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Leathernecks
 
01/14/2022 10:22AM  
Greetings fellow woodsmen:

My sons and I are planning a first trip from Central Illinois to the BWCA this summer, and are looking for recommendations. This is our overall status:

-Approximately a 10 hr drive from our location to BWCA

-Have 4 days to spend paddling (a day driving on the front end and back end)

-I am a Marine with many hours logged in the field, my sons are 14 & 16 and have experience in Scouts and with dad camping, but mostly static sites and 1-3 nights.

-We have a 17 ft aluminum canoe but are open to renting a kevlar one

-We have all basic gear for camping, but no BWCA specific gear so far

-Currently, we bought and are experimenting with a dehydrator to supplement our food for the trip - open to recommendations

-Don't want to use a guide service, but open to doing so in a limited capacity if it makes sense

-Biggest help we need is understanding a realistic trip route -- we want to be Remote!!

This is off the top, may have more questions, any and all recommendations are appreciated!

-Leathernecks
 
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01/14/2022 12:28PM  
If it were me I would rent a 3 person canoe...or maybe even give a 4 person canoe a try. Something like a Wenonah MN 3 or MN 4.

I'm in Indiana. If I'm doing a shorter trip of 5 nights or less in the BWCA I would probably enter somewhere closer to Ely (Western BWCA) as the gunflint trail EPs (Eastern BWCA) and will add an hour, maybe two, to the drive. I would avoid Moose Lake EP 25 due to the crowds.

A route with more portages or long portages = less people and more remote feeling. It likely will take a full day or more to get to a remote feeling area. Portages and lakes close to EPs can feel busy/crowded.

Basic camp gear should be fine. In case of rain, a 9x9 or larger tarp is highly recommended. Frameless packs are preferred for several reasons; if you don't have you may want to rent some portage packs.

Home dehydrated food well worth the effort and time. Look on the BWCA Food and Recipes Forum for ideas.

Remember to get on the recreation.gov site the morning of Jan 26 to secure your permit. If you don't, you may not get the date and/or entry point you want.



Sealoon
 
01/14/2022 01:16PM  
Start with deciding whether you want to fish more or see more terrain. If you want to fish more, you will travel less, and vice versa. Also what time of year you want to travel. Earlier (May/June) will more likely have higher water for some good loop treks and better fishing but more insects. Later summer avoids really bad insects but fishing drops off with warmer weather and water levels may drop, leaving some loops too low to paddle. Consider how remote you want to be--last year we had to go much deeper and farther to get away from crowded lakes and find primo campsites. If you are BWCAW novices, it may take you 2 days of paddling to get away from people. COVID brought way too many people to BWCAW (IMHO), too many of whom had no business in the wilderness--insufficient skills and no respect. More LNT issues last year than I've ever seen in all my trips--I've been trekking in the BWCAW every 3-5 years since 2000 (would go more but want to give my Scouts variety of High Adventure).
My experience has all been off Gunflint Trail with Tuscarora Outfitters. There are good entry points right there--Cross Bay Lake and Round Lake to enter. Both are right near Tuscarora if you want to outfit (full or partial) with them, and there is parking available on north side of Round Lake if you want to completely self-outfit. That area burned in 2007 but is recovering well. If you enter Round Lake, there will be a lot of small portages heading west toward Gillis, Tuscarora Lake, Little Saganaga. From Cross Bay, you can head south to Long Island, Frost, Cherokee, then paddle back out. If the water is up, you can also do the Frost River Loop--enter at Cross Bay and exit on Round.
Another entry point to consider is Poplar Lake, further east along the Gunflint Trail from Round Lake. You can cross Poplar to Lizz and continue south. Lots of folks took that route last year and, again, you'll have to paddle long to get remote.
I used to use aluminum canoes until a few years ago when I outfitted with kevlar. I'll never go back to aluminum if I have to portage.
If you are still in Scouting, Greater St Louis Area Council University of Scouting is January 26-29 virtual. Rob Smith presents Preparing for Boundary Waters Saturday Jan 29 at 2:40p this year.
Another source for info is Boundary Waters Journal--great publication, 4 issues/year, I read it cover to cover (and I don't fish, still read it).
Have a great trek...
Leathernecks
 
01/14/2022 01:24PM  
Thanks Plander!

