Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Portage Routes
Lake Birch, Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Lake Birch, Boundary Waters Canoe Area. (Kelly Anbach/courtesy, Superior National Forest)

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), of Minnesota, and the Quetico Provincial Park of Ontario, Canada, offer access to two of the most pristine wildernesses in North America. The following route descriptions are only a few of the infinite possibilities available that will allow you the opportunity to experience the vast beauty, solitude and adventure of our unique wildernesses.

Basswood & Fall Lakes

Entering Fall Lake gives you an east, west or base camp option. From Fall Lake, travel north into Newton, then Pipestone Bay of Basswood Lake. A good base camp option exists on US Point of Basswood in the "no motor" section, north and east of Pipestone Bay. (Motor use up to 25 HP is permitted on the US side of Basswood except north of Pipestone & Jackfish Bay and north of Washington Island.)

See upper and lower Basswood Falls and Indian Pictographs while in the US Point area or by making a loop to the west via Basswood River to Horse and Fourtown Lakes and end at Mudro Lake. Allow 3 to 5 days for this loop with easy to challenging portages. Basswood Lake is a premier fishery for large & smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, northern and a variety of panfish. Add 3 to 4 days and extend the route farther west into Crooked Lake (see Moose loops).

A 3 to 5 day loop east back to Moose Lake offers Basswood's quality fishing on a bigger lake. Return either via Prairie portage at the far east end of Basswood or two 1/2 mile portages thru Wind Lake.

Kawishiwi River

A trip into any part of the Kawishiwi River will offer a route that is actually much more like a chain of small narrow lakes with rapids and waterfalls between. Though this area may lack in spectacular cliffs, the lower terrain is more conducive to wildlife habitat such as moose, white-tailed deer, beavers, otters, etc. Active eagle and osprey nests are also present in the area.

The Kawishiwi is accessible from several points; Lake One, North Kawishiwi and Farm Lake to the north and Little Gabro and South Kawishiwi to the south and west. Access to Bald Eagle and Gabro Lakes is also available through the Kawishiwi River area. Routes varying in length from 3 to 6 days are common in this area. Portages range from the very easy "liftover" to a challenging 2/3 of a mile. If fishing is in your plans, walleye, northern pike, crappies and bluegills are plentiful. Smallmouth and largemouth bass, though not common in this area, are catchable.

Lake One - Snowbank

The Lake One to Snowbank loop offers several route options. The most popular is to travel east through the Lake One chain toward Insula Lake. Exceptional for walleye & northern fishing. Bass fishing is pretty limited unless a loop north, then west into Ashigan and Ensign, or into Disappointment Lake and Parent Lake, is taken. A westerly route from Lake One sends you into the Kawishiwi River, a scenic stretch that is more like a series of long narrow lakes with rapids and falls between them. Fishing in this direction includes walleyes, pike, exceptional panfish (crappiesluegills and more bass. The Lake One area hosts a variety of wildlife including moose, beaver, river otters eagles, and osprey. Loop from Lake One to Snowbank or Moose in 4 to 6 days with easy to moderate portaging. Include North & South Wilder Lakes and Fire & Rifle Lakes to the south and north of the Lake One chain for more seclusion. For a more enthusiastic or aggressive option, travel farther east from Insula lake into Alice Lake and beyond into Lakes such as Malberg, Adams, Boulder, Hope, Fish Dance... see pictographs on Fish Dance east of Alice Lake.

Starting from Snowbank Lake can give you a nice easy 3 to 4 day loop back through Moose Lake by traveling east to Disappointment and Parent Lakes, north through Ashub, Adventure, Jitterbug, Cattyman, Gibson, Ashigan and Ensign. (See Moose loops.)

Four to six days traveling can put you on a loop through Disappointment, out east to Ima, Thomas, south to Insula, and west through the Lake.

Mudro to Nina Moose

By starting at either the Mudro Lake or Nina Moose entry points, one can reach Crooked Lake, an outstanding smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye fishery, with scenery to match. Entry from either east or west sends you traveling past spectacular Basswood Falls (upper & lower falls) or Curtain and Rebecca Falls. A 5 to 8 day trip that can start at one entry point and end at the other, will afford you the expansive Crooked Lake, a longer stretch that will be free of portages. Moderate (up to 1/2 mile) portages will take in the first and last 15 or so miles. Also reachable, via Mudro Lake or Crooked Lake, are the numerous small lakes that lie due south of Crooked and north-northwest of Horse and Fourtown Lakes (Gun, Beartrap, Papoose, Chippewa, Gull, Thunder...). Starting at Mudro will give you the quickest access the the Basswood River area and pictographs. Beginning at Nina Moose will offer the fastest route to Rebecca and Curtain Falls.

A 4 to 5 day route is also available from Mudro to Moose Lake via the Basswood River (see Moose Loops).

Moose Lake Loops

Moose Lake has numerous route options, and accordingly a higher number of entry permits. Here are some general route ideas:

Splash/Ensign Lake - Approximately 5 to 6 miles up Moose Lake. Portage 35 rods into Splash Lake, then into Ensign via 5 rods. Ensign Lake offers an easy and ideal basecamp option, or choose to turn your trip into an easy 3 to 4 day loop. Paddle and portage through Ashigan, Gibson, Cattyman... Disappointment, Parent and end on Snowbank Lake for a van pick-up.

