bwca advice/suggestions

Hi- I’m planning a BWCA trip for Sept 2005 with my brother and sister and would be interested in any advice and suggestions you can provide regarding routes, outfitters, equipment, etc. Background info: I’ve been to BWCA once and done a couple of trips in ADK. My brother and sister are novice paddlers and canoe campers. We would prefer a loop trip (but will consider others) providing scenery, wildlife, solitude and some fishing. All are in decent shape, so some moderate portaging is OK. The trip is planned for 6 days, 5 nights, with entry on Tue., Sept 20th. We would like to be able to layover 1 or 2 days. We plan to rent a 3-person canoe, some packs, and a few other items of gear. So far I have received info from Jordans Outfitters, Canadian Waters, Piragis, Red Rock, and North Country. One has suggested we enter 1 or 2 weeks earlier to increase the odds of good weather, and we could probably back up a week and enter on Sept 13th. Suggested entry points are: Lake One, Lake One or Snowbank, and Moose River, which was the entry on my first trip. I’d appreciate your advice and suggestions. Thanks, Steve.

BWCAW trips
Hi Steve,

Most of my canoeing is now done in Quetico and Wabakimi PP, but I have done a number of trips in the BWCAW in the past. In the 1970’s I used the Gunflint Trail to access the BWCAW. I used Clearwater Outfitters located on Clearwater Lake for most of those trips. The outfitter is located at the western end of Clearwater and readily accessable from the Gunflint Trail. Clearwater is aptly named and is probably the clearest lake I have been on anywhere in Canoe Country. You can see down at least 30 feet in that lake. There is a large rock bluff on the southern shore that dominates that part of the lake. You can run a real nice loop route by canoeing east on Clearwater to the end of the lake (about 7 miles) and then portaging into West Pike Lake. We always did a lay-over on west Pike due to the excellent fishing for smallmouth bass. At the eastern end of West Pike you can either continue east by portaging into East Pike and then circle around and head back west via Pine Lake or you can take a 1-mile portage south from West Pike directly into Pine Lake. From the western end of Pine Lake you can take a moderate hike to view a very pretty waterfall. Also from the western end of Pine, you can take a short portage into Little Caribou Lake. This is a small lake with only one campsite, but it is a very nice campsite and would offer the solitude of being the only group on the lake. If that site is already taken, you would have to continue west by portaging into Caribou Lake, but take the site on Little Caribou if it is available. The fishing was always very good there. From Caribou Lake you make one portage and you are back in Clearwater not far from the outfitters.

I have heard that this area sees a lot more people than it did back in the 70’s, but by going in September, you should limit the number of other groups that you would run into.

If you do not want to try the Gunflint Trail and want to stay with a trip out of the Ely area, then I would suggest contacting Voyager North Outfitters in Ely. They monitor this website and can give you other ideas for trips out of that area as well as provide you with all of your outfitting needs.

Please let me know if I can answer any other questions. Dave

You have lots of options. It looks like you’re going to be going out near Ely. I’ll suggest a few different routes.

If you go in Fall lake (just outside of Ely) you’ll be in a motorized area for a while, but it really isn’t that bad. You can make your way up into Basswood lake easily in one day. From there you could go East towards the Wood or Snowbank points (never done that myself) or go on the Basswood river which is very nice. There is a 360 rod portage at the top of the Basswood River, but it is worth it. There are also some shorter portages around some very nice waterfalls and cascades. At the bottom of the Basswood river, I’d suggest going up into Crooked Lake, there are some pictographs a little ways past Lower Basswood FAlls. Crooked is a fairly large lake, but as it’s kinda crooked, there isn’t much big water. If you know where to look, you can find an old rusty Model T. In Crooked, you can go south out of Friday Bay towards the Mudro entry point, or head east into Iron and see two gorgeous waterfalls.(which I’ll talk about in a bit)

