BWCA BWCA - East vs. West Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
Chat Rooms (0 Chatting)  |  Search  |   Login/Join
* For the benefit of the community, commercial posting is not allowed.
Boundary Waters Quetico Forum
   Trip Planning Forum
      BWCA - East vs. West     
 Forum Sponsor

Author

Text

JWilder
distinguished member (392)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 09:28AM  
I have always tripped on the west side. Never on the east. I have heard there are differences in the two. What are they?

Fore those who primarily trip on the East side; why? Why is it you prefer this area vs. the other?

For those who trip on the West side; why? Why is it you prefer this area vs. the other?

Maybe you enjoy both and balance out your trips between the two. I am curious to hear your thoughts and experiences and how this topic fits into your trip planning.

JW
 
Reply    Reply with Quote    Print Top Bottom Previous Next
schweady
distinguished member(7775)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
 
01/09/2022 09:54AM  
We've done both sides. If I had to use one word, it would be "rocks." The long, narrow, west-to-east oriented lakes of the Gunflint area often have impressive rock palisades and the campsite landings are usually quite boulder-strewn. As one whose trips were exclusively Ely-based for the first 30 years (we now try to do one or two trips on each side each year), I would have scoffed at such language. "Plenty of rock here on the west side!" Nope, not by comparison.
ockycamper
distinguished member(896)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 12:17PM  
Someone told me once that "entry level" for BWCA was the Ely area. Then you moved up to Gunflint, then to Quetico.

We tripped in Ely are for 3 years. Got tired of the crowds, seeing people everywhere we went, never seeing any animals, etc.

Once we moved to the Gunflint area we never went back. We rarely if ever see any other people (we also go late September). We see moose every year, and never tire of climbing the rock cliffs in that area to see for miles.
TuscaroraBorealis
distinguished member(5058)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
 
01/09/2022 12:23PM  
Of course you can find most things on both sides but, I prefer the Gunflint because of:














bottomtothetap
distinguished member(929)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 12:57PM  
My trips have been about 1/3 "eastern" and 2/3 "western" and I'd say I like them both equally. The eastern sections seem to have the more rugged topography with cliffs and elevation changes while the western side seems to me to be more "casual" intimate and homey.

I like to compare the two major towns that are jumping-off points to the BWCA and describe it as Grand Marais being more like New England and Ely being more like Alaska.
CanoeViking
distinguished member (214)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 03:55PM  
TuscaroraBorealis: "Of course you can find most things on both sides but, I prefer the Gunflint because of:





















+1 I wholeheartedly agree.

"
ockycamper
distinguished member(896)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 05:26PM  
I always felt like western/Ely was for the crowd that wanted shopping, restaurants and big outfitters along with their trip.

Once you get on the Gunflint Trail and get past Trail Center Lodge you are already in the wilderness.
Lawnchair107
distinguished member (197)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 06:02PM  
I’d say crowds and fishing. Seems as though you’ll see more people on the Ely side, but oh the fishing is so much better overall, imo.
01/09/2022 07:04PM  
Lawnchair107: "I’d say crowds and fishing. Seems as though you’ll see more people on the Ely side, but oh the fishing is so much better overall, imo."

Interesting your view on fishing. I'd have said the Gunflint side is better. Probably because I go there more. Fewer lake trout lakes around Ely it seems.
GopherAdventure
distinguished member(958)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 08:35PM  
I’ve done many more trips from the Ely side, but have done a handful on the Gunflint side and have gotten deep and in depth looks at both sides. Both are amazing in their own ways. The Ely side has more pictos, more diversely shaped bodies of water, more rivers to travel, but sees more visitors, has more worn campsites and has been recently hit by multiple forest fires. The Gunflint side has more long west - east oriented finger lakes (can be good or bad), some majestically beautiful waterfalls, more trout lakes, deeper and clearer water lakes (oligotrophic), and the biggest difference in my opinion is the elevation changes. I don’t know of any portages on the Ely side that have switchbacks, the Gunflint side has some switchback portages because the peaks between lakes are routinely 200+ feet of elevation change. Portages are obviously a little more rugged on the Gunflint side as a result. Interesting fun fact for you: Rangers on the Ely side use augers to start wholes when relocating new latrines at a campsite. Those augers don’t work as well on the Gunflint side so they use long metal probes and pick axes to start new latrine holes. I found that interesting.