Our aluminum has been good for 3 of us on overnight river trips in Illinois -- but we will take a look at the Wenonahs.

Tracking on the permits too. Any way you could give me more specific information on specific portages?


plander: "If it were me I would rent a 3 person canoe...or maybe even give a 4 person canoe a try. Something like a Wenonah MN 3 or MN 4.


I'm in Indiana. If I'm doing a shorter trip of 5 nights or less in the BWCA I would probably enter somewhere closer to Ely (Western BWCA) as the gunflint trail EPs (Eastern BWCA) and will add an hour, maybe two, to the drive. I would avoid Moose Lake EP 25 due to the crowds.


A route with more portages or long portages = less people and more remote feeling. It likely will take a full day or more to get to a remote feeling area. Portages and lakes close to EPs can feel busy/crowded.


Basic camp gear should be fine. In case of rain, a 9x9 or larger tarp is highly recommended. Frameless packs are preferred for several reasons; if you don't have you may want to rent some portage packs.


Home dehydrated food well worth the effort and time. Look on the BWCA Food and Recipes Forum for ideas.


Remember to get on the recreation.gov site the morning of Jan 26 to secure your permit. If you don't, you may not get the date and/or entry point you want.



"
01/14/2022 02:15PM  
Specific portages…well it depends on where you want to go. That said there is a map system on this website that allows you to see portage length, some have difficulty ratings provided, along with comments . Look under “maps and entry points” in the main menu. Just click on a specific EP (or lake) and then click on the interactive map, then you can move all around/zoom in and out the BWCA.

For example. The portage between Gun Lake and Wagosh Lake is long (300 rods) but otherwise easy. The portage(s) between Fourtown and Mudro and very up and down (goat hill) and can be difficult.

Many people try to do a loop but if you have 4 nights that might make the whole trip about moving. You could paddle hard on day 1, base camp/take day trips a few nights, and then paddle to close to the exit on the last full day, and then get out early the next day to head home. An example could be to enter at EP 16 and head up to Boulder Bay on Lac La Croix (LLC) on the first day. Explore the southern end of LLC, day trip into Iron Lake (via Bottle Portage) and go to Curtain Falls for a couple days. Spend the last night on Nina-Moose Lake. The portages on this route are all easy and relatively short.
Sealoon
 
01/14/2022 02:48PM  
P. S. to Leatherneck: I live in Belleville, it's about 13 hour drive to Tuscarora if we don't push it. Could do it in under 12. We have to stop around Superior WI for BSA 10-hour limit... and again, with Scouts, we seem to make a lot of stops which slows us down enroute.
Michwall2
distinguished member(1195)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/14/2022 04:45PM  
Where in Central Illinois? I'm in B/N.

The BWCA is a big place with lots of entry points. First of many choices is which entry? Do you want to stage in the Ely area, in the central BW (more forest service campground rather than town (Sawbill Lake area)) or over to the east off the Gunflint Trail (go to Grand Marais and turn north). It may help to know what fish species you are interested in. While all of them can be found in much of the BW, some are more concentrated in certain areas. The folks here have definite ideas about where to find fish!

Then we need to be a little realistic. It's all remote. That being said, there are places where you will see more people than others. Seeing fewer people usually involves either a very long portage or a lot of portages. Both equal time away from fishing. Which would you rather do, see fewer people or spend more time fishing? Sometimes you can find a happy medium - see a few people, and spend a little more time fishing, We might be able to help you there.

Once you have decided on a general location, you can also contact an outfitter. If you visit the websites for the outfitters you see advertising on this site you will see that they have suggested routes in their area. Those are a great place to start. The outfitters are listed by general area of the BW that they serve. Also this website has "trip reports" for each entry point. You can find those entry points near where you want to stay with an outfitter and read about trips others have taken from there.

Happy planning!
01/14/2022 06:07PM  
It sounds like your biggest item is being remote? That typically means a more difficult route and fewer permits per day. You're saying remote when compared to a state park? Or remote compared to boundary waters standards? Huge difference.

If you want the most remote, those are PMA's and require their own additional permits if you want to camp in one inside the BWCA. But I'd not recommend going there till you have more trips under your belt.