Turn this loop into a moderate 5 to 6 day loop by traveling farther east through Jordan Lake, Ima, Thomas, then south thru Insula, and then west thru the Lake One chain to end at the Lake One access point.

A nice waterfall at Gibson Lake would be seen on either loop. Most difficult portage is a 1/2 miler at the north end of Insula Lake. Trip offers good fishing for smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike and lake trout.

Birch/Knife Lake - A short 5 rod portage out of the Moose Lake chain into Birch has you heading northeast toward Knife lake, a crystal clear "border" lake that works well as a base camp or the beginning of a more extensive traveling trip. Knife Lake greets you with beautiful cliffs, impressive Eddy Falls, Thunder Point overlook, and fishing for lake trout, smallmouth bass, walleye and northern pike. A 5 to 8 day loop can have you either continue northeast to the Ottertrack Lake then south thru Ester and Hanson back into the south arm of Knife, or more east then south into beautiful Kekekabic Lake with its spectacular cliffs and good lake trout fishing. Finish the loop by returning thru Ima, Jordan, Ashigan and Enisgn Lakes back to the Moose Lake chain.

Wind Lake - Located a short distance from our base, just off of Moose Lake. A more challenging 1/2 mile portage into Wind Lake puts you into a good northern pike lake with 7 campsites. Another 1/2 mile portage into Basswood Lake: a border Lake with an exceptional fishery and a variety of scenery. Travel north on Basswood to US Point, its "no motor" section. An ideal base camp area with fishing in mind. Travel west out of Basswood thru the Basswood River with its numerous falls and Indian Pictographs and return south thru Horse, Fourtown, and Mudro Lakes. Allow 4 to 6 travel days. Add an additional 2 to 3 days and follow the border thru Crooked Lake noted for its outstanding smallmouth bass, walleye and northern pike fishing. Pass famous Rebecca and Curtain Falls on your way thru Iron and Lac La Croix Lakes. Exit thru Agnes and Nina Moose Lakes. A van pick-up is available at the Moose River. These routes offer a mix of easy to challenging portages. Additional route options exist for this area depending on the amount of time, experience, aggressiveness, and interests of group participants.

Other Routes: Wood, Ojibway & Farm Lakes

A couple alternate routes in the Ely area include a Wood Lake start and an Island River or Isabella Lake start.

Starting with a moderate 1/2 mile portage at Ely's Fernberg Road, enter Wood Lake. With its five campsites and good bass, walleye, northern pike and bluegill fishing, Wood Lake offers a possible easy first night in. Continue north through Hula Lake (a shallow wild rice laden lake with northern pike) and portage 1/2 mile into Good Lake. Good Lake has only two campsites. Adjacent to Good Lake via a 100 rod portage is Indiana Lake, also with two campsites. Both Lakes have excellent bass fishing with northern pike and bluegills also. This area is still a first night option. Round out a nice three day loop by portaging east out of Indiana Lake into Wind Bay then portage east again into Wind Lake via a 1/2 mile portage. Watch for a variety of wildlife on this small loop. Fish for northern pike, large mouth bass and bluegills in Wind Lake. There are a few nice walleyes in there too. One more 1/2 mile portage east out of Wind Lake has you on Moose Lake to round out your trip.

For a more extensive trip, consider traveling north out of the Good/Indiana Lake area into Basswood Lake. Cross a short stretch where motors are allowed (about two miles) and continue north to US Point to the Upper Basswood Falls and the Basswood River. Follow the river and its scenic falls and good fishing to Lower Basswood Falls. This extension can then finish up at Mudro Lake by portaging south through the Horse River to Horse Lake, Tin Can Mike Lake, Sand Pit Lake and then to Mudro Lake. Allow two to three extra days for this option.

Another nice loop would start at Isabella Lake or Island River (in off of Highway 1, south of Ely). Heading west into the Isabella River allows a leisurely travel along a meandering, slow moving river. Low lying marshes are abundant with wildlife. Traverse a 130 rod portage then continue past Rice Lake. You will encounter a total of nine campsites scattered along the way, to a portage that takes you north out of the river to Quadga Lake. With its four campsites and good northern pike and walleye fishing, this makes a good first night option. Take time on the portage into Quadga to enjoy the majestic white pines along the trail.

Portage back into the Isabella River and continue west to the southern tip of Bald Eagle Lake. Now northwest through Bald Eagle into Gabro and Little Gabro Lakes. Numerous campsites will greet you in this area as well as good crappie, walleye and northern pike fishing. Watch for moose on this trip!

Three main exit options are possible from here. The first and shortest is to continue west to pick up the South Kawishiwi River and end on one of the entry points in this area (Filson Creek, Little Gabro or the South Kawishiwi). Allow a total of three to four days for this route. The next exit option would be a route back to Lake One via the Kawishiwi River northeast. Expect to travel a total of three to five days to complete this option. Last, and much more challenging, would be a route back to Lake On, but from Bald Eagle Lake northeast through Turtle, Clearwater and Rock Island Lakes to Lake Two, then west to Lake One. Three portages of 1/2 mile or more with "soft spots" make this a rugged three to five day trip. Tough portages, though, generally mean fewer people... making the solitude worth the effort.

Thanks to Canadian Border Outfitters for sharing this information on Boundary Waters.


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