I was talking to a young guy from Minnesota, and he told me for solitude, scenery, and pure enjoyable paddling, the far east part of the BWCA is the ticket. Anybody care to verify or take issue with this assertion?
East of Gunflint?
Was he was talking about the BWCA acreage on the east side of the Gunflint trail: Clearwater, E&W Pike, Caribou, Pine, Mountain, etc.? If so, this is a very scenic area; very rugged terrain with high ridges between the lakes. It is an impressive place to paddle but wind can be a problem on these larger east/west orientated lakes. If portaging north or south, be prepared for long uphill grades. There are fewer places for campsites on these lakes than in other areas. So there are fewer permits issued for these lakes and this may give a sense of more solitude. But you always see folks on these lakes. This part of the BWCA is just not big enough to get away from everyone. To start to get away from all people you need to head more than a full day’s paddle into the interior of the BWCA. I think a better place to do that is west of the Gunflint Trail.
My family and I took the loop from Moose river north up to Pocket Lake, west to North/South Lake, and south to Loon Lake, out through Little Sioux River north. From Oyster Lake until we got to Loon, we only saw 5 other groups, went 30 + hours and 7 lakes without seeing anyone. In mid to late June, that’s probably as good as it gets for solitude. Expect a lot of people on the first and last days.
I Prefer Gunflint Trail Area
Like Duluthmoose said, area just west of the Gunflint Trail are pockets where it’s easier to get off to yourself. I’m sure the same applies to the Ely area, I just haven’t paddled the area as extensively. Some people expect to paddle away from the access and be immediately enveloped by wilderness, but it aint like that. If you want to get away, you have to work for it. A couple of tough portages will typicallly get you away from the crowds. WW
I have not been many places where there is no one else in the BWCA. MY advice would be to look for places with only one or two camp sites per lake. Also avoid places motors are allowed. Basswood Lake is a mecca for guides from the US and Canada. Many small lakes discourage day trippers and guides. We go up to fish and that sort of didtates where we go.
I find it just the opposite
Maybe he was trying to protect his favorite area, but the area east of the Gunflint has got to be among the most crowded areas of the BWCA. I don’t mean just seeing people, that’s a given. I mean finding a campsite! One time we nearly completed a loop before finding a site! We went from Alder to Canoe to Pine to John to Little John to East Pike to West Pike before we found the last campsite on West Pike open. 12 hours of traveling and we were exhausted. A couple of hard portages and long east/west lakes.
I think the least crowded area is the extreme western part. Also, going right up the center isn’t too bad, putting in at Kawishiwi Lake, and up towards Malburg. You see people, but that doesn’t bother me. You tend to run into them on the portages then the groups disperse on the water. A good chance for solitude is to hang a right at Malburg onto the Louse River. It can be tough going, however.
I’d stay away from that area east of the Gunflint in August, July, and around mid May (fishing opener). Other than that, I bet where ever you choose to enter, you’ll have a good time.
Up the Middle
My basic rule of thumb for any area is the more you are willing to portage, the less people you will see . I would second KenE’s straight up the middle idea . I did two loops in that area several years ago . The area between Little Sag and Alice lake was among the less travelled that I saw . Not only do you need to portage, but it also among the farthest from most entry points . You should be able to get from the Kawishiwi entry point ( 37 ) to the Malberg Lake / Kawishiwi river area in one day . From there, heading NE towards Little Sag should be lightly travelled . Also smaller bodies of water so less issues with wind. Don’t go too far SW towards Lakes Insula and Lakes 1-4 - too many people due to easy portages and one of the busiest access points off of Lake One and Snowbank. The guidebooks rank the access points in terms of number of permits available and user entry data….that should tell you something . In other words , avoid the entry areas with high entry quotas . I picked 2 of the lowest ones I could find and for the most part didn’t have many issues,and that was in peak season ( mid August ) .
I have been a few times and each area in the Boundary Waters I go is more beautiful than the last
Do not limit yourself to one particular area…go to a new place each time…
I have been a few days alone there as well and had a great time…
always be wise and careful and well stocked.
The Far East Tip
I got a little clarification, and the native I spoke to was refering to the far eastern tip of the state, way up by Canada. He’s into grueling portages though, from what I can tell. We need more backcountry in this country. I’m tired of picking up rocks for a fire ring and finding toilet paper.