Kayaking the BWCA

Has anyone kayaked the BWCA? Recommendations on where to go, what to avoid?

We are planning a trip in August leaving from Moose lake, and would like to hear from people who have been there

Voyageurs Park
I suggest to everyone going to the BWCA to utilize an outfitter for part of your trip. Even if it is just spare paddles, pfds or part of your food package. Their onsite, ontime expertise and advice is much more valuable than can be provided from this board.

You may want to try Voyageurs National Park(see thread below for free maps and the poster is knowledgeable about the area-and an outfitter). In general, Voyageurs offers larger lakes than the BWCA for more continuous miles without portaging, no permits, no fees). The Voyageur Perimeter Lakes are large enough so that most open hull canoeists stick to the BWCA. You do have to contend with houseboats however.

If you are geared to portage, however, enter through Moose and you can either go up the Knife chain or into Basswood. You will double your prospects if you also get a Quetico permit. Call (807) 624-2162 or visit www.cic.gc.ca at to obtain one. I think you have to apply for a Remote Area Border Crossing now through the Prarie Portage Entry Point. This Canadian option will allow more room to explore on Basswood, or even let you get up on to Canadian Agnes. I guess thats where I would head–beatiful lake and good fishing. And big enough to put a few miles under your hull. Be prepared to filter water, and use standard bear protection methods for your food (barrels or tree). It is a very nice area, but I have only explored from a canoeists perspective.

Best of luck!!

Thanks so much for the advice.

Kayaking the BWCAW
I had never seen a kayak until they started popping up a couple years ago. If I were to use a kayak, I’d stick to the larger lakes and plan a route where portages are infrequent and the portage landings are easy. Many landings would be very difficult to get in or out of a kayak. Besides the area mjmcgrory mentioned, I might suggest the Seagull and Saganaga (pronounced Sa-ga-naw, but most just refer to it as Sag) areas on the Gunflint Trail. Another option would be to stay in a cabin and take day trips. If using outfitters in this area, I would reccomend Hungry Jack Outfitters or Boundary Country Trekking. I’ve known these two couples for almost 20 years and they are both great to work with. Here’s a couple of links. Good luck! WW



kayak thoughts
Portaging will be different for you than the canoe folks.

  1. Get a yoke for your kayak. This one works very well.


    You’ll have to copy and paste this link, I couldn’t get it all hotlinked.
  2. Bring a large portage pack to put all your little dry bags in for the portage. Pack it where it will come out of the hatch first, as you pull out your dry bags put them in the portage pack then put it up on shore. The nylon fabric military duffles with shoulder straps would be good for this.

  3. Be very organized. Pack your stuff in dry bags that can easily be transfered in and out of the portage pack. Lots of loose items are going to slow you down and they are going to get wet besides.

  4. Wear good stout shoes. Getting in and out of your kayak is going to be from the water. Portage landings are not always very kayak friendly. They could be rocky, muddy, bouldery, full of sharp sticks or whatever. I’ve noticed that kayakers tend to travel with minimal foot wear. This should not be the case in the BWCA. Portages are not built or maintained like a hiking trail. Some are pretty rough.

  5. If you are skilled paddlers you should enjoy the big lakes and the windy conditions that often keep canoers windbound.

Kayaking Moose Lake
It takes a ways to get away from the motor boats. There is a neat rookery up there (Rookery Bay on a big lake). Some of the water was rough for our smaller river kayak, but fine for the 15’ Rob Roy. We tied a rigd-frame back pack onto the kayak.

Kayaking Big Waters…
I love reading all the listings, and the information you are getting is very good. The benefit of kayaking is simply, faster boats that handle and excel in “rougher” waters or big waters.

You pack in numerous small bags to fit into tiny bow & stern compartments…the problem of portageing isn’t carrying the boat (althought that isn’t fun) the problem is unpacking the compartments of the kayak at each portage and re-packing…

The benefit of kayaking in Voyageurs National Park over the BWCA is simple:

  1. end to end over 70 miles of continueous paddling with NO portages. And with ONE portage at Kettle Falls hotel (truck portage) you can cover more than 100 continueous miles of paddling!
  2. Over 1200 islands within Voyageurs…so although their are big lakes, the islands break up the large waters into protected areas
  3. No permits, No entrance fees, No camping fees!
  4. Yes there are motor-boats, but there are so many area to go that see little or no “speeding” motorized use…(BWCA has motorized use on some of the large lakes mentioned as well…)

    Again I’m happy to mail out FREE maps of Voyageurs National Park to anyone interested…

Voyageurs trip report

This may be of interest. Looks pretty fun, and good service by VoyageurAdventure.

Voyageurs offers areas for all abilities
Voyageurs National Park is the same distance as the BWCA, and the perception of the motor traffic is so skewd I just am amazed.

If paddlers have actually been here they will explain that the huge water and over 1200 islands creates areas that are secluded, and hidden. Some areas have so many islands that even a beginner to go on a 2-5 day trip and never encounter wave larger than 2 ft.

Why portage? Voyageurs offers kayakers a better alternative than the BWCA…No camping fees, no permit fees, no entrance fees, and amazing scenery!

