BWCA Route Favorites

Looking for suggestions for a BWCA trip for myself, wife, and two teenage sons. We have plenty of river camping experience and have done trips into the Sylvania Wilderness the last two seasons. We have never done a trip into the BWCA. Do you have any suggestions for a 4 to 5 day trip in the BWCA that would not be overly challenging?

Thanks for any suggestions - Stan

Here’s My Favorites

– Last Updated: Nov-29-09 7:34 PM EST –

Now, bear in mind, some of these routes will include seeing a few people. Some areas of the BWCAW do get a bit crowded, but as far as I'm concerned, a few like minded individuals don't bother me in the least.

Sag over to Ester and take one of the loops to the north. Return to Trails End. You can get a tow to American Point to get a head start on Sag, save a bit of time and to avoid the heavy seas it sometimes has. Good fishing for smallies and I've heard wolves in that area twice.

Sag to Ester heading south to Knife, Ogish, out through Alpine and Red Rock. Starts and ends on Sag. Pretty Scenery, a sand beach I'll tell you about if you keep it quiet, a few waterfalls.

Border route Gunflint to North, South, Rose, Duncan. Beautiful area with several waterfalls. Part of the old Voyageur Hightway and includes "Stairway Portage" and the "Height of Land" Portage.

Poplar to Horseshoe then either down into Vista and small lakes in that area. Few people after Horseshoe. Many other loop possibilities from there. Decent walleye and northern fishing. Trout in a few lakes off Vista. Long skinny lakes on the other side of Horseshoe flatter, less interesting but few people and good moose area.

Clearwater-East Pike-West Pike. Pretty area, some big water. Make it over to Pine to see Johnson's Falls. Can also get into that area via East Bearskin, Alder, Canoe. The portage from Canoe to Pine is one of the hardest in the BWCAW, though!

Here's a few pics of the area ranging from 1984-2009. Hope this helps! WW

Base camp for a few days
My suggestion for a first time family would be to just head one day or possibly a day and a half travel into the BWCA and set up a base camp on a lake that has some options for day trips (paddling without your gear load) and then the last day - day and a half - head back to the landing via the same route in. This gives you practice on all the skills and routines needed to become efficient BWCA travelers, but doesn’t put you in a possible pressure situation requiring long and challenging day(s) should you lose travel time to weather or other circumstance. In addition to the good suggestions of Rose Lake E.P.60 or West Pike Lake E.P.62 that WildernessWebb has already mentioned; some other possibilities would be Winchell Lake north of Brule E.P.41, or Lake Insula E.P.30. The first trip you should really try to keep the “pain” to a minimum and allow lots of time for your family to have a great experience to hook them on the place.

Cherokee loop

– Last Updated: Nov-30-09 10:46 PM EST –

One that is a good 4 day trip is to head out of Sawbill Lake, to Cherokee, North Temperance, etc, to Jack, Brandt, Smoke and back on Sawbill. You'll see other people, but not too bad, but Cherokee is beautiful, you'll get some portaging in although nothing that will whip you, and you'll move camp two or three times. Or, have Sawbill move you over (for a fee)to Kiawishiwi (spelling) and take the Lady Chain (...Polly, Hazel, Grace) back to Sawbill moving camp about three times. You'll have lakes, lakes with islands, and some river. Check their web site ( for trip suggestions. If you want to fish go out of Kia... to Malberg and base camp. Or, go out of Cross Bay and portage one day to Long Island and base camp there. Lots of day trip options from Long Island. (check the Tuscarora Outfitters web site).
None of these are excessive and will give you a good BW experience. Or, if you want isolated go out of Sawbill to Kelso to Lugendia (spelling) and portage the long portage (not a hard, just long portage, to one of the lakes (Mesaba and base camp and maybe not see anyone else for 3 days.
Where ever you go if going mid July through most of August make camp early (1PM-2PM) to make sure you get a site.

Yes - good advice
I think this is good advice. Sawbill and Alton fit this type of trip nicely. The portage from Sawbill to Alton will of course spoil you.

guide books
I suggest buying the Beymer guide books for BWCA - he generally does a pretty good description of a route, including difficulty/duration, campsites, and portage info.

If you look, you can find some pretty detailed trip descriptions out on some of the BWCA outfitters websites - that might be worth spending a little time looking for as well.

bwca is a good website for information on trips. You can read trip reports and ask questions.

We are base campers. I really liked Cherokee Lake or Polly Lake to base camp on. We go in September but still get our camping spot early in the day.

Lots of good information. Thanks for taking the time to reply.