Canoeing on the Edge

Pine Creek Loop

This little loop will give you an excellent taste of what the Boundary Waters is all about. Large lakes where motorboats are permitted quickly lead to a more isolated region restricted to paddlers—an area that receives relatively few human visitors and is home to much wildlife. From the boat landing on Vermilion, the route first leads northeast to Trout Lake, then follows tiny Pine Creek to Pine Lake, and finally returns to the south end of Trout Lake and backtracks to Vermilion. A longtime favorite of anglers, Trout Lake contains lake trout, walleyes, and smallmouth bass, while Pine Lake is a good source of walleyes and northern pike. Stretching the loop over three full days should allow plenty of time to fish.

Experienced canoeists with little interest in fishing could easily complete the loop in two days. Avid anglers and explorers, however, may want to add a fourth day to allow time to ply the waters of the more remote lakes just east of the loop.

Day 1: Lake Vermilion, portage 60 rods, Trout Lake. Unless wind is a problem across the vast expanses of Vermilion and Trout takes, this will be a very easy beginning to the 3-day outing. The only portage of the day climbs over a low hill, with one canoe rest near the midpoint. Along the route you'll see many private cabins and (probably) numerous motorboats. Most of the motor use on Trout Lake, however, is"day use" only.

There are many fine campsites on Trout Lake. One of the loveliest is at Norway Point, about two-thirds of the way up the east shoreline, 8 miles from your origin.

Day 2: Trout Lake, portage 60-65 rods, Pine Creek, Pine Lake. When the water level in Pine Creek is high enough, you may paddle 25 rods from Trout Lake into the mouth of the creek, necessitating a portage of only 40 rods. And unless the beavers are active, there may be no other obstructions along the course of the creek. When the water level is low, however, the portage must begin at the sandy shore of Trout Lake, requiring a 65-rod carry. It's an easy carry, regardless of the length. Less than a mile up the creek, you may have to lift your canoe across a shallow, boulder-strewn section. You may also "bottom out" at the source of the creek, near Pine Lake. Of course, beavers may entirely alter the character of Pine Creek at any time. Expect the unexpected!

You'll find a scenic overlook at the summit of a high rock slope adjacent to the Chad Lake portage trail. A short climb there reaches a panoramic view across Pine Creek valley. In mid-July you might also find a wealth of blueberries.

There are several good campsites (9 total) on Pine Lake. The best are in the northwest part of the lake; the most private are in the southeast end. A couple of small sand beaches along the eastern shoreline will, no doubt, be enticing to the swimmers in your group.

Be alert for wildlife. In a recent July my party witnessed three deer, one moose, two mink, several great blue herons, two loons and a soaring bald eagle. And that was on the "busy" 4th of July weekend!

Day 3: Pine Lake, portage 260 rods, Trout Lake, portage 60 rods, Vermilion Lake. The 260-rod portage is not a particularly tough one, but the length makes it a challenge to inexperienced trippers. Five canoe rests may help. After negotiating the second portage, you may want to reward your efforts by soaking your body in the gentle, scenic rapids that separate Trout and Vermilion lakes.


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