Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Crocodile Lake Basecamp
by lindylair

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/23/2013
Entry & Exit Point: East Bearskin Lake (EP 64)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
After the long winter we endured this year, we began checking webcams a couple weeks before our trip to make sure the ice was gong to be out in time. It was, but not with a lot of time to spare. My buddy Jim and I planned an easy, one portage and basecamp trip to an area we had never been. The purpose was to relax and renew our spirits, take hundreds of pictures (which we did) and catch a few fish. Mission accomplished. To me the purpose of a Trip Report is the enjoyment of the reader, but also an opportunity to learn about an area that someone might be interested in visiting. I put a lot of thought and energy into the planning of my trips and likewise I put a lot of time and detail into my trip reports. Be forewarned, lots of information and many photos included.
We got up early and left the Twin Cities at 3:30 am for the drive up. Breakfast and bait in Grand Marais and we were on our way up the Gunflint. We put in at the East Bearskin landing around 11:30 or so. A quick paddle across the lake and we hit our first and only portage. The portage into Crocodile is reported to be around 120 rods but seemed a bit longer. Crocodile is 100 plus feet above East Bearskin and I think we gained all of that in the first 30-40 rods; it's a steep son of a gun. The portage was pretty wet as you might expect with a small stream running down the portage trail in places. But overall, since it was our only portage, it was not too bad. We had one 17' Kevlar canoe and 3 packs so we double portaged at a leisurely pace.

Once on Crocodile, I have to say that our first impression was disappointing. I think we expected a more narrow intimate lake but at the western end it is not all that narrow. It certainly gets that way on the eastern end, and we came to like Crocodile Lake very much as the days wore on. We didn't even check out the first campsite because the reports we had seen weren't favorable; in fact most of what we had been able to read said that none of the campsites were very nice. In the next few days we checked them all out and I have to disagree. The first is probably the least desirable but has it's good points. The other three on the lake are all very serviceable. I would rate the one we stayed at close to a 3 and the 3rd one heading eastward the same. The 4th one in the eastern end is a gem and at least a 3.5 in my opinion.

Anyways, we pitched camp in the second site and it grew on us each day to the point that we liked it very much. The landing is okay and although elevated, the main part of the site has a large flat area for living space, room for 2 or 3 tents and a nice kitchen area.

The campsite living area

The camp kitchen and the view

It lacks a great view of the lake because it is fairly wooded although the sunrise view to the east isn't bad at all.

The canoe landing and view to the east

This site also features a set of large sloping rocks on the north side which proved to be a great place for us to hangout, drink coffee, fish and luckily has a great view of both the sunrise and sunset for photographic purposes. It is not visible from the main site but a short walk down a trail, not a problem.

After getting camp setup we proceeded to ambitiously begin doing what we had come for...not a lot and whatever the heck we wanted. Over the course of the 5 days we fished some, mostly off the northern rocks, took a ton of pictures, drank a lot of coffee and ate good, took a nap, and managed to plan some type of day trip/excursion each day. We had some very interesting experiences, saw some really cool stuff and really enjoyed each day. The weather was phenomenal, partly to mostly sunny the entire trip with highs in the upper 50s to upper 60s and lows from the upper 20s to mid 40s.

The first night we were out fishing on the front rocks just before dusk when we heard a loud splash from the bay just to our west. Thinking moose, we both readied our cameras and strained our eyes to see it. To our surprise it was not a moose at all. The photos aren't very good but it was a long distance and very low light...

As far as we knew, we were alone on Crocodile Lake with our 3 visitors and it was an interesting experience indeed. They barked and growled for about an hour before they left. I was hoping for a full blown howl, but although they would start what sounded like a howl, they would break it off into a growl every time.

