Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Big Fork River - Dora Lake to Little American Falls
by Valkor

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/04/2024
Entry Point: Other
Exit Point: Other  
Number of Days: 3
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
This is my experience with the first 66 miles of the river from the beginning. I couldn't find much detailed information online specifically on the paddling conditions of the river so I figured I put it up myself. I wanted to see what the rapids were like on the river. I plan to do the rest of the river later some time in the future.
Day 1 of 3
I was using a Wenonah Prism solo canoe for this trip. It wasn't the most practical to ask someone to shuttle me and I didn't want to pay an outfitter to do it so I also brought my bike with me to ride back to my car. This was the best option for me since I can paddle with a light load, have access to everything in my car including my cooler.
Conditions at the time:

I wanted to get on the river while the water levels and everything else is best before it gets too low during the summer from what I've heard. We didn't get much snow from last winter so the water levels were low before but luckily the precipitation finally came. This was the gauge at Bigfork.

The night before, I stayed at Noma Lake Campground, which is an campground decommissioned into a dispersed camping two years ago because of low use. It's free and that's all I cared about. I got there a little later than I expected because of minor hiccups and I checked out the Lost 40 a few miles away. It's a small area with old growth trees that was missed due to a surveyor error during the logging era.

On Saturday, I got into the water at Dora Lake at 7:45 a.m. Leaving the lake, it gets to be about 3-4 ft where I could see the bottom as I paddle by the marshes. After about a mile, the river turns right and I entered a shallow section where it's just deep enough to get the whole paddle blade into the water, at times only a foot deep. I tried to see if there are any deeper channels but it seemed to be about the same. After a mile it went back to being a few feet deep and that is the only notable shallow section during the whole trip. There is a couple random brief spots downstream around Wirt but that's it. Lots of shorebirds along the way. The only bird that didn't flew away from me was a loon that got about 10 ft away from me. I find it amusing watching trumpeter swans take a long time to get going into the air.

I took a break at the bridge by Wirt and I walked to the town hall and there was some sale going on at the townhall. People noticed that I walked in with rubber boots and a backpack instead of driving so I talked to the locals for a little bit and then I bought some syrup. I got back on the river and it's basically more marshes up to Harrison landing. Now I get to bike 9 miles back to my car. Biking back was the least fun part, mainly because it feels slow compared to driving but also I had some headwind every single time without fail throughout the whole trip. There's also no shoulder but the traffic is light and everyone is good about going into the oncoming lane to pass me.

After that, now onto the next section with some rapids. Robb's Rapids was the shortest named rapid section. The waves were only 6 inches tall roughly and it lasted as long as the flavor in dubble bubble gum. It was done pretty quick but it was still a little fun I guess. Hauk Rapids was a little better. Waves were around 8 inches tall and lasted about a minute. I stopped by Little Minnow campsite and it's the best watercraft campsite of all the ones I past during the trip. It has a toilet. All the other watercraft campsites not accessible by car are either hidden, inconveniently located within rapids, not labeled, or something.

I camped in Bigfork for the night where I will be dropping off my bike. It looks more like a park than a camping spot. I wanted to make a campfire but the fire ring was weirdly located right on the edge of the park away from all the benches and tables so I made brats on my camp stove. As I was making them, some kid dressed in a green superhero costume came out of nowhere and talked to me. He called himself Bug Man. We mainly talked about the town and what his school was like for an hour or two and then he left.

I did 24 miles that day. It was a pretty busy day and by 6:30 p.m, I was tired. I averaged around 3.7 mph on the river.