BWCA Late May/Early June: EP 19 Stuart to Curtain Falls loop/out and back Questions Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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      Late May/Early June: EP 19 Stuart to Curtain Falls loop/out and back Questions     
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LostInREI
member (23)member
  
10/27/2023 09:24AM  
Good morning,

As winter winds up and my camping slows down due to a busier winter schedule, I'm itching to start planning a trip to keep my mind busy. We are pulling together a plan to get back to the BWCA from Central Iowa this year. I haven't been up since 2021, and my buddy has never been. I've been talking about how great that area of the world is for years to him and I'm going to pull the trigger for this coming spring/summer. I've read quite a few trip reports and watched a couple of YouTube videos for this route but I'm looking to get some thoughts from those that have done this (the more recent, the better). Some background:

We do a lot of off-grid camping/hiking/paddling and portaging doesn't really scare us. I know this route requires a lot of portages so we would go in with that knowledge.

We have taken one big trip together the past 2 years so we have a pretty good cadence when it comes to setting up camp. We did Jack's Fork 3 nighter in March of 2022 (lucked out with 70 degree days somehow), and a Buffalo River trip for 3 nights this past March (little colder weather which makes for some shivering if you dump your boat- don't ask me how I know). I don't think he believes me about this, but we stayed at an awesome site on the Buffalo called Bear Cave Hollow and it was a top notch spot but it still does not surpass any of the sites I've stayed on in the BWCA. I think he's probably sick of hearing me talk about how great the BWCA is and not sure he's entirely convinced that the sites truly are the best in a reasonable driving distance for us.

My BWCA trip was with 3 other buddies. We went in EP23 and went up Mudro into Thunder and hung out there for 3 nights then back to Fourtown for a night before we exited. I didn't mind fishing, but didn't fish near as much back then as I do now. We were wind bound for a couple days so we only really got one good day of fishing and that was sort of a catalyst for my recent increased interest in fishing.

My buddy I'm planning the current trip with has gotten much more excited about fishing this summer and fishes more than I do now after taking a few trips with me and having me teach him a little. I have been telling him how great the fishing is up there so that combined with the scenery and awesome campsites has him finally agreeing to go with me.

Sorry for the rambling, I thought that info might help with some advice I'm seeking!

We are looking at a 4 night stay in BWCA. I am thinking we will go in EP19, spend a night on Stuart, Fox, or Rush and then head up to Iron to stay up there 2-3 nights and check out Curtain Falls. I know the fishing is solid on this route and there are plenty of good campsites. What I'm really looking for is some advice on this route based on experience. We will go through an outfitter for a canoe and bear barrel and will use them for a shuttle so it's not a huge concern for us to need to use a different entry point upon exit from the BWCA. With the huge portages at EP19, how much of a difference would it be to exit at EP16 vs. EP19? I REALLY don't want to camp on Nina Moose or Agnes given the recent bear activity, but that seems like a hell of a long trip from Iron to EP16 on our last day when you add that to a 7 hour drive home. Also looking at the effect of water levels- would this route be problematic if levels are low?

Has anyone done this loop or a different loop going in EP16? The portages on EP16 seem long but don't seem too terrible (up and down/rocky), so other than the distance it seems manageable from what I've been able to find, but maybe I'm mistaken. I'm also sort of drawn to this route BECAUSE of the portages, as that seems to keep a lot of folks away so the isolation would be a big selling point.

If you have other suggestions for routes, I'm all ears. My big desires are waterfalls/scenery (hence Curtain Falls), fishing, solitude, and solid campsites. Anything extra like pictographs, hiking, or old logging stuff is a bonus. We're pretty willing to go anywhere up there, but we are traveling from Central Iowa so would prefer to go out of Ely since it's just a bit less driving and I used VNO and had a really great experience with them last time. Any thoughts/ideas/suggestions/answers you might have are welcome and very much appreciated.
 
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Lawnchair107
distinguished member (412)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
10/27/2023 09:41AM  
If you’re looking at different EPs to start & end I would highly recommend EP16 camp on LLC for a couple days. Excellent campsites/ fishing. Head to Iron for a couple & then stay on Stuart.

Another option that you’ve done & use only one EP is Mudro option. Make the loop thru crooked via Horse River. Just as good fishing, if not better, remote & excellent campsite options.

