Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Father-Son Trip
by joeandali

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/29/2015
Entry Point: Saganaga Lake (EP 55)
Exit Point: Seagull Lake (EP 54)  
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My son and I participated in a Boy Scout trek through the Boundary Waters several years ago. While the trip was fun and memorable, the boys were just a little too young for the amount of gear and food we took. I decided to do another trip now that my son is physically larger than me at 16 years of age. We would be traveling much lighter, doing a better job of planning meals and require less gear

Our last trip took us in at Moose Lake and then west through the bays of Basswood Lake. This time I did a little more research and decided on a trip through Knife Lake. Originally I thought of going in at Moose Lake again with a tow to first portage but upon looking at maps decided to go in from the Gunflint Trail to the east. We are frequent campers with backpacking experience so we had most of the gear we needed for camping. I contacted Seagull Lake Outfitters in January to reserve a canoe, additional supplies, a place to sleep the night before and a tow to American Point on Saganaga Lake. The permit was reserved in late January. Now all we had to do was wait until June…and plan.

June 27th We left Central Ohio early Saturday June 27th. The trip was just a bit too long to do in one day and still have decent energy when we get on the water so we decided to give ourselves two days to get to Seagull Lake. The fastest route is to drive east to Indianapolis and then north to Chicago. We stopped at the Michael Jordan statue at the United Center in Chicago so my son could get a picture.

As we continued the drive north Elijah slept from Chicago to Madison Wisconsin. We decided to stop in Spooner Wisconsin but the local hotel was full. We continued north looking at hotels on the GPS. Elijah called the first motel on the list but there was no answer. The second call was to Swanson’s Motel Cabin and Campground. They had a room. We were six minutes away so I told Elijah we would take a look and if it looked bad we would keep moving. It was great.

We traveled around 780 miles this day.,+OH/United+Center,+Chicago,+IL/Swansons+Motel+%26+Campground,+11829+U.S.+53+Business,+Solon+Springs,+WI+54873/@43.8551772,-86.3948897,6z/data=!4m20!4m19!1m5!1m1!1s0x883817d9b080117d:0x11616c35e1b4991c!2m2!1d-82.4012642!2d40.0581205!1m5!1m1!1s0x880e2d46eb6b3ed9:0x4c99db102b38a58!2m2!1d-87.6796214!2d41.8822546!1m5!1m1!1s0x52ae85ed2073674d:0xf9d91d8cd9b5e35b!2m2!1d-91.822388!2d46.336953!3e0?hl=en

June 28th We woke early and started the drive to Seagull. We ate at the Perkins in Superior Wisconsin for breakfast and then started the drive up the north coast of lake Superior. We stopped a Gooseberry Falls to stretch our legs.

We also stopped at a couple of turn offs for some views of Lake Superior.

There were several other stops along the way we could have made but Elijah said he just wanted to get there.

Before turning onto the Gunflint Trail at Grand Marais, we hit a local grocery store for last minute fresh food items. We also stopped for lunch at Sven & Oles Pizza (, filled up the gas tank and started on the Gunflint Trail. We checked in a Seagull Outfitters ( around 2:00pm. We repacked our food and gear into the bear barrel and the Duluth pack we rented. We then explored along the Gunflint Trail including a stop at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center ( We had dinner at the bistro in the Gunflint Lodge ( and then went back to the Paddlers Lodge at Seagull Outfitters for the night.

We traveled around 200 miles this day.,+11829+U.S.+53+Business,+Solon+Springs,+WI+54873/Seagull+Canoe+Outfitters+%26+Lakeside+Cabins,+Gunflint+Trail,+Grand+Marais,+MN/@47.2441607,-92.3701777,8z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x52ae85ed2073674d:0xf9d91d8cd9b5e35b!2m2!1d-91.822388!2d46.336953!1m5!1m1!1s0x52a6f0cc70d0d84b:0x242b1e5a0c1d8c84!2m2!1d-90.868415!2d48.159741!3e0?hl=en

June 29th We woke at 5:30 to do our final packing, eat breakfast and secure the items we were not taking in the car. We were at the outfitters around 6:30 to get the canoe, PFDs and paddles and then in the car to meet the tow boat on Saganaga lake. We were on the tow boat by 7:00 and the boat dropped us off at American Point on Saganaga lake by 7:30. The tow was around six miles and probably saved us a day of paddling to American Point. Saganaga is a huge lake with lots of islands and I can image that the paddle could be tough on a lake this size if the wind picked up.

