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!


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.


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.

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 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.


Sioux Falls is the first portage paddlers encounter along the river. What a beauty she is! A small falls with a short steep 13 rod portage to the west side. It’s easy to take time here and appreciate the beauty of this falls. This area does not see much traffic compared to other areas of the BWCA, so you likely won’t have others waiting to use the portage.

Second Portage and River split

Beyond the waterfall a ways, on the east side of the river is the second portage, 85 rods. This is the longest portage of the journey to Bootleg. There will be a split in the river a short distance after the portage, for either the Little Pony River or continuing on the Little Indian Sioux. Take the eastern river, the Little Pony River, this is the most direct route to Bootleg Lake. Bootleg is a part of the Little Pony River.

Final Two Portages

Two more portages must be crossed on the Little Pony River. The first on the Pony is a short 16 rod portage avoiding a small rapids. The final portage, 48 rods, leads to Bootleg.

On our trek out there was so much recent rain that one of the portages flooded. We slogged through the first portage with knee high water. We could have canoed the portage! We did paddle through rapids rather than take the 16 rod portage. Pictured below features my uncle and brother, Derek, traversing the flooded path. Next is my mom and Derek triumphant in our rapid run!

**Note that I am not wearing a life jacket at the beginning of this run. That was dumb. Always wear a life jacket in a canoe, especially when running rapids. In my stupid defense, my adventure dog, Misty, was using my life jacket as a sturdy place to stand on and hide from the sun.


There are only two campsites on Bootleg Lake. The first site is at the northern end of the lake right as you enter the lake from the Little Pony River. This site has a sandy beach landing with an open tent pad. The second is on the south western side of the lake. This is the site that we camped on for our 4th of July weekend.

Being that our site was on the west side of the lake, the sunset magic was reflected on the clouds to east. A quick paddle out on the lake will get you a sunset sight you’ll never forget. The sunrises from this sight were absolutely phenomenal, early risers rejoice! The most serene part of the day with waters like glass. Enjoy a morning coffee with a scene so many travel hundreds of miles see.


Being a less traveled lake, these waters are not heavily fished. We had exquisite fishing weather conditions and nailed the fish left and right. The most caught fish of the trip was the smallmouth bass. We slayed them! It was one of the best fishing trips I’ve had in the BWCA.

Our campsite was a great fishing location as well. So many bass were landed right from the rock at the shore of our campsite. Of course, Misty had to inspect each fish.

Solitude on the Lake

Two portages and a river away lies the Trout Lake area. The entirety of this lake holds 30+ campsites. Solitude will not be found on Trout. Trout Lake allows 12 permits per day. It’s astounding to think that not far away, Little Sioux River South only allows one entry every other day. That’s such a drastic difference in permits, but it causes a drastically different experience.

If seeking solitude on a BWCA journey, which many are, this is the lake to voyage to. Just two campsites rest upon this lake at different shorelines. The lake is not large, but there is ample space between sites and no extra traffic as it’s out of the way of other routes. Bootleg is the only BWCA trip that I have been on that I did not encounter another paddler.

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.


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.

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.


Hiking in the BWCA does require a permit. Overnight permits between May 1st to September 30 must be acquired ahead of time on, 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.


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.


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.


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

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

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.


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.


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.


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.

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

Take the journey to Swan Lake for solitude, fishing, and wilderness relaxation. The trek from Bower Trout to Swan Lake is serene and beautiful.

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

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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.

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
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!!


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.


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
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.


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, 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.


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.


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!!

Camping on Kawishiwi: Baby’s First BWCA Trip

Our little guys first Boundary Waters trip was at 10 months old. We chose to camp on Kawishiwi for an easy, fun weekend of family camping.

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,, 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.


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?