If you go in the Moose River (look for Top of the World Rock for a fun climb and great view before Nina) and go north through Nina Moose and Lake Agness, you can easily get up into Lac La Croix which is wonderful. Tiger Bay has a number of great camp sites and is close to Warrior Hill (awesome view) and some pictographs on a big cliff. If you go East, you go through the Bottle River (short but great fishing) and into Iron Lake with Curtain and Rebecca Falls which are two of my favorite destinations. Farther east yet is Crooked again. You could also go nort and do the top of La Croix which is a nice trip with no portages until you get to the other side. There are some series of islands and some large water which has potential to be wavey on windy days. If you go west, you can take one of two chains of lakes. The lower chain is nice, but is shorter and with longer portages (200+ rods). The upper chain is beautiful, has fewer people, but has more short portages (upper chain is Ge-be-on-a-quet, Pocket, Finger, and Eugene lakes, among others). You’d then come out in Loon Lake (many great campsites here). If you exit through the Little Indian Sioux river, you’ll pass Devil’s cascade (very scenic and a campsite with a great view) and do a bit of nice river paddling.

These are just a few suggestions. There is plenty of other good paddling too - the Horse and Moosecamp rivers are a lot of fun. Avoid going in or out through Crane lake though. It is way over-developed and people are nuts with their power boats.

Weather shouldn’t be too bad. Maybe a bit of rain, maybe a bit cool. But you could also have beautiful sunny days in the 70s too. Insects shouldn’t be that bad either. Have a wonderful trip!

I should have said that pretty much any of these routes can be made into loops.

From Fall lake

Fall -> Basswood -> Horse River -> Horse Lake -> Tin Can Mike -> Sandpit -> Basswood


Fall -> Basswood -> Crooked -> Friday Bay -> Chippewa -> Mooscampe -> Fourtown -> Mudro -> Sandpit -> Basswood

From Moose River

Nina Moose -> Agness -> upper chain (going west) -> lower chain (going east)


Nina Moose -> Agness -> Lac La Croix then maybe day tripping, or plenty of options for small loops here

I was a guide out of a camp and spent two summers on the westmost 40 miles or so of the B-dub. I love that area. I’d be happy to talk your ear off if you let me.

2 things
I can add 2 things to this… One is that Piragis is an awsome place. We have bought a Minn 2 from them and stop in there before and after each BWCA trip. 2 We often go up into Basswood. It is beautiful up there and there is some great fishing. If you are going 3 in a canoe get a minn 3. Piragis has them.

Thanks & a couple questions
Thanks, Dave-

I hadn’t really considered the Gunflint area, I guess because we went through Ely before and I have Beymer’s guidebook for the western BWCAW, but not the eastern. I was also under the impression that most of the damage from the big storm was in the eastern half. But your suggestion is intriguing - it sounds like what we are looking for - so I’ll contact Clearwater for some info. Do you know if there was much damage from the storm in the area you mentioned? I don’t even see those lakes on the map they sent me, but I see a Caribou Lake on the eastern edge of my map, so I assume the ones you mentioned are just to the east. And thanks, again.

Thanks - a couple questions

We went in through Moose River my first trip (had lunch on Top of the World), camped near Warrior Hill (maybe Tiger Bay), then went through Pocket, Gebeonequet, Green, Rocky, & Oyster, back to Agnes and out the Moose River. Is that what you mean by the lower chain? I had also looked at doing a loop from the Little Indian Sioux entry, which incorporates some of the other lakes you mentioned. How long would these routes take? Thanks again. Steve

We rented a tandem and solo from Piragis on my first trip. Nice place, nice people. I think we’d be better off with a 3-man, though, this time.

Talk my ear off
Thanks. I’m all ears.


Lookin’ at my maps
Yay, excuses to look at my maps… be right back

Ok, I’m back.

If you look at maps (F-16 on the Fisher Co. maps), what we call upper chain and lower chain take you from Agness to the Little Indian Sioux River.

If you were to go in Moose and come out L.I.S. the water would be (numbers are lengths of portages in rods):

Lower chain: (160)(20)(25)Moose River Nina Moose (70)(90) Moose River, Agness (160) Oyster River (60) Oyster (240) Hustler (10) Ruby (280) Lynx (4 if low water) Little Shell (15) Shell (216) Lower Pawness (40) Upper Pawness (60) Little Indian Sioux River(40). This is a very short route. The lakes are nice, but as you can see some of the portages aren’t exactly short. It can be easily done in 3 days of paddling as the whole thing is less than 30 miles.

