BWCA trip with family.......


Asking that age old question of everyone. We’re planning to do our first trip to the BWCA in 2008. It will be myself, my wife and 2 daughters. I’ve been reading “Exploring the Boundary Waters” by Dan Pauly and thought I’d throw out this question. What was your first family trip? We’re narrowing down guides at this point. I’d like to make it fun for the girls which means less portaging. Appreciate any input. Thanks

Dont remember the exact route but it entailed a lot of small lakes. 44 portages in five days. It rained almost all the time.

At the time we had one child. She had a ball.

She was two and carried her own little pack with her blanky.

The next year we tried for fewer portages in five days. I think we started from Sawbill. It was real crowded that trip and I havent been back to the BWCA in 34 years.

Sorry for the faded memory.

I had my two nieces up to my place this last summer. We went in on the Brule and paddled out to one of the first island campsites, set up camp, and kicked back. We took some low key day trips, but didn’t portage off the Brule. It was pretty nice and the girls loved it.

Another good one with a few portages would be to paddle from Bearskin out to Rose and camp on Rose. The waterfall on the Stairway portage is very cool, there’s some nice hiking to do in the area, once on Rose there is some good exploring to do.

Newbie family BWCA trip
Lets see: You are a beginner. You are from Pennsylvania. First time to BWCA. You want a good experience, especially for your daughters.

You’re coming from a fairly long distance, so you want to be sure and get as much flavor of the BWCA experience as you can, without overdoing it for your family. You have one shot to do things right. If they have a bad experience, it will likely be their last one. My suggestion for an average family (not knowing how old or how outdoor orientated your daughters are) would be a four day trip. Head to a lake a few portages and a half day’s travel by canoe in, set up a base camp, day trip or just enjoy the lake you are on on day 2&3 (play it by ear, whatever the family wants to do), and head back to the landing on day 4. Don’t expect to have the lake to yourself, but you should still have a good northwoods experience. If your family has a strong background in overnight hiking, etc. then set up a more ambitious route, moving all your gear to another lake 2 out of 3 days, and consider a 5 or more day trip.

I’ve taken a newbie family into Winchell Lake, which is 3 short portages and 1 long portage north of Brule Lake. Nice campsites and a good lake to base camp on, with several 10 mile options for day trips. The area had a fire about 8 years ago, but it is healing. I think it has strong possibilites for a group like yours. Newbies should be able to navigate with map and compass and reach this destination. After coming back from out on the trail, consider staying in a lodge somewhere on the Gunflint for another day or two and day trip in the Area.

Good Advice
Good Advice.

Do you remember where the two fires were last fall. The ones where they evac’ed the Gunflint. Wasn’t Winchell Lake touched by that? I can’t seem to find the fire map.

Cavity Lake fires 2006


No not the cavity
Nope. The two after the cavity lake fire. The one’s in Sept of last year. Red Eye and Famine, I think were what they were calling them.

Famine and Red Eye Fires
You are correct. Those were the names of the two September fires in the Gunflint Area that caused some evacuations. Famine Lake is just west of the Cone Lakes leading from Brule to Davis. That fire was about 4000 acres and may have touched Winchell. I can’t find a fire boundary map either and I wasn’t in there last fall. So I don’t know.

for the input. Our daughters are 11 and 7 right now but by then will be pushing 13/9. We camp a fair amount albeit a pop up camper. The girls don’t mind hiking if there are things to see, ie flowers/wildlife etc. Most of the camping they are used to is rustic. No running water etc. Thanks again.

Sept. fires

I was in at Kawishiwi lake on the 9th, north to Adams then back out to Kawishiwi. Spent the afternoon, Sept. 15th, on Polly watching the smoke and plane activity. Must have left Toftie just before they closed the Gunflint Trail.


Do you have an outfitter?

– Last Updated: Jan-29-07 10:28 AM EST –

Duluth Moose makes a lot of good comments. I can't disagree at all, but add a few things for your consideration.

First do you have, or will you be getting, an outfitter? If you are they should be your number 1 source for recommendations. You'll build a relationship with them. Talk to them on the phone. Tell them what you're thinking about. Answer their questions. They'll make a recommendation. They want happy customers and they know the area intimately.

