Canoeing on the Edge

Knife-Kawishiwi Rivers Loop

This interesting loop will take you across the central part of the BWCA nearly all the way to the Fernberg Road. From Seagull Lake you will first follow the same path as for Thunder Point Route, through Ogishkemuncie to Knife Lake. Then, instead of heading northeast along the border, you will continue to paddle west to Birch Lake. From that busy border lake, you'll steer southeast through Ensign and several smaller lakes to Ima and Thomas Lakes. After traveling straight south to Lake Insula, you will begin your trip back by following the Kawishiwi River northeast to Kivaniva and a series of small lakes that lead to Little Saganaga Lake. Then you'll paddle north, through a very scenic part of the BWCA, en route to Ogishkemuncie Lake. Your final day will be on the same lakes that originally carried you away from Seagull Lake.

It may seem that a route with 54 portages could not possibly be rated"easy." Indeed, if you detest portaging of any type, then you most likely will not consider this route easy. Only four of these carries, however, are over 100 rods long, and even fewer offer much challenge. Spread over eight days, they should not pose much of a problem to even a poorly conditioned rookie crew.

This loop is a good introductory trip for the first-time BWCA visitor. You'll experience both large and small lakes, tiny creeks, lovely rivers, beautiful waterfalls, Indian pictographs, large beaver homes, a good chance of seeing moose and deer, and an excellent opportunity to"run" some easy rapids.

Nearly all of the loop is well-traveled. Some parts receive heavy use, mainly from Knife Lake south to Lake Insula. Motors are no longer permitted on any part of the route.

DAY 1: Seagull Lake, portage 105 rods, Alpine Lake, portage 45 rods, Jasper Lake, portage 25 rods, Kingfisher Lake, portage 38 rods, Ogishkemuncie Lake. (See comments for Day 1, Thunder Point Route.)

DAY 2: Ogishkemuncie Lake, portage 15 rods, Annie Lake, portage 15 rods, Lake Jean, portage 15 rods, Eddy Lake, portage 25 rods, South Arm of Knife Lake, Knife Lake. (See comments for Day 2, Thunder Point Route.)

DAY 3: Knife Lake, portage 75 rods, Knife River, portage 15 rods, Seed Lake, portage 15 rods, Knife River, portage 16 rods, Carp Lake, portage 48 rods, Birch Lake, portage 100 rods, Frog Lake, portage 70 rods, Trident Lake, portage 120 rods, Ensign Lake, portage 53 rods, Ashigan Lake. During the summer of 1987 high water caused the old logging dam at the southwest end of Knife Lake, built in the early 1900s, to wash out. Consequently, the water on Knife Lake has returned to its natural level, about three feet lower than it had been during this century. For the next few years, the exposed rocky shoreline may look strange to returning visitors.

Not far from the old dam, in a cluster of three small islands in Knife Lake, is the homesite of the BWCA's last permanent resident. Dorothy Molter, who sold home-made root beer to canoeing passers-by for nearly half a century, passed away in December, 1986. Two of her log cabins were then moved, log by log, to Ely and reconstructed as a memorial to her.

If the water level is high enough, you may be able to eliminate all the portages along the Knife River by shooting, lining, or walking your canoe down the rapids around which the portages pass. Only on two occasions will you have to lift your canoe and gear—over a small dam at the head of the river and around a low falls at the third portage.

This is a very well-traveled part of the Boundary Waters, served by Moose Lake, the most popular entry point in all of the BWCA. The last portage is the toughest, climbing 56 feet in 53 rods.

DAY 4: Ashigan Lake, portage 105 rods, Gibson Lake, portage 25 rods, Cattyman Lake, portage 55 rods, Jordan Lake, portage 5 rods, Ima Lake, portage 50 rods, Hatchet Lake, portage 10 rods, Thomas Creek, portage 10 rods, creek, portage 10 rods, pond, portage 5 rods, Thomas Lake. You'll be climbing all day, but none of the portages is difficult as you gain 129 feet in elevation from Ashigan to Thomas Lake. Under normal water conditions, you can probably pull your canoe up through the first two rapids on Thomas Creek, eliminating two 10-rod carries. The third short portage intersects the famed Kekekabic Trail. Motors are no longer allowed in this part of the Boundary Waters. In Thomas Lake, lake trout, walleye, and northern pike await your shiny lure.

DAY 5: Thomas Lake, portage 25 rods, Kiana Lake, portage 179 rods, Lake Insula, portage 18 rods, Kawishiwi River, Alice Lake, portage 20 rods, Kawishiwi River, portage 90 rods, river. The 179-rod carry—the longest portage for the entire route—is mostly downhill and not difficult. You will find a display of Indian rock paintings (pictographs) south of your final portage, on the west shore of the Kawishiwi River. Several good campsites are nearby. Map #F-11 includes all of the route except one short bend in the Kawishiwi River. Don't be alarmed when you find yourself "off the map" about a mile west of Alice Lake. Simply follow the river, and it's impossible (?) to get lost. (Or, if you prefer, buy map #F-4.)

DAY 6: Kawishiwi River, portage 15 rods, river, portage 20 rods, river, portage 40 rods, Kivaniva Lake, portage 14-35 rods, Anit Lake, portage 25 rods, pond, portage 19 rods, Pan Lake, portage 55 rods, Panhandle Lake, portage 89 rods, pond, portage 65 rods, Makwa Lake, portage 45 rods, Elton Lake. None of these portages is difficult, but their frequency may slow your progress somewhat. This area is the most lightly traveled part of the route, though it does receive moderate use at times.

DAY 7: Elton Lake, portage 19 rods, pond, portage 19 rods, Little Saganaga Lake, portage 30 rods, Rattle Lake, portage 25 rods, Gabimichigami Lake, portage 15 rods, Agamok Lake, 3 Portages, Mueller Lake, portage 80 rods, Ogishkemuncie Lake. On this day you'll find yourself canoeing through some of the loveliest scenery in the central BWCA. At the northwest end of Agamok Lake you will have a choice of portages: either three short portages around three sets of rapids or one continuous carry of about 100 rods from Agamok directly to Mueller Lake. I prefer the three short ones. All are rocky and somewhat steep in places, but none exceeds 25 rods. The second portage crosses the Kekekabic Trail, which utilizes a wooden bridge to pass over a picturesque waterfall flowing parallel to the portage. Those who bypass the area via the longer portage are missing a real treat!

The 80-rod carry from Mueller to Ogishkemuncie looks innocent on the map, but it's not. It begins with a steep uphill climb before descending to lower Ogishkemuncie Lake.

DAY 8: Ogishkemuncie Lake, portage 38 rods, Kingfisher Lake, portage 25 rods, Jasper Lake, portage 45 rods, Alpine Lake, portage 105 rods, Seagull Lake. This is a reverse of your first day.


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