Cache Bay and Beyond

The Waters of the Minnesota/Ontario Border - Knife Lake and Man Chain
By Roger Hahn of Seagull Outfitters
  |  Gorp.com
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Webster's Dictionary defines the word cache as "a place in which stores of food, supplies, etc. are hidden." And Cache Bay, on the Minnesota-Ontario border, may very well have been such a place for the traders and trappers in the early part of the century. But this name has a special meaning for the lucky paddlers traveling through it each summer.

Cache Bay holds—not food and supplies—but the key to one of the most spectacular canoeing regions in North America. It is more than just the entry to Canada's Quetico Provincial Park from Minnesota's Gunflint Trail. Cache Bay defines the beginning and end of every southeastern Quetico trip. And the mere mention of its name conjures up images of wonderful excursions into this incredibly paddler-friendly region.

The first step for your visit to Cache Bay is to reserve one of the handful of permits the Quetico Park gives out each season through this entry station. As in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Minnesota, this means figuring out your route first, and then applying for the appropriate entry permit. These permits are categorized by number and by name of the entry point.

Paddlers have five entry points to choose from when entering through Cache Bay:

  • Knife Lake (2 parties per day allowed)

  • Man Chain (2 parties per day allowed)

  • Falls Chain (2 parties per day allowed)

  • Boundary Point (2 parties per day allowed)

  • Mack Lake (3 parties per day, for fly-in trips only)

All of these routes begin with a trip through a corner of the Boundary Waters and across island studded Saganaga Lake (Sag-ah-nah-gah). For this reason, nearly all the paddlers heading to Cache Bay take advantage of a motor launch to cross Big Sag. By doing so you'll trade several hours of paddling, across a 20,000 acre lake, for a leisurely 20 minute boat ride.

* Author's note: If you opt to paddle, instead of taking the launch, be sure to fill out a BWCA day use permit at the landing. If you plan to camp along the way, either coming or going, you must have an overnight permit.

After getting out of the launch boat, near American Point, you'll have about a one hour paddle to Cache Bay itself and the ranger cabin on the second island. You can't miss the Canadian flag, the small bank of solar panels, and the sheltered waiting area down at the waterfront on the south side.

More than likely you will be met at the dock with a warm greeting from Janice, the Cache Bay ranger. She has been at the station for more than a dozen years and is an excellent source of information. She's also your closest help in the event of an emergency.

You'll spend a few minutes at the ranger station getting your permit, paying your camping fees, and buying your Ontario fishing license. If you are waiting down at the dock for your trip-mates you will wonder what could possibly be taking so long in the office. But once you go inside you'll be reluctant to leave the laughter, ribbing,and banter which is a part of every trip to the Cache Bay ranger station.

Now for a look at some potential routes out of Cache Bay.

Knife Lake
entry permit #71

This is a route I would recommend for a number of reasons. First of all, it is the quietest of the areas, with the possible exception of the fly-in routes, and is therefore the easiest to get a permit to enter. Secondly, it has everything you're looking for: great campsites, spectacular high cliffs, and all major species of fish in its waters.

Short Trip:Spend your time in Ottertrack (the local name for the long northern arm of Knife Lake), Jasper, and Lilypad lakes before crossing the southwest corner of Saganagons Lake on your way to Silver Falls. This loop can be done in a couple of days but five days seems to work out best for fishing, sightseeing, and relaxing.

Medium Trip: My favorite loop is the Knife Chain combined with the Man Chain. By making your turn at beautiful green Emerald Lake, through the ponds into That Man Lake, this trip is comfortably done in five days, with a round trip motor launch. But I recommend you take a week so you'll have time to explore this great chain of lakes.

*Author's note: When doing this loop take a few minutes to check out the magnificent white cedar trees on the Plough to Emerald portage. I've been told that the trees in this small stand are hundreds of years old. It will take three of you to get your arms completely around the trunk of one of these living giants.

Long Trip: If you've got the time, and the energy, you can follow the Knife Chain all the way to Prairie Portage and make your way back to the Falls Chain (by way of Basswood, Sunday, Meadows, Agnes, Fauquier, Glacier, McEwen, and Wet Lakes). Pack light and take seven to ten days for this trip.

Man Chain
entry permit #72

The Man Chain of lakes is a beautiful string of narrow lakes running roughly from Slate Lake to Emerald Lake. I've never been able to uncover the origin of the name of this chain of lakes... This Man, That Man, Other Man, and No Man. But I love to see people's faces when they hear of these oddly named lakes for the first time.

Short, Medium, and Long Trips: The short and medium trips would be the same, of course, as for the Knife Chain permit... only in reverse. The long trip, back through McEwen, can also be done by leaving the Man Chain at the Emerald Lake area.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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