Upper chain (same map): (160)(20)(25)Moose River Nina Moose (70)(90) Moose River, Agness (24) Boulder River (65) Lac La Croix past Warrior Hill, Pocket Creek (20) Pocket (90) Finger (9) Thumb (200) Beartrack (30) Little Beartrack (30) Eugene (45) Steep (120) South (52) Section 8 (52) Slim (173) Little Loon, Loon (160) Lower Pawness (40) Upper Pawness (60) Little Indian Sioux River(40). Obviously this route has a lot more portages, but not many of them are long. Since the lakes in the middle of the upper chain are farther from entry points, they tend to have fewer people on them. These are some really pretty lakes too.

Of course you said you want a loop. With 6 days of paddling, you could go in the Moose River, do the Upper chain, then swing down to Lower chain (go from Loon Lake through heritage lake to Lynx lake which has two portages 220 and 100) and back east towards Oyster and Agness and south back out on the Moose River. On that trip you’d probably average 10 to 12 miles per day. That would be a fine trip, but you’d be doing quite a lot of portaging. None of them are terribly difficult, but there are certainly a lot of them.

If you can arrange a pick-up or a vehicle transfer I would highly recommend doing some of the border lakes. Fall lake entry to Basswood, Crooked, Iron, Lac La Croix, and out the Moose River would be a wonderful trip. You’d go by a handful of great waterfalls, two sets of pictographs, lots of good fishing too. Also, early morning on the Moose river is great for seeing… moose. The nice thing about border lakes trips is that there aren’t very many portages as those lakes are pretty large. Your longest portage there would be on the Basswood river which is 320 rods, but not difficult.

Or another loop with fewer portages would be to go in Moose, head up to La Croix, and do the top of La Croix west to Loon and then head back to Agness on the lower chain. You’d see two sets of pictographs there as well. La Croix is a wonderful lake. Worst part is that on the Canadian side at one point is a sea plane port… which isn’t all that bad.

Is there anything specifically you are looking for in a trip? Relaxing pace? Sights? Fishing? Milage? Waste-deep mud? Lamprays? Again though, my knowledge only covers the western 40 miles of the B-dub, I"m sure you’d have plenty of great routes east of Fall Lake too. Feel free to email mee too if you like,

Bed now, hoping to dream of loons and northern lights. Peace,


eastern BWCAW
Hi Steve,

This area is in the extreme eastern part of the BWCAW. To the best of my knowledge, the big storm in 1999 did not do much damage in this area, but Clearwater Outfitters should be able to give you better information. One of the reasons that I suggested this route is that you have several options to either shorten or lengthen the route depending on how well everyone adapts to canoeing and portaging. It was a good route to “break in” newbies.

Food for thought.

By the early 90’s, I felt like the BWCAW was becoming too crowded and the fishing was suffering because of the number of groups using the park. Most of my trips have been in late July/early August and this is prime time. I think that you will avoid the crowds by going in mid to late September.

We started going into Quetico instead. Quetico issues approximately ¼ of the number of permits issued in the BWCAW and the acreage is about the same. Permits for entry into Quetico from the US side were difficult to get, so we started entering from the northern side of the park. The advantages were fewer people, better fishing, and you could camp wherever you wanted (no designated sites). The major disadvantage is the cost to camp in the park, but we have always felt that the cost was worth it. We have more recently been alternating trips into Quetico with trips into Wabakimi PP (due north of Thunder Bay). Wabakimi at 3.3 million acres is larger than the BWCAW/Quetico combined and sees significantly less use. My 2 main complaints with Wabakimi are the fact that they still have fly-in cabins located within the park on some of the larger lakes and the fact that they do not have smallmouth bass in the lakes. However, the walleye fishing is outstanding and we have done well on the big northerns (40”+). You can access the park by railroad and/or float plane.

