Moderate Routes

There are many canoe route possibility in the BWCAW, this is a small sampling of some moderate canoe routes.

Entry Point 16 – Moose River N/Portage River N

This excellent route takes you through a number of great wilderness lakes. Although some of the portages are long, even a first-time visitor can enjoy this journey if they pack light, — and even the toughest portages are generally good trails. Because of the beautiful setting, many of the lakes on this route are relatively popular, and offer limited isolation. However, a few suggestions are provided on how to break off of the main route and seek greater solitude.

DIFFICULTY LEVEL – Intermediate:  Smaller lakes & rivers


ROUTE LENGTH IN DAYS – 5 to 7 days

LAKES – Pauness Lake, Shell Lake, Heritage Lake, Little Shell Lake, Lynx Lake, Ruby Lake, Hustler Lake, Emerald Lake, Oyster River, Agnes Lake, Nina Moose River

POINT A to POINT B – OUT Exit Point 14 – Little Indian Sioux North

DETAILED ROUTE INFO – From Lower Pauness Lake, you should have no problem reaching the Pauness Lakes in two or three hours. With luck you will spot a moose feeding along the river, or perhaps a beaver or family of otters. The first portage from the parking lot down to the river is well traveled, and the next portage is an easy 65 rods along a generally good trail, the last quarter of which is over a rock base.

The 216-rod portage over to Shell Lake follows an excellent trail, but is likely to be a bit muddy on either end. A short boardwalk across the middle helps pass a muddy low spot.

Ten designated campsites are located on Shell Lake, including four on islands, making it an excellent location for a first night in the BWCAW.

Once on Shell you have the option of heading up into Heritage Lake by way of a 40-rod portage along a rocky trail that is not well traveled. The two Heritage Lake sites are nice destinations if you want more isolation than you are getting so far along this route. Heritage seems to get relatively few visitors because of the longer portages you must take on its north end.

Head out through the eastern end of Shell Lake over an easy little 15 rod portage to Little Shell Lake. A simple beaver dam pull over is all you are likely to encounter between Little Shell and Lynx lakes. Consider staying on Lynx Lake for a night: the deep waters hold a good population of pike and walleye.

To leave Lynx, you’ll need to haul your gear over the 240-rod trail to Ruby Lake. An easy 7 rod portage leads over to Hustler Lake, which is also a nice place to spend an evening. Another escape off of the main route can be found by dropping south out of Hustler Lake into Emerald Lake, which has two campsites.

Another long portage of 240 rods leads you out of Hustler Lake to Oyster Lake, which is a Boundary Waters jewel, and well worth a night’s stay.

From here, you’ll portage onto the Oyster River, which is marginal for canoeing during dry years, particular in the southern sections, where the channel is narrow, shallow, and easily lost. During these dry periods you may have to take the 160-rod portage over to Agnes Lake.

If water levels are good, take the Oyster River all the way into the Nina Moose River.

The portage ends at the Oyster River, which connects with the Nina Moose River south of Agnes Lake.

Agnes Lake, it is one of the most attractive lakes in this portion of the BWCAW, but it is also a popular destination for travelers so don’t expect to be the only campers here! Otherwise, continue south out of Agnes Lake down toward Nina Moose, another popular lake that may not have available campsites unless you get a very early start in the morning or are visiting during early spring or late fall. The final southern stretch of the Moose River is easy traveling!

*Route information provided courtesy of Dan Pauly, and have been modified from his book, Exploring the Boundary Waters: A Trip Planner and Guide to the BWCAW. University of Minnesota Press, 2004

Entry Point 30 – Lake One

Many visitors to Lake One and its neighbors like to take a well-worn route all the way through Lake Four and on to Hudson Lake and Lake Insula. The portages are easy and the scenery unbeatable. However, just off this busy route is a great detour loop down into Horseshoe Lake, North Wilder Lake, and up to Fire and Bridge Lakes, that is just as beautiful but relatively rarely traveled.