I agree w/ the comment on sticking with the west or southern entries as they're a shorter drive for you and your limited time.

But if super remote is what you're looking for and don't mind what you might find as far as beaver dams, lesser campsites, tough portages....I'd say Little Indian Sioux River South is one. Angleworm also. "from Big Lake" and also Stuart would be options. All are lesser traveled for various reasons
01/14/2022 06:14PM  
Oh yeah, and leave the canoe at home. Rent a kevlar 3 or 4 person depending on your guys' sizes. MNIII or MNIV from Wenonah but also Seneca is a great one from them. Or Northstar Northwind 18 or 20 would be great. All are light, all are good trippers which is why they're offered by most outfitters up there.

I also agree on renting "portage" packs if you don't have any. Standard backpacking packs are ok but don't lay/sit in a canoe very well and for the person that carries the canoe the part that sticks up over your head interferes w/ the canoe.
TuscaroraBorealis
distinguished member(4956)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
 
01/14/2022 10:30PM  
This isn't the greatest fishing route but, it will get you remote fairly quickly/easily as it is an underused area that sees few visitors. Big Slim
01/15/2022 05:41AM  
plander: "Specific portages…well it depends on where you want to go. That said there is a map system on this website that allows you to see portage length, some have difficulty ratings provided, along with comments . Look under “maps and entry points” in the main menu. Just click on a specific EP (or lake) and then click on the interactive map, then you can move all around/zoom in and out the BWCA.


For example. The portage between Gun Lake and Wagosh Lake is long (300 rods) but otherwise easy. The portage(s) between Fourtown and Mudro and very up and down (goat hill) and can be difficult.


Many people try to do a loop but if you have 4 nights that might make the whole trip about moving. You could paddle hard on day 1, base camp/take day trips a few nights, and then paddle to close to the exit on the last full day, and then get out early the next day to head home. An example could be to enter at EP 16 and head up to Boulder Bay on Lac La Croix (LLC) on the first day. Explore the southern end of LLC, day trip into Iron Lake (via Bottle Portage) and go to Curtain Falls for a couple days. Spend the last night on Nina-Moose Lake. The portages on this route are all easy and relatively short.
"


Totally agree with this. First time trip with young boys and only 4 nights - push hard the first day and set up a base on a nice site. This will give time to really experience the BW instead of everyone being distracted with packing up/tearing down camps and moving/portaging everyday. Those types of trips can happen in future years.

I pushed my newbie 16 year old brother really hard on a Quetico trip and he got exhausted and demoralized with all the work and never went back.

If you want remote I would suggest the SW section and enter at Crab Lake. Do the long but easy mile long portage into Crab then hang a left into the small little used lakes. Camp on Hassel if you can. It will feel like the area is all yours.

The drawback is that mile long portage. Don’t carry what you don’t need. Strip the clothes down. You can wash clothes at your base camp. It will give everyone a good taste of portaging but only on first and last days. The middle days you can explore, pack a lunch do Day trips to nearby lakes etc. An alternative is base on Cummings Lake. Nice sites there and good trails to explore off the east side.

Have fun and keep a journal. Makes notes how to improve for next time and maybe write a trip report on this site for us.
01/15/2022 08:58AM  
One other thing to consider. Buy a book on the area. There is a good set of books written by Robert Beymer, a set two. One for the Western side of the BWCA (will cover Ely EPs) and one for the Eastern side (Gunflint Trail EPs). Personally, I like the older editions (2000, or earlier) and I find the newer edition (2009 I think) lacking some information I have found useful. You can get them used for cheap, for example...

used Robert Beymer books

One you narrow down your route choices, buy a map or two. Fisher or McKenzie are popular choices, as is Voyageur Maps. You can order the Voyageur Maps on this site. One nice thing about Voyageur Maps is that from a planning perspective they all have a full BWCA map on the back, regardless of which map you get.

Maps for sale on this site
01/15/2022 09:05AM  
Hey Leatherneck.
I was a hospital corpsman greenside, Semper Gumby! I can't recommend the Mudro Entry point enough (out of Ely). It was our first trip and it's one that will forever be close to my heart. We headed up towards Fourtown out of Mudro vs. Tin Can Mike towards Horse.

