Best Age to Tackle The Boundary Waters for Kids

What age is best to bring your kids into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the first time? That all depends on you and your determination. This amazing wilderness can be enjoyed by ALL ages. Everyone has different skill levels and enthusiasm for the great outdoors. You can instill in your family a great appreciation for this spectacular wilderness at any age. It’s never too late or too early. Here are some examples that my family has experience to help guide you in your decision.

Teens/Tweens

Lets talk teens and tweens. In general this group of kids can handle a more intense canoe trip, and they may be in need of it. There are number of reasons to get your teens/tweens out there.

  • Disconnect- getting away from screens and distractions
  • Reconnect- with family and nature
  • Slow Down- Take a break from the insane schedules kids have now.
  • Rebuild Relationships- With the phone off, the schedules paused, and the distractions at bay, you have a chance to spend uninterrupted time with your kids.

This is really an experience they won’t forget. There are a few things to keep in mind when getting your teen out there and making sure they are prepared and ready to go. These are just some notes from my experiences that I felt should be mentioned for this age group.

  • Proper clothing– We had a brutal exit one year, 4 foot waves on Brule Lake. Our whole group celebrated once we made it back to the entry point. As we hauled the gear back to the truck we witnessed the most atrocious attire for the wilderness. This kid had skinny jeans that were two sizes too small, skater shoes, and the thinnest sweatshirt that can still be considered a sweatshirt, also too small. I don’t understand fashion. Don’t let your kids do this, wear the appropriate clothing.
  • Phones down– The only thing they’re going to do is kill the battery. I can think of just a single reason we have our phones on and that’s for photos. We don’t have a camera anymore, so the phones act as our cameras. Stick it on airplane mode to save battery if you are in the same boat. But there shouldn’t be games being played, this is family wilderness time. Without any cell service, this shouldn’t be too hard.
  • Practice– Be sure to have them out in a canoe prior to your trip. Most teens/tweens will be paddling, give them a few lessons before the trip. It was only my husband’s second trip when we encountered foul weather, those waves on Brule that I mentioned earlier. Thankfully, my dad is a fairly decent instructor. He gave Scott a crash course in rudder work and Scott put those new skills to the test and we made it safely to our exit point.

My Husband, Scott, took his first trip when he was 16 years old. He went along on our annual summer trip with my family while we were dating in high school. It was amazing to share my favorite place in the world with him. Scott’s most favored part of the trip was the fishing, the bass fishing on this lake is fantastic. We also spent a lot of time exploring the woods and shoreline. There had been a prior fire, the ash laden forest springing with new growth was brilliant. Scott’s first trip was on Clove Lake, entering in at the Larch Creek Entry Point. This experience must have left an immense impression as he was more than willing to go along on the next summers B.W.C.A. trip, and nearly every trip after.

Children

There is no greater wilderness experience than watching your children take in the wilderness and grow to love it. With so many screens in todays world, it’s so important to get them in touch with nature and set them free into the wild. Catching their interest at such a young age can impact them for the rest of their life, it did for me. Benefits of getting your kids out there are endless, but here are a few:

  • Learning new skills
  • Bonding
  • Growing confidence in their own skills
  • Gaining appreciation for the wilderness around them
  • Learning to respect nature

My first trip into the Boundary Waters… Wow! My family went to Lake Isabella, I was 6 years old. I have such vivid memories of the stream near our campsite where my sister and I jumped on rocks for hours. I have a not so clear memory of a red bridge, my dad argues that it was not red nor was it in the B.W.C.A…. He may be right about that. Anyway, 6 was a great age for my first trip in. My parents had made several trips prior to my first adventure, they were experienced and confident in bringing us kids in. Their willingness to introduce me to the wilderness as a kid inspired my love of the great outdoors. I am forever grateful for the experience.

Our daughter, Sandy, took her first trip was when she was 4 years old. My goal was to take her in when she was potty trained. She potty trained at 2, but we were living in a different state and didn’t have the opportunity until she was 4. Scott was deployed at the time, but I was able to take her with my parents. We took her to Clove Lake, a great lake for a first timer at that age, and it was her dad’s first lake too. She was hooked!

Now Sandy looks forward to it every summer and loves to help plan the trip. That first trip really had a great impact on her. I love how eager she is to get out and see new areas. For this summers’ trip we invited my parents, they started it all and hadn’t gone on a trip with us in a couple of years. One of my dad’s favorite lakes is Clove, he suggested that we go there. Sandy was bummed at first, she wanted to go to a new lake! She got her wish, our dates were taken for the Larch Creek entry point, a new place it is! Hog Creek was next, She was very excited! See here why planning early is a must.

Infants/Toddlers

This age group requires more work. These little adventurers come with more gear and less help. But it’s so very worth it. If you plan it just right, you can really have an enjoyable experience with your tiniest explorers. It was a debate in our house whether it was a good idea to bring Killian along, and I’m so glad we did.

Our boy, Killian, was the youngest to enter the Boundary Waters in our family at just 10 months old. He did great! As long as you are prepared for the trip and have a little experience in the wilderness yourself, bringing an infant into the Boundary Waters can be a wonderful experience. We also chose an easy lake for his first time, that was important. Killian’s first trip was on Kawishiwi Lake. Those entering at the same entry point were amazed that an infant was taking his first trip in while this fellow paddlers son was too nervous to take his 4 year old on a trip. This gentleman assured us that he would be letting his son know so he could get his grandkids out there. More on Killian’s first BWCA Trip here.

Killian’s second trip up to the B.W.C.A. was to Hog Creek this last June. He did very well! But I will say, bringing an infant was easier than bringing a toddler. With a very mobile and independent fellow, it was eyes on at all times. That is a must. We had four adults to share the load this time and more eyes were helpful at this very curious age. Hog Creek was a bit too long of a journey for such a little fellow, I would recommend a shorter distance for a younger toddler. He did get to see one of his favorite animals, a moose! He talked about it for some time afterwards. It’s so fulfilling to watch them experience it all.

Are your kids ready to make that journey? Again, it’s your call on whether or not you think your kids can handle it. I’ll tell you, Scott and I didn’t agree right away on taking Killian in for his first trip as an infant. It was a debate and we had to weigh the pros and cons of taking him in and talk about the risks. Ultimately, we came to the decision to take him in. We are both experienced enough and went on an easy low key lake. Check out these posts to read more about Toddlers in the BWCA and Killian’s Hog Creek Adventure.

What ever age you decide that your kids are ready, they’re sure to be inspired by the adventure and realization of their own capabilities. Growing up with these kinds of experiences will give them a unique sense of confidence that can only be brought on by braving the wilderness. It’s not just camping, it’s learning skills that are becoming more and more rare in every generation. You will relish in the opportunity to watch them grow out there and gain a new appreciation for the world around them.

Only those who have experienced this beauty themselves can truly understand the affect that it has on the soul.

6 Minnesota State Parks Not to Miss This Winter

Winter does not mark the end of the hiking season here in Minnesota. It marks the change of footwear in Minnesota. Break out the boots, snowshoes, skis, and hot chocolate! It’s winter and we are loving it!

I have put together a short list of State Parks that offer a variety of accommodations for your winter excursions. Try a few activities out, what have you got to lose? It’s a long winter, don’t waste it indoors.

Know Before You Go: Skiers over the age of 16 must have a Great Minnesota Ski Pass to ski on groomed state park and state forest trails in Minnesota. You can purchase your yearly pass($25) here or a daily pass($10) can be purchased in person. Why the fee? It helps pay for the cost of grooming trails.

1. Jay Cooke State Park

For those hard core skiers our there, here you go. This park is for you, with miles and miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult you’ll be in a cross country skiers paradise. For those wanting to keep it less intense, stick closer to the trails near the visitor center. The farther out you venture, the more extreme the trails get. Located just south of Duluth, it’s easy to add in during a weekend trip to the northern city.

Things to do & see:

  • Cross Country Ski- 20 to 32 miles groomed trails depending on snow conditions
  • Snowshoe- 9 miles (keep off groomed trails)
  • Hike- Use snowshoe trails
  • Snowmobile- .87 miles
  • Swinging Bridge
  • Warming House- River Inn Interpretive Center
  • Camping/Camper Cabins
  • Views of St. Louis River
  • Winter Events

2. Wild River State Park

A short hour northeast out of the metro lies a winter wonderland of a park. This park is very well kept during the winter months with many groomed trails for different winter sports. Hold onto your pups, there are many dogs that visit this park with their people. Being that this park is closer to the city, it is a popular day trip location.

Things to do & see:

  • Cross Country Skiing- 19 miles groomed
  • Back Country Skiing- 13 miles ungroomed
  • Skate Skiing- 6 miles groomed
  • Snowshoeing- 5 miles of trails & anywhere off trail
  • Hiking- Use snowshoe trails
  • Ski & Snowshoe Rentals
  • Camping/Camper Cabin
  • Warming House- Trail Center
  • St. Croix River Views

3. Lake Maria State Park

Just an hour northwest of the metro, this park is a great option for those wanting to take a daytrip for some winter fun. Lake Maria State Park usually has winter events such as a candlelit winter hike. Unfortunately, this year events have been canceled. We are a bit bummed, but there are plenty of winter adventures to be had by daylight.

