Canoeing on the Edge

Knife-Fraser Route

This route first follows the international boundary southwest from Saganaga all the way through Knife Lake to Birch Lake. Then you'll leave the border lakes and steer southeast through Ensign, Ima, and a chain of much smaller lakes to Thomas Lake. From the east end of Thomas you will follow a northeast bearing through Kekekabic and Ogishkemuncie Lakes and return to the south end of Saganaga Lake by way of the Seagull River.

With 39 portages, the route may seem more difficult than the"easy" rating suggests. Indeed, the route could well be labeled "rugged" if covered in fewer days. Spread over 7 days, however, these 39 portages should pose no problems to even a rookie crew of overweight desk jockeys. None of the carries is long enough to worry about, and only a few follow steep gradients. If the water level is high enough, you should be able to eliminate several of the portages by shooting down some rapids and walking up some others.

It's a fun route, with plenty of variety—big lakes, tiny ponds, narrow streams, and attractive scenery everywhere you look.

Most of the loop receives moderate-to-heavy canoe traffic much of the summer. The southwest part of the route, in particular, accommodates many visitors from the nearby Fernberg Road. Accordingly, bears are often a nuisance in this part of the Boundary Waters. Take care to hang your food properly.

Anglers will have plenty of opportunities to catch all of the common canoe-country species.

DAY 1: Saganaga Lake, Swamp Bay. The BWCA Wilderness Act of 1978 prohibits motorists from the US part of Saganaga Lake west of American Point. The closer your campsite is to Swamp Portage, the more peaceful your night will be. Beware of wind and high waves while crossing the more open expanses of this huge lake.

DAY 2: Saganaga Lake, portage 5 rods, Swamp Lake, portage 80 rods, Ottertrack Lake, portage 12 rods, Little Knife Lake, Knife Lake. Ottertrack Lake (Cypress Lake on some maps) is long, narrow, and lined with high bluffs and a rocky shoreline. It is one of my favorites. Along the north shore of the lake, you may see a clearing where once stood the cabins of Benny Ambrose. Benny was a prospector who sought gold for more than 60 years, until his death in 1982 at age 84. On the opposite (Canadian) shoreline, there is now a commemorative plaque cemented into the base of a cliff about one-half mile before the lake splits into two arms.

The farther southwest you paddle on Knife Lake, the more crowded you'll find the lake to be. Select a campsite in the vicinity of Thunder Point. Then take time to climb up the Thunder Point Trail to the scenic overlook, over 150 feet above Knife Lake. The panorama is breathtaking, especially at sunset.

If you're an angler, you'll find lake trout, walleye, and northern pike inhabiting the sparkling waters in front of your campsite. Go ahead—test your luck.

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. (See comments for Day 3, Knife-Kawishiwi Rivers Loop.)

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. (See comments for Day 4, Knife-Kawishiwi Rivers Loop.)

DAY 5 : Thomas Lake, Fraser Lake, portage 15 rods, Gerund Lake, portage 30 rods, Ahmakose Lake, portage 90 rods, Wisini Lake, portage 10 rods, Strup Lake, portage 85 rods, Kekekabic Lake. Your portages this day will have their ups and downs—uphill from Fraser to Ahmakose and downhill from Wisini to Kekekabic. The two worst for northbound travelers both touch Ahmakose Lake. The 30-rod trail gains 48 feet in elevation, and the 90-rod path climbs over a 60-foot hill. But the last two descend over 100 feet to Kekekabic Lake. You're lucky to be headed north.

Kekekabic is an awesome lake, encircled with high-rising bluffs and bordered on the south by hills rising as high as 400 feet above the lake.

DAY 6: Kekekabic Lake, 5 Portages through Kekekabic Ponds, Eddy Lake, portage 15 rods, Lake Jean, portage 15 rods, Annie Lake, portage 15 rods, Ogishkemuncie Lake, portage 38 rods, Kingfisher Lake, portage 25 rods, Jasper Lake. All these portages are short and easy, providing more of a nuisance than a challenge.

DAY 7: Jasper Lake, portage 45 rods, Alpine Lake, portage 105 rods, Seagull Lake, Seagull River, portage 38 rods, river, rapids, Gull Lake, Seagull River, Saganaga Lake. (See comments for Day 2, Red Rock-Seagull Loop.)


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