Rugged Routes

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

Entry Point 16 – Moose River N/Portage River N

This challenging loop out of Nina Moose is remarkable for its beauty, which is enhanced by numerous groves of red and white pine you will paddle past or portage through. Indeed, this route takes you through some of the most stunning examples of old-growth forest in the BWCAW.




LAKES – Moose River, Nina Moose Lake, Lake Agnes, Oyster River, Oyster Lake, Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake, Rocky Lake, Green Lake, Lac La Croix


DETAILED ROUTE INFO – The 160-rod portage from the parking lot down a great trail will bring you to the edge of the Moose River. After several short portages, you will paddle up the Moose River to where it drops into Nina Moose Lake. This easy stretch of river may have a couple beaver dams, but soon widens into Nina Moose Lake, which is a great lake to spend your first evening.

As you paddle along the Nina Moose River, you’ll take two portages to reach Lake Agnes, both of which are about average in difficulty. Lake Agnes is one of the main paddling intersections in the western BWCAW, and a wonderful destination or stopover in its own right. Seventeen campsites are positioned along its shores, and the relatively murky waters are rich in nutrients for the healthy populations of pike and walleye.

Take the 160-rod portage from Lake Agnes over to the Oyster River (which is a much better option than paddling up the length of the Oyster River and taking a 20-rod portage along the way). The northern half of the Oyster River (reached from the 160-rod portage) is much easier to navigate than the southern half, and leads to the final 63-rod portage to Oyster Lake.

Oyster Lake, has three great campsites on peninsulas. The lake is also in an area that is home to some of the oldest red and white pine. There are numerous groves of mixed aged trees, some more than 200 years old. The southern and eastern campsites on Oyster are also nice, a few having decent sandy shorelines for swimming.

Head north out of Oyster Lake and on to Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake by way of Rocky and Green Lakes. This is a beautiful stretch of small lakes with steep shorelines. There is a small display of pictographs on the western shore of Rocky Lake. The 120-rod portage from Green Lake over to Ge-be-on-e-quet climbs gradually for about 90 rods before dropping steeply down into Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake, which you leave via a 35-rod portage into Ge-be-on-e-quet Creek.

Once on Lac La Croix you have what seems like an ocean of islands and bays to explore. Motorboats are permitted on all of the Canadian side of Lac La Croix, and a few tow services actually travel all the way across Lac La Croix to Bottle portage on the far eastern edge of the lake.

Paddle across Lac La Croix and portage 115-rods to Lake Agnes. From here, you’ll be in familiar territory. Explore the bays and islands you may have missed and paddle back to the parking lot

*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 23 – Mudro Lake Restricted

This spectacular route sends you up to the Canadian border and back down, via the great Moosecamp River. The route permits easy changes along the way because it can be shortened with an early detour to Moosecamp Lake or lengthened with extensions through the Horse River or even Basswood Lake.




LAKES – Mudro Lake, Fourtown Lake, Boot Lake, Gun Lake, Gull Lake, Thunder Lake, Beartrap Lake, Thunder Lake, Iron Lake, Beartrap River, Sunday Lake, Crooked Lake, Papoose Creek, Papoose Lake, Chippewa Lake, Niki Lake, Wagosh Lake


DETAILED ROUTE INFO – Start with the easy portage into the west end of Mudro Lake. The real challenge begins with the journey up to Fourtown Lake, with three portages that follows a deep gorge that has a distinctly mountainous feel to it, and is among the most impressive terrain any BWCAW portages pass through.

Fourtown Lake is a fine place to spend a night and typically a number of the 15 campsites are open. If none are to your liking, take the 43-rod portage over to Boot Lake, where there are five designated campsites. From here you’ll lake hop to Gun to Gull to Thunder and onto Beartrap Lake. Note: After Thunder Lake, camp sites become scarce. You have only one campsite between Thunder and Iron Lake, which is ten miles away, so plan accordingly.

Take a hilly, overgrown, 204-rod portage trail out of Beartrap Lake onto the Beartrap River. After about a mile you will come to a 60 rod portage on the west shore around a set of rapids. You’ll soon be dropped into Sunday Lake, which does not have any designated campsites.

Continue out the west end of Sunday Lake, and take the easy 19 rod portage on the north shore of the Beartrap River. Continue on, paddling and portaging further down the Beartrap River until you reach Peterson Bay of Iron Lake.

Now it’s time for some larger bodies of water: Iron Lake has great camping and fishing. The 140-rod portage around Curtain Falls brings you into Crooked Lake. Here you’ll have a great stretch of portage-free paddling, heading east then south into Friday Bay.

A 120-rod portage curves up from Friday Bay to Papoose Creek which will bring you into Papoose Lake then Chippewa Lake, Niki Lake, and Wagosh Lake. The next stretch will lead you back to where you came from. Noteworthy in this section is the 300-rod portage back to Gun Lake is a long one but is pretty smooth, flat, and relatively dry. Your trip will conclude in the waterways where it began.

