BWCA EP30: Number Lakes, Insula, Alice Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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02/13/2022 09:56PM  
First trip into the 'Waters, putting in at EP30. I've got 2 less experienced paddlers (4 total, 2 canoes), and interested in getting into Insula / Alice lake. Any suggestions / comments on the following questions:

1: What's a realistic time frame for getting into Insula? I'm thinking 2 days to get there, 2-3 days exploring that region, then 2 days coming out, with a day or 2 to allow for weather issues. How doable is that if we'll likely have double runs on the portages?

2: How full do campsites in this area fill up? I know permits for EP30 are sold out for most of June (we're there for the middle 2 weeks), so do I need to expect difficulty finding campsites once we're in?

3: Do people leave vehicles at the launch site? How safe is it to do that for 7-10 days, and what options are available?

4: How's camping in the burn area, especially with the fires from last spring? Any areas accessed out of EP30 I should avoid?

5: I have plenty of canoe tripping experience, so the basics are covered. Anything specific to BWCA (and these specific lakes) I should be aware of?

6: Thanks for the help. I've been running through the forums here and seeing lots of good advice and sharing of experience and resources. I appreciate the wealth of information, and look forward to adding my 2 cents worth later this summer.
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02/14/2022 12:57AM  
Hi GShark! Sounds like an awesome first trip! I've been in the area once, planning to go back this fall, and will share what I know. You'll undoubtedly hear from others who have spent more time on this've come to the right place!

1: My guess is it will take your group 6-7 hours of travel time to reach Insula if you go straight thru. The half-dozen portages are all under 100 rods and pretty straightforward. Wind or other weather will make a difference. You could certainly take 2 days to get there and 2 to return - nothing wrong with that - but if you leave at sunrise you could be on Insula by early afternoon.

2: BWCA is getting busier and that area has a lot of visitors. General rule: the further you go the fewer people. This area, however, still gets lots of traffic clear into Insula. You should be able to find a place on Insula but perhaps be prepared to stop a little sooner if a nice spot opens up.

3: Yes, it is safe to leave vehicles at the entry points. Lake One has a nice road in and there will be plenty of cars there. You could, if you really wanted to, pay an outfitter to shuttle you from Ely and leave your vehicle on their lot. I personally don't think that is necessary though.

4: If you are tent camping, not an issue except for hanging tarps. Hammocks don't work all that well in many of the areas that have been burned. You can use this website and check out the maps and reviews of campgrounds for an idea of what you'll find. In many cases, there are pictures too.

5: If you have experience canoeing that'll help your group a great deal. I always like to remember the BWCA is a wilderness. Safety matters more when you are a day or two away from help. As for specifics in this area in particular...are you interested in fishing? Photography? Site-seeing? Either way, you'll find it all.
Check out the trip reviews on this website. You'll find lots of great information there. My two oldest daughters and I spent Father's Day 2020 on the east side of Insula. We had good fishing that weekend and also enjoyed pretty skies with a few passing storms.

Have an awesome trip and share your experiences when you are done!
member (42)member
02/14/2022 07:10AM  
The number lakes are always busy and it's a crapshoot on finding an open site. I recommend trying to push through to Insula 1st day if you can.
We went through to Insula last May, Wed after opener. We left the entry point about 8am and all the campsites we passed through Hudson were taken (at least the ones we could see). Same on the way out the following Sunday.
Once we got over the 90 rod into Insula, things started opening up. We pretty much had the north end of Insula to ourselves. Though mid June will likely be busier.
If you are camping on Alice, a good day trip would be the Fishdance pictographs.
02/14/2022 07:14AM  
Welcome to our group and we will look forward to more posts. This is a popular area once known as the aluminum highway due to the many shiny rocks that guided the way. With the many islands and bays navigation can be an issue so stay aware. GPS is nice but took all the challenge of compass and map reading away. To your questions.
1. Long days would make it a one-day trip but unless you travel about 3 mph and start early finding a campsite on Insula might be an issue. An early stop the first day can allow time to work out bugs with camp set up and such and not push your group. One day out should be no issue.
2. Talk with your outfitter about finding camp sites. Depending on the day of the week you are likely to find folks who have set up base camp at better sites. Read trip reports and locate potential stopping sites and when you find one take it.
3. Very few reports of theft or vandalism. Try not to leave keys in the vehicle...but that's my story.
4. I hammock and have been in that area twice since the fire and have some favorite sites with great hanging. Like most areas one or two hanging spots and one or two tent pads and then it gets more interesting. Most of the camp sites were protected and have no immediate fire damage.
5. The river from Insula to Alice is pleasant but like in much of this area watch for rock. You could daytrip to Fishdance and see the pictos.
02/14/2022 01:10PM  
Welcome to the group. We went that way in July of 2020. We sheltered from a storm on Lake 3 around lunch time on at a site and both western shore sites were open. We continued on when the weather permitted and got the island site on Hudson mid afternoon. Day 2 we made it to island lake on the Kawishiwi with a side trip to see the pictoglyphs on Fishdance. This is highly recommended stop. As a side note, there is an extraordinary blueberry patch on the bluff above the pictoglyphs. Ripe in late July. Great beach sites one Alice. Great fishing where the Kawishiwi comes into Alice. Once into Insula, we had our choices of sites. The first 4 nights (Hudson, River lake, Little Sag, and Knife) we got the sites we were hoping for , so that just supports, the comments that the farther you get in the better your choice. Paddle on!
Pic from highly recommended campsite 2325
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02/14/2022 06:57PM  
Welcome to the forum. We’ve done Lake One to Insula in both 1 and 2 days both single and double portaging. The portages aren’t so long that it makes a huge difference how many times you walk them. It can matter more how efficient you are getting organized at the two ends. And that can vary a lot with newcomers.

