BWCA Trip suggestions for two newbies 3rd week of September: Sawbill Lake? Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/03/2022 08:37PM  
Looks like our August Alaska fishing trip is likely canceled due to Covid, so a friend and I are considering a September Boundary Waters canoe trip instead. Neither of us has been canoe camping before, but we have done day trips. I have solid wilderness camping and backpacking skills. We are decent (if rusty) on map and compass navigation.

I think a trip with easier navigation, less intense portaging, with plenty of day trip options would probably suit us well; two or three camps on a 5-day, 4-night trip is sort of what I was thinking. (Neither of us has portaged previously with gear). I was considering maybe a Sawbill lake entry would fit. Or an entry point that looks easy like Baker Lake, or Hog Creek.

I am really looking for a trip in the eastern Boundary Waters Areas, FYI. It looks like permits are available the 3rd week of September. (I am prepared gear wise and experience wise for sub freezing temperatures). Thoughts on if these are good first trip ideas, or other first trip ideas with easier portages would be appreciated.

TIA for sharing your wealth of experience.


 
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lindylair
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08/04/2022 06:04AM  
So many options...Baker Lake is a good entry, fairly easy and a nice area. it used to be a well kept secret, now it is kind of busy. Still a pretty area with decent fishing, options for out and back from South Temperance Lake or a loop back to Sawbill, and an area known for moose sightings.

Hog Creek is an easy entry unless water levels are so low that you have to get out of the canoe a lot. I have read that it usually has enough water all season but...expect the possibility of a beaver dam pullover or two. it is a long meandering stream with lots of tight turns and kind of cool at first. I found it getting monotonous towards the end of the creek but then you hit the lake. Perent Lake is a very pretty lake with good fishing, lots of nice campsites but prone to wind because it is fairly large and shallow. Also not a lot in the way of daytrips or options to move a short distance to another lake to camp. Would work best for a short basecamp trip.

Homer lake entry is a suggestion I would make and seems like it could be perfect for what you are planning. Easy entry, a couple short easy portages to camp, a few nearby lakes for daytrips or moving camp for a different experience, and a great daytrip option exploring up the Vern River. We have had great fishing in this area and the scenery is nice, especially on the small waterways connecting the lakes.

I would suggest heading to Vern Lake first and taking one of the two campsites there if they are open - both are good sites. You will be centrally located between Juno Lake(3 campsites) and Pipe Lake(3 campsites) for daytrips and/or moving camp for a night or two. Juno is a long narrow lake and very pretty. Pipe is off the beaten track and solitude is likely there.

In general this area is not real busy. I would not call it a spectacular area but very nice and very easily accessible - a great introduction for new trippers or just someone who wants to enjoy the woods and water , peace and quiet without working super hard. Here is a trip report of our first trip there a few years ago if you are interested, lots of photos:

Homer Lake entry

Other folks will probably recommend a Lizz Lake entry going down through Caribou and Horseshoe Lakes with options to Gaskin or west to the long skinny lakes or even down to Vista which is a beautiful lake( the southern campsite is awesome). i could not argue with this at all, this is a classic BWCA trip through a scenic area known for moose sightings, decent fishing, great options for daytrips or short moves to a new camp. It tends to be busier in comparison to Homer, for example and you will work a little harder to get there, but nothing real long or difficult at all.

I guess I would rank Homer at the top for simplicity and ease of entry and chance for solitude with Lizz Lake a close second for the beauty and uniqueness of the area with still relatively easy access. Baker 3rd, nice area and even if you only go as far as Jack Lake it is nice. Hog creek is hard for me to recommend, I just didn't enjoy it all that much. If minimal portaging is your goal this could work but be prepared to sit in one spot for the whole trip.

