Finding Johnson Falls: A BWCA Adventure

Drive, paddle, portage, then hike, in that order, to Johnson Falls for a wildly freeing experience in the BWCA. Johnson Falls is an incredible addition to the wilderness experience that the BWCA offers.

Drive, paddle, portage, then hike, in that order, to Johnson Falls for a wildly freeing experience in the BWCA. Johnson Falls is an incredible addition to the wilderness experience that the BWCA offers. I love chasing waterfalls, but the added thrill to this falls is that there are no guard rails, no boardwalks, no crowds. A good state park waterfall is wonderful, but Johnson Falls is still wild. That’s hard to find these days.

Quick Details

Location: BWCA, west side of Pine Lake

Distance: Variable depending on entry point

Level: Strenuous

Time to go: Late May- September

Dog-friendly: Yes, adventure dogs in good condition.

Fees: BWCA Overnight Paddle Permit

Getting there

Transportation: A combination of vehicle, canoe, and on foot is necessary for this trek.

From East Bearskin: Paddle east from the entry point, portage to Alder (52 rods), then paddle to Canoe Lake portage (25 rods), paddle to Pine Lake portage, Portage to Pine (380 rods). The trail to the falls is at the end of portage to Pine Lake, it leads west along the shore and creek feeding into Pine.

From Clearwater: Paddle east from the entry point, portage to Caribou Lake (140 rods), paddle east to Pine Lake, portage to Pine (76 rods). Paddle across the short distance to the south side of the lake. Canoes may be stowed at the Portage to canoe lake or at a small canoe landing to the west of the portage. Both spots have ample space for canoes. Follow the trail leading west along the creek to the falls.

From Pine: Paddle to the western shore of McFarlane Lake, portage 8 rods to Pine Lake, paddle the long distance to the western edge of Pine Lake. Canoes may be stowed at the portage to Canoe Lake or at a small canoe landing to the west of the portage. Both spots have ample space for canoes. Follow the trail leading west along the creek to the falls.

Hiking to Johnson Falls

A canoe will only bring explorers so far in their quest to find Johnson Falls. On foot is the only way to finish the journey. The trail to Johnson Falls begins at the Pine Lake to Canoe Lake portage, on the Pine Lake side. The trail goes west along the creek. The terrain is rough, and filled with rocks, roots, fallen tree and debris. Be ready to climb over logs and watch your ankles over those gnarly root systems.

Wildlife on Trail: Watch for wildlife sign. Moose, bobcat, beaver, bear, etc.. leave tracks along the way. There are some areas with thicker mud, these are prime locations to see who has been trapsing about on the Johnson Falls trail. We found the most adorable bobcat track and a whopper of a moose track.

What to bring

It’s always a good idea to have a daypack when going off on an excursion in the wilderness. Here are some suggested items to be sure to have along for a trip to Johnson Falls.

  • Good quality hiking shoes.
  • Map
  • Bug spray- seriously, they’re relentless.
  • Water & filter or water purifying tablets.
  • Rain Gear- watch the weather and be prepared.
  • First Aid Kit
  • Swim suit, towel, lifejacket.
  • Fishing gear.
  • Camera!

Swimming

Yes, you can swim in the waterfall! Being that the falls lies in the midst of the BWCA wilderness, there is significantly more freedom to explore than in state parks or more heavily trafficked/managed areas. On the flip side of the coin, swim at your own risk. There are no lifeguards, no cell service, no help for miles and hours. Be smart, make well thought out choices. Bring a life vest for kids or those who aren’t’ strong swimmers.

Fishing

My husband, Scott, thought he’d give fishing a try at the falls. We’re so glad he did. He caught a few bass in the pool at the falls, making the journey quite memorable for him. The pool beneath the falls was both wide enough and deep enough to accommodate swimming and fishing at the same time. Our daughter spotted a large unknown fish while exploring the pools edge. Scott wasn’t lucky enough to catch the monster, but we know he’s in there.

Bonus Fishing Spot: Cast your line out from the Pine Lake Portage, multiple fish were caught here while waiting for shorter legs to catch up.

Back Country Cast Iron Steak: What You Need to Know

There is something about devouring a steak in the backcountry that makes it taste so much better. Maybe it’s the starvation, hmmmm. Here is what you need to nail it on your backcountry dinner.

Backcountry cooking doesn’t have to be all freeze-dried mush. It can be delicious, satisfying and primitive. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about eating a steak in the backcountry that makes it taste so much better. Maybe it’s the starvation… hmmm.

Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need to nail it on a BWCA camp steak dinner:

  • Camp Stove & Fuel
  • Cast Iron Pan
  • Cleaning Brush & Paper Towels
  • Steak
  • Coconut Oil (easiest oil to carry in)
  • Instant Mashed Potato Packet
  • Water, filtered/treated

Camp Stove & Fuel

We prepare our steaks using a propane fueled camp stove. With the cast irons being so heavy, I like to use a low sitting stove. It’s less likely to tip over. That’s why we use my parent’s Colman camp stove when they are along. We also have a single burner that sits atop the fuel tank, a smaller cast iron would be required if using that style. The two burner also works well for preparing the steaks and the potatoes at the same time.