My suggestion is not to make too specific a plan for those first few days. Just see how it is going each day. Maybe you stop on Hudson the first day. Maybe you make it to Insula.

On the way out, it is easier to make it from Insula out in 1 day, unless the weather prevents it. The reasons are that everyone will have figured things out, the food pack is lighter, and you don’t have to find a campsite. One friend of ours once meant to paddle out in 2 days but couldn’t find a campsite on lakes 1-4. So they exited.

Definitely try for a day trip to Fishdance and the pictographs.

We’ve never left a car that long there because for our long trips we were getting dropped off and picked up elsewhere. People definitely leave cars there for long trips. If you are renting canoes and do it from Kawishiwi lodge on Lake One then you can park at their place. That would definitely be safe.
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02/14/2022 11:50PM  
I've only entered at EP30 once, with Insula as our goal on day one. It was a cold, rainy day and we ended up calling it quits on Lake Four, never to travel any further east because of the weather. This was just a couple of years ago, in the first week of July and we barely saw any other groups on the number chain(possibly because of the weather forecast). It's great to have goals, to pick certain lakes and even certain campsites that you want to stay at, but once in-theater anything can happen and you should expect your itinerary to change.

As nice as it would be to make Insula on your first day, the later you get to the lake the less likely you'll find a suitable campsite. Laying up on 3,4 or Hudson on your first day would mean you'll be pulling into Insula early on day 2, which would give you the best chance at a good site. See how it goes! If it's already well past noon when you get to Hudson I'd think hard about taking the next available site. Other groups heading west should be able to provide some insight into how busy Insula is.

Has your canoe tripping experience involved portages? Even veteran river runners can have a hard time consolidating gear into one or two packs and one or two things to carry. On the day before a trip I like to not only finalize all of the gear but also see how it fits into each canoe and how quickly it goes from in-the-canoe to walking-down-the-trail. It's best to work these kinks out at home or at the outfitter so you're not holding up other parties at portages.

The Pagami Creek Fire burned at least the southern shore of all of these lakes in 2011. Regrowth is strong but like others have mentioned some sites will not accommodate hammocks. There are also some sites that were spared, even with devastation surrounding them on 3 sides. If you really wanted to make things interesting (and longer) you could travel in or out via Fire Lake which was not burned in 2011, ironically.
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02/15/2022 08:04AM  
It is not terribly far or hard to get to Insula. We always go to Insula the first day when we enter at Lake One. The problem is the portages, not that they are hard or long but can be crowed. We have sat in the water a long time at some of these portages waiting for a break in traffic that seems to never come. Once several years ago we got to the portage out of Lake One to find a ranger keeping folks off shore until the portage could clear. My advise start early and get these behind you before everyone else starts.
02/15/2022 06:12PM  
Thanks for all the advice. I've done some short portages, but we usually establish a camp and do day trips with empty canoes. I have good quality drybags with padded shoulder straps and belts, and we won't have loose gear in the boats. I am currently thinking about coming out through Fire Lake, just to see some different scenery, so thanks for suggesting that also.

