that to get to a different area, but everywhere is going to be new and different for you.

After deciding on renting or not you can narrow it down to what you are comfortable with. Does big water concern you? Are you willing to travel or portage a long distance? Would you be happy with other groups in the same area as you?

Depending on those preferences, you can then start to dial it on on a few specific routes. No big water would steer you away from entry points like Brule, Saganaga, and Sea Gull. Clearwater is big too but you can always take the first portage onto Caribou and skip the open part of the lake. If you want shorter portages then you are probably not going to like the Round Lake EP's and be more interested in Sawbill, Brule, or maybe Poplar. Solitude is pretty relative, there aren't any crowds for the most part. To get away from other people though, you usually have to get a full day of travel (or two) in to the BWCA. Entry point lakes or lakes one portage away are always going to see a fair bit of traffic. Also, there are fish on every lake, it doesn't take too much to catch a couple if they are biting at all.

Some routes that stand out to me would be, Brule to North and South Temperance. Bigger water on the way in and out, moderate traffic, but beautiful lakes and little portaging. No outfitter though

Clearwater to the Johnson Falls, heavier traffic around the famous falls but there are options to spread out a little and there are choices for different portage lengths to get away from other groups.

Poplar to Gaskin/Horseshoe. Moderate traffic and portages, nice lakes, simple trip.

Sawbill to Lady Chain. Lower traffic after leaving Alton, but there are some more difficult portages. Grace and Phoebe are beautiful lakes and worth spending some time on.

Kawishiwi to Polly/Malberg. Nice area, no outfitter, wildlife. Moderate to lower traffic, and the portages aren't too bad.

Round to Tuscarora. Long portages, but beautiful lakes. There are many lakes in this are to spread out on and multiple routes to make a loop. You don't have to go in and out the same way. Lower traffic, but it depends on if you stick to the main couple lakes. Off the usual lakes is pretty isolated.
03/02/2021 11:13AM  
I think the first thing you would need to do is see what permits are available for your dates. That, by itself, may determine what type of route you will be able to do.
hfpedersen
member (14)member
 
03/02/2021 11:18AM  
Outfitter would be nice. We have most of the gear, but the idea of being able to get in late and use a bunkhouse is pretty appealing.

The loops out of Round look interesting as there are a ton of options and it looks like there are ways to link it without longer portages.
03/02/2021 11:22AM  
Pick Ely. Or pick Gunflint Trail. Call an outfitter. Explain your wants and needs. Book a bunkhouse. Let 'em handle some of the details for you without overloading yourself. For a first trip, you need a bit of help planning. Your particular route and destination is not highly important as it will all be new and exciting.
03/02/2021 11:38AM  
hfpedersen: "Outfitter would be nice. We have most of the gear but the idea of being able to get in late and use a bunkhouse is pretty appealing.

The loops out of Round look interesting as there are a ton of options and it looks like there are ways to link it without longer portages. "

It may be tempting to skip or bypass the 400 rod portage to Tuscarora, but people take it all the time for a reason. The Brant route is quite rough, and many of the portages to the south and east of Missing Link are pretty overgrown. I've done Round to Gillis via Brant in a day before, it was rough. The Missing Link to Tuscarora portage is direct, not overgrown, and gets you to a great area.

If you like the Round area, I would recommend spending time on Crooked, Gillis and Tuscarora. I would push to Crooked on day one. From there, you can explore Crooked for a day, hop over to Gillis for a day, then head back to Tuscarora and spend a night there, too. You could pretty easily do this in four or five days and see some really nice lakes in the area. I'd recommend taking five days so that your day on Crooked isn't also your travel day.
03/02/2021 12:45PM  
Somewhat repeating what others have said -

- Find out what permits are available. sounds like you have narrowed it down, so check on Sawbill, Lizz/Swamp, Cross Bay, Missing Link, or Brant.

- All the routes discussed are good. Know whichever one you decide on will give you a great trip with great memories. Pick one (out of a hat if you need to) and don't look back.

- Contact the appropriate outfitter. In this case it would be Sawbill (note they do not have bunkhouses, just a campground), Rockwood, or Tuscarora. They can help tweak your plans and make sure you know more details and can't miss things on your route.

As far as routes, I think any of those suggested sound good. I'll just add one more. Stay at Rockwood the night before and have them give you a lift up to the Cross Bay entry point. There you can make your way back to Poplar. I personally like the idea of ending up not where you started, and every mile is then unique.