What part of WV are you from? I still have a number of relatives in the Bridgeport/Grafton area. Dave

Thanks and what about…
Thanks, Aaron-

That helps a lot; I don’t have all those details on this overview map. It doesn’t show all those portages and I wasn’t sure about going from Loon to Heritage or if we’d have to go down and over through Shell. They all sound nice. What if we made a loop of Oyster, Rocky…Pocket, Finger, Thumb…Eugene…Slim, Loon, Heritage, Lynx…Oyster? Looks like we could do this from either the Moose River entry or Little Indian Sioux to make a loop. Would this work? If so, which would be a nicer entry point. I don’t really mind the portaging - gives you a break from paddling, stretch the legs, etc. On my first trip we went in Moose and went up onto LaclaCroix the 1st day, then we messed around Warrior Hill, the pictographs, and over to Pocket Lake and lounged around until the 4th day and then went down to Agnes, and out Moose the 5th day. So I’ve done some days with lots of portaging, but my brother and sister don’t really know, so I don’t know how they’ll feel about it. They might be a little freaked by a lot of portaging. Maybe they’ll prefer the border lakes route. I’m basically going to let them decide how much and what they want to do. Of course, they do have a year to prepare.

"What if we made a loop of Oyster, Rocky…Pocket, Finger, Thumb…Eugene…Slim, Loon, Heritage, Lynx…Oyster?"

Yeah, that would be a great route. It is essentially the same as the upper/lower chain route I suggested except skipping La Croix. Yes, there would be a lot of portaging, but I found with groups I took up that the first few portages could be rough but soon enough it becomes routine and not a problem.

Re: Loon to Heritage, that portage is 220 rods to Heritage creek into Heritage Lake, then 100 rods into Lynx.

As far as entry points go, I like both of them. The LIS entry has a shorter portage and the river paddling is shorter. The Moose entry is nice 'cause you go past Top of the World Rock and if you’re there in the morning a little farther down stream you stand a fairly reasonable chance of seeing moose. The only thing I would caution about the Moose entry is that you’ll be going over a couple beaver dams and unless you filter or treat your water, you won’t want to get water until you get to Agness. Nina Moose is a shallow and muddy lake. Also there is more river paddling to that entry point, some of which is going through slow-moving, meandering river in a channel between tall marsh grasses. If water is low (which is entirely possible in the late summer/early fall) you might have to pull your canoe along in a couple places.

One other loop idea if you go in Moose is to go up to La Croix, and east to Iron. That way you could visit Rebecca and Curtain falls which are beautiful. You could then go south through a couple small lakes to Stewart Lake, then head back on the Dahlgren river NW to the Boulder river at the bottom of Lac La Croix again. It’s not a long loop and would allow time for maybe seeing some of the other lakes around and to the west of La Croix.

Ok, back to my research paper for the night. Hope this helps a little. Let me know if you want to know more.

Knife lake area?

I am planning a 5 day trip in late May 05. We are thinking of traveling Moose lake,birch,etc., ending at Knife lake. We are interested in good fishing and relaxation.

Have any of you fished these lakes? I understand that Moose lake is good for fish, however I don’t plan to spend much time on it due to motor travel. Thanks

Not I
I can’t say I’m familiar with that part of the B-waters. I’ve not been east of Fall lake and the west end of Basswood. Sorry.

outfitters and loops
we have used Voyageurs North the last two years and have been very pleased. They can shuttle you so you can take some of the loops mentioned. We happened to do those loops in the last 2 years-went in at Nina Moose river last year- up through Oyster to Pocket, across Finger, Eugene, North/south lakes, down to Loon and out Sioux R north, and this year went at Fall Lake, up to Basswood, over to Friday Bay of Crooked, down to Gun and out at Mudro. Both were done in 5 days, both were beautiful. More solitude on the first route but mostly smaller lakes and streams, more varied scenary on the second route with waterfalls, both small and large lakes,and pretty creeks. I also went with the guys into Quetico in a route entering at McAree Lake, down to Iron (you get to see Rebecca and Curtain falls) up to Argo, Darky, Minn, and out McAree. We drove to Crane Lake, flown to Campbell’s Cabins, towed over and back to our entry and exit points. This route only was around 30 miles with less and shorter portages than those other 2 routes. It also had a fair amount of variety, more larger lakes,waterfalls, Darky River was interesting with fast water(good smallmouth fishing for the first canoe through below rapids) and slow water stretches. We were doing more fishing with the guys. It worked well for 5 days. A layover would give you time to either explore or fish. There were a couple of lakes off Darky we talked about but never got to. For some reason, I keep doing these routes counter clock wise, but clock wise for the first two would make it more likely you would catch the prevailing westerly winds. It did not matter with the Quetico route, it’s a complete circle-and on our trip, you just had to point the canoe into the wind to know which way to go, one of those trips. There are lake trout in Argo and Darky, one of our party caught a 40"!! Pictographs on Darky and Crooked just a little west of lower Basswood Falls.