Duluth Moose makes a great point that you are coming from a long way and so want to experience the BWCA. However, you also say that you are used to pop-up camping. Are you driving to the BWCA? Are you bringing your camper? If you are, remember that the BWCA is a portion of the Superior National Forest. There are drive-up campgrounds right on the edge of the BWCA.

For your consideration, you could camp on the edge of the BWCA and make day trips into the wilderness. You could return to your pop-up each night. If the weather doesn’t cooperate you could sit tight or drive into town for other activities. If you go out of Ely you could see the Dorothy Molter Museum, the International Wolf Center, the Soudan Mine, or go to a movie on a rainy day.

No reservations are needed and no fees are charged for day trips. You could go to Hegman Lake for a day trip to see the pictographs. There are also a lot of hiking trails around. Some days you could canoe; some days hike. Portaging won't be an issue because you'll only have a canoe, paddles, pfds, and a day pack or two. You don't need all your camping equipment.

You could also take an overnight trip on a canoe route outside the BWCA. These are very similar to a BWCA trip except you do not need reservations, pay no fee, there is no bottle and can ban. So you could pop-up camp, do some day trips and even and overnight trip, etc. That is exactly what I did when I took my son the first time. He thought we were in the BWCA.

Just some thoughts.

I seem to recall
that it did touch it slightly, but I didn’t make it up there in the fall either. I kayaked way too much this year and Superior was nice this fall, so that’s where I spent my time.

If you’re looking for an Outfitter, I can highly recommend Sawbill. They are a great bunch of people.

Amen to that.
Sawbill is great. I don’t hesitate to recommend them either. I was there twice this past summer for picking up permits, showers, and souvenirs. However, it depends on which part of the BWCA you’re going to - Ely to the west; Grand Marais to the east, and; Sawbill in between. Although that is a big generalization.

From Isabella Lake to Brule, I would agree with Sawbill Outfitters.

We are looking…
at getting an outfitter. It was recommended that we do that our first trip. We were planning on flying in depending on the $. Driving is not totally out of the question. Thanks for the Sawbill recommendation. So far I had been looking at Piragis, Voyager North, and about a dozen others. Got a bunch of info from others on the Gunflint side.

Flying vs driving
Sounds like you have a good list of outfitters. The ones you mention are very good.

Concerning flying, no commercial flights go to BWCA area cities. The closest you’re probably going to get is Duluth. From there you’re probably going to have to rent a car and drive. Some outfitters will pick you up in Duluth but I believe renting a car is far less expensive.

Thunder Bay
If you have passports, don’t count out flying into Thunder Bay. Friends of mine from the east coast can often fly into Thunder Bay cheaper than they can Duluth, and the drive to Grand Marais, where I live and the start of the Gunflint Trail, is about the same either way from Duluth or Thunder Bay.

Cool Idea!
That never occured to me!

BWCA trip
My former boyfriend and I canoed the BWCA 3 different summers. The most memorable was putting in at the Snake River. We used Voyager North in Ely ,Mn. as our backpack food supplier, the rest of the gear was ours,including the Coleman scanoe. We had a wonderful time. The scenery is beautiful. Full moon night fishing is awesome. Be prepared for mosquitos, the hats with the mesh netting is great. Wear long sleeve shirts and take lots of bug spray. The night skies if you get the chance to see northern lights will never leave your mind. THe fishing is awesome and the walleye taste super fried in butter, with fresh scallions found around your campsite. Keep everthing up and away from critters. We had a moose walk thru our camp while out in our canoe, he did no damage but those little critters do the worst. Experiment with cooking your fish. And take the side trips to near by lakes, or land marks. Maps are availble for a fee and well worth it. The water is clean and clear and swimming and ice baths in the early a.m. are a must experience. Everyone should do the BWCA once in a lifetime. Portages were between 1/4 mile to the longest 1.8mile, a pain but again worth the views and the designated campsites are set up to take the most advantage of the scenery. Have a wonderful time, you’ll always be glad you did. By the way I was in my mid 40’s the first time, so your never to young! or old!

Excellent idea on the flight!
That is something even we forget sometimes!

One thing though, if someone wants to rent a car, is it possible and not too much hassle for a U.S. citizen?

I know that transportation to/from Duluth would probably cost the same (maybe a little more seeing as there is the Ontario bridge fee), but many times it is still less expensive to rent a car.