My .02 cents
LostInREI
member (23)member
  
10/27/2023 09:55AM  
Lawnchair107: "If you’re looking at different EPs to start & end I would highly recommend EP16 camp on LLC for a couple days. Excellent campsites/ fishing. Head to Iron for a couple & then stay on Stuart.


Another option that you’ve done & use only one EP is Mudro option. Make the loop thru crooked via Horse River. Just as good fishing, if not better, remote & excellent campsite options.


My .02 cents"


Appreciate that input. Would it make more sense to do that 16/19 in the reverse order you suggested? My fear would be that the long portages on the last day would leave me in a bit of a sour mood. Nothing that cold beer the outfitter brings on the shuttle wouldn't cure, I suppose.

I would like to do that EP22/23 loop. We wanted to do that last time but couldn't secure an EP22 permit so decided to just do an out-and-back in case of any issues that would cause us to NEED to camp on Horse.
Lawnchair107
distinguished member (412)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
10/27/2023 11:14AM  
LostInREI: "
Lawnchair107: "If you’re looking at different EPs to start & end I would highly recommend EP16 camp on LLC for a couple days. Excellent campsites/ fishing. Head to Iron for a couple & then stay on Stuart.

Another option that you’ve done & use only one EP is Mudro option. Make the loop thru crooked via Horse River. Just as good fishing, if not better, remote & excellent campsite options.

My .02 cents"

Appreciate that input. Would it make more sense to do that 16/19 in the reverse order you suggested? My fear would be that the long portages on the last day would leave me in a bit of a sour mood. Nothing that cold beer the outfitter brings on the shuttle wouldn't cure, I suppose.

Not at all. But I would rather finish from Stuart then coming from LLC to the EP to end the trip personally. I like you have avoided Agnes/ Nina area due to bear concerns.

The Stuart portage isn’t bad at all. Just long.
grizzlyadams
senior member (67)senior membersenior member
  
10/27/2023 12:32PM  
I did EP 16 last June with a group of 6 and we stayed at the northern site on Agnes and it was great. The portages in were not bad at all, I think it took us around four to four and a half hours to get in and out, a lot of river paddling. We also had some really low water levels and felt like if it had gotten too much lower the river coming in would have been a struggle to float in a lot of areas. Fishing was awesome on Agnes and we traveled into LLC one day and had great luck there too. We did have a bear come through camp early in the morning on our 2nd night but ran off after we came out of the tents.

I am also planning to do EP 19 this coming summer. Not sure if we will spend all of our nights on Stuart or go back into Iron. Either way that area is beautiful.
CardinalNation
senior member (97)senior membersenior member
  
10/31/2023 09:55AM  
If you are more interested in fishing & enjoying the Curtain Falls area rather than portaging & paddling to get there, I would highly recommend that you consider contacting Zup's Fishing Resort & Outfitters . Getting to Crane Lake for pick up would not take much longer than getting to Ely. You could overnight at the resort on Lac La Croix, enjoy a great dinner & breakfast, and be dropped off at Bottle Portage around 8:00 AM to portage directly into Iron.

Zup's Outfitters
(218) 365-4018

Mark Zup knows more about the area around Curtain Falls than anyone and can put you on the best campsites and fishing spots. The resort was actually at Curtain Falls before the BWCA when they relocated to Lac La Croix. Getting to the lower end of Curtain Falls from the Bottle Portage drop off takes about 2-1/2 hours.

Iron can be a little crowded in May/June but you could always camp on Crooked which is typically not as crowded. Fishing in the BWCA on Iron and Crooked (Sunday, Saturday & Friday Bays) is excellent in May/June.

Camping on the Canadian side would be far less crowded, however Quetico fees are slightly higher than BWCA. If you go the Quetico route, you could also get day permits to cross over to the BWCA side of Iron, Crooked and Lac La Croix. Setting up base camp on the Canadian side of Crooked near Curtain Falls would also open up some great fishing waters in Roland, Argo & McAree with minimal portaging.

