Baker Lake to Kelly Lake: Passing the Torch in the BWCA

It had been more than 30 years since my dad last paddled into Baker lake. Things had changed a bit since then with many trips made in between. Instead of the company of his brothers, he had his bowman for life (my mom), his daughter (me), son in-law (Scott), and two grandchildren (Sandy and Killian). Three generations in a single BWCA camping party. My dad has always been the group leader on these trips. Even though he was the youngest of his brothers, he’s always been the one to take the reins. This year, however, he put the map in my canoe. I asked why I had it, I guess he was confident in the skills he has taught me. Cue the lump in my throat.

Last year we asked my folks to accompany us on our BWCA trip in June. We had a very successful excursion and made great memories on our journey down Hog Creek. We decided to make it an annual thing as it had been when I was growing up. After getting our reservations made in January (yes, January) for this June, my mom suffered an injury to her shoulder. Mom worked hard with physical therapy to regain strength and use, but to little effect. After an MRI, surgery was immanent. Paddling was not an option.

Thankfully, the Baker Lake entry point is not difficult to traverse. Offering plenty of adventure with minimal effort. If you are catering to an injury (or a toddler), this is a great little jaunt into the B.W.C.A..

Ranger Station

We used the Tofte Ranger Station for Entry Point #39 Baker Lake. The Tofte Ranger Station is off of Hwy 61 on the left just before you enter Tofte.

Tofte Ranger Station
Address: 7355 W. Hwy 61
Tofte, MN 55615
Hours: May 1st- Sept. 30th: Sun-Sat 8am-4:30pm
Oct. 1st-April 30th: Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm
Phone:218-663-8060

Entry Point Details

Entry Point #39
Permits Issued Daily2
Permit TypeOvernight Paddle
Ranger Station Tofte

Getting There and Parking

Getting to this entry point is pretty simple. Yet, somehow, we missed two turns. Too enthralled with in our moose watch. When finished at the ranger station, follow Hwy 61 north to the Sawbill Trail. Take a left onto Sawbill, follow it for 17 miles, it’ll turn to gravel after some time. You’ll approach an intersection with way too many options, take the right most turn onto The Grade (also reads Nat. Forest 170). After 5 miles, turn left onto Forest Route 1272. There is a split for either the Baker Lake campground or the Baker Lake entry point, stay left for the entry point. Don’t worry, there are signs along the way, just don’t get too into your moose hunt that you miss them.

This entry point has ample parking and drive right up to the lake for loading and unloading with room enough to turn around with a small trailer. It also has a vaulted toilet. That is luxury! At our last entry point to Bower Trout, I had to use a tree, so this was a real treat.

As we load our canoes with gear butterflies swarm the kids. Killian was quite entertained! It’s an amazing loading spot and the kids were so happy to be out of the truck.

Baker Lake & 1st Portage

Baker Lake is a petite puddle in terms of BWCA lakes. We paddled just long enough for Sandy’s hat to blow off in the wind. Don’t worry, we picked it up. Leave no trace! The portage into Peterson is to the left of the rapids, it’s rather plain to see. This smooth, flat jaunt is just 12 rods. We encountered other campers making their way to the entry point, they had mentioned good fishing on the north end of Kelly, where they had camped. Yay! That’s where we were headed.

On the other end of the portage, the loading area is a convenient one for a Kevlar canoe. It has space for the canoe to be in the water and rocks to place your feet. After reloading and shoving off, paddle hard. The rapids are strong and the water was high, they might try to suck you in to the rapids that you just portaged around.

**Tip: On your way out, be sure to stick to the right side of the river. Be ready to pull into the portage “bay” just before the rapids. Don’t let your canoe turn broadside!

Peterson Lake & 2nd Portage

Peterson Lake is larger than Baker, but it’s a simple paddle. There is just one intriguing campsite that would have been an awesome option if we hadn’t already had a destination in mind.

At the north end of Peterson waits an itty bitty portage that we didn’t have to take. It was just 3 rods, but with the water as high as it was we paddle right through. Watch for the rocks if you’re taking that chance.

Arriving at Kelly Lake

Kelly Lake is a long skinny lake loaded with beaver lodges along it’s shores. Our destination was on the far north end of Kelly. That means a wonderfully scenic paddle upstream. These lakes are part of the Temperance River system that reaches far up into North Temperance Lake and Brule Lake and flows all the way out to Lake Superior.

Basecamp

As usual with a toddler in tow, we base camped. As we approached the camp, we were pleased to see that it had indeed been vacated. The rapids is just to the west with another little inlet to the east. It’s a beautiful little spot.

The shore has a convenient spot for loading and unloading canoes. We were camping with a party of 6 with a fairly large tent to accommodate an air mattress. The tent pad area is not the largest, we were able to squeeze our monster tent into the space. It did require us to be creative with the rainfly ties but it was worth it for this site.

Our ‘front porch’ was a great space for the kids to explore in the water, watch a baby turtle, and play with sticks. It wasn’t a beach by any means, but it was too cold to swim anyway. Not to mention the current right at this spot would not have been ideal for a toddler to be jumping in anyhow.