I like both, but prefer Ely side simply because I’m more familiar.

Tony
thegildedgopher
distinguished member(1373)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 08:48PM  
bobbernumber3: "Lawnchair107: "I’d say crowds and fishing. Seems as though you’ll see more people on the Ely side, but oh the fishing is so much better overall, imo."


Interesting your view on fishing. I'd have said the Gunflint side is better. Probably because I go there more. Fewer lake trout lakes around Ely it seems."


Bingo! Trout is what brought me to the Bwca in the first place, so the gunflint trail is where I started about 5 years ago. I’ve been up to Ely a few times since then but only once in the wilderness (basswood).

The challenge for me is balancing my desire to see the entire Bwca and my desire to fish the same couple lakes hard every year to really learn the nuances in different seasons, water levels, etc. Since I’m an angler at heart the latter is winning the battle so far.
straighthairedcurly
distinguished member(1439)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/09/2022 09:01PM  
While I love exploring all parts of the BWCA, my preference is for trips off the Gunflint Trail (or the Sawbill). I love the geology in the Rose, Mountain, etc. areas. I love the interior areas on the west/south side of the Gunflint as well...little Sag and south, Frost River, Louse River. I loved my solo loop from Bower Trout out and around to Ram. I feel like there are more options for loops and that it is easier to find lakes that aren't full of people. I am exploring more areas out of Ely year by year, but there are just more places in the west that allow motor boats and that is a real spoiler for me. I think there are some good loops, but fewer options once you start on a loop. I do not fish so i can't speak to that. But so far my experience has been a lot more poison ivy in the west. Never seen it in the eastern areas.

This summer I am planning 3 trips out of the Ely area, and 2 out of the Gunflint area. But that is just because of some time limits...shorter drive to Ely...and we are trying to try the entry point that got canceled on us last summer due to wildfires.
PeaceFrog
distinguished member (324)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/10/2022 07:39AM  
I have traveled both sides. The beauty of trips to the BW is that every trip is different no matter what side you choose. There are differences between the two for many reasons as stated by others. It has been my experience on trips that I am never disappointed even if I trip in an area that I have been before. I'm sure some prefer one over the other, but for me I feel blessed to be there no matter east or west.
PF
01/10/2022 08:53AM  
My first two trips were off the Gunflint in the mid 80’s only because I bought Robert Beymers book on the East Side of BW. I loved Grand Marais and the ride up the Gunflint. Everything was new and different for me being from the Chicago Suburbs.

I then went out of Ely and just fell in love with the town. All the shops and stores, it was so fun to just walk and explore Ely.

These days there’s a noticeable difference in the towns. I’m way overdue for a trip off the Gunflint again and this thread just might get me there in 2022. So, thanks!
papalambeau
distinguished member (202)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/10/2022 09:10AM  
Interesting thread. Our first two dozen trips we went to two dozen different entry points evenly split between east and west. We loved them all for a variety of reasons. Now that I'm older and the grandkids are starting to join our crew we have started taking a similar trip on the west side each year. Primary reasons are everyone enjoys the night before in Ely (Spirit of the Wilderness with Steve and Cathy, Ely Steakhouse, Piragis are all part of the night before), the drive up the Echo Trail (we see wildlife every early morning trip to put in. Big bull moose on the trail last June) and the familiarity of fishing the same lakes with nice success for walleye, big smallies, pike and lake trout.
I've asked my boys if they want to make a change and head east to a different entry point but their reply says it all - "if it ain't broke don't fix it".
ockycamper
distinguished member(896)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/10/2022 09:29AM  
We take 16-18 men up each fall, divided into 3 camps. We have done both the Ely side and the Gunflint side. We polled them about which area they liked best. Their response was that we had stores and restaurants back in KY. We came for the wilderness, exploring, wildlife, fishing and never to see anyone else while we were there. They all voted to stay in Gunflint. So, after three years in Ely, the last twelve have been on the Gunflint.
mschi772
distinguished member(768)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/10/2022 09:37AM  
I won't repeat what others have already said about the differences between west and east. I will say that when I first visited the BWCAW, I chose the far eastern Vento unit for our first trip, and that decision was based largely on the unique ancient geology of the area making it more different from where I live and where I've been compared to the west side. Understanding the geological reasons the east side is the way it is really does help to make it even more impressive.
Speckled
distinguished member(558)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/10/2022 11:06AM  
The thread's got it covered. Topography and fish species populations.