Cast Iron can also be used over a fire. If using this method, there are three things to keep in mind. First, cooking over a fire does not allow for even cooking. Second, it’s the hot coals that’s important, not the flame. Last, the soot is annoying to clean off of the pan and blackens everything it touches. Bonus number four, we usually have a fire ban while camping in the later summer months anyway. This year it has already started in June with the fire bans.

Cast Iron

It is important to bring a well seasoned cast iron pan. Don’t pack a brand new one, it’ll cause a sticky and frustrating mess. Test out your pan on your camp stove prior to your trip to ensure it fits on the burner and that your steak size will fit in the pan.

Steak Cuts & Prep

This meal can vary greatly in cost. We acquire high quality steaks from our local butcher for this trip, but that isn’t necessary. Good steaks can be purchased on sale at the grocery store too. Our favorite is Ribeye beef steaks for the BWCA. These are tender and flavorful, and cooking on the cast iron always adds a little something. We also recently prepared a filet mignon, yum!

A Word on Bones: Bring your favorite cut of beef, but a word of caution; avoid bone-in steaks. They’ll fry up just fine and be delicious, but the bone takes up space in a small pan, and when disposed of, it can poke a hole in the trash bag that must be packed out. Bones cannot be buried in the BWCA. It’s less fuss with boneless cuts, even if you’re sacrificing a bit of flavor.

Seasoning: Season your steaks ahead of time. Doing so will eliminate a step out in the woods, allow the steak to soak in the flavor, and remove unnecessary items to pack in (like seasoning and marinades). We prefer a dry rub, but you can us a marinade as well. Keep in mind that you have to pack everything out. A bag of marinade is bound to cause a mess.

Freezing: Once the steaks are properly seasoned, wrap them in freezer paper and freeze them completely solid. Having them completely frozen will allow them to last longer. Steaks that have been thoroughly frozen will assist in keeping the cooler cold.

Transport: A good quality cooler will be needed for transporting these scrumptious chunks of cow into canoe country. I do not mean a large hard sized igloo or yeti. No way, that’s going to be horrendous and hazardous to hang from a tree. Use a soft sided, well insulated cooler that will fit in the food bag. Place the steaks in a one gallon Ziplock freezer bag to keep the meat juices from contaminating anything else in the cooler.

Thawing & Flexibility: We don’t have specific days set for our meals. Flexibility is key. When we eat our steaks is greatly dependent on two things; how long it takes to thaw and how the fish are biting. Last year, we caught fish for our second dinner and waited on eating our carried in protein. The temperature was also much cooler than usual, so the steaks stayed frozen until the last night of our trip. If you’re needing to cook steak sooner, take them out and warm them in the sun on a rock. Don’t leave them unattended! A bear can absolutely smell them and would love an easy treat.

Instant Mashed Potatoes?

Okay, so this isn’t the freshest option, but it’s the easiest for potatoes. You can bring whole potatoes out there with you. You’ll need to wrap them in foil and place in the coals or on the fire grate. Fresh potatoes take a long time to cook, instant is quick, easy, and light to carry. They can be ready quickly, making it easy to time it with the steaks.

Idahoan Instant Potatoes makes a variety of different flavors. We like the loaded or sour cream and chive. Whatever the flavor you choose, be sure there is no milk required. Most suggest putting a little butter in, we use coconut oil out in the woods. Dairy spoils easily.

Cooking the Steak

Level Camp Stove: Place the camp stove on a level surface. This could be a fire grate, flat rock or even a picnic table for really luxurious campsites. It’s important to keep that stove level for safe camp cooking.

Prep the Cast Iron: Light the burner and place the cast iron over the flame. You’ll have to play with your settings as each camp stove is different. Find a good medium high setting for searing.

Grease it up: Add a chunk of coconut oil to the cast iron to keep the pan non-stick. Be sure that the entire base of the pan is coated.

Sear the Steak: Once the oil is headed in the pan, place the steaks in the pan, sear one side for 5-7 minutes depending on cut thickness and stove strength. Using your tongs, flip the steak over and repeat on the opposite side.

Potatoes: To time the potatoes right, start heating the water after the steaks are flipped, if using a dual burner. Follow the instructions on the package. Only used water that has been treated or filtered.

Cover: If you have a cover for the cast iron, feel free to cover the cast iron to help trap the heat. We don’t have a cover, it’s also extra weight in the pack. If you like your steaks more well done, reduce the heat and cover for longer more thorough cooking.

Devour: Monitor the steaks closely and remove from the cast iron just before they’ve reached your preferred level of doneness. They will continue to cook for a few minutes once they’ve been removed from the heat. Enjoy!

Clean Up: Be sure to clean up the cast iron while it’s still warm. It makes the cast iron easier to clean up and you won’t be wasting any fuel reheating the cast iron.

Clean Up

This is where that cleaning brush and paper towels come in. Cleaning your cast iron right away is important, especially in the backcountry. Cast irons are porous, so you’ll want to clean it while it’s still warm to keep anything from being trapped. Here are the steps taken to clean a cast iron in the BWCA.

