Fall, Fraser, Garden Loop
Canoe: 1925 Old Town Otca, 18’ wood/canvas
Gear: Only the essentials, with perhaps the only splurge being a North Face VE24 tent for more room and gear storage when camped. We had two Quetico-Superior packs, a #4 (personal items, tent) and a #2 (food, cookware, bear ropes, etc.). Two packs allowed us to double pack on portages so we wouldn’t have to double back. Did not bring fishing gear on this trip.
Day One: 15 miles, 5 portages (460 rods) We camped at the Fall Lake Campground, allowing us to get on the water day 1 at about 7:30. The Fall Lake parking area is more suburban Twin Cities than wilderness. A new experience. Neither of us slept particularly well that first night. The weather was fantastic, low 70’s, clear. There was a steady east breeze, however, so we knew rain would be coming in a day or two. First day we paddled Fall, Pipestone, Basswood and Wind. Camped on wind. Had a nice campsite on the south side of an island (southernmost campsite in the bunch of three as the lake expands after the portage) that had early and late sun. A lot of traffic on this portion of the route. Wind Lake appeared to be pretty full. The portages were all highways with good landings, the only exception a semi-boggy end to the 90 rod (4th) portage. Off the water about 2:00 p.m.
Day Two: 20 miles, 10 portages (820 rods) On the water around 6:30 after a welcomed 9 hours of sleep the night before. Nice cool day, maybe in the high 60’s, with, again, a mild breeze out of the east. Lakes paddled: Moose, Newfound, Ensign, Vera, Trader, Missionary, Skoota, Dix, Spoon, Pickle, Kekekabic. Fabulous campsite that clearly had not been used much, perhaps because it was a burn area (two, three years ago?), leaving it somewhat exposed. The colors, however, were remarkable, with bright green ferns and grass set off by blackened trees at all kinds of angles. Very pretty. Campsite was the first one to the west of the portage from Pickle. Again, amazing landings for the portages and for the most part flat and easy. Off the water at 2:40 p.m.
Day Three: 20 miles, 10 portages (599 rods) On the water again about 7:00 a.m. Weather was same as the day before, with a bit more sunshine. Lakes paddled: Kekekabic, Strup, Wisini (beautiful little campsite on Wisini at the narrows), Ahmakose, Cacabic, Gerund, Fraser, Thomas, Alice, Hum, Carol, Insula. Fraser and Thomas were very pretty. Nice islands, varied topography. We map the map folded so that it showed the three portages southwest into Insula. It wasn’t till we got to camp that we discovered why they were more difficult to find and poorly maintained. If we had paddled south a bit we would have hit the Kawishiwi and that would have taken us straight into Insula! Ah, well. We took the trip to portage as well as paddle. Except for the final three portages most were as before… straightforward and easy with good landings. The 232 rod portage was the most difficult yet, but not because of the length. It rises, and keeps rising, right out of the landing and has a few more inclines along the way. Two stunning views up at the top, however. Well worth the climb. Off the water at 2:00 p.m.
Day Four: Layover The campsite (easternmost island in the big north body of water) was fabulous. High rock facing south, with view of another of the same on the western point of the island. Since we were travelling a bit more quickly than planned (we had planned 7 nights out) and because the campsite was so gorgeous we decided to layover. We were surprised to see few canoeists, as Insula is literally littered with campsites. The rain finally came on day four, the typical east wind drizzle.
Day Five: 26 miles, 15 portages (476 rods) On the water just after 6:00 a.m. The rain had stopped very early morning, but returned at about 7 a.m. and kept up steadily all day. Lakes paddled: Insula, Kawishiwi River, Hudson, Lake Four, Lake Three, Lake Two, Lake One (a fire was reported on Lake One, but we saw no evidence of it) Kawishiwi River. Insula is like Sag in that there are so many islands large and small that it you really have to pay attention to map and compass. Easy to head the wrong way. Another small challenge was a four way split of the river 2 ½ to three miles from Insula. We took a portage that led to a pool that had rapids at the end with no portage around them. We had to head back out and duck behind a little island to find the correct portage. If you’re using a Mckenzie map this is the 10 rod portage that has the word “rapids” printed above and below the marked portage. The incorrect portage is to the east a bit and is just a hop over a rock, maybe three rods. We had hoped to camp at a rapids (by the “dangerous waters” label on McKenzie), but the site was taken, as were the next six heading west. The final site before the 210 rod portage was open. Pretty nasty little site. This was a day when we saw canoe after canoe after canoe. At one point we counted 15 canoes coming toward us as we headed to the portage. All the portages were short and unremarkable. We were off the water at 3:00 p.m.
Day Six: 9 miles, 3 portages (245 rods) On the water before 6:00 a.m. Lakes Paddled: Kawishiwi River, South Farm, Garden. The morning began with the 210 rod portage. Flat, but rocky, so had to watch footing. Besides that it was an easy portage, as were the other two. Two additional short portages are marked on the map, but those are two narrows for canoeists heading upriver who are not strong paddlers. The rain had stopped by this time and the sun even tried hard to come out mid-morning. We took out at the Fernberg Road access. Off the water at 9:30 a.m. I walked (three miles?) to the Fall Lake Campground to get the car while Bill stayed with the canoe.
It was a good loop that is difficult only if you’re moving fast. It was too populated for my taste, and there is too much motor access at the beginning and end, but the lakes are nice. I would recommend this as an eight to nine day loop for less experienced paddlers.