As it became pretty much full dark, we went back to the site. A few moments later Jim and I both spotted a snowshoe hare come into camp so we both froze...and remained that way for about 10 minutes. We watched this hare wander through camp, sniffing everything including our tents, and finally make her way literally to our feet. She sniffed both of our shoes and legs and sat there seemingly without fear. At this time, the barking/growling of the wolves was still going on out there somewhere. Finally, after watching her for awhile, we began moving a little bit and talking to her but it didn't seem to phase her a lot. She just moved about camp for another 5 minutes or so before making her way back into the woods. Two interesting encounters...and this was just the first night!

Jim and I are both avid photographers and that was an important part of the trip for us. We were up every morning well before the sunrise to catch that pre-dawn color, which at this time of year means 4:45am. Water is put on to boil as we begin snapping shots and for the next 30-45 minutes that pretty much occupies us. This site was well positioned for that purpose.

Sunrise view from the main site

Pastel pre-dawn colors as we looked to the west from our rock "front porch"

Evenings were spent fishing on the rocks out front of the site until the sunset colors begged us to pickup our cameras...

The high ridge to the north silhouetted by the colors of the setting sun

On the 3rd morning, as Jim was down on the front porch, a pine marten came strolling into camp. I hurried to grab my camera but alas, was unable to get a shot. The next day was the day we took a short midday nap but I was awakened by Jim hollering at me to check out our visitor. The pine marten was back. I sat up and looked out from the tent just in time to see Jim shake the food pack and see the marten bolt out of it and run for cover. Jim did get some good pics of it too.

Our day trips consisted of exploring the eastern end of the lake and checking out the campsites. We also bushwhacked up one of the two small rivers we saw entering from the south and got some cool pics of rapids and small falls on a wild little river. On day 4 we went west and checked out the bay at that end. There were a pair of loons there who seemed interested in our presence. We suspect that they may have considered nesting there as we saw a nesting area but no eggs. but when we went back on our way out, the loons were gone completely...must have moved on.

After checking out the western bay, we hiked the portage back to East Bearskin with the intention of checking out Crocodile Falls and the river that runs from Crocodile to Bearskin. On the eastern side of the river there is no trail so we bushwhacked a dense, steep trek up the river quite a ways, to the point where the river levels off and above the main falls. The river was running like gangbusters due to the recent snow melt and spring rains and it was an absolutely beautiful scene. We spent a couple hours along the river and falls, snapping pictures, listening to the roar of the water and just enjoying the tranquility of the setting. From that point above the falls we just bushwhacked straight east through the woods and rejoined the portage trail instead of retracing our steps all the way back to Bearskin.

My buddy and tripping partner Jim (aka gymsteele on the forum)

We didn't fish a lot but each caught a bunch of walleyes, mostly in the 12-14 inch range. We each got nicer ones in the 20 plus inch range as well. Our goal was to have one meal of fresh walleye and we accomplished that delightful feat. This trip is the only time I have gone in May and it was a good experience. Bugs became slightly more plentiful each day and although the mosquitoes were huge, there weren't that many of them and they weren't bothering us much. Overall it was a very relaxing trip and we achieved everything we had set out to achieve on this trip. We both left quite fond of Crocodile Lake and plan to return sometime soon. Lots of wildlife, decent fishing, good campsites and a very photogenic lake. Some miscellaneous pics:


Typically we camp a night on the way up which we did not do this time. We also normally camp a night on the way back and this time we stayed at Eckbeck State Forest Campground for 2 additional nights after the BWCA. One day we spent hiking the depths of Crosby Manitou State Park which is well worth the time if you haven't been there. We checked out the main falls which was roaring, as well as several sites along the river (this park is backpack only). Site number 5 is particularly beautiful, right along the river between a set of rapids and a small falls, and very secluded. It is a difficult and steep hike to get there and back, but worth the effort. Some pics of the view from site 5 and the hike:

The view from site 5

Wildflowers were few and far between

Found this deep in the park at the junction of two trails, and although man made, it seems like it belongs

Oops, forgot one camp visitor from Crocodile Lake...

Whew, I think I'm done. The good news is, I've got another trip planned for August...thanks for reading.