  • Dig a hole 200 feet away from trails, campsites, and the shoreline per BWCA Regulations.
  • Pour any grease left in the pan into the hole, do not burry yet.
  • Return pan to camp stove and turn on the burner.
  • Add enough clean water to cover the bottom of the pan (no soap).
  • When the water begins to bubble, use the scrub brush to loosen up any stuck on food.
  • Pour dirty water into the hole previously dug, rinse once more with a small about of clean water.
  • When the pan is clean it’s time to re-season it. Return the pan to the stove once more and allow the water to evaporate off.
  • Once the water has evaporated, remove from heat. Immediatley, take a small amount of coconut oil with a paper towel and oil the pan.
  • Allow to cool completely before storing.

For more on back country dish washing check out How to Wash Dishes in the Backcountry.

How to Wash Dishes in the Backcountry of the BWCA

Washing dishes anywhere is a chore, but it doesn’t have to be a miserable chore. Get a system down and make dishwashing in the backcountry a snap.

Even the wilderness can’t save us from having to do the dishes. Washing dishes in the backcountry doesn’t have to be terrible, though. Once you have bug spray and a good system down it’s pretty slick.

Regulations & Disposal

For such a freeing place, the BWCA sure does have a lot of regulations! These regulations keep one of the world’s most pristine wilderness areas just that; pristine! So, please respect the rules and keep our beloved BWCA clean.

BWCA regulations require campers to dispose of dishwater at least 200 feet from any water sources including rivers, creeks, and lakes. It must also be disposed of 200 feet from campsites, latrines, and walking paths such as hiking trails and portages. Keeping dishwater disposal distant from these areas will help reduce the encounters with curious critters and cause the water to be filtered through the ground before entering the aquatic system.

Dish soap & Sponge

Go easy on the soap quantity, a little bit goes a long way. Biodegradable or not, less is more. We use regular dawn dish soap. A couple drops of soap gets us through an entire meal’s worth of dishes, no problem.

Towels

Growing up, our family would always bring a dish cloth. I remember scrubbing noodles off the bottom of the pot with my nails because the cloth wasn’t efficient. Now we bring a sponge with a scrubby side that we have cut into thirds to make it smaller. It’s small, wrings out most of it’s water, packs well and is easy to hang up on the clothes line. In general, I’m not a fan of sponges, but it works best for camping purposes.

Regular drying/tea towels will work just fine. We have discovered, however, that using a quick drying micro fiber towel is the most efficient way to get dishes and towels dried quickly. This is important for those who don’t base camp and are on the move during a route. It’s a real pain to have a towel hanging off of a bag to dry while you’re portaging and canoeing.

Water

Heating water isn’t necessary for dish washing in the BWCA, but it is nice. Heating up a small pot of water on your gas stove can make for more pleasant washing, it’s up to you whether you want to use the fuel on that or not.

We prefer to wash with water right from the lake, nothing fancy. We wash back into the woods, away from trails and water. In the past, we have used a tub but I’ve gone lighter in recent years and simply use our largest cooking pot, which is actually quite small. It gets the job done, though and doesn’t take up any extra space in our packs.

Rinse water can be hauled in a collapsible bucket or another pot. Again, we use water right from the lake. There are some that fold down to fit in the palm of your hand. Camp gear has come so far!

Clothes Line

You’ll likely already have a clothes line ready to roll for bathing suits and wet clothes. If not, a simple stretch of paracord and some clothes pins is all you need.

Root of the Issue

Bring a collapsible shovel with a serrated edge for cutting through the excessive amount of roots in the ground. I’m not kidding, we tried to pack light one year and brought a tiny trowel with a smooth edge. It did not go well. My following birthday, my husband gifted me a collapsible shovel with a serrated edge. It’s pretty awesome. The hole doesn’t need to be large or deep. Just enough to pour a little water in. We are trying to reduce impact, not litter the forest with holes.

Fewer Dishes, Less Washing

Try reducing the amount of dishes you need to wash by making a few of them dual purpose. For example; drink your coffee/hot cocoa first in the morning and follow it by making oatmeal in the same mug. Always have your breakfast after your beverage, otherwise bits of breakfast will be littering your morning brew.

The System

After cooking your delicious meal and feasting, it’s time for the dirty work. Dish duty should be a shared task. If you have a small group, everyone gets a job. For larger groups take turns with different meals. For the most time efficient dish wash, 3 people is optimal. One to wash, one to rinse and dry, and one to dig the hole. On our most recent excursion, we had a 4th job; watching the kids, this took the most effort.

We have a pretty slick system for dish washing in the back country. The key to not being devoured by mosquitoes is to work fast and well together.

  1. Spray with bug spray, very important.
  2. Heat water while gathering dishes, soap, sponge, towels, rinse water, and shovel.
  3. Find dish washing location.
  4. One person starts on a hole (200 feet from trails, latrine, camp, water and portages).
  5. Soap up the dish water and lay out one dish cloth.
  6. Wash each dish with the sponge and toss into rinse bucket.
  7. Each dish can be rinsed and placed on the drying towel.
  8. Depending on how fast your washer is, dishes should be dried as they are rinsed or after they are all washed.
  9. Wash the pot last and hand off to the hole digger. The pot should be dumped in the hole, then rinsed out with the rinse water. The remaining rinse water can be disposed of in the hole. Bury the dish water.
  10. Dry and stack the dishes. Keep the dishes off the ground so they don’t collect debris.
  11. Hang the towels and sponge to dry, pack away your clean dishes. Done!