Whatever you choose, have a great trip. Let us know how it goes and if you have more questions ask away, we love giving advice:)
Northwoodsman
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08/04/2022 09:39AM  
I like the idea of EP 47 Lizz Lake with a basecamp on Horseshoe. Several great sites and a beautiful area year around, particularly in September. Good chance to see a moose also. Easy portaging. Stay at a bunkhouse at Rockwood the night before you enter and utilize them for any gear needed. My favorite September trip. If the first 3 portages go well and you want to keep going head to Gaskin to basecamp.
snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/04/2022 09:59AM  
Thanks for the ideas of Homer and Liz Lakes. They both look like they would work well for the style of trip I have in mind. And both have permits available. I really enjoy fishing, but am ignorant of the types of fishing the Boundary Waters offers. How is fishing in mid to late September? Fishing isn't critical to this trip, but would be fun if an option.

Also, we will be renting the canoe(s) and packs at least. Are 2 solo canoes a good option, as they are lighter weight for portaging? I have paddled solo canoes, and paddled my tandem fishing canoe solo a lot. Suggestions on rental companies and lodging are also welcome.
08/04/2022 11:44AM  
Actually, you'll find 1 tandem weighs considerably less than 2 solos for portaging and is one less load.
snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/04/2022 12:24PM  
Yes, I understand that the net weight of 2 canoes is greater than 1 canoe. But doing a double portage rather than (likely) a triple portage is a very good point.
lindylair
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08/04/2022 01:03PM  
Two solo canoes is an option and has advantages - if you prefer the solo paddling experience. One advantage is to allow one paddler to get out on the water anytime if the other paddler isn't inclined to do so, or is still sleeping(early AM paddles are great and fishing is good). But there are disadvantages too as in a possible extra trip across the portage and increased rental cost.

Regarding outfitters there are many to choose from including a lot that are sponsors of this site. Most are excellent. But it is advisable to decide on an entry point first and then pick an outfitter that is nearby or on the way to the entry lake. If by chance you picked Homer, Sawtooth Outfitters is great and they are along highway 61 in Tofte, just before you turn up the Sawbill Trail to get to the entry point. If you choose Lizz Lake, Rockwood is right on Poplar Lake which is the lake you enter, either at the public access way on the west side of if you are outfitted by Rockwood you can put in right there at their shoreline. Many more to choose from, depending on where you end up going in.

We usually camp near the entry point the night before we go in(lots of options) so I don't know a lot about the lodging aspect - there are plenty of places to go. Some outfitters have bunkhouses(I believe Rockwood may offer this).

Where are you coming from?
snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/04/2022 01:28PM  
Thanks for the recommendations. We will be driving from Indiana.
Northwoodsman
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08/04/2022 03:16PM  
How experienced are you at paddling? Solo canoes can be a little "tippy" compared to a tandem. They can be harder to enter and exit also. A solo will likely be around 28 lbs., a tandem around 42 lbs. If it's windy you may feel more comfortable in a tandem. I've never paddled solo so take my advice with that in mind, I'm just going by what I've read and researched.
snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/04/2022 04:23PM  
I have paddled my fishing canoe quite a bit (both tandem and solo, but i turn it around when i paddle solo as sitting backwards in the bow seat is better weightwise), but it is really stable. No problems using a Wenonah Vagabond solo canoe on a spring creek. I don't remember feeling that it was tippy or difficult to enter/exit. I really liked it actually. So I guess I am not a rank beginner with canoeing, but certainly wouldn't classify myself as experienced.
08/05/2022 09:07AM  
snakeybird: "Yes, I understand that the net weight of 2 canoes is greater than 1 canoe. But doing a double portage rather than (likely) a triple portage is a very good point. "

Well, you certainly don't want to triple portage unless you're really not going anywhere or doing many (or longer) portages. In the beginning I wasn't really familiar with the rods measurement, but quickly learned that 320 rods is 1 mile, 160 rods is a half mile, etc. If you do 4 80-rod portages or any combination equaling 1 mile, you'll walk 3 to double and 5 to triple, 2 of the 3 will be with a load and 3 of the 5 will be with a load.

Two solos vs. a tandem is one of those six-of-one, half-dozen of the other deals. I found paddling for traveling to cover some distance on lakes considerably different than paddling around a little and fishing.