Things to do & see:

  • Cross Country Ski- 6 miles groomed trails
  • Skate Ski- 2 miles groomed trail
  • Snowshoe- any ungroomed trail
  • Hike- any ungroomed trail
  • Pond & Lake Views
  • Warming House- Trail Center (may vary due to covid)
  • Secluded Camping/Walk-in Camper Cabins

4. Itasca State Park

This is on my list! We have visited Itasca State Park during the summer months and will do many more visits in the coming years, my parents have hunting land conveniently located 40 minutes from this park. I have yet to visit in the winter and am very eager to do so. I have looked into the activities and will have a hard time choosing which to do!

Things to do & see:

  • Hike- ungroomed trails
  • Snowshoe- anywhere/ungroomed trails (rentals available)
  • Ski- 13 miles groomed trails
  • Skate Ski
  • Snowmobile: 31 Miles around perimeter, connects trails leading to nearby towns
  • Twinkle Light Trail (for night hiking)
  • Numerous Organized Events
  • Headwaters of the Mississippi River
  • Warming House- Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
  • Camping & other Lodging

5. Minneopa State Park

Minneopa State Park is just an hour and a half southeast of the Twin Cities. Not a far drive for what’s in store at this park. The trails are not as numerous as other parks. But you’ll have plenty of things to stop and see, if you arrive before dark that is. We had the pleasure of participating in a candle light hike at night. Though we were unable to see the bison in the dark, it was a near full moon and the frozen waterfalls were spectacular in the moonlight. With far fewer folks out in the dark, we were able to hear the trickle of water still flowing around the ice.

Things to do & see:

  • Hiking- 5 miles
  • Snowshoe- anywhere
  • Ski- use hiking trials (ungroomed)
  • Bison Viewing
  • Waterfall Viewing
  • Bison Drive (closed on Wednesdays)
  • Camper Cabin/Camping
  • Winter Events

6. Gooseberry

The north shore holds Gooseberry Falls, one of our family favorites. Currently our daughters all time favorite. Visiting this park during the winter months eliminates the excessive crowds at this very popular park and creates a more serene environment for exploring the beautiful area. For more on Gooseberry in the winter click here.

Things to do & see:

  • Hike- use snowshoe trails
  • Snowshoe- ungroomed trails & anywhere ungroomed
  • Cross Country Ski- 12 miles groomed
  • Snowmobile- 2 miles
  • Waterfall viewing
  • Lake Superior Shoreline
  • Warming House- Visitor Center
  • Camping

Bonus Park: Split Rock

After Visiting Gooseberry, travel up the road a few miles to check out Split Rock Lighthouse. Stop in for just a quick peak at the light house or enjoy 8 miles of fat tire biking or snowshoeing.

DIY Stroller Skis

Getting out and enjoying the snow and ice is a great way to embrace winter, not just get through it. Winter is my favorite! Don’t tell the other seasons. Snowshoeing is one of the best winter activities. It’s very simple to toss a baby into a carrier and get moving. But unless you have a really roomy baby carrier, all of that winter gear is going to gum up your plans and possibly cut off circulation for your little one with all the straps and snow gear. A stroller is more spacious and has a lot more carrying room for your little ones and all of their supplies.

Sure you could invest in a kick sled with a basket and cruise around the winter that way. These days used kick sleds are hard to come by and new ones are quite expensive with all of the material cost going up now. Best way to cut costs and use the resources at hand is to make one yourself. My daughter and I whipped this one up 2 years ago for her brothers first winter.

Supplies

  • Jogging Stroller- with air-filled tires
  • 2X4 lumber- 2 boards at 18 inches, 1 board at 14 inches
  • Old Cross Country Skis: 3
  • Jig Saw
  • Miter Saw
  • Sander
  • Drill
  • Screws
  • Zipties

Finding Skis

Most folks don’t have old/unused skis lying around, at least nobody that I knew did. You can search online for an old set, ask friends and family, check Facebook marketplace. In our case, we went to our local Play It Again Sports shop, a used sporting goods store. I asked the owner if he had any mismatched, ancient, broken or unsellable skis in the back. Sure enough he did! I paid 5 dollars for 3 skis. Bonus: two were even a matching set!

A Word on Strollers

When our daughter was little we had one of those four plastic wheeled kinds of strollers and a little Minnie Mouse stroller that folded up into a fat stick. These stroller have their use and their place. But their place is no longer in my life. We have moved up to the Babytrend Expedition fat tire jogging stroller and that thing can take a beating! No, I am not sponsored by this brand, I just really like it! I cannot tell you how many times I have taken that thing to state parks, county parks, off trail, over rocks, through cow pastures and even skiing. I have no doubt in my mind that you are capable of turning a different kind of stroller into a ski stroller; but an air tire jogging stroller will make it much easier.

Lets Get Building

Step 1: Cutting the Boards

Your first task is to trace the tire shape onto your first board. The longer boards will be used for the rear tires and the smaller board for the smaller front tire. Pretty obvious, but it felt necessary.

  1. Center your tire on your board.
  2. Leave 1 inch of space between the bottom of the tire to the bottom of the board.
  3. Trace with your pencil to create your cutting line.
  4. Use the Jigsaw to cut out the crescent shape from the tire.
  5. Sand down the edges for a smooth finish.
  6. Test the fit, you may need to sand more to get a good fit.
  7. Repeat for all 3 tires, be sure that the back blocks are fairly close to the same position on the wood so that you stroller has good balance.

Step 2: Cutting the skies

This step was a little nerve wracking for me. I can always try again with more 2X4s, but I only had these three skis. They had to be just right on the first try. Pressure is on!

  1. Use a matching set for the rear two skis. If you were unable to secure a matching set, use the two skis that are most alike.
  2. Measuring from where the curve starts, the rear skis should be cut between 30 and 35 inches. Be sure the rear skis are the same length.
  3. The front wheel ski will be shorter to accommodate turns on trail. Cut this piece at about 20 inches.

Step 3: Drilling the holes

It’s easiest to drill the holes for the zipties before placing the boards on the skis. I know because I did it both ways. I first drilled only two holes. One on either end of the board, that was not enough on my first test run, you do in fact need the third hole in the center on all three wheels. If you only have the two holes, your ski will slip off to the side of the tire and you’ll spend your whole excursion fixing skis. Not fun.

  1. Using your drill, make a hole on each end of the boards broad side. These should be about half an inch from the curve
  2. Next make a hole in the very center at the bottom of the curve on the broad side. This will prevent the whole ski from turning on it’s side while going over bumps

Step 4: Securing the Boards to the Skis

During this step make sure that the rear skis are placed on the boards in the exact same location. If they are off, you will not have good balance in you ski stroller.

  1. Place your board on a flat surface, curved side down.
  2. Center your ski over the top of the board lengthwise.
  3. Going through the bottom of the ski, screw the board ski to the board.
  4. It’s best if the screw is slightly embedded, this ensures that there will be nothing to catch on the bottom.
  5. Repeat for all 3 skis, make sure the rear two skis are placed in the exact same location on the board. Measure twice, cut once (or screw in this case).

Step 5: Putting it all Together

Finally near the end of this project, you are almost ready to hit the trails! But it’s pretty hard to go anywhere when your skis aren’t attached.

  1. Place the skis under their designated wheel.
    • Having them all in place at the same time will ensure that they are all level while fastening them
  2. Fish a ziptie through each hole of the ski boards and around the tire
  3. Use a pliers to tighten the zipties once they’re all finger tight.
    • Do not cut off the ends until you’ve had a test run. You may find that after some shifting, you need to tighten some more

**Tip** I like to lock my wheels while skiing over loose snow, it makes steering easier.

Using The Stroller Skis

The best places to use this set up is on groomed trails. This is not the right gear for a backcountry adventure, for that you’ll want to use a backpack carrier. We tested it on different terrain and here are the results;

  • Groomed Trails: Yes, works wonderfully! Be mindful on rules and regulations of parks that you visit. Depending on your own footwear, some trails may be limited.
  • Ungroomed but packed trails: Yes, they are not as easy as a well groomed ski trail but these trails are still great for an outing.
  • Ice: Yes, fantastic on ice. Also gives an unstable parent or child something to hold on to.
  • Backcountry: No, does not work well at all. The front wheel gets stuck in the powder and the whole thing sinks. Use a backpack carrier.

There you have it! You’re little ones can cruise along with you all winter long! We’ve used these skis for three winters now. With any luck, our next winter will involve teaching our youngest how to ski, and maybe just a little stroller skiing. Happy Trails!

Winter at Gooseberry Falls

“Can we go to Gooseberry? How about Gooseberry? Gooseberry? I think Gooseberry sounds good. Lets do Gooseberry!”

These are the things that came out of my 10 year old daughter’s, Sandy’s, mouth this morning when I asked where she’d like to go on our annual winter trip. I tried suggesting places we haven’t been to yet, but she was so adamant about Gooseberry. She even suggested it while her girl scout troop was planning their upcoming spring trip. She’s obsessed! I guess we’ll do Gooseberry… Again. No complaints here!