From American Point we began the paddle south west to the portage to Swamp Lake. The lake was calm and I was surprised by how well we were paddling. It did not take us long to get into the rhythm of paddling together and we made good progress.

We saw one group on a campsite on Saganaga. It appeared to be a women and her daughter at the campsite with no boat in site. Elijah was concerned about how they were going to get out of the lake but I told him there were probably other people with them and they were probably on the boat out fishing.

We made it to the Swamp Lake portage in good time. We got confused in one of the Saganaga bays for a very short time. The portage to Swamp is very short, almost a lift over the rocks between the lakes.

There were two other groups at the portage, one was just starting to paddle away on Swamp and the other was getting their gear across and reloading. We waited until they were paddling away before we moved our gear across. When pulling the bags out of the canoe I stepped on a flat slick granite rock and slid into the lake down to my waist.

The paddle across Swamp was short and unremarkable. We were soon at Monument portage, our last portage of the day. Monument portage connects Swamp and Ottertrack lakes. The portage runs along the border of Canada and the United States. There are several large monuments along the portage marking the border. The portage is 79 rods (1300 feet) long.

There was one group at the portage when we arrived. We waited to let them unload their gear and get the canoes out of the water. Once they had set their gear to the side and were taking the canoes down the portage we pulled into the portage landing, unloaded our packs from the canoe, secured the canoe and carried our packs down the portage. Once at the other end, we set our packs to the side and went back for the canoe. On the way back, we took some pictures at the monuments.

I carried the canoe to the Ottertrack landing. By the time we were back the other group had moved on to the lake. We got the gear reloaded and started on Ottertrack.

Ottertrack is the shape of a Y. One arm of the Y is a bay running along the border between the USA and Canada and the other arm is a bay in Canada. The bottom of the Y is a long narrow lake that also runs along the border. This portion of the lake has high cliffs and almost feels like you are paddling on a wide river. We stopped at the first campsite on the lake to rest and have a snack. It was a nice campsite but our plan was to paddle to one of the campsites at the southwest end of the lake. As we were leaving, two canoes approached and asked if the site was open. The paddlers looked like two fathers with their adult sons. The also looked like serious fishermen.

As we were paddling the lake my camera fell into the water. The camera was supposed to be waterproof but it did not work properly after being in the water. A light and intermittent rain started as we were moving down the lake. We made it to the end of the lake by 12:30 and took the campsite on the south shore of the lake.

While unloading the canoe I stepped onto another flat wet sheet of granite and slid into the lake chest high. This time I yelled a four letter work that starts with f and ends in k. As I looked up there was a group of three canoes paddling by. I hope they were not a church group. Later that evening, we had a good laugh imagining a pious and proper family out in the Boundary Waters enjoying the wonder and majesty of God’s creation when they run across some jerk dropping f-bombs on Ottertrack Lake.

We had a lunch of hard salami and cheese in tortillas, got the camp set up, including the rain tarp, and played cards and talked until close to dinner. We built a fire and cooked steaks and instant garlic mashed potatoes. It would be the only fire we made all week.

Total distance traveled today was nearly 10 miles with 9 miles on the water and 1 mile of portaging.

June 30th Strong winds started after midnight and continued until 4:30am. I did not sleep well and got out of the tent for good around 5:30am. The campsite was still in good shape with only one tarp tie down loose. The bear barrel was where we left it and undisturbed. Elijah slept in until 7:45am. We had a breakfast of granola cereal and raisins. The sky was overcast and there was a wind coming from the northeast. At least the wind would be at our back. We packed up camp and hit the water.

