BWCA group trip, where to go?


I’m an old wilderness guide who now works at a church and is taking a group of kids up to BWCA next summer and need help figuring out where to go (preferably with a couple of option). I’ve lead a dozen multi-day sea kayak and canoe trips, so the skill set is good but I’m based in Michigan and this will be my first time to BWCA.

So, where should we go? Any logistical hurdles I should be aware of? I’m looking for some rough 5 day routes (give or take). Any outfitters y’all like better than another? I’ve taken this group backpacking a couple of times, and have the gear necessary for that, but will need to get paddle specific gear and maybe a shuttle (depending on route).

Still pretty early into planning this and just looking for advice on where to go from some more season folks. Thanks!

your question at

likely you’ll get 10 times as much info as you would want

you need to decide fairly soon, as I think the reservations for permits start in January ? I think you can reserve 6 months prior - picking a weekday to enter is easier to get the entry you want than if you choose to start on a Saturday

once you decide on an entry point, then you can pick an outfitter close to it - no sense in picking an outfitter from the west side if you will start in the east

just google for BWCA outfittes and look at thier websites - many of them include fairly detailed route suggestions - you might get some ideas there

if you bring any of your own canoes, they do need to be registered, either in MN or your home state - sounds like you would just be renting though

I’ve only gone in from Moose Lake and once from Seagull Lake on the east side - I normally go to Quetico and am not a “Bdub” expert, so not much help

there is an online interactive map that might give you some ideas - try

good planning map

Entry point 77/78, South Hegman Lake
Nasty portage from Trease Lake into Angleworm, but you’re rewarded with a great pictograph on North Hegman. Do a loop from there back around to Nels Lake and be about 2 miles from where you put in. Or you could just go out and come back through that long portage again.

Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte MN for rentals & trip planning suggestions. (ask for Dave) I ran the Temperence river north of Tofte this year, & Dave was REALLY helpful giving me info. They also have a shuttle service. This would be a good place to start. Also, you may want to consider the Timber / Frear lake loop just south of the BWCA border in the Superior National Forest. No permits required. Online map available on the web site, but order the more detailed map for $10. Covers both Superior National & the BWCA.

Might want to check…
A few years ago a bunch of us were considering doing a Pnet Boundary Waters trip. I discovered there were regulations to the number of folks/canoes that were allowed at a campsite (six folks, three canoes?) and on portage trails at one time. I’d never encountered that regulation before because I’d always traveled in smaller groups and mostly back over 20 years ago. Perhaps this is a more recent regulation necessitated by the growing popularity of the BWCA. I can see where, say, twenty folks milling around a portage trail with gear, double portaging, etc. could really knot a route up for others for a time.

I don’t know how big your group is, but before planning gets too far along it might be worth while to make sure its doable. Since this is a fairly traditional thing for church groups, scout troops, etc., the DNR might even have routes set aside for bigger groups. Wouldn’t hurt to ask. Its bound to have come up before. If there are such pre-determined routes, it might even take a good deal of the “burden” of planning off you.

Last time I went in it was from Clearwater Lake on the far Eastern end, off the Gunflint trail. The starting point is a beautiful fiord-like lake that can be followed back to Pike, Caribou, Little Caribou, and Mountain Lake on the Canadian side. And from there on the possibilities expand. There were some steep portages (and a waterfall to take a side trip to), but none over 200 rods as I recall. Wouldn’t be too hard for a group to do.

Sounds fun. Happy planning to you.

BWCA info
I have taken two trips in the eastern BWCA utilizing Sawbill outfitters. They have been more than helpful, yet not hovering over us as if we did not know what we were doing. On the first trip, we arrived at the outfitter’s base, watched the orientation video and camped there for the night. The next morning we had them shuttle us to Brule Lake where started our 5-day trip north through the Cone lakes to Winchell, Kiskadinna, Muskeg, Long Island, and Cherokee Lakes. We returned to Sawbill Lake from Cherokee Lake via the portages and Cherokee creek. I can give my recommendation for Sawbill outfitters. Bill and his crew will provide just what you need (entry permits, fishing licenses, canoes and paddles in our case) without trying to sell or rent you everything else - but they have just about everything you would need at their base.

where to go
I second Sawbill. The area is beautiful. Polly is one of my favorite lakes in the bwca. You can get there via Kawishiwi Lake. Sawbill has helped me plan meals for a group trip, suggestions on what gear to take and helped in route planning. We have all of our own gear. I never felt like they were trying to sell me something I did not need. is another website for trip planning. They do a lottery in January and then after that permits can be bought on a website. The most popular entry points fill up fast but others not so fast.

BWCA entry
I have done a trip entering from Moose L to Basswood L. There was a lot of wind and it took some 10-11 hour days to make the 78 miles in a week. If I went back I would make entry from Grand Marais.

six folks, three canoes?
It’s 9 people and 4 canoes max. - On a lake, portage or campsite.