For sure this is a park that you can visit during any season for really any length of time. It is one of our family’s most frequented parks. We stop during summer on our way up to or on the way back from the BWCA. Winter here is absolutely stunning and worth a trip of it’s own. It is one of my all time favorite winter parks. I will share with you the wonders of this truly unique winter oasis.

Quick Review: 8/10 I know I said that this is one of our favorite parks, but I am still docking it 2 points. One point for the crowds and one point for lack of seclusion. Yes, this park has a lot to offer in the way of sights and beauty, but you’ll likely have company in many spaces in the park. Even when you choose to camp at this park, it’s quite crowded at the campground.

Crowds… or lack there of

I’ll let you in a little secret here; I don’t like crowds. Well, maybe that’s not a secret… Or uncommon. Do you enjoy weaving through packs of people when you’re “enjoying” nature? Me neither, that’s not enjoying it at all. Gooseberry is a VERY popular state park in Minnesota. But most folks don’t venture out into the cold winter months to do their exploring. This is where we winter lovers rejoice.

Numerous Hikes

Winter at Gooseberry means wide open groomed trails mostly to yourself. You can walk a reasonable distance without seeing another visitor once away from the main falls. Although most of the winter visitors are at the main falls area, there are fewer of them. Some trails are designated for skiing, snowmobiling, and skate skiing. This does not mean they forgot about those who just want to take a stroll in their boots.

There is a short trail that leads from the visitor center to the falls, this is paved and cleared. The ungroomed trails can be used with snowshoes or boots. Really we are just asked to respect the groomed trails for skiers, which is understandable. I explain further on the designated snowshoe/boot trails below. On our last winter trip to Gooseberry we brought our snowshoes along, but ended up leaving them in the car. The temperature was dropping and our daughter was already rather tired. We did manage to explore the main falls area and hike down to the shore of Lake Superior before the cold did her in for the day.

Amazing Views

Seeing the usually raging waterfalls now encrusted in crystalized ice and snow is enough to make my heart skip a beat. The winter struggle of nature is something that can stir instincts inside oneself and make you think and dig deeper. Don’t rush through this park, even in the cooler temperatures. It has so much to offer if you stop, look, and listen. When you’re about to reach the peak of a hill or are coming around a bend on a trail, approach slowly and pay attention, you don’t want to miss anything.

Photography

For wildlife photographers, this place is a real treat! Photography is not one of my talents, but man the number of opportunities available at this park are unlimited! Frozen shorelines, ice crusted falls, trickling streams emerging from their icy confinement, silent wildlife peering through the trees. So. Many. Shots.

The real beauty of Gooseberry in the winter for a photographer is the lack of crowds. Getting here early in the summer means fewer people, getting here early in the winter means no people. Snapping a shot of these falls without people cluttering up your photo can take a lot of patience and work during the summer months. It’s a whole lot easier in winter’s bitter chill and so worth it for those priceless frozen photos.

Visitor Center

After your chilly excursion, warm up by the fireplace in the spacious Gooseberry Visitor Center. There are restrooms, places to rest, snacks and items to purchase in the gift shop. These things may have changed since COVID. When we stopped last summer, the visitors center was open only for restroom use. Hopefully, the situation has relaxed a bit for snacks and souvenirs to become available again. Fingers crossed!

Dog Friendly Activity

Dogs may not be allowed in the Visitor Center but they are welcome in the park on leash. Xena loved being there with us. We do our best to take her along on the adventures when we can. I’m sure your pooch gets just as excited when they realize that they are going, too! We have a red backpack that I call the “Adventure Bag.” Anytime I grab that bag, Xena knows there is an adventure afoot.

**Tip** Please remember to clean up after your pets and keep them on leash so we can all continue to enjoy bringing our furry friends along for the journey.

Variety of Activities

While I really enjoy snowshoeing and skiing, during our trips to Gooseberry we have only boot hiked. Why have I not experience every activity availible at this park? I don’t know, I feel like I’m really missing out! Pick your favorite adventure, grab your gear and get going!

Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing at Gooseberry is welcome on ungroomed trails and off trail. The Fifth Falls Trail, the Gitchi Gummi Trail, and the trail to the shore of Lake Superior are all available for snowshoe enthusiasts; these are ungroomed trails. If you did not bring snowshoes, you can boot hike these trails as well.

**Tip** If you are exploring the area around the upper, middle, and lower falls, I recommend that you take your snowshoes off. There are areas of ice, pavement and stairs. The teeth of your snowshoes will surely be bent in your attempt to snowshoe on these areas.

Skiing: Cross country skiing trails are groomed and consist of 12 miles ranging between easy and moderate. There is also about a mile of skate-ski trail.

Snowmobiling: With the 20 miles of trails at Gooseberry, just 2 of them are available for snowmobiling. This trail connects to the North Shore State Trail. But if you are snowmobiling in, it’s worth the stop and walk to the falls. The winter falls is such an amazing sight to take in.

Fat Tire Bikes: These are not allowed on Gooseberry trails. It is, however, allowed at Split Rock just up the road. If you are into this sport, it might be worth the extra few minutes drive to Split Rock.

Trail Maps: There is a very clear map indicating where certain activities are allowed. You can pick them up at the visitors center or you can print one ahead of time from the DNR website. I like to have a game plan prior to arriving, it saves time and energy when you arrive at the park for your adventures. And having little ones along mean you have only a certain amount of time before they are done. For more on adventure with little ones read my 8 Tips for Day Hike Success with Little Adventurers post.

Other Parks

We have about a three and a half hour drive for us to get to Gooseberry from our central Minnesota home. With such a drive to one of our favorite destinations, we like to make it worth the trip. One of the great perks about Gooseberry is that there are so many other parks in the area. This is especially nice if you enjoy winter sports that are not allowed or are limited in Gooseberry, such as fat tire biking and snowmobiling. Some close parks include:

  • Split Rock Lighthouse
  • Tettegouche
  • Temperance River
  • George Crosby Manitou

Lodging

Camping: Camping is available year round at Gooseberry but there are fewer options during the winter months. Only 3 sites remain open for the winter that are walk/ski in. The campground roads are not plowed. The showers and some flushable toilets close for the season. There are still vault toilets available in multiple locations.

Alternative Lodging: If winter camping does not interest you, there are plenty of cabins, hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts in the Two Harbors area. When we make a winter trip to the North Shore, our go-to place to stay is the Inn on Gitchi Gummi. It’s right on the Scenic Route 61, north of Duluth. You’ll still have a 30 minute trek in the morning to get to Gooseberry but it’s worth that little bit for the fantastic service and hearty homemade breakfast.

Why Plan Your Summer BWCA Trip in January?

Snow is falling and lakes are freezing; there are so many winter activities to cram in after the holiday season! So why would you want to start thinking about your trip that’s a good 5 to 9 months away? There is plenty of time to get that set up… Right? Nope! In recent years the Boundary Waters has seen an increase in visitors. It’s bitter sweet really. I am so glad that folks are discovering this amazing wilderness. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to plan a trip with much flexibility. Learn from my mistakes and plan that trip now!

My Mistakes

So, my mistake brings us all the way back to last March… well, more like last January. Scott and I went on a trip to Vegas to celebrate our 10th anniversary, we agreed to start planning our BWCA trip when we returned. This Vegas trip already set us back in the planning process, I don’t know why I felt it necessary to wait on planning. That was silly. Scott and I decided to ask my folks to accompany our family of 4 on our summer BWCA trip. After all, they are the reason I love the BWCA so much, it only seemed fitting to invite them along to enjoy it with their grandchildren.

Growing up my dad has always been the “group leader.” I have taken on this role for my family of four now. I had no problem planning out the trips for my family or our couples trips. However, when it came time to plan the route for a trip with my dad, the pressure was suddenly on. I don’t know what happened! Decision making suddenly seemed impossible. I was on the phone with him constantly to discuss possibilities. By the time I had narrowed it down, it was March! Many of the entry points were booked up for the dates that we had available. Uh-oh.

Registration time

Registration for the summer season opens on the last Wednesday of January at 9:00am. This is for reservations between May 1st and September 30th. My goal this year is to have our lakes and routes for all of our trips ready to reserve on that Wednesday in January, not March. After the excitement of the holidays is over, it’s time to get cracking on those plans. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov. Get on it!

Permits are required to enter the Boundary Waters all year round. Between May 1st and September 30th, you can obtain a permit from an issuing station as a walk-in. The odds of that happening are pretty slim these days. It’s in your best interest to make a reservation ahead of time. Between October 1st and April 30th, a self-issued permit can be obtained at the entry point itself. There are little kiosks at the entry points, no fees or reservations during this time.

Alternate Plans

Back up plans are essential when coordinating a BWCA trip. Each time I delve into the world of wilderness planning, I am in awe at the expanse of possibilities out there. A backup plan can either be different entry dates or different locations. You really need to find which aspect you can compromise on.

Flexible Dates: It is understandable that flexibility in dates isn’t always realistic. Work, kid activities and family functions are sometimes set in stone. But flexibility when planning a wilderness trip can really make those plans fall into place. Some entry points only allow an entry every other day, such as entry point #9 Little Indian Sioux River South. If you are unable to make it on the day allowing entry, you’ll need to look elsewhere. We are not always flexible on dates, that’s for sure. But that means you’ll need to be flexible in other ways.