It's certainly possible to solo and double, I and lots of people do it all the time, but you do have to consider the weight of your load. So you should first determine how much everything is going to weigh and what your comfort level is for a load. For reference, on a 4/5-day solo trip at that time, total weight of all gear, food, canoe, paddles, PFD would weigh about 75-80 pounds.

Baker would be your best option for a very short portaging trip up to Jack Lake. I entered at Baker a few years ago with another solo and we went to South Temperance the first day for reference. One of the problems with not getting far from an entry is you may have difficulty finding a campsite and may have to go farther than expected. You could easily get to Burnt from Sawbill or Baker (you can do the math for comparisons). From Sawbill it would be easy to Beth. There are a wealth of sites on Alton and Sawbill, but that area is generally busy.

Otherwise lindylair and northwoodsman have offered good alternatives and solid advice.

It sounds like you have realistic expectations of the weather and I don't think you'll find navigation challenging. You basically just have to be able to orient yourself, know what direction you're going, and "stay found" by keeping track of landmarks.

I think you'll be fine with any of the options assuming you can double portage.
shock
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08/05/2022 09:42AM  
how much is fishing a priority ? anyone who knows me , knows i'm gonna suggest seagull. one of the better fisheries for an entry point lake. and 1 very flat wide 100rd. portage takes you into Alpine lake with beautiful Jasper falls , and if wanting to venture farther ogish is a nice lake too , short paddles & portages through jasper and kingfisher to ogish.
Z4K
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08/05/2022 10:06AM  
Most purpose-built solo canoes will be much more tender than a tandem. If you do decide to rent solos it would be wise to take them for a test-paddle before embarking on a trip in a craft that you're not comfortable with.

This is going to sound really goofy but bear with me. If you and your tripping companion have 0 portage experience, practice the paddling-portaging transition at home. Seriously, take all of your gear, packs, paddles, fishing rods, life jackets, EVERYTHING you plan on bringing and put it on your lawn somewhere and imagine that it's in 2 two-toned Swift Shearwaters with bucket seats and adjustable foot braces (Or one Northwind 18 with glimmering, well-oiled ash and walnut brightwork). Don't forget about typically loose items like water bottles, maps, kneeling pads, fishing net, bailing sponge etc. Once you're done daydreaming and ready to practice portaging, don your life jacket, throw a pack on your back, grab your >2 paddles and the fishing poles and start making another pile 20 yards away. Do the same with the rest of your gear, counting the total number of trips it takes you. Don't forget about portaging the imaginary canoe(s), making sure you make one trip with empty hands as if you're carrying a used but like-new Souris River Quetico 16 that you picked up last month in the UP for $350. Imagine each time that you're walking 300+ yards over a boulder field with 50 feet of knee deep, sucking mud in the middle. Are you comfortable? Are there extra loose items that you had to make an extra trip for at the end? Is a pack too heavy? Too light? Can I carry the light pack and a canoe at the same time? I sure wish my cooler had backpack straps on it. What if I used bungie dealie bobs to strap the paddles to the canoe? How long does it take me to strap the paddles to the canoe with BDBs? What crazy person brought 30# of gear and then 25# of fishing tackle? WHY ARE WE BRINGING THE REFLECTOR OVEN, IT DOESN'T FIT ANYWHERE.

Now do it all again, but this time imagine there's a group of 9 boyscouts floating 20 yards off-shore in 3 heavily dented aluminum Grummans and one DIY-camo-painted UFO, patiently and politely waiting (as they do) for you to move your yard-sale out of their way and you'll understand why it was a good idea to practice this at home.
snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/05/2022 12:28PM  
Hi All,

Thanks for the suggestions elaborations, theoreticals and conversation. This is exactly what I really hoped to get when I started this thread.

Fishing: for this trip, it's a nice to have, but not the sole point of the trip. I *love* fishing in SE Alaska where I grew up (my mom calls me the Salmon Slayer), but have *zero* experience and an equal amount of lures, etc. for fishing in Minnesota. So I will definitely need to get advice on the fishing forum. Also, I am assuming the second half of September is sub optimal for fishing; is this incorrect? It will be a fun thing to try out.