We crossed into the north arm of Knife Lake through the very short little knife portage. Once onto Knife there was no wind. I assume that the high cliffs and narrow width of Ottertrack formed a wind tunnel on the lake because there is not a great elevation difference between Ottertrack and Knife. Knife is a large lake with a north arm and a south arm. Our original plan was to paddle to Thunder Point where the north and south arms meet. We were still a bit sore from the paddle the day before and we stopped at a campsite for a snack. I had heard about a nice campsite that was a couple miles east of Thunder Point on a peninsula just west of the narrows of the north arm. We stopped at the site and ate a lunch of summer sausage and cheese. After looking at the site we decided to stay. We could still get to the south arm of Knife through a portage in the bay so we decided to cut the paddling short for this day.

The site was elevated from the lake but protected on three sides by hills. There was a nice view of Canada from one of the hills. The thunder box (think outhouse in the trees with no walls) also had a nice view across the bay. There was a family of aggressive but entertaining ground squirrels that live on the site. Elijah also saw a snake with bright yellow stripes cross a path near the water.

I took a nap in the hammock while Elijah looked for crawfish. A solo kayaker passed by and talked with Elijah while I was napping. Later in the day a group of three canoes passed by looking for our site. I heard one adult say “now what” in a frustrated way. I hope they were able to find a site shortly after they passed. While exploring one of the hills a French speaking group I assumed were French Canadians passed by.

We had a dinner of Zatarans jambalaya rice with the left over summer sausage from lunch and some chicken. It was great. We viewed the sunset over Canada from a hill near the campsite and then called it a night.

This day we traveled on 4.75 miles with nearly all of it on the water.

July 1st

We woke to a clear, calm and chilly day. When I went to get the food barrel it looked like something had disturbed it. It was still in place strapped to a tree but had shifted a bit to the side. We had another breakfast of Granola cereal, this time with banana chips. We packed up camp and were on the water by 7:45. We made our way south through the bay and found the portage to the South Arm of Knife lake. The portage was 39 rods (594 feet). It went up and over a small hill. While it did not look like the portage got a great deal of use, it was in good shape.

We paddled over to the portage to Eddy Lake. When we got there a group from Outward Bound was making its way over the portage. We secured the canoe and went to explore Eddy Falls.

When we returned, a group from the Boy Scout high adventure base was arriving. As we pulled our gear out of the canoe to haul up the portage, the scouts were securing their gear so they could explore the falls. I had a brief conversation with one of the adults with the group and it appears that the scouts still over pack for the trip.

We hauled the gear up the portage to Eddy Lake. The portage is only 18 rods (297 feet) but it is uphill the entire way. Once we had the gear at the top, I went back for the canoe. When I got back, another youth group had arrived and was unloading their gear and carrying canoes up the trail. While putting the canoe on my shoulders I managed to hit it on a large tree and two rocks. I don’t think I could have done it much worse. I got the canoe up to the top of the portage and we reloaded and started across Eddy.

Eddy is a small lake with three campsites. It was a short trip across Eddy to the portage to Jenny lake. There was a youth group unloading at the portage so we decided to hang back and let them go on but they waved us up and said they are moving slow so we could pass. We thanked them, unloaded our packs and started up the portage.

The portage is only 20 rods (330 feet) with a small incline. Once we got the gear up I went back for the canoe. I got the canoe up but forgot the camera was in the pouch on the back of my seat. I did not hear it fall in the water but one of the young men from the youth group saw and retrieved it for me. I got the canoe up and as we were loading our gear the youth group began to get their canoes over the portage. There was plenty of space for multiple canoes. One of the young men carrying a heavy aluminum canoe slipped while walking into the water and the canoe came down on him. I was already in the water loading my canoe so I jumped over to help lift the canoe off. We were able to get it off of him and he did not appear harmed. The group was very grateful for the help.

We got all our gear in the canoe and paddled across Jenny. Jenny is another small lake with two campsites. We arrived at the portage to Alice.

The portage was short at 18 rods (297 feet) and very easy. We crossed into Alice. Alice is a small lake with no campsites. On the other side we found the portage to Ogishkemuncie Lake. This was another short portage at 16 rods (264 feet) and very easy. We were finally in Ogishkemuncie Lake where we would be staying for the night.

Ogishkemuncie is fairly long lake the opens up into bays in a couple spots. The water was calm and easy to paddle. We paddled to the island campsite about a third of the way down the lake. It was already taken. We then looked for the next three sites, two we did not find and one was full. We finally found a site near the portage to Skindance Lake. It was not a great campsite but we were a bit tired and ready to stop. We ate a lunch of jerky, cheese sticks and mixed nuts. We set up camp and found a clothes line already in camp from the last occupants. We set up the hammock and relaxed for the afternoon.