Your camping crew will learn what works best for your situation. We’ve learned through trial and error and things have gotten better as we’ve grown more experienced and camp tools have evolved over time.

BWCA Bootleg Lake- A Slice of Solitude Among Popular Lakes

With it’s growing popularity, it’s hard to find solitude in the BWCA. Bootleg Lake is the key to finding that peace. A waterfall, great fishing, and minimal traffic, it doesn’t get much better than this for solitude in Minnesota’s BWCA.

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.

Ranger Station

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
Phone: 218-666-0020
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
Phone: 218-365-7600

Entry Point

Entry Point #9
Permits Issued Daily1 permit every other day
Permit TypeOvernight Paddle
Ranger Station LaCroix/Kawishiwi

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.

Waterfall

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.

Campsites

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.

Fishing

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.

Day Trips

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.

BWCA Larch Creek to Clove Lake

This out and back route in the BWCA is perfect for beginners seeking full immersion into the Boundary Waters without the lengthy portages. Camp on!

This out and back route in the BWCA is perfect for beginners who are seeking full immersion into the BWCA and seclusion without the lengthy portages. While I wouldn’t consider this to be an easy route, it is a less complicated route if you’re new but energetic. It is also quite short in comparison to other, more popular areas.

Gunflint Ranger Station:
Address: 2020 W. Hwy 61
Grand Marais, MN 55604
Hours:May 1- Sept. 30 Thurs-Mon 8am-4:30pm
Oct. 1- April 33 Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm
Phone: 218-387-1750

Note: The Gunflint Ranger Station is closed Tuesday and Wednesday. The Tofte Ranger Station can be used instead if your entry date falls on one of these days. Check in with your chosen Ranger Station if you have questions about your entry dates or permits. They are there to help.

Entry Point #80
Permits Issued Daily1
Permit TypeOvernight Paddle
Ranger Station Gunflint Ranger Station

Getting to the Entry Point

After your usual visit to the Ranger Station for the super awesome, informational video and quiz, you’re ready to hit the road. The drive from the Gunflint Ranger Station in Grand Marais to Entry Point 80 is 50 miles, it’ll take a little over an hour, depending on how much lead is in your foot. Watch for moose!

Start out by heading North on Hwy 61, after a mile you’ll take a left onto 5th Ave West. This will take you right to the Gunflint trail. Turn left onto the Gunflint Trail and follow for 48 miles. This is the easiest drive to an entry point there is. You’ll know when you’ve reached the entry point when see the Sea Gull Guard Station on the right side of the road. The landing is immediately after the guard station.

The Landing/Parking

Parking at the Larch Creek landing is very limited. However, we have not had any issues parking given that there is only one permit issued per day for this location. The parking area is right beside the creek making loading the canoes a snap. But be warned, the mosquitos are horrendous while moving gear. Keep the bug spray handy.

Larch Creek, Dam it

Beaver dam, after beaver dam, after beaver dam. You will cross a great quantity of beaver dams and right when you think you’ve pulled your canoe over the last beaver dam. BAM! There’s another one waiting for you just around the next bend. There is no shortage of beaver dams in this stretch of creek. You may begin to think that there has to be about a hundred beavers living in this tiny winding creek.

My brother’s family were the most recent paddlers in our camping crew to voyage on this waterway. He and his family counted 11 beaver dams to pull over. They had low water on their trip, that makes the pullovers more difficult.

**A word of caution about beaver dams; the downstream side will be deeper than the the upstream side. The sediment builds up against the dam creating the illusion that the water isn’t as deep. On the downstream side of the dam, there will be a significant drop-off where flowing water has been washing out the river floor. Watch out for this. My brother-in-law got very wet with a mis-step. Always wear your life jacket.

Larch Lake

Once you’ve gotten your upper body and back workout from the beaver dam pulls, it’s time to paddle across the serene lake of Larch. It’s a petite lake with three campsites available, two shoreline and one island site. We haven’t camped on this lake, however, it’s nice to have a backup plan in case the sites on Clove are all taken. Scope it out as you paddle across and keep in mind the sites available.

Portage

After the straight shot paddle across Larch Lake, the portage waits with a rocky greeting. The portage is short and relatively flat with a handful of minor rocky areas. At just 35 rods, this portage is a snap. Watch those rocks though, so your ankle doesn’t also become a snap.

Another Creek

Portage complete, you’re not quite to Clove. There is yet, another creek to paddle. A not-so-winding creek with fewer beaver disturbances gives way to the much anticipated Clove lake. I just love the entrance into Clove Lake, it welcomes you in as it opens up to the free, unobstructed waters. Take in the glorious site, it’s well deserved after all of those beaver dams.

Clove Lake

Campsites: Upon entering Clove, a campsite sits directly north from where the creek meets Clove. This site is great for a view of the lake, it’s higher vantage point makes for a great place to check over the lake. It’s not a huge climb by any means, but it is a higher point on the shoreline.

The family favorite campsite is on the far north end of Clove. It has a sandy beach for swimming, larger tent area, places to hang hammocks and a great landing for the canoes. The only downside to this campsite; it can be a real pain to paddle to the other side on a truly windy day. That’s it, that’s all I can think of. This site is great!