We had our weekend dates set, the days were not movable. Scott had to get them approved for work and during the busy season time off was limited. Thankfully my folks are quite flexible with enough notice. This really caused problems for us with entry dates, I waited too long to reserve our preferred entry location. Larch Creek was already taken and we couldn’t move our dates to an available time slot! So that brings us to the next element of back up plans.

Back-up Entry Points: Whether you have flexible dates or not you’ll want to have back-up entry points at the ready when making your reservations. Try to have 3 solid plans that start at 3 different entry points, check them in order of preference. You might just get lucky and reserve the location you’re after.

Again, this is something that we ran into problems with while planning our trips for last summer. I waited too long and missed out on the lake we wanted, oops. Really my daughter, Sandy, and I wanted to go to a new lake anyway as we had been on Larch before, so this worked in our favor. Thankfully we had a back-up plan. Unfortunately, our back-up plan was reserved, and our other back-up plan, and our other back-up plan… you can see where I am going with this.

Different Angle: If you are dead set on a certain destination or goal but you find that the entry point that you were wishing to use is taken for your available dates, look at it from a different angle. What I mean is; there are so many different routes in the BWCA you can likely find a way to get there from a alternate entry point. You may have to travel a little farther or conquer more strenuous obstacles, but you may just find a way to get there. Example: Lets say you were wishing to camp on Swan Lake by way of entry point #43 Bower Trout, but there is only 1 permit issued per day and it’s taken. An alternate plan could be to look at entry point #41 Brule Lake where there are 7 permits issued daily. This gives more opportunity to snag a reservation and still get to Swan with a different route through Vernon Lake.

Alternate Permit Holder: When you are applying for your reservation, be sure to have an alternate permit holder/group leader on your reservation. This is a safety net to ensure that your trip goes on even if you yourself do not go on the trip. Life happens, things come up. But if you have an alternate listed on your permit, the rest of your party can still go on an adventure so long as the alternate is accompanying them. The alternate must be assigned at the time the reservation is made, you cannot add them after it has been secured.

Loop Hole? This might sound silly to say, but you know someone has done it or there wouldn’t be a rule regarding this issue; a person cannot reserve multiple entry points per day, one permit per day per permit holder. Super clear. The National Forest Service can cancel overlapping permits as well. Those canceled reservations will be made available for others to reserve. I’m glad that they have the ability to do so, it will keep reservation hogs to a minimum. Please don’t try to reserve multiple locations or dates in an attempt to save you own behind on planning. It can really foil another campers plans if you’ve tried to reserve multiple dates/entry points. The rule applies to alternate permit holder as well. So making multiple reservations under different names doesn’t work either. This is not a “loop hole,” please don’t attempt this.

When All Else Fails

After you have exhausted all of your potential plans go to the recreation.gov site and make a list of all available entry points for the dates you’re hoping for. Once you’ve completed your list, you can start checking out these entry points on BWCA.com. This is my favorite site to get information for upcoming trips and new areas. I use it every time I start planning.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to your best options, again, get your spot reserved as soon as possible. We did the same process and had one entry point picked out, it was available one day and gone the next. Don’t stall!

Things to remember

  • Reservations open the last Wednesday in January
  • Flexible dates are helpful
  • Have 3 plans with 3 separate entry points
  • Have an alternate permit holder at the time of reservation
  • One permit per day per permit holder

I have learned my lesson on procrastinating and being ill-prepared when attempting to make a BWCA reservation. The trip we wound up going on was a success and we got to explore somewhere new. We reserved entry point #36 Hog Creek and had a wonderful little adventure on Perent Lake. You can check out that adventure here.

If you love the wilderness, no matter where you choose/settle on going to in the BWCA, you’re going to love it. Even if you find your planning process to be a pain, it’ll be all the sweeter when you get there.

Know your plan, your back-up plan, and your back-up back-up plan. Happy adventuring!

Bower Trout to Swan Lake: A weekend In-and-Out

The importance of “getting away from it all” as a couple is immense. It’s a really difficult thing to do in the go-go-go world we live in. Scott and I have been together for 13 years. Our first trip together to the Boundary Waters was when we were 16 years old, just babies! We’ve gone up multiple times with my family, we’ve gone up with our kids, but we had never had a trip to my favorite place just the two of us. It was long overdue!

Ranger Station

The Ranger Station for Entry Point 43, Bower Trout Lake, is the Gunflint District Ranger Station. You really can’t miss it as your enter Grand Marais on Hwy 61. It’s just off to the right before the mini golf place.

Our quiz was taken outside alongside another couple. The building was closed at the time of our trip due to covid-19. We had watched the short film before our previous trip this summer, this allowed us to bypass that tidbit. You are only required to watch it once a season. If you’ve watched the video in the past, you’ll find it has been updated. I actually missed the tradition of watching the old video on the tiny tv screen in the ranger station.

Gunflint Ranger Station Info:
Address:2020 W. Hwy 61
Grand Marais, MN 55604
Hours:May 1st- Sept. 30th: Sun-Sat 8am-4:30pm
Oct. 1st-April 30th: Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm
Phone:218-387-1750

Entry Point Details

Entry Point #43
Permits Issued Daily 1
Permit TypeOvernight Paddle
Ranger StationGunflint District

Getting to the Entry Point

Our route got a little goofy at the beginning of our drive due to some construction. We had to bypass that and go a little bit passed our turn, but it was easy enough to circle back around. The road conditions passed the Gunflint Trail were actually quite good, I was impressed. I recall the sketchiness from when I was a kid. Do not rely on your phone GPS, you will loose signal somewhere along the Gunflint Trail, have a map with you and know your route before you go. I actually like to have printed out instructions along as well.

As you exit the Gunflint Ranger Station parking lot, head east on Route 61. Just a mile down the road, turn left onto 5th Ave W. The Gunflint Trail will be .7 miles down the road, turn left here. Stay on the Gunflint Trail for 16 miles. Next you’ll take a left onto South Brule Rd (325), follow this until you reach a T in the road. Go Left onto 152, the entry point will be half a mile after the turn. The sign is quite small, so go slow or you might miss it.

Parking

For only issuing one permit daily, this entry point has a generous parking area. We were able to back into a space with relative ease. There is no bathroom area (there usually aren’t). Folks can obtain a day use permit, there may be vehicles parked in the area for single day use.

Route

Scott and I chose to go farther in for this trip and take on more portages. We felt free to do so since it was just the two of us and no small children. We took advantage of our lightweight situation and went on an adventure!

Our route would take us from Bower Trout Lake into Marshall Lake, through Dugout and Skidway, up the South Brule River, and finally into Swan Lake. A total of 6 portages, 5 Lakes, and a river. Though there are longer and more treacherous routes, this was the first trip we had been able to take in a long time that was more than one lake in. I was excited!

Portage #1: The Launch

Do not be deceived! There is no view of the lake from the parking area, but you will get there. It’s a 72 rod portage to Bower Trout Lake, but it’s a beautiful portage at that. Depending on what time of year you go, we went in early August, there are groves of wild flowers. Raised planks have been installed on the trail to walk across as it is a more swampy area. The water was so low at the time of our travels that we did not have to worry about getting our feet wet right away.

Portage Tip: We spoke to some rangers on one of our excursions about footwear. This gal and her partner wore boots treated with mink oil, this made them waterproof. We usually wear our athletic water shoes, closed toe only. They look more like mesh tennis shoes. And we pack our dry shoes in our pack. This way you will have dry footwear when you reach your destination and don’t need to worry about trying to keep your feet dry.

Bower Trout Lake

This first sight of the BWCA is breathtaking. Soak it in before loading up the canoe, you’ve earned a moment to take in the scenery after that first portage. Seeing the high hills on the south side of the lake on that cool morning was a reminder of why this wilderness is my favorite place.

Bower Trout Lake has two campsites. If you are planning on staying on this lake there is a good chance that you will obtain a site quickly. This is a rather small lake that offers Walleye, Northern Pike, and Smallmouth Bass. We did not see any campers on this particular lake and kept that knowledge in our back pocket in case of there being no availability on Swan or Marshall.

We shared the lake with a pair of swans as we paddled our way across. They were neat to see and kept their distance. We joked that they were on the wrong lake.

Portage #2

The second portage on this journey is on the opposite end of Bower Trout Lake. It’s really a quick paddle away as Bower Trout is a small lake. There is a small inlet under some bushes from the South Brule River. The portage is farther than this point, though it is worth a quick look. The Portage will be very obvious, there is actually a dock. Not the usual primitive experience but when the water is high, I’ll bet that is appreciated. There are also planks to walk across, to get to more solid ground. This portage is 91 rods with some steeper areas, long but not too rough.

Marshall Lake

Marshall Lake is even smaller than Bower Trout, it is a very short paddle across to the next portage. Not much of a break from carrying gear. There is only one campsite available on Marshall Lake. In our case, it was taken, not that we planned to stay there but that eliminated the easiest backup plan. This lake offers Walleye, Northern Pike, and Smallmouth Bass.