The site had chipmunks and some birds we had not seen before. At one point Elijah went to step over one of the logs used for a bench near the fire. He fell, skinned up his leg, hurt his wrist, and bumped his jaw on another log. We bandaged him up as best we could but were concerned about his wrist with all the paddling we had left to do. Dinner that night was a Knorr chicken flavored pasta and rice meal with some chicken. It was pretty good. We played cards, 20 questions and listened to our noisy neighbors across the lake. We were in bed early.

The total day was around 9 miles with 8 miles of paddling and one total mile of portaging.

July 2nd

I woke to calm water and an overcast sky. So far, it was the warmest morning. Elijah was obviously tired so I let him sleep as I prepared breakfast and packed for the day. After Elijah woke and ate his breakfast, we finished packing the camping gear and got on the water. Elijah was sore from his fall but his wrist felt good. A short time after leaving camp we entered an area that was burned by a fire several years ago. The change in the view was interesting as you can see many more details in the landscape with the large trees gone. Smaller trees had already taken over and it will not be long until the area looks like the rest of the Boundary Waters.

At the portage from Ogishkemuncie to Kingfisher Lake we stopped to take some Advil. We still ached a bit from the previous days paddle. While at the portage we saw the group we met on Ottertrack on Monday that took the campsite we stopped in for a snack. They were on their way to Alpine lake to fish and were moving fast. We let them pass and then made our way down the portage.

The portage entrance was a bit difficult to find. We paddled past it before we saw it. The portage is short at 34 rods (561 feet) and flat with good landing areas on both ends. I took a few photos of some burned areas along the portage.

We were quickly across the portage and on to Kingfisher. Kingfisher is a small lake with no campsites. We were across the lake in no time and at the portage to Jasper. The portage was short at 30 rods (495 feet), flat and easy. We were on Jasper in no time.

Jasper is a decent size lake with seven campsites. Fortunately we did not have to cross the main portion of the lake to get to the next portage. We only had to paddle the north shore of the lake. The majority of the lake opened up to the south.

The portage from Jasper to Alpine is very nice. The trail has some difficult spots but it follows a river between the two lakes with several roaring waterfalls. The portage is not long at 38 rods (627 feet) and downhill from Jasper to Alpine. I stopped to take a photo of the waterfalls.

Originally we thought we might stay at a campsite on Alpine near the portage to Seagull lake. Instead we decided to get the portage out of the way and head into Seagull so we would be done with portaging for the trip. Alpine is a fairly big lake with lots of islands and plenty of campsites. We saw a few people fishing near the portage from Jasper but no other people. On one island we saw a bald eagle perched high atop a tree.

Alpine was easy to navigate and we were at the portage to Seagull in short time. This portage was the longest of the trip at 101 rods (1,667 feet). There was a bit of a climb up and then down over the hill. Once on Seagull we made for an Island campsite not far from the portage. We stopped at the campsite and had lunch. The site was in pretty bad shape so we decided to move on after lunch. There were some campsites that looked good on the northwest shore of the lake.

Seagull is a very large lake with many campsites. The lake gets lots of use as it is an entry point lake and allows power boats on certain portions of the lake.

We passed a cluster of five campsites but they were all full. We paddled further north where there were five more sites. As we passed each site it was full. We were starting to get discouraged as we made our way east past some islands. There were a couple sites we were going to check out.

As we came around an island we saw an empty campsite on an island to the north. It looked like another groups was paddling toward the site. Elijah asked if we wanted to paddle hard and try to beat them there but I did not want to be that guy. I would be very disappointed if someone did that to me. There was another campsite on a bay on Three Mile Island just further east. Elijah got out the binoculars and the best he could tell the campsite was open. As we made our way east we noticed another group approaching the previous site we had considered. The two groups arrived at the same time on opposite sides of the island. I am not sure how the situation got resolved.

We arrived at the site on Three Mile Island and found it open. It was a nice site on a peninsula inside a bay. The kitchen area was elevated on a large rock. The tent pads were down in a valley behind the rock in some trees. The pads had nice shelter from the wind but would not be a good spot in a heavy rain. We were very happy with the site and set up camp.