Day Trip- Little Rock Falls

Little Rock Falls is a quick and entertaining day trip. It’s maybe two miles away portaging and paddling together. Take the portage on the east side of Clove Lake to Pine River, it’s 100 rods but not difficult. Head south on Pine River to the next portage. Keep an eye out for border markers. There were quite a few of downed trees over some rapids right off the bat entering Pine River. We got out to explore the area and check out the rapids. Here is where we found a border marker. A very cool find for my little camper. My daughter was just 4 years old on her first trip.

Farther along down Pine River, you’ll come across another portage. At just 45 rods, you’ll make quick work of this short stint. When you’ve reached the next portage you’ll have found Little Rock Falls. Take time for a quick picnic and enjoy the scenery.

For a great deal more on Clove Lake and our experiences, check out Clove Lake: A BWCA Beginner Lake

Easy BWCA Entry Points for Junior Paddlers Age 2 & Under

Keep your canoe camping trip simple with these four easy, toddler friendly entry points in the BWCA.

A canoe camping trip into the wilderness with a toddler doesn’t have to be a 30 mile route. In fact, that sounds horrible. Keeping the distance short, the terrain easy and the stress low will keep your trip from becoming a disaster. There are around 80 entry points into the great BWCA. That’s a lot to sift through when planning for a trip accompanied by the most junior of adventures. Here is a list of 4 entry points that I would consider easy when in the company of children under 2 years of age.

1. Kawishiwi Lake

Entry Point #37

Entry Style: Drive up to the lake

Campgrounds Nearby: Kawishiwi Lake Rustic Campground

Daytrips: To Square then to Baskatong/Kawasachong Lake loop or up to Lake Polly

Kawishiwi Lake is my number one recommendation for those with infants wishing for a wilderness experience with the safety net of being near an exit. We loved our home away from home on Kawishiwi with our 10 month old adventurer. Even with the campground right on the lake, there wasn’t much traffic generated from it. We still experienced solitude and wilderness. Our family stayed at the campsite near the entry point, it has a wonderful little beach for the kids to play on. Check out the full experience here.

2. Isabella

Entry Point #35

Entry Style: 35 Rod Portage

Campgrounds Nearby: None

Daytrips: Isabella River, Boga Lake & Perent River

Isabella Lake is a slightly larger lake that can become windy at times, but on a calm day this lake is wonderful. This was the first lake my parents took me to in the Boundary Waters. I was six years old. I have fond memories of playing at the Isabella River, hopping on rocks and catching crayfish. My dad and brother spent a great deal of time fishing. Isabella has walleye, northern, bass, panfish and several other fish species. The campsites are low to the water and relatively flat, making them ideal for camping with smaller children.

*Note: The lake was greatly affected by the Pagami Fires of 2011. A past fire has yet to deter my family from a visit to a lake. It’s a chance to see the impact of wildfires and to witness natures ability to bounce back and regrow.

3. Baker Lake

Entry Point #39

Access Style: Drive to lake, abundant parking

Campgrounds Nearby: Baker Lake Rustic Campground

Daytrips: Jack Lake Mine

Baker Lake does not have any campsites on it’s shores but the portages to the nearby lakes are short and easy. The route is actually along the Temperance River. This a very easy and simple area to bring small children. The campsite at the north end of Kelly Lake is perfect for junior campers. This are has a very cool and not well known day trip waiting to be explored, but watch for bear sign. Get the scoop on Baker Lake here.

4. Sawbill

Entry Point #38

Entry Style: Boat Landing

Campgrounds Nearby: Sawbill Lake Campground (holds 51 sites) & Sawbill Outfitter

Daytrips: Fishing on Alton or tour the fire themed lakes; Smoke, Flame and Burnt

With a campground and outfitter right on the lake, there is a greater amount of traffic on this lake. That being said, campers can still have a great experience on this lake. Most of the paddlers on this lake are headed deeper into the wilderness. This gives those who intend to stay on this lake with junior paddlers a chance at claiming one of the 12 campsites available. If these are all taken, there is a short portage to Alton Lake to the west. Alton has 18 campsites available, surely one of these would be available.

Frugal Canoe Camping: Acquiring Gear on a Budget

Get the camping gear you need on a budget with these money saving tips.

Canoe camping is a memory generating activity for families and one of my all time favorite things to do. As a kid, I never really gave much thought as to how the camping trip was put together or where the gear came from. The planning was done for me and the gear was just there. Things are magic like that when you’re a kid, parents make that magic happen.

Well, now we’re the parents and it’s our turn to make the magic happen. Where do we start!? Camping gear is spendy, decent camping gear can be outrageous. Thankfully there are several ways to cut down on gear costs.

Inventory

First things first; make a list of what you need and check your own stock. You’d be surprised at how little you need and how much you actually have strewn about in your home. Once you know what you have, then you can hunt for the remaining items on your list.

Borrow

Ask friends, neighbors, and family. You never know who will have what you need for your excursion. Even if you can borrow a few pieces of gear, that’s a few less pieces to purchase or rent.

Like I mentioned before, my parents made the magic happen. They now have a good stock of camping gear and are happy to lend us supplies from their “Camp Library.” My brother does the same thing when his family camps, borrow from the “Camp Library.” Don’t be discouraged if someone is unwilling to lend their new gear, that may have been a big purchase for them, but perhaps they’ll lend their older items.