In my opinion, the lakes on the west side are more Meso and Eutrophic, which really means more fertile and in theory hold more fish, but if it's trout you're after, the east side will give you more opportunity.
Ohiopikeman
distinguished member (135)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/10/2022 11:53AM  
Speckled description of the West side being more Meso and Eutrophic is right in line with my experiences.

As it is northern pike that has lured our group to the BWCA since the early 1990's, we spend much time fishing weedbeds; nice cabbage beds in 6' to 10' of water with deeper water nearby is the type of water we seek for success with pike.

Finding this type of water is no problem fishing the Western side of the BWCA. Lakes like Basswood and Crooked are loaded with this type of water (and huge pike!).

We struggled finding this type of water to fish on the Eastern side. Many of the lakes are deep and rocky with little to no weed cover. If you are after lake trout, this water looks perfect! I'm sure that there are plenty of big pike to be had in the Eastern side of the park, but finding them in deep weedless lakes is much more challenging.

01/10/2022 12:07PM  
For us it tends to be the Gunflint side. We really enjoy the Northshore even if it is just for a few hours coming and going.
salukiguy
distinguished member(560)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/10/2022 05:02PM  
Ok another factor not considered yet: West side some cell phone service on the lakes. East side no cell service that I know about.
schweady
distinguished member(7775)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
 
01/10/2022 10:04PM  
salukiguy: "Ok another factor not considered yet: West side some cell phone service on the lakes. East side no cell service that I know about. "
Soon changing.
PeaceFrog
distinguished member (324)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/11/2022 07:33AM  
schweady: "salukiguy: "Ok another factor not considered yet: West side some cell phone service on the lakes. East side no cell service that I know about. "
Soon changing.
"


Shhh! Please don't tell my wife. Lol
lindylair
distinguished member(2673)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/11/2022 06:23PM  
I think the southern entries accessed via the Sawbill trail are all too often off the radar and left out of the conversation. These entries offer great trip experiences including wildlife, fishing, scenery, nice campsites, sand beaches and if you are willing to work for it some pretty remote areas. Granted, they do not offer the dramatic topography of the east end for the most part...but there's plenty of rocks and cliffs.

In general I am speaking of the entries at Brule, Baker, Sawbill itself, Homer, Hog Creek and Kawishiwi Lakes. I have had multiple trips from all of these entries with the exception of Sawbill. They have been some of my favorite trips. Not saying they have anything over either the east or west portions of the BWCA, just saying they are a viable option to consider and I believe they are often overlooked, especially with folks newer to the experience. Worth checking out.







sand beach campsites










plenty of rocks/formations











awesome scenery







and frequent small river/creek paddling which is a nice break from typical lake paddling and an intimate and wild feeling
JWilder
distinguished member (392)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/11/2022 08:17PM  
lindylair: "I think the southern entries accessed via the Sawbill trail are all too often off the radar and left out of the conversation. These entries offer great trip experiences including wildlife, fishing, scenery, nice campsites, sand beaches and if you are willing to work for it some pretty remote areas. Granted, they do not offer the dramatic topography of the east end for the most part...but there's plenty of rocks and cliffs.


