The BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) is the kind of magical place that casts a spell over visitors, drawing them back. Our family first visited the BWCA three years ago. We now return each year for our fix of loons, lakes, and love of the wilderness. Each year we add a day or two, and leave feeling that we could have used a bit more time.
The BWCA contains numerous lakeside campsites with million dollar views. I love watching the sunrise from camp in the BWCA. In honor of this wondrous time of day, I share with great pleasure a video collection of the seven sunrises I enjoyed on this trip.
....and now our trip details, story and photos.
NORTHWARD BOUND FOR ELY
We packed, repacked, then drove to Ely, Minnesota to the tune of Jerry Van Diver's True and Deep - Songs for the Heart of the Paddler in keeping with tradition. We rented a Kevlar canoe from John at Voyageur North and stayed in one of his bunkhouses. Although my husband gets the credit for outfitter selection, I must mention we met John at Canoecopia (an annual paddlesports expo in Madison, Wisconsin) and also at canoe pickup time, finding him to be great to work with and super helpful in both cases. After visiting the outfitter we had some time to kill in Ely before heading to the entry point in the morning.
|Canoes at Voyageur North|
|Staying at the bunkhouse the night before entry|
We visited the International Wolf Center in Ely and explored the downtown in the rain, before enjoying dinner at the Rockwood Restaurant and Lounge. At the International Wolf Center, we did not see any wolves and didn't stay long as the rainy day appeared to have driven every tourist in Ely inside, diluting the experience. As far as wandering about downtown Ely, I highly recommend stopping at Piragis retail store. This beautiful outdoor gear, clothing, and souvenir store is fun place to look around, and you will feel very comfortable at Piragis. Don't miss the upstairs bookstore with reading areas.
|International Wolf Center|
Before we knew it, 5:00 a.m. rolled around, so we headed to Brittons Cafe for breakfast. The portions are large and the service is friendly at Brittons Cafe. If you're in Ely, I highly recommend breakfast at Brittons. Dawn's first light began to appear as we finished our breakfast, so it was time to head up the Echo trail to Entry Point 14.
|Breakfast at Brittons Cafe|
|Driving past Piragis on the way to the entry point|
As we unloaded our gear at entry point (EP) 14, the place bustled with activity. A couple of small groups and a larger group with four canoes all hustled their canoes and gear down the 40 rod hill to the landing at EP 14 simultaneously. With our expectations of congestion at the portages closer to the EP fulfilled, we paddled up the Little Indian Sioux River.
|Little Indian Sioux River|
|Little Indian Sioux River|
We did a 60 rod portage past some rapids along the Little Indian Sioux River, and enjoyed listening to a juvenile eagle squawking complaints on the portage landing. We continued on the Little Indian Sioux to Upper Pauness Lake, and then took the 40 rod portage to Lower Pauness Lake. After a 220 rod portage with a pond in the middle, we arrived at Shell Lake and began seeking a campsite. The lake bustled with activity, so we took the east facing site on the island after checking out a few more highly recommended but occupied campsites.
|Rapids on portage along Little Indian Sioux River|
|Little Indian Sioux River|
|Flowers at the pond landing in the middle of the 220 rod portage|
|The paddled portion of the 220 rod portage from Lower Pauness Lake to Shell Lake|
With the preferred sites on Shell Lake occupied, we settled for site 55. This site provides a more limited but still nice enough view and a broken (vandalized) fire grate. We picked up way more trash than should be found on a campsite in a wilderness area and promised ourselves to get an early start in the morning. For those checking out island sites on Shell Lake, I recommend an early start, and trying for the sites at the north and south ends of the island.
After having slept on a soft bunkhouse mattress before entering the BWCA, I had some back pain which grew worse all day. On night #1 I went to sleep upset that my back problems might potentially ruin my husband's plans for the miles he planned to make. Not to worry, a night on the miracle mat (a stiff, down-filled, hand pumped Exped) straightened out the worst of it. Enough about this, we're here to talk about the BWCA!
We enjoyed our time on Shell Lake listening to the loons and watching an eagle across the lake, then slept while raindrops tapped our tent.
|Loon on Shell Lake|
|Eagle on Shell Lake|
At sunrise the last of the rain dried up, and the sun quickly warmed our site. After drying the rain off of a few items, and we crossed Shell Lake, then took a 15 rod portage to Little Shell Lake. After Little Shell, we paddled across the 15 rod portage to Lynx Lake, then took a 280 Rod portage to Ruby Lake followed by a 10 rod portage to Hustler Lake.