Use What You Have

No, you don’t need that new sleeping bag or the latest tent model. The older gear worked for those who camped before us, it’ll work for us now. Example: A friend of mine had a really cool laser lighter, I had waterproof matches and a Bic lighter. Both produced fire, neither of my methods required charging.

Purchase Secondhand

Used items are a great starting point. We have purchased two of our three tents from garage sales, they’ve both served us well and we saved hundreds. Two of the four sleeping bags that my family uses have come from garage sales. They were like new. The Kelty bag would have been about $150, but it was just $40 at a garage sale!

Secondhand Options

  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Ebay
  • Local Garage Sale
  • Online Garage Sale Sites
  • Craigslist

Be sure to check the gear before purchasing. Check for holes in tents, sleeping bags, and packs. If you are purchasing online; check the sellers rating, look closely at the pictures provided, ask for additional pictures if needed and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You don’t want to end up purchasing faulty gear, even if it is cheap.

Another way to acquire gear this way is to post a wanted ad yourself. Ask for gear online, perhaps someone has a stash of gear they’ve been looking to unload. It’s worth an ask, worst case, nobody responds. No harm done. A great time to check into this is at the end and beginning of the season. This is when outdoorsmen are deciding what they want to keep around and what they don’t want to store any longer.

Watch for Deals

Watch for deals at your local sporting goods store or online. Sales happen around holidays and the beginning/end of seasons. If you are on a rewards or point system at a certain store you may be eligible for additional savings. Memberships sometimes have additional percentages off.

Outfitters

Most outfitters will have a season end sale and many list their available used gear on their websites. My folks took advantage of this on one their canoe trips. They came home with quite a few pieces of gear to add to their collection and to replace some of their worn out gear. Outfitters keep up with the top of the line gear, this means that some of their gear is very lightly used before it needs to be replaced.

Our local outfitter had a season closing sale. I acquired a new Duluth day pack for $20, it was originally $99. I had used a regular backpack for many years, the straps were beginning to pull away, it was time to upgrade and what a find!

Gifts

For families that exchange gifts this might be a good one for you to acquire gear that you plan to use many times. Making an Amazon wish list or gift cards to outdoor stores may help your cause. My folks know that I love adventuring, they are the ones who introduced me to the great outdoors in the first place. They have gifted a number of our camping items to us, including my first canoe (secondhand) and paddle.

I still remember going with my dad to Cabela’s to pick out my paddle. I got to have a similar experience with my daughter when I brought her to an outfitter to choose her first paddle this last summer.

Gifting is also a great opportunity to help others grow their gear stock if you are upgrading yours. It seems a little strange to gift a used item, but there are items that are larger or harder to come by that would be greatly appreciated by the right person. When my parents upgraded their two canoes from heavy Royalex to one sleek kevlar, they gifted me and brother with the two canoes they no longer needed. We both are very appreciative of this gift. My family has made great memories in that beast of a canoe.

Grow Your Inventory Slowly

Grow your inventory slowly and learn what you really do need and what you don’t. If your goal is to have a fantastic camping set with all the fancy gear; grow it slowly. What has worked best for us is adding one or two pieces of gear each year. What this looks like is using mostly older, secondhand or borrowed gear while gradually borrowing less and less as the collection grows.

Just starting out, our “new” gear that we were adding was secondhand. It was “new to us” gear. The more trips we go on the more we learn what we need and a lot of what we don’t. The experience helps to discern what our camping crew deems necessary and what can be left out of the pack. We are huge fans of packing light.

Rent

The alternate option for gear you are unable to find, is to rent. You might just need a couple things, like a tent, canoe, or camp stove. Outfitters are there to help with multiple options. Most outfitters have options for renting just a few pieces of gear or outfitting an entire trip, some even include the food! Check out different outfitters in the area that you’re planning to go. There are numerous outfitters in the BWCA areas; Ely, Grand Marais, and Tofte.

Wherever you acquire your gear, be sure it’s gear that you need and will use. Unused gear can accumulate and take up space rather quickly. Making smart gear choices will keep your pack light and your items useful.

Hiking Eagle Mountain, Minnesota

Hike to one of Minnesota’s coolest vantage points. Every Minnesota Hiker should have Eagle Mountain on their bucket list.

One for the Minnesota Bucket List for sure. This semi-popular trail leads into the BWCA and to the highest natural elevation in Minnesota. The numerous adventures that I have enjoyed in the BWCA had always been by canoe, this was the first conquest traveled by foot. Viewing from above gives a new perspective on this vast wilderness.

Great Heights

Eagle Mountain sits a whopping 2,301 feet above sea level. Okay… so it’s not the most staggering height but it does hold the title for highest natural point in Minnesota. The lowest point in MN is under 15 miles away at Lake Superior, just 600 feet above sea level. A 1,701 foot difference in that short distance makes for dramatic landscapes in this area and picturesque scenery.

Permit

Hiking in the BWCA does require a permit. Overnight permits between May 1st to September 30 must be acquired ahead of time on recreation.gov, there is a fee for overnight use. Day use permits (free) are required year-round and available for self issue at the trail head or at Forest Service offices.