Have fun and good paddling!
03/02/2021 01:50PM  
Instead of a loop you can have Rockwood Lodge (Poplar Lake) drop you off at at Ham Lake (Cross Bay EP) and then paddle back to Rockwood on Poplar. It's a very pretty route with nice variety, and in your time frame. The people at Rockwood are great
SkitterPop1027
 
03/02/2021 01:55PM  
I agree that an outfitter would be the best way to go! Takes a lot of the stress out of your first trip as others have stated.

With regards to Bunk Houses, I have used the Boundary Waters Outfitters in Ely for the past several years, they have rooms with several bunk beds and large shared bathrooms/showers for a good price. It's easy because if you roll into town late, you can still get access to the bunk house.

Jackfish
Moderator
 
03/02/2021 02:54PM  
hfpedersen... in your original post above, you show a photo of two canoes and state that you'll be paddling them on the trip. You stated that the group consisted of you, your wife and your 8-year old son. That sounds like one of you will paddle solo and the other with your son. Am I missing something?
Michwall2
distinguished member(1072)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
03/02/2021 02:57PM  
Let's get the bad news out the way first. The last 2 weeks of August is the busiest time of year. That and your short itinerary combine to leave you inside the zone where you are likely to see many people.

When moving you should plan to leave camp early, get where you are going, find a camp, and stop early.

I like several of the routes mentioned.

I like the idea of starting at 50 (Cross Bay) or 51 (Missing Link) and traveling to 47 Lizz/Poplar Lake. We did this trip last August. We left out of Missing Link and spent nights on Snipe, Long Island, and 2 nights on Winchell. We left from Winchell on our last day.

Use the Lizz Lake (47) entry and make a small loop through Horseshoe, Gaskin, Wichell, Ogema, Henson, Gaskin, Horseshoe. Usually lots of moose in this area. Lots of people too.

From Sawbill (no bunkhouses, but a great campground) Someone mentioned the Lady Lakes (Polly, Hazel, Phoebe, Grace, Ella, Beth) route. We like to get a shuttle from Sawbill and start on Kawishiwi Lake (entry 37) and paddle back to Sawbill. Don't cross the 280rd portage from Grace to Beth until you are ready to leave. You may not find a campsite.

I like the idea of the Temperance Lakes. But to avoid the big water of Brule Lake, I would start on Baker Lake (Entry 39). Spend a night on Jack Lake (Visit the abandoned gold mine between Kelly and Jack). Then a night or two on the Temperance Lakes and head back.

Another nice route is to get that shuttle from Sawbill, start on Baker Lake (39), and loop back to Sawbill through N/S Temperance and Cherokee Lakes. (You can start on Sawbill and do the same loop adding the Fire Lakes (Smoke and Burnt). Plan an extra day of travel to start on Sawbill.)

Hope you have a great trip.
03/02/2021 03:30PM  
Jackfish: "hfpedersen... in your original post above, you show a photo of two canoes and state that you'll be paddling them on the trip. You stated that the group consisted of you, your wife and your 8-year old son. That sounds like one of you will paddle solo and the other with your son. Am I missing something?"
The picture has one solo canoe. Those are nice looking canoes. I did that same type of thing once. My wife paddled the solo and my son and I paddled the tandem.
hfpedersen
member (14)member
 
03/02/2021 03:44PM  
Blatz: " The picture has one solo canoe. Those are nice looking canoes. I did that same type of thing once. My wife paddled the solo and my son and I paddled the tandem. "
Bingo. One is a smaller solo.
03/02/2021 04:19PM  
Jackfish: "hfpedersen... in your original post above, you show a photo of two canoes and state that you'll be paddling them on the trip. You stated that the group consisted of you, your wife and your 8-year old son. That sounds like one of you will paddle solo and the other with your son. Am I missing something?"

Same thought. I see the center seat now.
thart2009
member (12)member
 
03/02/2021 04:20PM  
They are fine looking boats!
hfpedersen
member (14)member
 
03/02/2021 04:30PM  
thart2009: "They are fine looking boats!"

Thank you! They were very fun to build.

Thanks for all the route recommendations. Going to contact Rockwood as that seems to tick a lot of the boxes.
03/02/2021 04:32PM  
If you were to pick the Ely area, you still could see quite a bit of Hwy 61 scenery and take the left on the hwy to Ely. A map will show the route number, but it may be Hwy 1. This a curvy route all the way, so do not think in terms of a mile per minute. 35 mph is frequent along this way, especially if you get behind slower moving traffic.
hfpedersen
member (14)member
 
03/02/2021 04:39PM  
bwcadan: "If you were to pick the Ely area, you still could see quite a bit of Hwy 61 scenery and take the left on the hwy to Ely. A map will show the route number, but it may be Hwy 1. This a curvy route all the way, so do not think in terms of a mile per minute. 35 mph is frequent along this way, especially if you get behind slower moving traffic."

