E Bearskin -> Mountain -> Daniels -> Flour
Outfitter - we have all of our own gear, except the canoe. We rented a Minnesota III from Hungry Jack Outfitters (highly recommend). Dave and Nancy gave us some great tips for the kids - one was to pack some smaller day packs instead of using all of the larger size 3 or 4 Duluth packs. This helped in two ways - first it allowed the kids to do more of their own portaging, and second it allowed us to stuff packs into smaller spaces, which was key since we had four people and gear in ONE canoe.
Second, with the MN III, we used one of our two larger packs as a seat for the second child, which was extremely comfortable. Both kids were even able to try out paddling!
Day 1, we (family of four - including kids ages 9 and 7) started our trip at Flour Lake campground, where we had our camper. We portaged down to E. Bearskin (our entry point), then up to Moon, Deer, and Caribou. We camped on our first night at the campsite second from the left upon coming out of the portage, flanked on either side of the "foyer" by pine trees. We checked out a few other sites on the lake, but they didn't seem large enough to house a four-person tent. And this particular site was great for swimming. This is where the kids perfected the "swim diaper", where they put their lifejackets on upside-down by putting their legs through the arm holes of and then fastening the jackets over their abdomens.
We've stayed on the third campsite before with a group of six, which is a larger site and has a sandier area for swimming.
Day two, we did a day trip over to Little Caribou and to Pine, then hiked up to Johnson Falls. The kids loved it! We swam on two levels of the falls and the kids shot the rapids by scooting over rocks on their butts, feet first. Watch out, though, if you're not paying attention, there are some pretty serious drops! Night two was spent in the same campsite on Caribou.
Day 3, we headed up to Mountain Lake. It rained this day, which at first was great because it had been so blasted hot and humid. But then it absolutely poured. We were traveling the same way on the portage from Clearwater to Mountain with a group of boyscouts from Texas. The boyscouts took an interest in our kids, which was good because my husband and I were busy portaging through the rain. We got a chance to try out our rain gear and hide under the canoe, which was a great adventure for the kids. Once the rain let up, we headed over to the first campsite on the right. Nice site, but some previous campers had left a huge mess. They apparently tried to burn foil and other things, which had either blown around the site or had been foraged, so the kids and I spent some time picking up every scrap we could find. The kids fished and caught a ton of small-mouth bass (also on Caribou, used leeches), but we released everything.
We had an odd occurrence in the middle of the night - not sure of the time, but well past 11:00, which was usually when we stopped reading our nightly installment of the new Harry Potter book. We had all fallen asleep and I woke to an unusual sound coming from the lake. It sounded like a canoe that was "limping" along - or someone walking on the shoreline with a limp. I can't explain this - it was like a thump and then something dragging through the water, a thump and the more splashing or dragging. I don't think it was an animal because the thump sounded like a thump on the side of a canoe (plastic or aluminum) - not a sound that an animal could make. I woke up my husband who also heard it, but neither of us could figure out what it was and it definitely moved along the shoreline, out of earshot. We never figure out what this was, but I'll give my theory at the end of the report.
Day 4, we stopped at the island that you hit right off of the portage (on the Canadian side -- oops!). It was a beautiful site, but we were disappointed once again by the trash. There was a TON of toilet paper, as if campers had been using it as their own personal latrine. I've never camped on the Canadian side . . . can you camp anywhere (and are latrines available)? Also, we spotted some glass coca cola bottles in the water off of the shoreline . . . my husband speculates that the area might be used for hunting in the winter and maybe these were things that were left behind on the ice and fell through upon the thaw.
The portage from Mountain to Watap was gorgeous. It was fun for the kids to see the white marker that shows US on one side and Canada on the other. This east-west portage had a ton of flora . . . blueberries, raspberries, and wildflowers. We had seem some, but because this was more open and had the east-west exposure, it was more abundant.
The paddle on Watap and Rove was so beautiful. Narrow lakes, we were with the current, so we just sat back and every once in a while dipped our paddles into the water. We had gotten into the habit of playing "virtual" hangman, words no larger than 7 letters. We had a blast coming up with words related to our surroundings.
We did the portage from Rove to Daniels, which wasn't as bad as we'd thought. We had three maps, Mackenzie, Fisher, and Natl Geo Topo, all with different lengths, but I'd estimate this at about 220 to 250 rods. Once again, a beautiful portage, with an interesting small lake/pond along the way that we were SURE would house a moose (never saw one).
We camped our last night on Daniels and this was our only disappointment of the trip . . . all of the sites that we were passing were full . . . except we never could find what was supposed to be the second site on the left as you come from the portage from Rove. All maps that I've seen show three on the south shore, but the middle one isn't there. We could clearly see where others had made camp where it was supposed to be (based on our GPS reading), but we never found a grate or a latrine. The Border Route Trail goes through this area and while we were scouting it out, a very large group of hikers who were day tripping came through and although they were very pleasant, they made a TON of noise, swimming and yelling back and forth to each other. Kind of ruined the BWCA "feel". We ended up going down to the farthest site (first on the left as your looking at a topo map), which I don't recommend - it's tucked back too far from the shore and it's not where our maps said it should be, so it was hard to find.
Day 5, we had a pleasant morning, taking our time since we didn't have to rush to find a campsite (our camper was still up at Flour Lake campground). We had leisurely paddled/portaged to Bearskin, Hungry Jack, and did the portage to Flour lake as far as the first road, which is the entrance to the Flour Lake campground. We stashed our gear and hiked to our car and camper.
We drove back right away to get our gear and thought we go ahead and return the canoe to the outfitter. My husband had a moment of panic, thinking that something happened back home with the dogs or house (we had a dogsitter stay at our house) and said he wouldn't feel comfortable until we got a cell signal. I told him he was bringing me down and we both laughed . . . then we went on to talk about the couple we ran into who had been in the BWCA over 9/11 and how tragic it would be to come out to something like that. Would you ever feel comfortable going to the BWCA again?
When we arrived at the outfitter, our world fell around us. There was an urgent message to call home - and we quickly found out that my husband's mother died the night we were staying at the campsite on Mountain Lake (remember the odd sound I heard in the middle of the night??). The staff at Hungry Jack were awesome. They worked with the forest rangers to try to find us and were so respectful as we used their phone and sat in front of their building and cried.
The happy news is that we will be returning to the BWCA this year for a fall trip . . . just the two of us . . . and maybe our black lab, Luke.