Length

This trail is 3.5 miles in length one way. It is not a loop! The out and back trail makes the total distance hiked 7 miles.

The hiking trail is considered a “wilderness trail,” meaning it is more rugged and not as frequently maintained as a other trails in the state, such as state park trails. You may come across downed trees and debris on the trail. Be prepared to go up and over or around.

Terrain

Eagle Mountain Trail is narrow with a variety of terrain. The trail passes over planked areas to pass marsh and swamp, over or around downed trees, over pronounced root systems, small bridges and creeks, along lake shores and beaver damns and finally a climb up rough trail and rock. This area has such variety, it’s amazing! Be sure to wear appropriate footwear.

Very Dog-Friendly

I wish we had been counting. The number of dogs on this trail was a surprise to me. We saw everything from young puppies to senior citizens, toy breeds to giants. If you have a well behaved and energetic pup at home, I encourage you to bring them along. They’ll love this adventure. We brought our 8 year-old Great Dane, Xena, along. She had a blast, even in her old age. Be sure to follow Trail Etiquette for Dogs to make sure everyone has a safe adventure.

Trail Head

Getting to the trail head is quite easy. Follow MN-61 to Lutsen, MN. Turn left onto Caribou Trail, after 17 miles you’ll go right onto The Grade for 4 miles. On the left you’ll find a decent gravel parking area with an obvious trial head.

This Trail head is complete with a vaulted toilet. I suggest you use it before the hike, it’s the last restroom unless you are planning to camp at one of the two sites off the trail, but there is no guarantee that they will be available.

Hitting the Trail

The first 3/4 of a mile are hiked in the Superior National Forest before you enter the BWCA. Be sure to snap a photo at the indicating sign as you enter this cherished wilderness. If you’re frequent visitors to the Superior National Forest and the BWCA, you’ll notice the slight change in trail conditions when you cross over.

After about 2.5 miles, along Whale Lake, there will be a four-way split. The trail that you’ve arrived on, a trail hooking to the east leading to a campsite, a trail heading north continuing on to Brule Lake Trail, and a trail to the west leading to Eagle Mountain. Obviously take the west spur trail leading to Eagle Mountain. Your destination will about another mile up. And I mean “up.”

The “Climb”

No, it’s not really mountain climbing. No equipment required but a pair of good hiking shoes. But it is still a steep incline over rock and loose gravel. Watch your footing and take it slow. Be sure to have children hike in front, this way the person behind them can catch them if they slip. Our 2 year-old hiker was able to accomplish this climb with the help of his dad. Our 10 year-old tackled it no problem. The senior Dane was able to complete it as well.

Not There Yet

Do not be deceived! You’ve scrambled up the rocky climb near the end of the trail and reached a stunning view, but you’re not there yet. While taking in the view over the nearby lakes in the BWCA from above is unreal and amazing, the peak is still farther up the trail. There will not be a marker at this point in the hike.

The Peak… Really

The trail continues opposite the gorgeous view. A quarter mile more lies a plaque that indicates the highest point in Minnesota. This location doesn’t have an amazing view or anything, but it is an accomplishment that every Minnesota hiker should check off their list. Let the sense of satisfaction wash over you… then return to the overlook for a well deserved snack and rest before your hike back.

Camping

Why not make it an overnight trip? There are two designated campsites off of the Eagle Mountain Trail. One on the west side of the trail on a spur and the other on Whale Lake. But be warned, in peak season these campsites are likely to be taken. About 3.5 miles north of the where the Eagle Mountain Trail becomes Brule Lake Trail there is a campsite of a spur lies a campsite on the peninsula of Fishhook Lake. You’ll also need an overnight hike permit to camp in the BWCA. This can be obtained at recreation.gov.

If you are concerned about the campsite availability during peak season, a valid concern from June through August, an alternative plan would be to camp near the trail head. There are several camping opportunities in the area.

First Come First Serve Camping in the Area: (No Fee, No Reservations)

  • Cascade River Rustic Campground (2.5 miles from trailhead)
  • Devil Track Lake Campground (6 miles from trailhead)
  • Baker Lake Rustic Campground (14 miles from trailhead)
  • Clara Lake Rustic Campground (15 miles from trailhead)

Reservable State Park Camping (Reservations and Fees Required)

  • Cascade River State Park (16 miles from trailhead)
  • Temperance River State Park (33 miles from trailhead)
  • George Crosby Manitou State Park (49 miles from trailhead)
  • Tettegouche State Park (55 miles from trailhead)

These are just a few of the options in northern Minnesota. There are many more private and public camp areas, some requiring reservations and fees. On our visit, we chose to stay at Cascade River State Park. A wonderful place to set up camp on a hike-in adventure.

Grab a Post-Hike Bite

We like to have a nice treat after a good hike. This time we decided on “My Sister’s Place.” This was just what we needed after a 7 mile hike with kids. While the burgers were tasty, the real treat was the blueberry shake. Never have I ever seen a BLUEBERRY shake on a menu, and it was amazing! We highly recommend “My Sister’s Place.”