I think you will be disappointed
in the Boundary Waters in August. Too full of people. I would go to Rainy Lake or Voyageurs and use your kayak in waters best suited to it and get a real vacation out of it.

Yes you can portage , yep you can stick to big lakes. Only you can decide if you dont mind powerboats and portages and people.

Someday I hope you get to paddle Superior. The best kayak trip I have seen, but not suited to all levels of experience.

I plan to go back…I also connected with Wade and Nicole Watson at Canoecopia a couple years ago…it was his lecture that inspired me to take my first, solo week-long trip…a couple of things…invest in the McKenzie maps that are appropriate for your trip…I keep mine in a waterproof bag attached to the kayak in front of me…second, I think a GPS is nice to have up there…I know I wouldn’t have found my campsite as easily without mine after a really good, long dinner at Kettle Falls which led me to return to my campsite with the rising full moon…and, I found many of those islands look like many other islands…if you want to avoid motorboats (and why, oh why do they think slowing down and throwing up huge wakes is better than cruising by us at full speed leaving little wakes to negotiate?!?) hug the shoreline and sneak around islands…stay in the main channels and you run into houseboats, motorboats and wakes plus more wind…this, of course, is on the week-ends…good idea is to get up there early Thursday and score your campsite for the week-end if the weather’s decent…that’s if you’re between Ash River and Kettle Falls…I had to kayak the entire distance from Kettle Falls to Ash River as all campsites were full including any possible and permissible primitive ones…busy, busy, busy…the joke is I scored one of the closest campsites there was across from Ash River…even the ranger couldn’t believe I was able to do that at 7pm…

Will I go back up there? You bet! Only, now that I’ve done the touristy bit I’ll hang out in the more obscure areas…want to see some pictures?

Time for a shameless plug:



In conclusion, make sure you check in with the knowledgable, affable and really nice Watsons at:


They will help you have a safe and happy trip…and, they are amazingly helpful…I consider stopping by to check in with them more important than talking to the rangers…aside from that, Nicole is connected with the Park and can really tell you about cool, inland lakes…try and share a campfire with them at their place…I love Voyageur’s National Park!

Kayaking with canoes

If your kayak is reasonably light, Knu pack sells a system that involves clamping a temporary thrwart across the cockpit so it sits on the brackets on a special pack frame. If you pack lightly and can carry sixty pounds you can portage the kayak with your gear inside,avoiding the packing unpaking problems. If your hatchs are water tight you can also avoid the extra weight of dry bags. The pack frame bungges on the back deck and is out of the way when you paddle. If I were soloing I’d use this system. The advantages go away with two people. An open canoe is far easier then since you have the 42#boat for two people and can make the person not carrying the boat carry most of the other weight. Good luck,Frogge.

Lake Superior
We paddled the Apostle Islands last year, and were looking for something different so we can get other experiences. Lake Superior was a lot of fun and we will definitely go back.

Just back
Did a day trip of about 15 miles. There was a mile long portage between Rose Lake and Daniels Lake. I used my Feathercraft Khatsalano because it is my lightest kayak. During the long portage, the cockpit rim really dug into my shoulder. Definately look into a KnuPack to portage your yak like the canoeists do. The packing and unpacking could be a real pain. When I get back there, I plan on renting a canoe with a good portage yoke.

kayak & bwcaw
I have a few thoughts on the subject, back in the 1970’s I used my Klepper Aerius 2 kayak on a few trips. I have never seen another kayak since in the bwcaw. First the reason I took the kayak in the first place, I didn’t know how the paddle a canoe vary well. On the trips there was always a canoe that carried the bulk of the gear, the kayak had the weaker paddlers and they never had a problem keeping up. On the trips I first coined the term “gear smear”. The portages were a mess, lots on small bags. The kayak being a rubber hull suffered badly from the rocks, never a hull breach though. As I remember I had trips out of Lake One & Sawbill. Its not called the bwpaw that’s “paddling” for a reason. I would not take a kayak again for these reasons,1. gear smears on portages 2. cramped quarters 3. not made to portage 4. generally wrong tool for the job.

My suggestion is leave the kayak at home go through an outfitter, rent a canoe and duluth type pack bags, then enjoy the bwcaw like everyone else. To prepare for your trip get Path of the Paddle video, watch it, learn the J stroke and one man carry the canoe with a yoke.

One more admission, I don’t paddle the big boarder lakes, I particularly abhor motor traffic. Your choice of going out of Moose Lake with all the shuttle traffic isn’t my first choice but a good one for a kayak from there you can connect with some big border lakes but the question in my mind remains why go to the bwcaw at all when there’s other areas more suited to a kayak? Like the other posting directing you to Voyaguers.

VNP BWCA difference
VNP has a huge lake area on Rainy and Namakan with only one portage in the whole thing at Kettle Falls, but it has unrestricted motor use. This means there are large motorboats with big motors, even houseboats.

BWCA has some pretty big lakes on the border like Basswood and Saganaga. The portages connecting these lakes are relatively easy and few. Motors are restricted to 25 horsepower and usually one short portage gets you away from motors.

I think kayaks work well in the BWCA if you plan your outfit well.