Portage Practice: I think this is an absolutely brilliant idea. We can use my backpacking gear and my dry bags to substitute for canoe packs. And even use the fishing canoe as a stand in boat.

Amount of "stuff:" I am pretty minimalistic (i am... well padded and have a back packing background), but don't want to come across as a gear witch with my friend. I will talk about the balance between luxury items and carrying said items. We absolutely will not be taking a reflector oven or the like. (Smart packing aside, I don't have one).

Preparation: I told my friend that we really need to at least do a local river canoe float (we have paddled kayaks previously) and see how we do. Also that we need to go out tent camping for a couple of nights to practice setting up camp, cooking, sharing chores, etc.

Trip Goals: learn a whole lot, work through newbie mistakes, learn how to put up a tarp (I have not done this), and have a lot of fun to balance the inevitable frustrations. It's an "I really want to try canoe camping and see what I think" trip. I am trying to avoid really rocky portages this time out. Mud is an old friend; not too worried about it.
Z4K
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08/05/2022 01:35PM  
Fishing is what it is, 1000 people could give you 1000 different recommendations all with different outcomes. Standard BWCA fishing for me is casting a jig or a spoon close in to shore and retrieving just fast enough to not snag on the bottom. I like yellow, orange, chartreuse, red and gold in the BWCA. Paddling/drifting around just close enough to shore to make amazing casts that don't get caught in trees/weeds is entertainment whether you're catching dinner or not. Move around and try different places/lakes if you're not catching. Fishing near inlets, near drop-offs and fishing at dawn/dusk are always good ideas, even in the fall.
08/05/2022 02:21PM  
Those preparations will go a long way towards a better first trip. Z4K was right on with practice portaging - try to mimic the real loads and configuration as much as possible.

For the paddling, if you don't get on a lake I'd suggest paddling upstream for at least a mile to mimic it better. Take note of your time for planning travel, same goes for portaging.

Good idea on the camp setup, chores practice too. I usually try to keep it simple so I casn concentrate on enjoying the trip.

snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/05/2022 04:04PM  
There is a local independent outdoor store that used to rent tandem Wenonah canoes that you can car top and take to a location of your choice. I can give them a call and see if they still do so. That way we could go practice on a lake locally.
08/05/2022 08:47PM  
My neighbors know when I'm getting ready for a trip...I still put the canoe on my shoulders for a walk around the block each spring!

Lots of good advice and suggestions. I always forgot the difference in the fewer daylight hours in September. Since you are new, you won't have anything to compare it with but it was helpful to me to get as much packed away the evening before so we could be on the water sooner the next morning, especially on travel days.

You have good experience in the wilderness and a backpacking mindset will help you keep it simple. Have a great adventure!
snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/06/2022 12:46PM  
Thanks everyone! I am sure it will be a great adventure!

I have noticed that permit availability seems to bounce around a bit. I will keep a watch on that.

I was just sort of planning on wet footing it with good wool socks and having dry shoes and socks in camp. Does that seem reasonable or should I take waterproof socks? Or wading pants?
08/06/2022 01:03PM  
snakeybird: "Thanks everyone! I am sure it will be a great adventure!


I have noticed that permit availability seems to bounce around a bit. I will keep a watch on that.


I was just sort of planning on wet footing it with good wool socks and having dry shoes and socks in camp. Does that seem reasonable or should I get waterproof socks?"


Yes, your wet footing approach will work just fine. The only waterproof socks I have found that don't end up leaking are the sealskinz. I've had several other brands and they soak through. I will say the other benefit of so-called waterproof socks is they do keep out sand and mud much better than wool. If I'm facing a 300+ rod portage, I'll switch into my dry shoes and socks to avoid blisters. I should note I only use the sealskinz in early/late season when it could be cold. Wool socks work great for me the rest of the time.

