The year I graduated high school was the summer we ventured into Bootleg Lake for 4th of July weekend. I’ll take fireflies over fireworks any day! My favorite attribute about this area is the journey in. Little Indian Sioux River is absolutely beautiful.
This entry point is technically in the LaCroix Ranger district. That does not mean that you necessarily have to use that ranger station. We used the Kawishiwi Ranger Station in Ely instead. Ely is 32 miles from Entry Point 9 while Cook, MN is 53 miles from the entry point. There is also ample lodging in Ely for your night prior to entry.
Book your BWCA reservation in January to ensure that you get your preffered destination. Reservations can be made at Recreation.gov. Check out why you need to make your reservation in January here. Also, if you intend to stay at a hotel the night prior to your entry, book that immediately after your entry reservation is confirmed.
|LaCroix Ranger Station:|
|Address:||320 N. Hwy 53, Cook, MN 55723|
|Hours:||May 1st- Sept. 30th Mon-Sat 8am-4:30pm|
Oct. 1st- Apr. 30th Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm
|Kawishiwi Ranger Station:|
|Address:||1393 Hwy 169, Ely, MN 55731|
|Hours:||May 1st -Sept. 30th: Sun-Sat 8am-4:30pm|
Oct. 1st- Apr. 30th: Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm
|Entry Point #||9|
|Permits Issued Daily||1 permit every other day|
|Permit Type||Overnight Paddle|
Getting to the Entry Point
After your wonderful little video and quiz at the Kawishiwi Ranger Station in Ely, you’re set to hit the road. Take 169 N for a short quarter mile, then turn left onto MacMahan Blvd. Two miles down the road you take a right onto the Echo Trail. 30 miles on The Echo Trail will take you almost the whole way there. Watch for signs for Entry Point 9.
Little Indian Sioux (South)
Little Indian Sioux is a wonderfully winding river. Rivers are my favorite place to canoe, the water is alive and full of character. We did an out and back, a destination trip rather than a route. On our paddle in, we paddled against the current, that means the trip out will be with the current. The perfect situation for a relaxing exit trip.
Sioux Falls is the first portage paddlers encounter along the river. What a beauty she is! A small falls with a short steep 13 rod portage to the west side. It’s easy to take time here and appreciate the beauty of this falls. This area does not see much traffic compared to other areas of the BWCA, so you likely won’t have others waiting to use the portage.
Second Portage and River split
Beyond the waterfall a ways, on the east side of the river is the second portage, 85 rods. This is the longest portage of the journey to Bootleg. There will be a split in the river a short distance after the portage, for either the Little Pony River or continuing on the Little Indian Sioux. Take the eastern river, the Little Pony River, this is the most direct route to Bootleg Lake. Bootleg is a part of the Little Pony River.
Final Two Portages
Two more portages must be crossed on the Little Pony River. The first on the Pony is a short 16 rod portage avoiding a small rapids. The final portage, 48 rods, leads to Bootleg.
On our trek out there was so much recent rain that one of the portages flooded. We slogged through the first portage with knee high water. We could have canoed the portage! We did paddle through rapids rather than take the 16 rod portage. Pictured below features my uncle and brother, Derek, traversing the flooded path. Next is my mom and Derek triumphant in our rapid run!
**Note that I am not wearing a life jacket at the beginning of this run. That was dumb. Always wear a life jacket in a canoe, especially when running rapids. In my stupid defense, my adventure dog, Misty, was using my life jacket as a sturdy place to stand on and hide from the sun.
There are only two campsites on Bootleg Lake. The first site is at the northern end of the lake right as you enter the lake from the Little Pony River. This site has a sandy beach landing with an open tent pad. The second is on the south western side of the lake. This is the site that we camped on for our 4th of July weekend.
Being that our site was on the west side of the lake, the sunset magic was reflected on the clouds to east. A quick paddle out on the lake will get you a sunset sight you’ll never forget. The sunrises from this sight were absolutely phenomenal, early risers rejoice! The most serene part of the day with waters like glass. Enjoy a morning coffee with a scene so many travel hundreds of miles see.
Being a less traveled lake, these waters are not heavily fished. We had exquisite fishing weather conditions and nailed the fish left and right. The most caught fish of the trip was the smallmouth bass. We slayed them! It was one of the best fishing trips I’ve had in the BWCA.
Our campsite was a great fishing location as well. So many bass were landed right from the rock at the shore of our campsite. Of course, Misty had to inspect each fish.
Solitude on the Lake
Two portages and a river away lies the Trout Lake area. The entirety of this lake holds 30+ campsites. Solitude will not be found on Trout. Trout Lake allows 12 permits per day. It’s astounding to think that not far away, Little Sioux River South only allows one entry every other day. That’s such a drastic difference in permits, but it causes a drastically different experience.
If seeking solitude on a BWCA journey, which many are, this is the lake to voyage to. Just two campsites rest upon this lake at different shorelines. The lake is not large, but there is ample space between sites and no extra traffic as it’s out of the way of other routes. Bootleg is the only BWCA trip that I have been on that I did not encounter another paddler.
We didn’t take any day trips on this voyage, we were quite content with all that Bootleg had to offer and spent most of the trip fishing this untouched lake. Our camping party treated Bootleg as a destination lake, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for venturing farther.
A day trip can be made to Little Trout Lake via two 200+ rod portages and the Little Indian Sioux River. The portage to begin this journey lies at the southwestern side of the lake, at the “Toe” of the boot on Bootleg. The first portage is 204 rods. Next, is a paddle against the current along the squiggly Little Indian Sioux and finally finished with a 290 rod portage on the west side of the river. There is also an option to continue on to Cummings lake, this is quite a trek for a day trip.
Returning to Bootleg
While South Temperance is my dad’s favorite lake in the BWCA, he has been dreaming of a return trip to Bootleg Lake for years. The combination of solitude and fantastic fishing on this gorgeous lake make it hard to beat.
My apprehension to return to this lake was based on the length of the river paddle, being that our son is just 3 years old. Then I thought to myself, “He handled Hog Creek to Perent Lake like a champ.” Our little adventurer can handle it. Our trips for this year are already mapped out. Next year will be our year for a return to Bootleg.