As we were setting up we heard thunder in the distance. We were able to view a storm in the distance so we got the tent and tarp set up. We put all of our equipment under shelter and watched the storm.

Other than a few drops of rain, the storm passed us on the west. We did have a nice wind coming from the southwest after the storm that kept the bugs away. We played cards and 20 questions until dinner. Dinner was Zatarans dirty rice with chicken. We discussed our plans for Friday. We did not plan to be off the water until Saturday. However, the extra paddling today put us so close to the base that we did not have a reason to paddle on Friday. We could spend the day in camp or head home early. We decided to sleep on it and decide in the morning.

In total we traveled over 11 miles on the day with two miles of portaging and the rest paddling.

July 3rd We slept late. I got up first and checked the weather radio. There was a nice breeze from the southeast and a chance a rain but things looked nice so far. I had breakfast and read a book as Elijah slept. Elijah got up and we decided to head into base. Elijah ate and we started to pack up camp.

When we were about finished packing up, an older couple paddled into the bay. They looked like they were in their late 60s or early 70s. I thought they may be looking for a campsite so I called out to them. They were actually trying to get to the Trails End campground. They were lost. I looked at their map and pointed out where we were. In turns out they camped north of us and were paddling south instead of north to the campground. I had to point out the sun in the east before they were convinced they were going the wrong direction. We were going in that general direction so I offered to paddle with them if they would wait for us to pack but they decided to paddle on without us. Later that day we saw them talking with an outfitter on the north shore of the lake. He appeared to be giving them directions. At least they were closer this time.

We got our gear packed up and began paddling toward the base. We passed a Boundary Waters sign on the way out and stopped for a picture.

We were at Seagull Outfitters by 11:30am, turned in our gear and took showers. Our total paddle for the day was about 3.5 miles. The total trip was around 39 miles with about 4 miles of portaging.

We were on the road by 12:30 and stopped for lunch at the Angry Trout Café in Grand Marais. . The view of Lake Superior from the outside eating area was awesome.

After lunch we started south. We stopped at a Chipotle in Eau Claire then stopped at a Super 8 in the Wisconsin Dells region.

The Super 8 was a dump but it was late and we were tired. It was also overpriced due to the Fourth of July weekend and the Dells region. We had first stopped at a couple hotels about ten miles north but they were full so we took what we could find. In hindsight, I think it would have been better to sleep in the car at a rest stop. The walls of the hotel were paper thin and I could hear a dog barking somewhere. Every time someone in the room above us moved, we heard it. The blanket had spots where it was worn thin. In the hallway, there was a hole in the wall and the wall paper was old and stained. We still tried to get some sleep.

Total miles traveled today were 439.,+Gunflint+Trail,+Grand+Marais,+MN/Super+8+Wisconsin+Dells,+North+Frontage+Road,+Wisconsin+Dells,+WI/@45.80094,-95.6912042,6z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x52a6f0cc70d0d84b:0x242b1e5a0c1d8c84!2m2!1d-90.868415!2d48.159741!1m5!1m1!1s0x880745918690ecfb:0x841d73693dca9ca7!2m2!1d-89.798885!2d43.626268?hl=en

July 4th After a few hours of sleep we got out of the hotel as quickly as possible. Elijah fell asleep before we were at Madison and did not wake until we were in Indiana. We stopped at a Denny’s for brunch and then back in the car to get home. We arrived at home around 4:30.

Total miles traveled today were 589.,+North+Frontage+Road,+Wisconsin+Dells,+WI/Newark,+OH/@41.6842159,-88.4726132,7z/data=!4m15!4m14!1m5!1m1!1s0x880745918690ecfb:0x841d73693dca9ca7!2m2!1d-89.798885!2d43.626268!1m5!1m1!1s0x883817d9b080117d:0x11616c35e1b4991c!2m2!1d-82.4012642!2d40.0581205!3e0!5i2?hl=en

Lakes Traveled:   Saganaga Lake, Swamp Lake, Ottertrack Lake, Knife Lake, Eddy Lake, Jenny Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Jasper Lake, Alpine Lake,