Portage # 3

The portage from Marshall to Dugout was not as obvious as the previous portage with the lack of a dock, but it felt more natural. This particular portage was short and sweet at 28 rods. Really this portage brings you into the South Brule River that leads into Dugout Lake.

Dugout Lake

This was a very cool area to paddle through… or should I saw walk? We reached a point of shallow rocks and small rapids that required us to exit the canoe and guide it upstream. This was almost the most thrilling part of our journey to Swan Lake.

On our way out we watched a pair of paddlers try to maneuver their way without getting out, it was a mess to watch. Just get out, it’s easier, less noisy, and causes less damage to your canoe.

Skidway Lake

Surprisingly there is no portage between Dugout and Skidway. There is, however, a narrowing of the river. Which brings us to the most thrilling part of our route; a small sand bar island in the middle of the stream. Here we found fresh moose tracks and clams that had been cracked and eaten. Obviously, this was a high trafficked area for multiple creatures. There are also multiple beaver lodges to check out. Stay alert, you don’t want to miss the chance to witness something amazing.

There was a spot along this stretch that at least one paddler needed to exit the canoe and guide it through more rough area. No matter, dive in!

Portage #4 & #5

The next two portages 35 and 40 rods. There are some steep areas, but this short distance makes it a breeze compared to the 91 rod portage near the beginning of the journey. There is quite a bit of muck at these next couple of portages. Thankfully, there is a fallen tree near one portage that can be used to avoid some of that mess at one spot.

Keep an eye out for animal sign. We found what we believed to be bear scat. Exciting! If you look through the trees, you’ll be able to see the rapids of the slim river.

South Brule River

There is a small and oddly rectangular section of river that is paddled up the South Brule River. This leads you to the last portage to Swan Lake, yay! The bugs are little more viscous in this area due to more stagnant water. But overall they weren’t bad, thank you dry season.

Portage #6

This last portage brings you up the Swan Lake. The area at the end of the entry has a flat space to organize your gear before loading the canoe. It’s also a good opportunity to check out the map and decide where to search for a site first.

Entering Swan Lake

Immediately to your left as you exit the portage is a group of fallen trees over the river exiting Swan Lake. It’s a very unique scene. More than just a view, the sounds and smells of the crisp water flowing is peaceful. Take a moment to enjoy it and breath it in. Paddling right up to the fallen trees, you’ll see numerous fish swimming in the shelters created by the debris.

Campsites

Swan lake has 3 opportunities for campsites. We took the eastern most site. This site had something that we had yet to see in the BWCA; stairs. That’s right, there was a set of steps leading up to the campsite on a rock. What!? It was definitely a first. I thought it would take away from the wilderness experience, but after setting up camp, they grew on me. It was like sitting on our front step at our backcountry home while drinking tea at the end of the day.

The sites on this lake seemed quite large. There were two areas for tents at our campsite. Our dinky two person tent was dwarfed by the open space. The latrine was quite luxurious as well, it even came with a lid!

Fishing

We had rotten luck again, we entered on a cold front. This made for some rough fishing on our first fishing excursion, Scott caught one northern and I caught one smallmouth bass on our first night. It was great to be out in the canoe with no place to be. We were satisfied with our catch, we weren’t fishing for dinner anyway.

Day 2 of fishing wasn’t any better. We fought the wind for some time until we finally gave up and trolled while the wind pushed us down the shoreline. Eventually we found a little bay on the northwestern side of the lake, that was a small haven away from the wind. We caught one northern for the day. Dinner.

The loons on this lake were rather chatty, we loved listening to their eerie call in the evenings. We also happened upon a family of loons in the bay where we took shelter from the wind. They were quite entertaining to watch as the mother taught her young to fish.

Relax

Fishing, canoeing, exploring, daytrips, swimming, hiking, adventuring; all great fun! I’m up for any and all of it. But when you finally get a break in the action, and no kids tagging along, it’s like striking gold when you can sit down and read your favorite book.

I read the WHOLE book, cover to cover, in one B.W.C.A. weekend. Call of the Wild by Jack London is my favorite book, and I got to read the whole thing in my favorite place. Bring a hammock folks, you can do it too!

If reading is not your thing, find some other way to relax while you’re up there. Some say fishing is just as relaxing. If that’s you, go for it. Scott chilled in the hammock while I read. The point is, find some time to breath and embrace the time that you have there. You’ll want to go back home feeling refreshed, not like you need a vacation from your vacation.

Solitude

Swan lake is farther in than we’ve traveled for quite a while. This offered us a more secluded oasis. We shared the lake with a family for one night and after that we had the lake to ourselves. That time alone was so needed, I really do prefer my solitude. The farther in you go, the fewer people you will see. In some areas it’s quite noticeable, especially when you start to see more wildlife and the squirrels aren’t as friendly.

Time Together

Like I said at the beginning of this post, it was the first time that Scott and myself went on a camping trip just the two of us. I have to admit, it felt a little weird sometimes. We weren’t chasing any toddlers or rushing anyone to activities. So we could actually talk to each other. Or NOT talk to one another and just be in each other’s company without words, silence is a treasure when you have kids.

What separates a couples trip in the Boundary Waters from any other couple’s trip is that you are not distracted by things going on around you. There isn’t some show that you need to make it to by x-o’clock, you aren’t meeting anyone at a certain time, there is no itinerary. It’s just you and you’re favorite person in the most serene place on earth.

All in all, Swan Lake was absolutely worth the trek in. It offered solitude, beautiful scenes, a great campsite, wildlife encounters and time together. I sure missed my kids, but having that time together alone in the woods was much needed! If you have the chance to make it out there with your significant other, do it! You’ll never forget the experience.

8 Tips for Day Hike Success with Little Adventurers

It’s adventure time! Grab your kids, make a plan and go! One of my favorite things to do is hike with my kids. I didn’t start hiking frequently with my daughter until she was a bit older, about 3 years old. That wait was unnecessary, my son was about a month old on his first hike. I knew better by then. Being ready and knowing what to expect will definitely assist in your adventures.

1. Plan Ahead

Spontaneity is great! But flying by the seat of your pants becomes less practical with a little one on your hip. Planning your hike ahead of time is a great way to save some frustration on the trail. Study that map, know your route and find any shortcuts that can bring you back to the vehicle if you need a quicker exit.

Make sure that you have all of the supplies that you’ll need and some extras left in the car for your return. Hiking with the little ones is great, as long as you’re prepared.

2. Short & Sweet

I know this has been mentioned in previous posts, but short and sweet is the way to go. If you’re planning on spending the whole day at a state park, have at it, but make sure that hike isn’t a solid 5 hour chunk. Break it up, do smaller hikes or break your big one into pieces so your little ones can enjoy themselves too. It might be a good idea to have a few spots picked out that might be of interest for your little guy/gal. For example; a beach or nature center. Really a good place to stretch their legs and get hands on is good. Our favorites are a rivers edge or rocky beach, Killian loves to toss rocks in the water.

3. Hit the Highlights First

Best for last, right? Maybe not, it would be a real bummer to miss out on a great bit of adventure because you were trying to hold out for a big finale. Sometimes when those little adventurers are done, they are DONE! It’s not a huge deal to leave before you planned if you’ve already completed the best part of your day. Hit those highlights early, it’s way less disappointing to leave early if the highlight is out of the way. Or you’ll end up pushing farther and get a really bad experience, unable to enjoy your destination once you’ve reached it.

Bonus: Getting hot spots out of the way early will also help you beat any crowds at a well known attraction.

4. Smell the Roses

Or pine trees, or cacti, whatever. Smell something along the way. The point is: you are not in a race. If your little adventurer wants to walk, let them walk, if they want to be carried, carry them. The goal of bringing them out there is so they can learn to appreciate nature, right? So let them appreciate it.

I know acting interested in the 187th rock they’ve shown you can get old, but remember that they haven’t seen as many rocks as you. That rock is fascinating! And your interest might mean the world to them. If there is something interesting, like a giant hole, stop to check it out!

5. Carriers

I didn’t realize how convenient a child carrier could be until we had one ourselves. We didn’t have a child carrier or an all-terrain stroller with our first child. After our son was born, we found an infant carrier at a garage sale and later invested in a backpack toddler carrier. It was one of the greatest purchases we made regarding adventure gear. We have really gotten our use out of it; local hikes, walks around town, up a mountain in Colorado, and numerous state parks here in Minnesota.

As far as styles and brands go. I believe it’s all personal preference. You can go super light weight and just carry your munchkin or you can find one with a cargo bag underneath. I opted to go for a pack with space for gear and water bottles. It actually has an insulated compartment for breast milk. I don’t breast feed, but if I did that would be super convenient to have.

**Tip: Get your toddler used to the backpack carrier prior to longer hikes. Do a couple 1 to 2 mile treks before going for the long haul. Starting out with a five mile hike can really deter them from wanting to ride again. You’ll want your little one so comfortable in their carrier that they can sleep in it.