Anyway, plenty for you to consider. Pick an option, give it a try, and if you don't like it or think it can be better...go back for another trip and try something else!
Bill59
 
08/07/2022 12:10PM  
I have paddled in September in the Sawbill lake area many times. The weather can change from warm to cold and windy. Make sure your backpack is not higher than the portage yoke or it will get stuck in the yoke. I have always single portaged with a light weight pack and a canoe. I have portaged with both tandem and solo canoes. Solo canoes will require a separate portage yoke. The style of the sole portage yoke is very important. It must solidly attach to the seat post to work properly.
Sawbill Outfitters is located at the Sawbill entry point. They have showers and trip advise for that area. A forest service campground is also located there if you choose that entry point. I usually do a circular route to the northeast or the less challenging trip to Cherokee lake and back. I use freestanding tents do to the rocky and thin soil in most areas.

gravelroad
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08/07/2022 03:25PM  
"Neither of us has been canoe camping before, but we have done day trips."

Bring paddling gloves. Thank me later. ;-)

snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/07/2022 06:52PM  
Thanks for the paddling glove suggestion. I will put it on the list. Are they for sun protection, blisters, warmth? All of these? I have rowed with leather yard work gloves before.

I had already decided that if it was a long portage (which I am intending to avoid) that I would change shoes and socks and walk it in hiking boots. Also, all our backpacking tents are free standing. I have assumed I will be able to stake a tent, and not need anchors.
outsidethebox
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08/07/2022 07:08PM  
Brook trout fishing is spectacular in September.
snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/07/2022 07:40PM  
outsidethebox: "Brook trout fishing is spectacular in September."

Well, I am pretty decent at catching trout on a fly rod! Any of the suggested areas have good brook trout fishing? Of course, fishing spots are usually a closely guarded secret.
gravelroad
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08/07/2022 07:52PM  
snakeybird: "Thanks for the paddling glove suggestion. I will put it on the list. Are they for sun protection, blisters, warmth? All of these? I have rowed with leather yard work gloves before.


I had already decided that if it was a long portage (which I am intending to avoid) that I would change shoes and socks and walk it in hiking boots. Also, all our backpacking tents are free standing. I have assumed I will be able to stake a tent, and not need anchors."


Blister prevention. The sun will be too low in late September to burn you ... and might not be enough to warm you. ;-)

Bring at least one rope for each tent for a "green belay" from a suitable tree. There's a reason it's called the Canadian Shield:

"Erosion has exposed the roots of the mountains, which take the form of greenstone belts in which belts of volcanic rock that have been altered by metamorphism are surrounded by granitic rock."

Canadian Shield Geology
08/07/2022 09:13PM  
There's really no need to change shoes and socks to portage. Take three pair merino wool socks - one for travel, one for camp, one for sleep.

You will be able to stake your tent. I very rarely need a rock or root to secure. Take good stakes.
TRadam
member (38)member
 
08/08/2022 07:08AM  
It’s a great area and you will have fun. There have been excellent points made by many on here. I will emphasize Paddling. I am both a kayaker and canoer and knowing your paddling skills are essential for both. Canoeing is different than kayaking, so make sure you spend some time learning your strokes if you plan to do the tandem canoe approach. There are some great YouTube videos or reading a book on paddle strokes can help too. Cliff Jacobsen is always a great read to learn all sorts of skills you will use in the wilderness. Oh, and always wear your PFD!
outsidethebox
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08/10/2022 07:06AM  
snakeybird: "outsidethebox: "Brook trout fishing is spectacular in September."
Well, I am pretty decent at catching trout on a fly rod! Any of the suggested areas have good brook trout fishing? Of course, fishing spots are usually a closely guarded secret. "

Call the DNR for a list of their lake stockings. "Our" lake is small and obscure...but the info is our there. My brother catches them on his fly rod-but he is expert. I could not keep them off my line with casting salted minnows and jigging them back in. Nothing under 15 inches.
snakeybird
member (34)member
 
08/11/2022 11:05AM  
Thanks everyone! I will definitely do more fishing research. At this point, either I will likely be going on my own or we will go next year. All the input has been invaluable.

I was about 80% sure that the Alaska trip was off, but against the odds we are still "go." If we get out in kayaks on the ocean, maybe I can do a trip report as long as the cell phoned doesn't get sacrificed to Neptune (because that has *never* happened. Not *ever*). Are only BWCA trip reports posted here?



 
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