Eagle Mountain had been on my Minnesota Bucket List for some time. For a few years we had intentions of visiting in the summer, we finally made it happen in lieu of a second BWCA canoe trip. This allowed us to bring our oversized pup along to the BWCA for the first time (she doesn’t do canoes). Now that it is off my bucket list for the summer, it’s back on the list for a snowshoe adventure!

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

Planning great trips and keeping traditions alive in the next generation is all an outdoorsman can hope for. This simple route is great for families looking for grand adventure in a short excursion.

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

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

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

Ranger Station

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

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

Entry Point Details

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

Getting There and Parking

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

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

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

Baker Lake & 1st Portage

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

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

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

Peterson Lake & 2nd Portage

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

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

Arriving at Kelly Lake

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

Basecamp

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

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

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

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

Pests

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

Day Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evening at on the Water

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

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

Passing the Torch

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

BWCA Jack Lake Mine

Looking to add something extra to your BWCA trip? The Jack Lake mine will do the trick. A chunk of adventure that history left behind for us to explore. Bonus; it’s really easy to get to. Whether you’re camping within the BWCA or just looking for a day trip, it’s a simple trek in.

Have you heard of the Jack Lake Mine? I hadn’t either until my dad showed me an article about it in an issue of the Boundary Waters Journal. This was an intriguing adventure! After doing a bit more research, the decision was made. Jack Lake was to be our next excursion into the BWCA.

This “mine” was actually a test pit for iron ore. When the test samples came back lacking, the mine was abandoned. What was left behind is a sizable whole and numerous artifacts. I’m not sure how aged items must be to gain the title of “artifact” but these sure felt like artifacts to me. These are still strewn about the entrance of the cave. Thankfully visitors have been respectful and left the area as it is. It looks like the miners were simply on a lunch break, a long lunch break.

Finding the Mine

I wasn’t sure about finding this mine. The resources I had found weren’t too clear. It all seemed too simple, I was expecting this to be a hard to find and overgrown trail head lost in time with downed trees and brush. Or that it would be so long that we wouldn’t be sure it was the right trail at all, it wasn’t marked on any map I could find, so maybe it wasn’t really there. None of these things happened. Finding the mine really is that easy, I over thought it. Don’t overthink this one. It’s right there!

Entering from Baker Lake Entry Point #39 is an easy access point. Whether you’re traveling for an extended trip or for the day, this is a very doable adventure. It’s basically a straight shot. Baker lake is a quick dip in the water then it’s already portage time to Peterson Lake. Peterson, though longer than Baker, still isn’t that large of a lake. The paddle went quick, Peterson leads right into Kelly. With higher water, we skipped the 3 rod portage and opted to traverse the flowing water. It was a breeze. Kelly Lake is longer but a beautiful paddle up river with many beaver lodges to view along the way. You’ll know your at the next portage when you find yourself at some breathtaking rapids. The portage is at a rocky edge to the left of the rapids. Take the 69 rod portage to Jack Lake. Now here is were I over thought it. At end of this portage there is a small foot path to your left as you are looking at Jack Lake. That’s it, it’s right there. So obvious. The path is about 50 feet long and you’re there, can’t miss it.

Note: There is good fishing at the rapids on the north end of Kelly and in the sheltered entrance to Jack Lake.

Tools and Artifacts

Approaching the mine off the trail, you’ll be greeted with pieces of the past. Chains, rusted metal and tools are scattered about. At first glance, this seems like someone left a dirty campsite and it needs to be cleaned up and taken care of. Please leave these things as you found them. Treat it like a “Leave No Trace” situation. This little bit of history is a wonder for others to find.

Watch Your Step

I know this cave is intriguing and you’ll want to dive right in, but hold your horses. There are slippery rocks, ice on the cave floor, even the walls are damp and slippery in places. Proceed with caution, be sure to have steady footing and maybe hold onto that slippery wall. Take your time, the cave isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Ice in the rear of the cave is a marvel in the heat of summer. Even in early June, with the heat we experienced, I was surprised to find the thick cold slab. I would be curious to see if the ice remained by the end of August. I suppose that means another trip is in order. Yay!

It’s quite dark near the back of the mine, bring a flashlight or headlamp along. You’ll not want to miss any details hiding in the darkness. Speaking of things hiding in the darkness, that brings me to my next point… Wildlife.

Wildlife

As we all know, bugs in the Boundary Waters are horrendous and it can sometimes be muggy and hot in the summer months. The cave is an amazing escape from both of these things! The animals are aware of this too. On our first visit to the cave, we found a moose track in the ice. It was so unexpected, it had warn it’s way into the still melting ice.

Our second trip to the cave the following day was a bit more alarming. So much so that we did not attempt to enter the cave at all. At the mouth of the cave was a rather fresh bear track leading into the mine. So cool! But the problem was, we couldn’t find the tracks leading out. There is no other way into or out of this mine. That bear was still in there somewhere. We calmly vacated the area and decided to fish in the little bay leading into Jack Lake instead. A fruitful choice as my dad caught a nice bass off a bed near the small rapids leading into the larger part of the lake.

The Jack Lake mine is an easy addition to this already exciting area of canoe wilderness. It’s thrilling additions like these that can add a twist to an already exemplary trip. Especially when you have your children along. Having kids off on these grand adventures and treasure hunts creates memories that will last a lifetime and a sense of adventure that will carry on into adulthood.