6. Snacks & Water

Snacks, snacks, and more snacks! And some water. No, lots of water. This is key! It’s always a good idea to pack more snacks than you think you’ll need. Here are some things to keep in mind when packing snacks:

  • Easy- You don’t want your snacks to require any prep while on the trail.
  • Nonperishable- Unless you plan on lugging a cooler around, keep it to snacks that require no refrigeration.
  • Single servings- Individually packed snacks are really convenient and makes it easier to ration and bring a variety.
  • Enjoyable- I will not bring a snack that my child has not shown interest in prior to our excursion. On the trail is not the place to test out a new snack and find that they don’t like it.
  • Enough- When packing up your snacks, bring extra! Your little adventurer is going to be burning more calories than normal, they’re going to get hungry.
  • Secret Stash- Keep a really high quality reward stashed away for a toddler emergency.

Distribute snacks throughout your hike, remember to ration without being stingy, that’s why we pack extra. I try to get at least a couple miles in before bringing out the snacks, that way my little man isn’t trying to eat the WHOLE time. You can also use snacks as rewards for making it to certain marker, i.e. the next bench, that big rock up ahead. Food is a great motivator and older toddlers like to feel like they’ve “earned” something.

Remember that secret stash? Best time that I’ve found to bring that out is when you are either needing them to get into or out of a child carrier. Our little guy, Killian, loves to do the hiking. I love that he loves it, but sometimes toddler legs are so slow that we are going to lose daylight. I will ask if he’d like an apple sauce and tell him that he needs to get in the carrier to eat it. This way, I can cover some ground while he snacks.

Your little adventurer might be the opposite, maybe they only get snacks when they’re out of the carrier to get them to burn some energy. Every little hiker is different, experiment and find what works best for you.

I know we all get excited about our snacks, but don’t forget about water. I like to bring a water bottle per person, we each have our own size. It’s also a good idea to leave some in the car for when you return. If you’re going on a long hike, bring extra and leave even more in your vehicle.

Supplies

Now that we’ve covered snacks, let talk supplies. I like to pack light. Kids make that a little harder, but we’ve managed. There are some things that you need and some that are unnecessary but optional. Let’s start with the things you need first

Needed Supplies:

  • Diapers– Like we covered above, your little one will be consuming more than normal, pack extra diapers. I like to figure out how many diapers Killian goes through in the amount of time I expect to do our hike, and add 2.
  • Wipes– A small travel pack of wipes will do the trick.
  • First Aid Kit– I always bring a small first aid kit, just your basic stuff and a flashlight.
  • Dog Waste Bags– This sounds silly, but it’s a great idea for when you change diapers. I don’t like dirty diapers floating around in my pack. Put it in a dog poop bag and tie it to the back of the pack until you find a trash bin.

Optional Supplies

  • Changing Pad– Our backpack carrier came with a changing pad, I have yet to use it. It takes up valuable space and is more of a luxury than a necessity. If your little one is sensitive to being placed in the grass to be changes, bring it along.
  • Pacifier– Not all munchkins us a pacifier. We don’t typically bring one, we did however use one when hiking out of state. Killian was off his normal sleep schedule and a real crab, the pacifier helped to sooth him on our longer hikes. You might want to keep one stashed away if you’re going to be in a similar situation.
  • Toys– We do not bring toys on the trail. Killian has a special puppy at home that stays home, it’s not worth the risk of losing it. Another reason for leaving toys at home is so that your littles are checking out their surroundings instead of what they’ve brought with them. ** My exception to this is a pair of binoculars. Our 10 year old brings hers, and it’s so gosh darn cute when Killian uses his.

Unload Trash

Kids are messy. That’s a fact. Keeping tidy can relieve some stress along the way. While on the trail, if you happen upon a trash bin or visitor center, take advantage of it. I like to empty out any pockets or pouches. It’s the perfect opportunity to unload trash, dispose of a diaper, or change your little one even if they aren’t fully in need of one. Staying fresh helps to keep that mood high.

Preparing for your outing will change your experience. And it gets easier with every hike, you’ll learn what your little adventurer needs and what can be left at home. Once you’ve gone on a few hikes and gotten into the habit of packing what you need, it’s whole lot simpler. Not every hike will be perfect, but as parents, we aren’t shooting for perfection. We’re shooting for memories made and experiences shared.

Hog Creek to Perent Lake: A Destination Lake

Winding waterways, beaver dams, tight turns, and a chance to see a moose. This is just a small portion of what Hog Creek has to offer. Some use Hog Creek as an entry or exit for a route through the BWCA, we used it as a way to get to our destination of Perent Lake.

Water, water, water…” This is what we heard for a good 15 minutes as we paddled our way through Hog Creek. Our little man was on his second trip to the BWCA. Our first trip catered to being as simple as possible, now we were tackling something a little more complicated. Hog Creek did not disappoint.

Ranger Station

For Entry Point 36, use the Tofte Ranger Station. It is located on Route 61 in Tofte, on your left hand side as you travel north. It’s a small building with, at the moment, only the entryway open. Hopefully the full building will be open soon. There are a number of neat souvenirs, books, and animal displays to see inside.

You’ll watch the video and take your short questionnaire prior to receiving your permit. Keep this permit on you as you travel through the BWCA. It’s a pretty quick process, maybe 10-15 minutes.

Tofte Ranger Station Info:
Address: 7355 MN-61 Tofte, MN 55615
Hours:8:00am-4:30pm
May 1st- Sept. 30: 7 days a week
Oct 1st- April 30th: Closed Weekends & Holidays
Phone: 218-663-8060

Entry Point Details

Entry Point #36
Permits Issued Daily5
Permit TypeOvernight Paddle
Ranger Station Tofte district

Getting to the Entry Point

From the Tofte Ranger Station, you’ll head northwest on Hwy 61 for 1 mile, take a left onto the Sawbill Trail (Cty Rd 2). Follow Cty Rd 2 for 17 miles. You’ll take a slight left onto Perent Lake road (Cty Rd 3). If you miss this slight left, you’ll have the opportunity to turn left shortly after this, it’s a bizarre set up. After 10 miles (turns into Hwy 7 after 8 miles), you’ll take a right onto Kawishiwi Lake Rd (Forest Rte 354). The Hog Creek parking area will be on the Left after about 2 miles. There are signs all along the way, just follow the ones for Hog Creek.

You’ll have paved roads for quite a ways before you reach the dirt roads. They were in good condition when we visited in June of 2021, but we’ve experienced some pretty nasty road conditions after heavy rainfalls. Be prepared for some holes and drive slow. One of the neat things about the drive to this entry point is that you will pass over Hog Creek before you reach your destination. It looks very narrow, but the section to be paddled is wider than the parts upstream.

Food Note: Coho Bakery and Café is just past the turn to Sawbill in Tofte, right on Hwy 61. It’s a great stop for breakfast and a coffee before you venture into the wilderness. They had lingonberry french toast, it was amazing!!

Parking

The parking area will be on your left. The grassy parking area is quite small for how many permits are issued per day. Our strategy was to unload the vehicle at the portage trail head and then repark the truck. This worked well, we had to park along the road. Getting there early is a good idea. There were a couple of trucks parked next to their trailers in the parking area, there were several others parked along the road and entry to the lot.

Portages

There are two portages on the way to Perent Lake. The first being a short portage from the Parking area to the Hog Creek and the second going around some rapids along the creek.

First Portage: This first portage is very short. It’s only 15 rods from the parking area to the creeks edge. It’s a downhill slope with logs placed to make an elongated set of stairs along with some stones acting as steps as well. At the bottom is a little bank that is perfect for placing a canoe and getting organized. Be careful, the stone “steps” can be quite slippery. It was raining on us on our way in and out.

Second Portage: It is a short distance downstream to the next portage. This is also a 15 rod portage. There is no good landing point at this portage. Given that it’s purpose is to go around the little rapids, you can expect rocks and some rough terrain. There are two paths to take on this portage, both are very rocky. I recommend taking a load of gear before tackling it while carrying your canoe. Be sure to stop and admire the rapids, it’s nothing huge, but is quite beautiful.

This was the most congested portage that I have ever encountered in my time in the BWCA. There were 4 different groups attempting to use this portage. Two beginning their adventure and two ending it. There was one group leaving with 10 people(max is 9) and 4 dogs. I couldn’t believe it! The group entering the BWCA alongside us, was a pair of Rangers. They were checking permits and managed the congestion situation.

Hog Creek

Hog creek is a winding and somewhat narrow creek that is 15 miles long. The distance from the Entry Point to mouth of Perent Lake is only 3 miles. You can breath a sigh of relief here. About a mile down the creek you will encounter a beaver dam. You will need to get out and guide your canoe down, it’s steep. Be wary of the depth on either side. It seems like it’s shallow right next to the dam, but then drops off dramatically.

Going downstream is quite simple, follow the current and it will lead you to Perent lake. There is one point that we double checked the map for, Walter Creek. Stay west when you approach this portion of the creek. One thing that helped reassure us that we were on the right track was to follow the trail of maintenance. There are several trees that have fallen over the creek. The forest service has sawed them off to allow explorers of the wilderness to venture on.

Keep an eye out for wildlife, this is a quiet creek and you may just spy a critter going about their day. One of the groups that we passed mentioned they spotted a moose along the creek on their way out. We saw beaver tracks along the edge of the creek but weren’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these aquatic marvels.