I was avoiding Ely, perhaps wrongly, because I figured it was more of a hub and that translated to larger crowds. If this tends to not be the case I’d be open to heading out of that area also.
03/02/2021 05:49PM  
Ely is as much of a hub as the Gunflint/Grand Marais I'd guess. They're just on opposite ends of the park. And yes, you can still get an hour or two of Superior lake shore in before turning north to Ely. But take Hwy 2 if you have someone that gets car sick easier. Hwy 1 gets you more north shore but way more curves.

Crowds are more dependent on the individual Entry Point. Some only allow 1 to a handful of permits a day, and others allow 10+. There are Ely and Gunflint entries that are busy, and there are some that are very quiet and some in between. Of course there are also ways to take a "busy" entry and do a portage or two that most of the crowd doesn't and now you're remote again in a hurry.

Lots of good recommendations already. The lady chain is nice, some decent portages but you've got light canoes it appears. How's your wife at carrying one? Or will you come back and carry the second on each trip? Call Gunflint Lodge and ask about a Granite river trip or larch creek entry. You'd end the trip at the end of the Gunflint trail on Saganaga. You'd spend a night or two on Larch or Clove, another on Marabeauf, and another one or two on Sag or something?

On the Ely side you could get a Crab lake permit, hire a tow across Burntside and do one longer portage and spend your days between Crab and Cummings.


mschi772
distinguished member(588)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
03/02/2021 05:57PM  
You seem to have learned more than the average first-timer, so I trust you to be a fair judge of whether a particular area/route is appropriate for you and your abilities or not. With that, just pick a place and go assuming a permit is available. Don't stress about whether or not it's the perfect place to go for your first time. They're all perfect and none of them are perfect. This won't be the last time you go, so you can go to all those other areas the next times you go.

This advice applies to campsite selection. Don't be one of those people that gets hung-up on site ratings and planning/committing to specific sites. The best campsite out there is the one you get and make memories at.

Just go. You can't lose.
lindylair
distinguished member(2492)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
03/02/2021 07:06PM  
I am really tempted to recommend a Baker Lake entry and an out and back trip to South Temperance lake...so I am. Baker entry is a very user friendly entry, portages are very easy, scenery is great, fishing is quite good and the chance to see moose here is better than most areas. South Temperance is one of the prettiest lakes in the BWCA and would be a great place to spend a layover night with good daytrip options available.

Loops are fine, sometimes they work out, sometimes not. The thing about out and back trips is that it truly looks different on the way back, you see things you didn't notice on the way in. And sometimes it just makes sense.

Highlights of this trip could include:
Very easy first day to get the feet wet
Long river like stretches of paddling on the north ends of both Kelly and Jack Lakes which are very peaceful and enjoyable
At the time of year you are going you will see more flowering lily pads than you thought existed in the whole world, really beautiful
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 neat to see. Lots of artifacts lying around.
Portages are generally pretty short and the longer ones are easy.
South Temperance is a gorgeous lake filled with points bays and islands and some nice campsites. Daytrip from there to see the rockslide cliff on Brule, pretty neat.
Did I mention the fishing is very good and your likelihood of seeing a moose is among the highest in the BWCA?
The northern site on Kelly would provide solitude and has a creek coming into the lake to the east, and a rapids just off the campsite to the west, scenic, good fishing and nice white noise.

Here's what I would do, put in at Baker and head up to that northern site on Kelly if it is available. Next day head to South Temperance, find a nice campsite and spend two nights there. Head back halfway to a campsite on jack or Kelly on the way back and you will have an easy day out your last day.

At the Baker Lake entry point there is a small 4-5 site campground that is very nice. If you could get a site there for your night before the trip, you would have a one minute trek to the entry point, couldn't be more convenient. Sawtooth Outfitters on Hwy 61 before you turn up the Sawbill Trail is a great outfitter, or Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the trail would be good places to rent any gear you need. Sawbill also has a large campground, a store, showers and only about 9 miles away.

For a frame of reference you could get from South Temperance to the entry point on a longish day of paddling if for any reason you wanted or needed to cut the trip short. But taking your time on the way in and out over 2 days is highly recommended. Although there are limited entry permits available it can be a little busy so paddle early and get your campsite early and all will be good.