My main goal is to get into Alice Lake (not sure why, but it showed up as about the middle of the BWCA, so that's good enough for me) but I generally follow a 'go where the water leads you' mentality, so we won't be stressed about where we end up.
member (44)member
02/16/2022 12:21PM  
I've made one trip to Lake Insula from Lake One. The portages from One to Lake Two were crowded and took longer than expected. Camped on the north end of Lake Four and out of the Pagami Creek fire burn area. Entered Hudson Lake at the north end, then on to north part of Lake Insula. Camped at site 32 near a small peninsula on the northeast side of the lake. It has a nice sand beach. We did a day trip to the pictographs on Fishdance Lake.
On the way we found a campsite on the north side of Lake Three that did not burn completely and camped there.
I have about 10 trips to the BWCA and left my vehicle at entry points without any issues. Have a good trip.
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02/16/2022 04:20PM  
I think "easy vs difficult" depends on the group. Our second year in the BWCA we were still newbies (first year without full outfitting from the outfitter). We planned on that same trip you are looking at. We went last week of May. The portages on the numbered lakes were VERY crowded and took a long time just to take our turn. After the portages on the numbered lakes, then the portage into Hudson two of our group of 8 said no further! We were exhausted and ended up staying on Hudson and base camping.

Can a trip be accomplished in a given amount of time? That's like asking if you can drive to Atlanta from Louisville in 6 hours. . .yes if no traffic.

But if you are going in the summer, those are the most popular lakes up there. You will have backups on the portages, and may be dealing with black flies and mosquitoes as well. The first two years we went to BWCA we were in the Ely area and entered on entry point 30. We have to paddle in to Hudson just to find an open camp site. And were exhausted by that time.

Because we used an outfitter that drove us and our gear to entry point 30, we were not on the water until 10 AM. It was 6 when we got to the camp site on Hudson. And that was with no stopping for lunch.
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02/16/2022 04:41PM  
My son and I made Insula around 3:00 with an 7:00 or 8:00 entry year - September - before Covid. I was 68 then. Sandy Beach on east side because Williamson Island was occupied. Average or intermediate paddlers. Portages were fast - my son doubled while I singled. But for me the landings are key. We're only a minute or two from hopping out of canoe to being on portage. We landed way off to the side between 1 and 2, a family if 4 was there, and they couldnt believe how fast we were out of site. No loose items other than paddled - 3 packs and canoe.
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02/16/2022 04:41PM  
I highly recommend staying at Kawishiwi Lodge the night before. Not only can you be on the water early, but you’re a 20 minute paddle ahead of the EP 30 folks.

My advice to anyone entering EP 30. Be on the water by 6-6:30 to get yourself past those 3- 4 portages that involve heavy traffic. Once 10- 11am rolls around, you’re most likely around Hudson, well ahead of the crowds.
02/16/2022 10:40PM  
Thanks for the advice, which confirms what I am expecting.
6:30 would be a late start for me, so I think we'll be able to be ahead of (some) of the crowd, at least. My thought from reading other forums is that area is popular, but I think for our first trip we don't necessarily want to be completely alone, and from there we can have a better idea for future runs. I am thinking now that we may want to push north from Alice Lake, Through Thomas, then back west and take out on Snowbank at EP28.

I may be bringing a Trail Life group (similar to scouting) out in another year or 2, and want to see as much as I can to help plan that better.
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02/16/2022 11:31PM  
I agree that it is a good starting point for learning. It’s nice to get some good paddling and just a couple of east portages for the start of the trip. A nice early start can give you some quiet time, even there. And we’ve gotten some nice wildlife siting even in turn e first stretches (beaver, loons, eagle). You will have a great time.
02/25/2022 08:50PM  
Hit the water early, the bunkhouse at Kawishiwi lodge is a great option to hit the water at daybreak. It also saves 30 mins of paddling gives you a nice head start vs EP30. Your car will be in a safe location too, not saying the EP parking lot is bad. Insula on a good day can be 5 to 6 hours depending on double or single portaging. We push to Alice in the first day just to get there. This can be done in 8 hours if you have average paddlers and correct wind, can take 12 plus if you have wind in your face. The Burn area can be a pain if you have Hammocks. North end of Insula is a good place to push to. lots of campsite options. A definite day trip to Fishdance is highly recommended.
02/25/2022 10:16PM  
gshark: "Thanks for the advice, which confirms what I am expecting.
6:30 would be a late start for me, so I think we'll be able to be ahead of (some) of the crowd, at least. My thought from reading other forums is that area is popular, but I think for our first trip we don't necessarily want to be completely alone, and from there we can have a better idea for future runs. I am thinking now that we may want to push north from Alice Lake, Through Thomas, then back west and take out on Snowbank at EP28.

I may be bringing a Trail Life group (similar to scouting) out in another year or 2, and want to see as much as I can to help plan that better."

That'll be a really cool loop, gshark! The channel between Thomas and Fraser is beautiful as is the paddle from Ima to Jordan. I hope you have an awesome first trip and much success in scouting out future opportunities.
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