Most of the creek is just wide enough to fit one canoe’s width, maybe two canoes in some places. There are so many sharp turns, using a rudder style of steering worked best to maneuver these tight spaces. Rivers and creeks are my favorite places to paddle, there is so much more to see and never a dull moment.

Finding a Campsite

The odds of landing a campsite on Perent Lake seem high with the number of campsites being 19. But if you check out your map, the next closest possibility being 7 to 8 portages away on Pompous, Boga, or Isabella Lake. Fortunately, Hog Creek is not one of the most popular entry points. And like all BWCA lakes, it’s first come, first serve. No campsite reservations.

There are a variety of different campsites to choose from, given that they are available. Our preferred campsite is on an island, having an island to yourself is an amazingly relaxing experience. Throw a hammock up; paradise.

Perent Lake Campsite Types
Island6
Point5
Bay2
Creek Entry/Exit3
Simple Shoreline3

We ended up at the island on the north side of the lake. At first we weren’t sure if it was a campsite because the camp area is up in the middle of the narrow island. There are two clearings available for tent set up with the fire grate in a larger clearing in the middle. The latrine is not as far as usual from camp, I found that convenient. The view from the westside of the island were amazing and it offered great opportunity for the kids to climb and explore among the rock and driftwood riddle shoreline. This island site has become one of my favorite campsites to date.

Fishing

An exiting group mentioned some killer walleye fishing. Unfortunately, we entered on a cold front and were not able to experience this fishing frenzy. But even in poor conditions, we did not go back to camp empty handed. We ate well on our fish dinner night and had fun catching and releasing as well.

I only caught one fish, but I was only out for about half an hour to fish. We had little ones along on this trip, I spent most of my time exploring with them. My dad, Drew, and husband, Scott, had a good time out on the water. There are fishing spots marked on bwca.com, this is a very useful website that I like to utilize when planning my excursions.

Side note: Remember to take photos of your catch before you start to fillet your dinner. You’ll end up with some goofy pictures like we did.

Wildlife

The Boundary Waters has a plethora of critters to encounter. My favorites that I see nearly every venture out are the common loon, eagle, and the squirrels. The eagle made himself known just after we entered Perent Lake. We were almost near the end of our trip before we heard the loon call. I was beginning to think that we were going to have a BWCA experience without one! There are squirrels all over the place. They are the most curious creatures! I love when they come into camp and check things out. Don’t feed them, they need to rely on themselves. They do go right for the food pack though, so keep that closed.

I’m not going to say that turtles are the stealthiest animal out there, but Scott if didn’t have such amazing eyesight, our one-year-old son, Killian, wouldn’t have all of his fingers right now. Killian was dipping his chubby little fingers in at the waters edge when Scott spotted a huge snapping turtle coming right up for those fingers. It didn’t stop after Scott snatched Killian out of the way, it was mere inches away. Had anyone else been with him instead of Scott, this story would have a different end. My husband has the best eyesight out of all of us, by a lot. That snapping turtle hung around for quite some time. The freaky thing is; we had just been swimming in that area a couple hours earlier.

Moose are by far the coolest animal to encounter up there. We did not happen upon any moose while on Perent Lake or along Hog Creek. Another group that I mentioned earlier did encounter one on their way out along Hog Creek. And we were lucky enough to witness a moose eating in the same location that we spotted one on our last trip. It is along the Sawbill Trail on the east side of the road, just south of the last pass over Plouff Creek. There is a small marshy pond that the moose were standing in both years. Killian was pretty jazzed, moose were his favorite animal at that time.

Relax

There is no greater peace than sitting at the edge of the water, listening to the gentle lap of the waves. With a loons call in the distance, the a breeze bringing in the fresh scent of pine, you can truly breath. Find time while you are out in this great wilderness to slow down and reset. An excursion in this environment can bring grand adventure and refreshing peace all in one. Savor it.

Being that creeks and rivers are my favorite waters to paddle in, I would most certainly make this trip again. Perent Lake is a great destination lake that has potential for tremendous walleye fishing. Our timing wasn’t ideal, weather wise. Had we been able to spend more time on this lake, I believe the fishing spots would have come to light. If you’re planning a trip in the BWCA for a destination lake with walleye, this one should be in the running. Though it is a more populated lake with a higher number of campsites, we had very little interaction with fellow campers. Happy Camping!!

Sibley State Park: More than Expected

This park is located out just outside of New London Minnesota. It’s not a highly trafficked park. We hiked on a Wednesday and were at the park for about 2 hours before seeing anyone else on the trail. A great place to hike if you are gearing up/training for a longer more rigorous hike, which is exactly what I’m doing with my 9 year old daughter. I highly recommend the Mount Tom Trail, it has a lot more than I expected from this trail.

Quick Review: 7/10 Great scenery and overlooks, trails are maintained fairly well, one larger closure on the main trail, detour was not very scenic. The Mount Tom Trail is considered moderate and for good reason.

Mount Tom Trail

We took the Mount Tom Trail. Our trek started at the trail center(which was closed for construction). This trail is about 4 miles of hills, overlooks, grasslands, and a lakeview. With the exception of the very beginning, the trails are well marked. We took the wrong path for about half a mile, that didn’t take long to sort out. There are maps posted in several places, we used the Alltrails app and recorded our hike. It took us 3 hours and 11 minutes total, 2 hours and 25 minutes of actual moving time. With the little ones along we took a few breaks and had a picnic at Mount Tom.

Hills

Holy hills Batman! I’ll be honest with you… I was expecting grasslands. You know, prairie. This was western Minnesota, it’s farms and grasslands out there. We actually happened upon a map that shows the different regions in Minnesota. It was interesting to see that this park is still in the deciduous forest region. This was the most hilly hike that I had done in a while. The grade was quite steep in a few areas. There are logs and rocks going across the trail to prevent erosion and acted as stairs. I do not recommend bringing a stroller on this trail. I did bring one, we had an extra munchkin along for this hike. Sandy, my 9 year old daughter, and I completed this hike along with a one and half year old and a 3 year old. I had my child carrier on my back and pushed the stroller. I felt like super mom on this hill riddled moderate hike.

Overlooks

Yes, the hills are wonderfully exhausting. But you can celebrate your triumph with an amazing view from the top. Even before you reach Mt. Tom, you can see over the treetops. We pulled out the binoculars to have a good look around, it was quite cool.

Mount Tom

You have a couple of options for viewing the Mount Tom Monument. We did the Mount Tom Trial, which brought us to a small parking lot with a restroom(yay!). So obviously, you can drive right to the head of the short trail to the Mount Tom Monument. It is paved and wheelchair/stroller accessible. If you’re not up for a hike in the woods, you can still enjoy a nice view. There is a set of stairs to climb to the top of the monument to truly gain the best vantage point. You can see all the way to Wilmar from the top. It has a sturdy railing, with small space in between the slats. I was confident in it enough that I let Killian climb up on his own, he was quite proud of himself.

Lake Andrew

We continued the Mount Tom Trail to Little Mount Tom, it had a cute little view. The climb up to it was really neat though. At this turning point there are signs to follow for Lake Andrew. We only got a quick glimpse of the lake. This was very disappointing for Sandy, she loves the water and any chance to be near it.

Trail Closures

This was quite a bummer. The trail is disrupted by a closure. At first glance it didn’t look like to much of it was closed. But when we aske a park ranger where we can get back on the trail, they informed us that the rest of the trail to the trail center was closed. This was such a let down. We completed the trail as much as was possible at the time. Hopefully it doesn’t stay closed for too long.

Other Park Activities

The hiking was great at this park, it’s absolutely beautiful! But the hiking isn’t the only activity available at this park and I look forward to taking advantage of what this park has to offer during different seasons.

  • Camping (year-round)
  • Skiing
  • Snowshoeing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Fishing
  • Canoeing

Whatever your favorite outdoor activity is, you’ll find something to enjoy at this park. Have you been to Sibley State Park? What was your favorite thing about it?

Camping on Kawishiwi: Baby’s First BWCA Trip

August of 2020, we embarked on an adventure of great mystery. We had no idea what to expect, BWCA with a baby? Were we crazy? No… just ambitious. But ambition did not get the better of us. Through careful planning and thorough packing, we managed to have a very successful trek. Here’s how…

Why Kawishiwi?

When Scott and I decided to tackle a trek in the BWCA with our 10 month old son, Killian, we knew we had to be very picky about the location of our journey. I searched on maps, blogs, google, bwca.com, etc. Finally, after a long while of picking through all of the information I could find, we landed on Kawishiwi. I had a few requirements, and this lake met them:

Launch at the Lake: The biggest draw to this lake was that there was no portage to the lake. That’s right, you can load your canoe right from your truck! That means no portaging with a baby. Ideally, we like to be farther away from civilization, but not with an infant in tow. The launch at the Kawishiwi access was perfect.

Smaller Lake: It’s not a tiny lake, but when you compare it to Brule or Sea Gull Lake, the lake is dwarfed. The wind will not pound as hard on this lake as it would on larger lakes with some similar attributes.