|Sunrise at Shell Lake|
|Uprooted tree at the 280 rod portage|
|Strictly serious on the portage trail|
Our gorgeous 5 star campsite, site 71 on Hustler Lake, had an amazing wrap-around view of the lake and also had the distinction of being the only trash-free site we stayed on this trip. We didn't see others on Hustler Lake, and believe we were the only people camped on the lake. We loved the beautiful, gorgeous view, and the site's open spaces and tall pines. My husband and daughter enjoyed a cool swim before dinner and all slept well. If we had the luxury of extra time in our schedule, I'd like to have stayed more than one night to enjoy this site further.
|Loons on Hustler Lake|
|Gorgeous campsite on Hustler Lake|
|Campsite on Hustler Lake|
|Coming to terms with the morning on Hustler Lake|
Starting early, we paddled across Hustler Lake to the 310 rod portage to Oyster Lake, then paddled to the 65 rod portage to Rocky Lake. Rocky Lake is gorgeous with its cliffs and big rocks. We found the pictographs on the cliff on Rocky Lake, and then paddled over to the 85 rod portage to Green Lake, across which we made our final 120 portage of the day over to Lake Gebeonequet. By this time the winds had become pretty gusty, so we dug in and paddled over the the "chair" campsite, site 117. The site feels a little boxed in with trees between the camp and the lake, but the chairs provide a fun distraction and there is plenty of flat rock along the water near camp for hanging out waterside.
|Looking for the pictographs on beautiful Rocky Lake|
|Look what I found at the end of the portage trail|
|Morning stillness on the way to Lake Gebeonequet|
Lake Gebeonequet itself is quite picturesque, and our first day on this lake we did not see anyone else. We decided to take a rest day on Gebeonquet due to thunderstorms in the forecast. As we cooked our lunch, we saw a couple canoes cross the lake and that feeling of having the lake to ourselves passed for a few minutes, but I thought I'd seen the paddlers headed for the portage trail, and once again started feeling like we were alone in the universe. Much in need of a bath, I took a skinny dip in the lake. Being rather cold, I was drying off on the sun-warmed rocks when I saw people across the lake roaming the shore near a campsite marked on the map. I scrambled into my clothes pretty quickly.
|Serious business at the chairs|
|The chairs near our campsite on Lake Gebeonequet|
We enjoyed watching loons and eagles, roaming the rocky shore, and playing around the chairs for the remainder of the day. Some people like to say aliens built the chairs and that the table is a creepy altar. My theory is youthful exuberance and good teamwork, maybe a group of high school or college athletes built it. The "creepy altar" doesn't really seem like an altar, more like a great spot for cooking or setting up a selfie camera.
On this rest day, we did a fine job of relaxing and eating our way through the food barrel. Although we didn't have a good vantage point for enjoying the sunset, we did notice some interesting cloud formations including an angel and a dove at sundown. Or was it Casper the friendly ghost? Perhaps an alien coming around to build another chair, hehe.
|Sun's up on Gebeonequet|
|Playing with the camera on Gebeonequet|
|My favorite bird (the loon) on Gebeonequet|
|Watching sunset cloud formations and letting our imaginations run wild - angel and dove?|
At sunrise, we crossed Lake Gebeonequet and took a 35 rod portage around some rapids. We paddled up Gebeonquet Creek, then west on Pocket Creek. Next, we paddled through a 20 rod portage to Pocket Lake. Across Pocket Lake, we took Finger Creek followed by a 90 rod portage to Finger Lake. By the time we got to Finger Lake the wind had strengthened, and it started to sprinkle.
We dug in hard crossing Finger Lake, then took a 27 rod portage to Thumb Lake, and a 200 rod portage to Beartrack Lake while light rain fell from time to time. By the time we got across the 20 rod portage to Little Beartrack Lake, the sky looked ominous, so we decided to cut the day short. We quickly paddled to site 91, the only campsite on this small lake, and were relieved to find it unoccupied.
|Sun rising over Gebeonequet|
|Mist on Gebeonequet|
|Driftwood at the portage landing|
|Enjoyed paddling through the early morning stillness|
|Clouds indicating it may be time to start thinking about knocking off early|
|Starting to see signs of autumn on the portage trail|
|Holding up big rocks on the portage trail|
|The afternoon sky starting to look ominous over Little Beartrack Lake|
Although the site had many down trees I really liked it. The wrap-around view of the lake, trees and cliffs took my breath away. Although the site itself felt small without much room to roam, I'd like to have stayed on an extra night just to enjoy the surrounding view. We got camp setup just in time for the sky to let loose, and enjoyed a rainbow over the lake.