I believe heading to Horse & Crooked is the most popular option out of this entry point, however, I suggest heading north to Fourtown, towards Boot/Fairy/Gun instead.

Over here you'll find plenty of options. You can do an out and back, as long or as little as you and your family wants, such as just head to Gun and back or head all the way over to Beartrap lake which SHOULD be secluded for you, or do the loop through Gun/MooseCamp down the moosecamp river back to Fourtown and back.

Its difficult enough that you feel like you really did something, but not impossible, our 7 year old did it.

Not sure what "BWCA" camping items you don't have compared to just having car camping, but I highly suggest getting a smaller stove, lots of options to choose from, you'll need a water filter, smaller air mats, and more. Basically look at your gear you have and determine if cost wise you can make it smaller and lighter. :)

Here's a trip report from when we did Mudro back in 2015. Kind of long, but detailed.
Mudro EP Trip Report
PointMe2Polaris
senior member (92)senior membersenior member
 
01/15/2022 09:08AM  
Greeting LeatherNeck: Like you, my annual trip consists of a 9-10 hour trip just to get to the BWCA Area (from South Dakota). The trip is worth it every time! Anyway, looks like a lot of good advice already, so just a couple tips that pertain to people who have to travel a distance to get to the Boundary Waters:

1. We are gear ready, but always rent a Kevlar canoe. Can't be said enough: Rent a light weight Kevlar. A large 3 man would be best for your group:

2. Don't put in at your entry point the day you arrive, it'll be mid afternoon to evening before you can put in and a freed up camp site will be hard to find. Instead, outfitters will typically let you pick up your canoes the evening before you put in at no extra charge. So pick up your canoe the night before and get a good nights rest at a hotel or other accommodation. (I recommend "A Stay in Ely". Right accross from an outfitter on main street in Ely)

3. Have everything ready to go by 4:30 am the day you put out. There is no better feeling than the earliest morning sun (with God's grace) hitting your face and the mist off the water all around you as you travel into the Boundary Waters to start your trip.

May God Bless your trip my friend!
Darin

01/15/2022 09:29AM  
plander: "One other thing to consider. Buy a book on the area. There is a good set of books written by Robert Beymer, a set two. One for the Western side of the BWCA (will cover Ely EPs) and one for the Eastern side (Gunflint Trail EPs). Personally, I like the older editions (2000, or earlier) and I find the newer edition (2009 I think) lacking some information I have found useful. You can get them used for cheap, for example...


used Robert Beymer books


One you narrow down your route choices, buy a map or two. Fisher or McKenzie are popular choices, as is Voyageur Maps. You can order the Voyageur Maps on this site. One nice thing about Voyageur Maps is that from a planning perspective they all have a full BWCA map on the back, regardless of which map you get.


Maps for sale on this site "


Here are a couple of pics of the table of contents of the Beymer Western book I mentioned above…



01/16/2022 03:00PM  
plander: "plander: "One other thing to consider. Buy a book on the area. There is a good set of books written by Robert Beymer, a set two. One for the Western side of the BWCA (will cover Ely EPs) and one for the Eastern side (Gunflint Trail EPs). Personally, I like the older editions (2000, or earlier) and I find the newer edition (2009 I think) lacking some information I have found useful. You can get them used for cheap, for example...



used Robert Beymer books



One you narrow down your route choices, buy a map or two. Fisher or McKenzie are popular choices, as is Voyageur Maps. You can order the Voyageur Maps on this site. One nice thing about Voyageur Maps is that from a planning perspective they all have a full BWCA map on the back, regardless of which map you get.



Maps for sale on this site "



Here are a couple of pics of the table of contents of the Beymer Western book I mentioned above…





"


I bought the Beymer "Eastern Side" book sometime around 1983. It's all I had to go by for information and I used all my own gear and took the canoe I got for my birthday that year. I was a total greenhorn with my girlfriend. My first portage happened to be a moose trail out of Homer Lake and not a portage. Our first night campsite on Juno Lake had a bear come in after dark, pull down our food pack and eat everything we brought for a week long trip.

I hope you fare better than I did on your first trip. :)
Here's my souvenirs which we had packed inside our food bag and hung from a tree.
 
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