DIFFICULTY LEVEL – Intermediate:  Smaller lakes & rivers


ROUTE LENGTH IN DAYS – 5 to 7 days

LAKES – Lake One, Lake Two, Lake Three, Lake Four, Horseshoe Lake, North Wilder Lake, Brewis Lake, Harbor Lake, Hudson Lake


DETAILED ROUTE INFO – Enter Lake One, paddle and portage 6.5 miles, including portages of 30 rods and 40 rods to Lake Two and Lake Three. The portage from Lake Three down into Horseshoe Lake is flat with few obstructions other than a few small protruding rocks.

Paddle and portage two miles from Horseshoe Lake to North Wilder Lake, including a portage of 75 rods from Horseshoe into Brewis Lake. From the pieces that are scattered in the woods it is clear that this big tree came down in a bang. Brewis Lake is low-lying with a few rocky outcroppings. It has one campsite on its spruce-lined shores. On the east side of Brewis is a 52-rod portage to Harbor Lake, and this trail begins with a gradual uphill for most of the distance, and then descends down into Harbor Lake. Finally, the 105-rod portage from Harbor Lake to North Wilder Lake is reasonably flat.

Take the 45-rod portage from North Wilder to the south arm of Hudson Lake, and three short portages from Hudson Lake into Lake Four. You can now paddle west back into the main body of Lake Four and then on to Lake Three, Lake Two, and your starting point on Lake One.

Looking for another excursion off the beaten path? Loop north from Lake Four into Fire Lake and then west and south through Hudson Lake. Take a 30-rod portage along the right-hand side of a small creek. Next, a 20-rod portage continues at a second narrows along this same creek. This trail appears to be frequently used and is fairly open. Finally, a 10-rod portage found on the south side of a small bay is bordered on the west side by a small tamarack swamp and on the east side by a large, exposed, bedrock face.

Entry Point 84 – Snake River

This route offers some great opportunities for jumping to and from lakes. It moves north from Bald Eagle Lake to Gull Lake and onto Clearwater Lake before looping back to Bald Eagle and the Snake River, offering you exhilarating challenges and the opportunity to see an interesting, less traveled part of the BWCA.

DIFFICULTY LEVEL – Intermediate:  Smaller lakes & rivers


ROUTE LENGTH IN DAYS – 5 to 7 days

LAKES – Snake River, Bald Eagle Lake, Gabbro Lake, Camdre Lake, Clearwater Lake, Turtle Lake


DETAILED ROUTE INFO – To get to Bald Eagle Lake, start by taking the 170-rod portage down an abandoned logging road plus two simple, short portages along the Snake River. Consider spending a night or two on Bald Eagle Lake, and perhaps also exploring west into Gabbro Lake. Both of these huge lakes are known for good walleye fishing.

The 192-rod portage to Gull Lake starts just north of a small, low-lying island. The first couple rods of the stream exiting Gull Lake are strewn with dark, slightly submerged boulders lurking for your canoe, so paddle with care. The portage from Gull Lake to Pietro Lake is almost perfectly level. During the rainy season this flatness becomes a liability because the trail is relatively low-lying and prone to becoming fairly muddy. Nevertheless, it is not too long and should always be traversable.

Next, the 64 rod portage up to Camdre Lake gradually climbs 50 feet along a relatively easy trail. Paddle across little Camdre Lake and perhaps pause to observe the fascinating bog life, including pitcher plants common along parts of the shore. The 125-rod portage to Clearwater Lake gently rolls along a reasonably good trail.

Clearwater Lake is fittingly named, with waters that seem clearer than most in the BWCAW. Portage 211 rods from Clearwater to Turtle Lake. The four campsites on Turtle are very likely to be available even if Clearwater is full because Turtle Lake attracts fewer campers. From Turtle Lake continue south over the 186 -od portage down into Bald Eagle Lake. Your return trip is simply a paddle and portage back the way you came.

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