This site has trails leading along the shore on either side of camp. To the east, a good spot to hang the food pack. To the west, a nice fishing and peaceful spot to view the rapids. Our toddler, Killian, used the little trails for his ‘Bear Hunts.’ We all took turns taking him on his hunt. He’d say, “Going on a bear hunt… gonna catch a big one… I’m not scared!” Just like the song.

Pests

Bugs. Enough said, right? Spring and fall are great times to avoid the bugs. Our trip was in June. The park rangers informed us of a recent black fly hatch. Lovely. Not only did we have swarms of mosquitoes, but we also had black flies to swat as well. The hammock with bug netting was the safety zone while at camp. We were all very thankful for this piece of equipment. Bug spray helped but it didn’t keep them at bay long. Actually, the greatest escape was being out on the water. They didn’t bother much in the canoes.

Day Trip

The weather forecast looked ominous during our planning stage, but luck graced us with near perfect conditions during the daylight hours. On our second day, we loaded the daypack for a long day away from camp. The loose goal was to make it to Weird Lake and fish our way back to camp.

**Tip: Loose goals are ideal when traveling with toddlers. Having hard set plans and itineraries adds pressure to a trip, taking the fun out of the whole experience when that toddler decides they are done.

Jack Lake Entry: The 69 rod portage at the north end of Kelly leads to Jack Lake. Watch for moose tracks along the portage, and moose poop! We were greeted with a section of lake separated from the rest in it’s own sheltered paradise. The guys spent some time fishing in this area before continuing. There were bass resting on the beds in this area, but we didn’t have any luck until the following day. Still, it was a great place to paddle around and relax as the area is shielded from the wind.

First Stop: Jack Lake Mine. It seems that not too many folks know about this historic gem in the midst of the wilderness. A short trail, just 50 feet long, off the portage on the south side of Jack Lake will take you to this neat step back in time. This is a great day trip whether you are staying in the BWCA or not. For more info on the Jack Lake Mine, read on here.

Sharing the Experience: After visiting the mine we returned to the portage to launch the canoes at the lake. We were greeted by some fellow campers. They were amazed that we had a 10 year old and a 2 year old in our group, stating that they too had a child at home. They claimed it would be too difficult to bring their 8 year old son along, they’d consider it when he could carry his own pack. Don’t let this stop you! I am so proud of my family for tackling the challenges together that are brought on by the BWCA. I hope that after seeing our youngsters that couple will reconsider getting their son out there.

Second Stop: Berry Hill. Being early in the growing season, there were no berries to be had just yet. If you find yourself on Jack Lake late-July to mid-August, an abundance of blueberries will be waiting for you on this rocky slope. This hill is on the second point on the southeast side of the lake.

**Tip: Bring plenty of snacks on daytrips with kids. Be a courteous guest by leaving majority of the berries for the animals that live there.

Third Stop: Day trips with kids means having a lot of stops. We stopped at an empty campsite to use the latrine. This site had some storm damage from the wicked storms we had earlier in the spring. Damage aside, the view from this site was great, it had a set of step leading up to the site for a dramatic overlook. This would have been a splendid alternative had our site been occupied, though the tent pad was quite small.

Last Stop: Our final stop on our day adventure brought us to the Weird Lake portage. Just a 12 rod stint around some rapids and falls. Weird things happen on Weird Lake. Scott sent a cast off into Weird Lake and the lure flew right off! We weren’t actually planning to paddle Weird Lake, but the lure had to be retrieved. The fellows grabbled a canoe and found the lure. The journey to this set of rapids was worth it, lure mishap and all.

Fishing Back: As planned, the rods came out and lures went to work. Fishing the way back was a breeze, we were flowing with the current. Too bad the fishing wasn’t the best. Only a few hits.

Evening at on the Water

The best time to fish it seems on this trip was in the evening hours. After our day trip and a camp dinner, the group had split up. My dad and Scott took Sandy out to fish near the rapids. My mom and I tried to get little Killian to bed. This proved to be a futile attempt. I gave up and launched a canoe instead. My mom stayed at camp to rest while I took Killian on a sunset paddle near camp. It was such a great experience.

The fishing crew was catching fish near the rapids. Killian and I paddled around the area near the rapids and camp. He was so happy to be out on the water by the big boys and Sandy. That really made me think about the experience. I was so concerned about him getting his rest for the next day, I almost cost him a precious memory on the water with his family. That’s what it’s all about. Being together in the wilderness making memories. I am so glad that I gave up on getting him to sleep.

Passing the Torch

As I looked at my boy out in that canoe smiling up at the stars starting to appear, I wondered if that is how my dad felt watching me grow up exploring the wilderness. I have so many childhood memories in the BWCA. I know that my childhood is not my children’s childhood, but I sincerely pray that they will come to know and love the wilderness like I do and cherish the memories made here. I look forward to the day that I can hand my kids the map and know that they will successfully lead us through our journey into the wilderness.

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