Just food for thought since you are going to use an outfitter anyway. I have been using Zup's for over 25 years and highly recommend them.
RoJo
member (7)member
  
10/31/2023 05:45PM  
We did the loop from 16 to 19 in the first week of June. We made it to LLC in about 7.5 hours double portaging and 3 of us in our 50s. None of the portages are particularly challenging and the fishing on LLC and Iron was fantastic. We did 2 nights on LLC, one on Iron and 2 on Stewart. Bottle portage was muddy as expected. Did not go for Curtain Falls. We were a little disappointed with fishing on Stewart-did not find the walleye we were hoping for. Our day out was hot and we dug deep and single portaged the long portage to exit and joyfully met our shuttle for a cold beer. It was a good loop. No problem finding sites, although we did paddle around a bit on Iron before finding one. Stewart was quiet. Only one other party on our last night.
disc1
member (16)member
  
11/01/2023 05:16PM  
I'm also from central Iowa. Our group has gone a few different places, but more often than not we do the Stuart Lake entry point into Iron. We've also taken the EP 16 route, but prefer the short distance of EP19, even if it means more portaging. We've gone in June and September and water level is fine both times of year thanks to beaver dams I think. That first long portage is pretty downhill from parking to the river, so keep that in mind. We single portage, I tracked our trip on an inreach the past two years and we made it out (from the far eastern side of Iron) in 5 hrs 38 minutes this year (group of 4, all under 40 in decent shape), and last year made it out in 6 hrs 18 minutes (group of 6, one over 60, all in good shape). The Garmin says 13.6 miles. The roughest portage is probably the mile long one between Stuart and Fox, but the one between Fox and Rush is probably the hardest, lots of uphill and you're pretty tired at that point. My favorite part though is there is only one permit a day, so never any backup at the portages. At worst you see one other group coming out. Feels more like a wilderness. If you were stopping somewhere in between, Rush Lake is pretty neat. The campsites on Iron can be pretty full (there are only 9), but we've always found at least one of the eastern sites open. Can't recommend VNO enough, used them for a long time and bought are used canoes from them a couple of years ago, so don't need that anymore, but still always get our permit there if we're going through Ely. Feel free to email me or message back here if you have any more specific questions, lots of kayakers here in central Iowa but I don't often see other canoers out.
Michwall2
distinguished member(1452)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
11/01/2023 05:39PM  
I am always confused (amused/bemused) when a group that includes hardcore fishermen chose a route such as this. I always wonder why?

Here goes. You have 4 nights (4.5 days). This will realistically result in about 48 hours of real fishing time if the wind gods allow. Why are you choosing a route that will result in 8-10 hours of portage time the first day! That's 18-20% of your fishing time? What is the priority? Fishing or portaging?

I like the Entry 14 to Loon or Shell Lake ideas. There are more water falls there (including Devil's Cascade) if you know where to look. You will get more time on the water fishing. If you need more portage time? Go toward Oyster Lake and exit Moose River. Lots of fishing along the way on Lynx, Ruby, and Oyster.

Or, as someone else suggested, get yourself a tow out onto Lac la Croix. Head up to Snow Bay and fish until you drop there. Paddle back out through Entry 14 for a pickup.

No one is doubting your ability to portage. I guess if you have to get to Curtain Falls then, some of the fishing time is going to get set back. There may be an easier way to get there that would allow you more fishing time using entries closer to Ely. I would also call VNO for their expert help.
Lawnchair107
distinguished member (412)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
11/01/2023 09:28PM  
Michwall2: "I am always confused (amused/bemused) when a group that includes hardcore fishermen chose a route such as this. I always wonder why?


Here goes. You have 4 nights (4.5 days). This will realistically result in about 48 hours of real fishing time if the wind gods allow. Why are you choosing a route that will result in 8-10 hours of portage time the first day! That's 18-20% of your fishing time? What is the priority? Fishing or portaging?


I like the Entry 14 to Loon or Shell Lake ideas. There are more water falls there (including Devil's Cascade) if you know where to look. You will get more time on the water fishing. If you need more portage time? Go toward Oyster Lake and exit Moose River. Lots of fishing along the way on Lynx, Ruby, and Oyster.


Or, as someone else suggested, get yourself a tow out onto Lac la Croix. Head up to Snow Bay and fish until you drop there. Paddle back out through Entry 14 for a pickup.


No one is doubting your ability to portage. I guess if you have to get to Curtain Falls then, some of the fishing time is going to get set back. There may be an easier way to get there that would allow you more fishing time using entries closer to Ely. I would also call VNO for their expert help."


You’re missing the point. Why do you think Stuart & alot of these border lakes hve higher population of fish? Less permits and tough portages that weed people out.
 
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