We didn't see anyone else on this lake, and enjoyed the periods between the rain. Our daughter especially liked that whenever she stuck a stick into the water, a number of fish swam up to investigate. On this night we slept well. The next morning the mist looked spectacular, but quickly dissipated when the sun rose.
|Happy to be in camp on Little Beartrack Lake|
|Hugs for Mama|
|Can you see the rainbow over Little Beartrack Lake against the backdrop of the trees?|
|Closeup of the rainbow|
|Here it comes! Things will look much nicer in the morning.|
We headed out early as the mist began to dissipate. We took a 30 rod portage to gorgeous Eugene Lake, then a 45 rod portage to Steep Lake, followed by a 20 rod portage to South Lake and a 73 rod portage to Section 8 Pond. At the other end of Section 8 Pond we had a bit of a challenge finding the portage, until we decided to go up the creek. After paddling up the creek and crossing a beaver dam, we found the 50 rod portage to Slim Lake. I would have loved to camp a night on Slim Lake as it proved particularly beautiful, but the promise of a rest day if we made it all the way to Little Loon Lake kept us going. At the other end of Slim Lake, we took a 173 rod portage to Little Loon Lake with a goal of camping there.
|Sun rise drying up the mist on Little Beartrack Lake|
|Little Beartrack Lake|
|Breaking down our wet camp|
|Little Beartrack Lake|
|A nice, still morning for a paddle on Eugene Lake|
|A beautiful morning|
|Portaging around a beaver dam|
|View at the portage from Section 8 Pond to Slim Lake|
|Cliffs along Slim Lake|
|Portage landing on Little Loon Lake|
Although we encountered no other groups on the lakes and portage trails the entire way to Little Loon Lake, and saw only one occupied campsite, once we got to Little Loon Lake we began to see boats and campers everywhere. We didn't find a good unoccupied site on Little Loon and started to worry when we passed onto Loon Lake and found the first 5 sites we checked occupied. We were paddling against the wind which had started to become gusty and started getting tired. Much to our relief, we found site 84 open in the late afternoon.
|Campsite welcoming committee|
|Sunset over Loon Lake|
|Dusk at Loon Lake|
|Happy girl at Loon Lake|
|The sun's last gasp at Loon Lake, good night all!|
When in easier range of entry points, it's tougher to find an open campsite, but we did find a site with an excellent wrap-around view and plenty of space to roam. Loon Lake is quite a beautiful lake, and this campsite provided amazing views. On this part of this lake motor boats are allowed, and it felt very bizarre to see motor boats whizzing by a Boundary Waters campsite. In the evening we enjoyed a spectacular sunset as hundreds of large dragonflies put on quite a spectacular show feeding on evening bugs.
We took a rest day on Loon Lake, and the day's forecasted winds and rains came later in the day. We enjoyed digging into the bottom of the food barrel, a fire, and some reflector oven cooking. We also enjoyed seeing and hearing plenty of loons getting riled up as eagles harassed them. We did not enjoy huddling under the tarp while it rained, but felt thankful that my husband had done a nice job of putting it up.
|My husband's rain dance. Build a fire, start cooking in the reflector oven. Rain guaranteed.|
|Exploring the trails around our site|
|Family photo at Loon Lake|
During the night, the rain cleared and the stars were spectacular. In the morning, we paddled across misty Loon Lake to the Little Indian Sioux River. We took the 160 rod portage along the spectacular Devil's Cascade, then paddled across Lower Pauness Lake and took a 40 rod portage to Upper Pauness Lake. Next, we took Little Indian Sioux, with a 60 rod portage around some rapids back to Entry Point 14, and finished the trip with the 40 rod uphill portage to our car.
|Beautiful blossoms on the Little Indian Sioux River|
|Last day selfie, notice the victorious pose in the kiddie section of the canoe.|
|Noisy juvenile eagle on portage on both entry and leaving days|
|Mist finally rises on the Little Indian Sioux River|
|Family photo at the portage landing above the Devil's Cascade|
|Seeing signs of fall on the 40 rod portage to the car|
After dropping the canoe off at Voyageur North, showering and food topped our to-do lists. We stopped at Insula and inhaled a basket of delicious hand cut french fries while we waited for our entrees. Our food tasted fantastic, and we drove home from Ely clean, tired and well fed.
On this trip we put on more miles than our previous trips. We worked hard to get further from the entry point, and were rewarded with some spectacular views and having a few lakes all to ourselves midweek. We learned that no matter how far from the entry point one travels, leave no trace is hard and somehow trash gets left behind by those who've gone before us even in these remote places. We felt the delight of staying on one trash-free site and know the pleasure someone else will experience coming behind us after we've dug someone's skoal cans and plastic wrappers out of the fire pit.
We learned our family is capable of doing more than we thought, and we also learned we over-packed the food barrel and made a plan to do better next year. The trip was good for our family. I couldn't have asked for better, but I wouldn't hesitate to ask for more.
|Ready to inhale abasket of fries at Insula|
|BLT on sourdough and beef barley soup at Insula in Ely|
Wondering what we ate? Check out my food list and packing the blue barrel video. We plan to put together a short video of the entire trip. I'll add a link to this blog when we get a chance to put together a family video. But this is all for now - get outdoors, and keep our wild places wild!