In general I am speaking of the entries at Brule, Baker, Sawbill itself, Homer, Hog Creek and Kawishiwi Lakes. I have had multiple trips from all of these entries with the exception of Sawbill. They have been some of my favorite trips. Not saying they have anything over either the east or west portions of the BWCA, just saying they are a viable option to consider and I believe they are often overlooked, especially with folks newer to the experience. Worth checking out.







sand beach campsites











plenty of rocks/formations















awesome scenery









and frequent small river/creek paddling which is a nice break from typical lake paddling and an intimate and wild feeling "



Thanks lindylair. Great addition to the thread!
01/12/2022 12:33PM  
I agree that the Sawbill area gets overlooked in East vs West discussions, but to be fair, I could get from Sawbill to Round in 2 days if I really tried. You can get to the same general areas if you are going more than just a couple lakes in. I do think that the Lady Chain is one of the best areas in the BWCA but for some reason seems to get overlooked.

I've never been to the west side of the boundary waters, but really, I don't see the appeal. Grand Marais is just another town on Superior. It's touristy and caters to people heading towards the boundary waters, but that's only a small part of the town. From what I've seen and heard about Ely, it wouldn't be there if it weren't for the boundary waters. The amount of people that go through Ely each week during the summer is a big repellant for me. I get that there are a bunch of different entry points for those people to spread out to, but they are close together and many lead to the same lakes. I feel like the east side is a little more spread out and even with the same number of people per EP, you can spread out more.

Plus who doesn't like those views that the elevation changes give you?
RedLakePaddler
distinguished member (172)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/12/2022 01:01PM  
We have always tripped out of Ely because of my wife health. Barbara was physically challenge because congenital heart defects. The terrain on he west side was all she could do. Climbing hills was not in the picture for Barbara.
Another reason was that Ely is only 283 miles from us. I know this is nothing compared to what a lot of people have to travel to get there, but when you have 2 kids and a wife with a lot of medical expenses Ely was more affordable.
Since Barbara passed away in 2019 I am more open to trying the Gunflint.
But I would miss all the friend I have made in Ely. They are great people!
See YAA on the water this summer. This summer should be better with all the snow we are getting in northern Minnesota.

Carl
ockycamper
distinguished member(896)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/12/2022 03:55PM  
For those that need a reason to visit the Gunflint area
ockycamper
distinguished member(896)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/12/2022 03:58PM  
and a couple of more reasons
01/12/2022 04:09PM  
We started out in the Ely area (1971), with a trip up the Echo Trail and starting out at Crane Lake, because my husband had been a camp counselor at Camp Easton and that was what he was familiar with. We aren't like so many of you that live close to the canoe country--for us it is a trip just to get there and at first it was an every-other-year event.

But while we were canoe-tripping, every once in awhile Spartan1 would say, "I think sometime we should try a trip off the Gunflint." Back then, it meant nothing to me. I was happy with what we were doing, and didn't care about trying anything new. I didn't even know what he meant by "the Gunflint".

In 1992 he convinced me that we should, indeed, start at the Gunflint for our "long trip" of 22 days, and it was a very different experience. We found that we loved it there. 1992 was significant in another way, as it was the year that Spartan1 learned that he had kidney disease. As we were adjusting to the differences that made in our lives over the next year or so, we made a pact that once we returned to the canoe country for a wilderness trip, we would do a yearly trip for a long as we were able. I don't think in 1992 we thought it would be as long as it turned out to be.

Yearly trips from 1994-2013. (One year was missing but it isn't significant to this story.) Not all of them on the east side. We tried Sawbill. We returned to Crane Lake and Lac La Croix--actually not by choice the year of the Romance Fire when the only permit we could get was "LLC only". We did a trip out of Lake One in 2006. But I think, without checking my list of entry points, the majority of the trips have been on the east side, and probably the favorite ones.

But we loved it all. For me, at least, there isn't enough difference to be a deal-breaker--and the variety of mixing it up has been an important part of my enjoyment of the years of canoe tripping. Early on, we even mixed in a couple of Quetico trips and one each to Algonquin and Temagami. It's all good. And while we have repeated an entry point in 32 trips, we have never repeated a route exactly.

After we decided in 2014 that we would move from wilderness tripping to a cabin week with day trips, it seemed natural to make our cabin week location be on the Gunflint. We have enjoyed stays at Rockwood Lodge, Clearwater, and Trail Center, and hope to continue this tradition for--you guessed it--as long as we are able.
 
Reply    Reply with Quote    Print Top Bottom Previous Next