Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

10th anniversary day trip to Johnson Falls
by DeanL

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/12/2015
Entry & Exit Point: East Bearskin Lake (EP 64)
Number of Days: 1
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My wife Stephanie and I decided to head to the Gunflint Trail for the first time for a quick weekend trip to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We didn't have a concrete plan and decided to just make it up as we went along.
We started planning a short weekend getaway for our 10th wedding anniversary back in July. The one thing we really wanted to see was Johnson Falls so we started with that and planned our trip from there. We bounced around ideas like staying in Duluth, Tofte, and Grand Marais on Friday night and heading up the Gunflint Trail early Saturday morning. All of these options were either really expensive or already booked up for the dates we wanted. Next we tried a few lodges on the Gunflint with the same results. We decided to rent cabin #2 at the Trail Center for Friday and Saturday night not really knowing how it would work but it was close to East Bearskin, available for the weekend and everyone had good things to say about it. It turned out that it could not have worked any better! The cabin was awesome, East Bearskin is only about 5 minutes down the road, and the food at the Trail Center is amazing!


We left Stewart for the Trail Center at about 3:00 pm. We had to make a quick stop at Steph's parents to drop some clothes off for the kids and we were on our way. While sitting in traffic in the cities we realized that even though we only had a fraction of our normal gear along the fishing poles were still sitting in the basement at home. After a few minutes of disbelief I called a buddy in Duluth who set a couple out for us to take along. Even though we made pretty good time through the cities and great time on the freeway the extra stop made getting to the Trail Center by 10 a tough task. We left Duluth a little after 8 and just before we got to Grand Marais made the call to the Trail Center to let them know we were running a few minutes late. They told us not to worry as they would still be there when we arrived. We made it to the Trail Center at 10:20 to get checked into our cabin for the night, they even had the heat and the lights on for us!

Cabin #2 at the Trail Center


We woke up around 6 and made some oatmeal for breakfast before hitting the road. There was a pretty dense fog that had settled in over night that made for some awesome photo opportunities when we got to the landing at East Bearskin.

While the fog and glass calm water made for a great paddle it made navigation on a new lake a little tricky. Thank goodness East Bearskin is pretty regular shaped and doesn't have the islands some other BW lakes do. My plan was to keep the north shoreline to my left and paddle close enough to keep it in sight, I had a GPS along but keeping the shoreline in sight and the sun in front of us I knew we were headed in the right direction. We paddled for a while just taking in the scenery and marveled at the silence of the dead calm morning. My plan of following the north shore worked fine except for the fact that I failed to read any of the portage ratings available on the website. Portage distance is nothing we've ever been afraid of but the north portage from East Bearskin is by far the harder and less used of the 2. We had to crawl over 3 fallen down trees and climb sharply out of East Bearskin and drop just as much to get to Alder. We took the south portage on the way out which was like walking on a sidewalk.

We made it to Alder just as the fog was starting to break up but the water was still a sheet of glass. We made good time across Alder and Canoe where we landed the canoe and had to shed a few layers of clothes as the sun was getting hot. It didn't take long at all to walk across the portage to Pine where we took the spur to the left that led to Johnson Falls. When we got to the falls we were not disappointed at all. Although we've seen the falls in a bunch of pictures it was awesome to see them in person. After snapping some pictures and eating some granola bars and trail mix for lunch we headed back out.

The paddle back out was much less eventful as the wind had picked up, the sun went behind the clouds, and we were headed back to the truck which is never fun. We made good time on the return trip and had completed the loop to the falls and back in about 7 hours.

We still had some time left in the day so we took the short hike up to Honeymoon Bluff that a lot of people mentioned was a nice overlook. It was breathtaking but would be even more cool in a couple weeks when the leaves begin to turn.

We made it back to the cabin where we took the canoe out on Poplar for a little fishing a little tour of the lake before supper. After cleaning up we headed up to the Trail Center Lodge where we dined heavily on the amazing food they have to offer. Being too full for dessert we went for a drive up the Gunflint and returned on the Old Gunflint Trail. Although we didn't spot a moose we did see on bear along the side of the road. We got back to the lodge in time to get a couple pieces of apple pie and ice cream before closing time.


We once again woke up early as we wanted to get to a few of the state parks we haven't seen yet. We drove up the North Shore to Grand Portage where hiked the hiking club trials at Grand Portage and Judge Magney State Parks. On the way back we stopped in Grand Marais for some lunch and shopping before hitting the road again. We hiked the hiking club trails at Cascade River and Temperance River State Parks. The overlook from the mountain at Cascade River is amazing. We continued to head south where we ate supper at Betty's Pies before making the long drive home.

In conclusion, Johnson Falls is well worth the time to check out, The Trail Center is awesome and while we love the west side of the park we might be spending some time on the east side in the near future.