Here's a trip report that might give you a little more feel for the area if you are interested:


Baker Lake entry

Wherever you go I hope you have a good trip, great weather, solitude, wildlife and good fishing. It is great time of year to go. Enjoy.
03/02/2021 08:26PM  
If you go in Kawishiwi, you could use Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte. They are located about an 1/8th of mile south of the left turn that will take you up to the lake. They are a great outfitter as many are up in that area and their boats/gear are a tad cheaper to rent. You can also load up on last minute supplies in that town.
03/02/2021 08:33PM  
hfpedersen: "bwcadan: "If you were to pick the Ely area, you still could see quite a bit of Hwy 61 scenery and take the left on the hwy to Ely. A map will show the route number, but it may be Hwy 1. This a curvy route all the way, so do not think in terms of a mile per minute. 35 mph is frequent along this way, especially if you get behind slower moving traffic."


I was avoiding Ely, perhaps wrongly, because I figured it was more of a hub and that translated to larger crowds. If this tends to not be the case I’d be open to heading out of that area also. "


Not wrong, the boy scouts go through Ely. It does get a lot more visitors.

Poplar is a good choice, it's easy to get to and there is a decent chance to see moose in that area. Be sure to bring plenty of bug spray, the area can be a bit swampy. Moose like swamps though so that's not the worst.
Chuckles
distinguished member (175)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
03/02/2021 09:03PM  
Don't want to hijack this post, but I'd like to learn more detail about how you built those canoes. Could you start a new thread where you share more detail?

I'm half in the market for a solo and have thought about building one.
hfpedersen
member (14)member
 
03/02/2021 10:29PM  
Chuckles: "Don't want to hijack this post, but I'd like to learn more detail about how you built those canoes. Could you start a new thread where you share more detail?


I'm half in the market for a solo and have thought about building one.
"


Not a problem. I posted a write up about the boats in the General Discussion forum.

Thank you all for the great suggestions. Going to break out the maps and pick one from all the great comments.
Duckman
distinguished member (459)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
03/03/2021 06:12AM  
You're in for a good time no matter what you do. Being a big enough canoe guy that you've built your own, it's kind of unique that you're going on your first BWCA trip. For most people it's exposure to the Bdub that leads to loving it and canoe building and what not.

It's going to be like a kid at Disney World for you.
03/03/2021 10:13AM  
I'd go with the plan to drive up Rt. 61 North Shore to Grand Marais and out the Gunflint Trail. It's a nice drive and you have two good bunkhouse options both right on entry lakes - Poplar and Round - in Rockwood and Tuscarora. You can leave right from either one and have multiple options from each lake - Brant and Missing Link out of Round, and Lizz, Meeds, and Skipper. You can loop from one entry to exit at one of the others. All have permits available at this time depending on you exact entry date. If you have some flexibility, you'll have no problem reserving one if you do it soon.

I have no idea of your travel speed, nor how far or long you'll want to travel in a day with an 8 year old, so I won't make any specific route recommendations at the moment. If I'm reading right, you'd probably only want to travel 3 out of five days. I suppose you'll be able to figure out a suitable route based on your previous experience paddling and portaging as a family. I'm sure you've already noted that portaging into Tuscarora would be a pretty long haul with limited paddle time. Tusc is a nice lake though and has some nice sites that would be amenable to swimming if that's a desirable activity.

An out-and-back route will be easiest to adjust if necessary and this could be done on a short lollipop route as well. There are some nice point-to-point routes there, but on those you are committed to that distance. I wouldn't do that on a first trip with a younger child unless I was sure we could do it.

Enjoy your trip.
03/30/2021 03:17PM  
Hello. I agree with most of the comments above! But, to add some spice, I recommend checkout out Seagull Lake Outfitters at the end of the Gunflint Trail. They have a nice bunkhouse to start your trip (and end if you like). I have been friends with Debbie (the owner) for over 15-years now and she has always treated me and my group great! Also, I think the East side is nicer than Ely. More rocky, fewer swampy areas; which means fewer skeeters.

If you are looking for lighter paddle days check out the routes Seagull Lake Outfitters has on their site. I have done the Red Rocks Route a few times when I only have a few days. You can do the route in either direction and it is pretty great. Especially if you plan on staying a night on Big Sag and Seagull Lake (both of which I love).

Hope this helps.
hfpedersen
member (14)member
 
03/30/2021 03:37PM  
Thanks for the recommendation.

So I ended up getting a permit for Baker on a Tuesday. We had originally planned to go at the end of August but things have come up and we moved the trip to the beginning of the month. I’m a little nervous about the crowds we may encounter but I guess that comes with the territory.

Thanks for all the help!!
 
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