Numerous Camp Opportunities: Seven campsites are available on this lake, that is quite a few compared to many of the other lakes out there. It gave us a good chance at finding a campsite. Seven is still a small enough number to keep the lake from being crowded. There are 9 permits issued per day at this entry point. Don’t worry, a lot of folks use this lake as the start of a route; not a destination.

Backup Plan: If the campsites are all taken on this lake, there is a lake that offers two more opportunities to find a site. That is Square Lake, it’s just up a little creek from Kawishiwi. There is no portage between the two lakes, you simply follow the creek all the way to Square. However, you will need to pull your canoe over one beaver dam, not a difficult task when the water is at a good level. If you don’t need to camp on Square Lake, it makes for a great day trip.

Beach Campsite: We were fortunate enough to land a sweet campsite that was just off to the right of the entry point. It’s a lovely little beach site. Beach sites are perfect for kids! Our daughter, Sandy, and Killian spent most of the weekend on this beach. We weren’t at our campsite more than 30 minutes before they were playing in the water. Sandy has always been a beach baby!

Quick Exit: This isn’t something a lot of folks like to dwell on, and don’t let it hang over you and ruin your trip with worry. But in the event of an injury or illness, you’ll want to be able to make a quick exit. No fuss with portages or excessively long paddles. We haven’t had any injuries or illnesses occur in the BWCA, but while having a little one out there, I liked the idea of being able to get to assistance quickly.

One Drawback: There is one negative attribute about this lake that I feel I must mention. Kawishiwi Lake Rustic Campground is right on the lake. Those using this campground must have a self-issued day permit to enter the lake. These are available at the campground. It may be a blessing in disguise for some. If you are unable to land a site on the lake, you may be able to secure one at the campground. They do not take reservations and it is first come, first serve. Some may be put off by the traffic. Honestly, we didn’t really notice. I think those campers were looking for a quiet getaway just like the rest of us who seek the peace of the Boundary Waters.

Duration

So many things can affect the duration of a trip. Work, school, weather conditions and whatnot. If you are the type to make a long route that takes two weeks, you might wind up with a rough time. Take into consideration how much food and formula you’ll need to pack and diapers you’ll need to haul back out with you. It adds up.

Short and Sweet: We like to stay a bit longer, but with a new little adventurer, short and sweet was best. We stayed for two nights. Very short and oh so sweet. Keep in mind that this is an experiment. Testing the waters with your little one.

Leaving Early is Okay: If your first night is absolutely dreadful, spend the first part of the next day enjoying camp and then head out. We entered our adventure knowing that we could leave at anytime and that relieved a lot of pressure. Scott and I agreed that if we weren’t having a good time, we would pack it up and just have a nice weekend on the north shore. Knowing that you have an “out” takes a big weight off your shoulders. Two nights was plenty for a first introduction with an infant. In fact, we actually made our next trip with Killian a two night trip as well. Also perfect for a toddler on the move!

Packing for Baby

You might be thinking that babies require a lot of stuff, how are we going to bring everything!? It’s not as much as you think after you consider what’s actually necessary. There is a lot of baby camping gear out there. You don’t need it all, or any of it really. Just the necessities.

Clothing: The great thing about packing for your little one is that their clothes are tiny! They don’t take up much space, which is great because you’ll want to bring extras and a variety to accommodate for weather changes. Just like packing for yourself for a camping trip, dress them in layers. Pajamas should be warm. Even in the hot summer months, the nights up there can be quite cool. Our trip was August, but as you can see from pictures, Killian was in long sleeves much of the time. Summer months don’t guarantee warm weather.

Sleep Sack: We brought Killian’s sleep sack. He was used to sleeping with this and it was great for giving him some extra warmth. We had a lightweight fleece sleeping bag as a spare. This was folded in a way that it could not go over his head and most of it was under him to keep him from sleeping on the cold, hard ground. It worked quite well and he slept all night. When it’s cooler out, you might consider having your little one sleep with you in your sleeping bag. Just remember safe sleep tactics.

Pac & Play: You can bring one of you’d like, but I think this is a waste of space and energy. I don’t like brining extra gear if I don’t have to.

Diapers & Wipes: Bring a fresh package of wipes, you shouldn’t need more than that. Don’t go for the travel size, it would really stink to run out without a convenience store for at least 20 miles. So how many diapers? Figure out how many diapers your baby uses in an average day, and bring a whole extra days worth of diapers. You’re little one will likely be drinking more liquids than usual. I like to have extras in my vehicle as well, for a fresh change when you arrive back at your starting point.

Formula and Breast Milk: Formula is easy to bring, all you need to do is pack it in a sealable container that won’t bust open in your food pack. Breast milk would be simple enough, bring a small, soft sided cooler that fits in your food pack.

Hammock: Yes, a hammock. Hammocks are so perfect for naptime. Just don’t let your infant nap alone in the hammock. They could easily turn over or get tangled. Napping in the hammock is perfect bonding time with your baby. Be sure it has a mosquito net. Our hammock with built in mosquito net has been my favorite camping purchase so far!

Life Jacket: You’ll need an infant life jacket that is Coast Guard approved. Our favorite is the Full Throttle brand infant life jacket. It has majority of the floatation device on the front with a smaller piece around the neck. This keeps them face up if they fall into the water. It’s also less bulky around their middle, Killian was very comfortable in it and was able to wear it for hours at a time. Be sure to check the weight limits of your child’s life jacket before your trip.

Baby Hygene

Diapers: Now you know how many diapers to bring along. But where do you put them when after they are used? In your trash bag. Disposing of diapers and wipes in the latrine is not permitted in the Boundary Waters. Pack in, pack out. You’ll want to change your little on a changing pad, I didn’t bring one and regretted it. Killian wound up with dirt and debris in his diaper. When you go to bed at night or are away from camp, make sure you hang your trash bag up with your food pack. It’d be a real bummer to have to clean those diapers up twice if an animal got into them.

Cloth Diapers: Cloth diapers are great for at home. Not so great out in the BWCA. You will have a difficult time getting them clean enough. You might be thinking you’ll have plenty of water to wash them in. Nope. Washing is not allowed in these pristine waters. You must wash items 200 feet from in from any water source and burry the used water. No harsh cleaning supplies can be brought in. I would imagine cloth diapers would not be sanitary for long and your baby would end up with a rash. Disposable is the way to go, at least for this kind of trip.

Bathing: Like I had said, washing is not allowed in the lakes. If your are going to suds up your baby, it needs to be done 200 feet from shore and the water needs to be buried. The other option, is to take a dip in the water without soap. This is what we did. A little skinny dipping for a baby will wash them right up. With a beach campsite like we had, that was an easy task. As far as food on the face, we used baby wipes and tossed those in our trash bag.

Feeding Baby

Feeding your little adventurer is not a difficult task as it sounds. It’s just a matter of being prepared and knowing what to bring.

Formula: Formula was so simple to bring along. We brought a smaller square container along. It was more than we needed, I wanted to have extra. Little ones really work up an appetite when they are outdoors. Some babies are used to having their bottles heated up when they are fed, we didn’t do this with Killian. He always had room temperature formula. This played to our advantage, all we had to do was mix up a bottle without heating it. He was good to go. This is the only time that I have brought in bottled water to the BWCA. I felt ridiculous, but I didn’t want to risk parasites with an infant. Any leftovers need to be buried 200 feet away from water and away from camp.

Breastmilk: Though I didn’t experience this first hand, it seems quite doable. Pack your pre-frozen milk in a reliable, soft-sided cooler that fits in your food pack. To heat it up, place one package into a small pot of water over your camp stove. Easy peasy. And just like with formula, left overs need to be buried 200 feet away from water and away from camp. If you need to pump while out there, you’ll need a small portable pump that is battery or hand operated. I suggest using the fresh milk first as it won’t freeze all the way in your cooler.

Food Pouches: Food pouches are fantastic for the adventuring baby! Test out a few flavors beforehand and only bring the ones they like. Try to make them heartier types, protein packed. Depending on the age of your little one they might be eating most of what you are, food pouches are still a great way to make sure they are getting what they need out there. Bring a few more than you think you’ll need.

Solid Foods: If you have an older baby, you will probably want to pack some snack foods too. We brought teething husks, yogurt bites, and puffs. These were great little snacks, especially on our day trip to square lake.

Would We Do It Again?

This was an amazing trip. I would do it again in a heartbeat. My only regret is not getting our oldest out there sooner. She loves it up there too! Kawishiwi was the right decision for Killian’s first outing. We had a fantastic time out there. We were well stocked and lucked out with the perfect campsite. I know it doesn’t always end up like that, but truly a motivating experience to keep at it.

We received a few comments while planning and on our way in. Folks couldn’t believe we were attempting a trip with an infant. But it’s really not as daunting as it sounds. Plan you location, bring enough supplies, keep them fed, and you’ll have a very memorable trip with your baby.

If you are looking for further safety tips for camping with little ones click here.

Bonus: We saw a moose on our way out! It was Sandy’s first moose sighting. Unfortunately, Killian was sleeping. We were not about to wake him up, he earned that nap!

I’d love to hear about your trips with your babies! How did it go? Where did you go?