More ?'s for Paddle2Paddle & Hawkeye79
If we went in the Moose or LIS to do the loop we talked about, what would our itinerary look like? How far would we have to travel each day, what would be the best lakes to camp on, fishing, etc.? Would we have to travel pretty hard all six days? Hawkeye79, you said you went in Moose, out LIS in 5 days, but I don’t know how hard you traveled each day. If you traveled pretty steady all 5 days, it looks like we’d have to travel pretty hard for 6 days to make it a loop. What would be a fair assumption for me to make for an average paddling speed - 2 to 3 mph? I can figure the portaging, but not sure about the paddling speed.

Paddle2Paddle- could the second option you mentioned be stretched to Sunday Bay, down to Sunday Lake, and back across Sterling?

Hawkeye79 - Looks like the 2nd trip you did from Fall Lake to Mudro, could be pretty much duplicated as a loop from Mudro. What about that?

And thanks again, guys, you’ve been very helpful.

Sunday Bay to Iron, to the Beartrap River to Sunday Lake and on. The Beartrap river is a route I’ve been wanting to take for a while. At one time that was a VERY heavily used route. It was so busy in fact that it was over used so the Forest Service stopped maintaining that area and it is now a more difficult route from what I’veh heard. Campsites and portages are no longer kept up. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do that route, but it would be helpful if you did that route with someone who’s done it before. I’ve heard since portages aren’t so obvious and are pretty difficult now and all overgrown.

As far as speed goes. When I was guiding, I generally thought of a 10 mile day as average. It really depends on the skill of your party. If your party can paddle in a straight line and can manage a portage without too much trouble, going 12 miles in a day really isn’t that difficult. My longest day was probably with young high schoolers and we did 17 or 18 miles. So rather than miles per hour, I would look at miles per day. Keep in mind how many things need to be taken over portages - canoe, food/equipment pack, personal pack for three people would mean one trip across each portage and fairly efficient. Really in the end, it depends on how much you want to push. For the groups I guided, 12 miles was respectable in a day. 15 was pushing. More than 15 was something to talk about when we got back to camp. It all depends on the party though.

Answering your question for Hawkeye, you could easily go in Fall, up to Basswood, to Crooked, and down to Mudro in 5 days. In 6 days you could make it back to Fall lake without much trouble if you go through Sandpit lake and back to Jackfish Bay of Basswood. That would actually be a very nice route. I might suggest, though, that if you take that route that you do the Moosecamp River. It is one of my favorite rivers up there.

Thanks, Dave. I’m going to contact Clearwater for some info. I’d like to go into Quetico sometime; if this trip works out OK and he likes it, maybe we’ll go in a couple of years, when we can get more time. I’ve heard the name Wabakimi, and also Temagami, but don’t know much about them. My brother and I both live in Morgantown, my sister lives in Charleston, and we all grew up in Sistersville, a small community on the Ohio River between Parkersburg and Wheeling.

Traveling, Moosecamp, Beartrap
I was looking through Beymer’s guide and he has that Sioux - Hustler loop as a 6 day trip, but most days were 7 - 8 miles, and it just seemed like most would be pretty easy - probably about 4 - 5 hours of traveling, including double portaging everything. I was also looking back over the stuff from my 1st BWCA trip in 2002. We entered at Moose River and didn’t even get to the entry parking lot until after 10:00 AM. The first night we camped on Tiger Bay in LaclaCroix. That’s considerably farther than the 9-mile 1st day in Beymer’s guide ending at Agnes. So, it seems to me that the loop could pretty easily be done in 4 1/2 to 5 days, with a layover day somewhere. What do you think?

Is Moosecamp River the one from Moosecamp Lake to Fourtown? What can you tell me about it?

Beartrap River doesn’t sound like a good choice. Is it in one of the PMA’s? I guess we could go on to Sunday Bay and portage to Sunday Lake and go on to Sterling Creek, bypassing Beartrap River, but that’s a mile-and-a-half portage.

Thanks, Steve.