*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 24 – Fall Lake

This wonderful route (with few portages) takes you into the heart of canoe country, through some of the most storied areas in the Boundary Waters, including world-class fishing grounds, an beautiful waterfalls. This journey passes through areas long inhabited by Native Americans, ventured through by Voyageurs, logged by lumberjacks, and coveted for the dam-building dreams of an early industrialist.




LAKES – Fall Lake, Basswood Lake, Sandpit Lake, Tin Can Mike Lake, Horse Lake, Fourtown Lake, Horse River, Basswood River 


DETAILED ROUTE INFO – Paddle and take a few mid-sized portages from Fall Lake to central Pipestone Bay of Basswood Lake. Beware that a brisk southwest or northeast wind can stir up rollers that shut down canoe travel, so allow yourself leeway in your schedule in the event your get wind bound.

Continue into the southwest corner of Jackfish Bay and head into the channel just to the southwest of the campsite located there. The channel narrows into an easy 15-rod portage, after which you continue through another narrows until you reach the 28 rod portage over to Sandpit Lake.

Paddle along the eastern shore of Sandpit Lake to the portage landing in the northeast corner of the lake. This will take you right to the shore of Tin Can Mike Lake. From here, take the 85-rod portage up to Horse Lake, where you may want to camp, or alternatively head over to neighboring Fourtown Lake. Horse Lake is very popular, so you should arrive early if you hope to find an open campsite.

Head down the Horse River, where low water levels might mean more portages, so give yourself plenty of time!

You’ll come to a wide bay on the Basswood River, one of the most scenic and popular parts of the Boundary Waters; so don’t assume that you will get one of the campsites in this stretch! The main highlight here is Lower Basswood Falls, which is scenic, but also hazardous. This stretch of the Basswood River to Basswood Lake is scenic, but has probably taken more lives than any other part of the BWCAW.

After the majestic river, you’ll be on big water! Paddle down Basswood Lake south toward Pipestone Bay and return back to Fall Lake retracing the early portions of this route.

*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 25 – Moose Lake

This route takes you east out of Moose Lake into Ensign Lake and then on to a set of interior lakes that see relatively few visitors. This route combines large lakes and popular areas with smaller, less popular lakes. There are also some nice alternatives side treks in this route.




LAKES – Moose Lake, Ensign Lake, Vera Lake, Trader Lake, Missionary Lake, Skoota Lake, Dix Lake, Spoon Lake, Sema Lake, Knife Lake, Seed Lake, Melon Lake, Carp Lake, Birch Lake, Sucker Lake, Newfound Lake, Frog Lake, Trident Lake


DETAILED ROUTE INFO – From Moose Lake, the first leg of this journey takes you up into Ensign Lake, a large lake that has three dozen designated campsites along its spruce and aspen covered shores. From Ensign, you’ll take a 168-rod portage east, into more remote lakes: Vera, Trader and Missionary Lake.

The 200-rod portage from Missionary Lake to Skoota Lake is long and difficult. After this haul, the subsequent portages into Dix and Spoon and then into Sema lake (where a lone campsite on the northeast shore can make a wonderful place to spend a day or two) will be quite easy.

The 131-portage out of Sema Lake will bring you into the South Arm of Knife Lake, where you will begin to head west and cross big, open water, where waves can be an issue, so be careful! The portages from Knife Lake over to Seed, Melon, Carp and finally to Birch are all well-traveled and should be in good condition. You’ll be on border lakes here, so unless you have a Remote Area Border Crossing permit — and a Quetico permit — be sure to camp on the American side. Head south into Sucker, Newfound, and Moose Lakes.

As an alternative, you can head into Frog and Trident Lakes from Birch Lake. This detour is longer and more difficult, but interest people who want to explore areas that most people simply paddle past! The 87-rod portage from Birch into Frog Lake is mostly uphill and can be very muddy. The 72-rod portage from Frog to Trident is up hill and ends with a slog through a marsh. A fun, muddy workout!

*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 27 – Snowbank Lake

This long route out of Snowbank Lake takes you through a rich assortment of lakes that will challenge your navigation skills and produce memories for a lifetime. A bucket list route if there ever was one!




LAKES – Snowbank Lake, Disappointment Lake, Ima Lake, Thomas Lake, Kiana Lake, Lake Insula, Hudson Lake, Lake Four, Lake Three, Lake Two, Lake One


DETAILED ROUTE INFO – From Snowbank Lake, a well-maintained 140-rod portage trail leads to Disappointment Lake. From here, the first section of this route involves a lot of lake jumping and short portages until you reach the two larger lakes on the northeastern corner of the route, Ima and Thomas Lake.

From the southwest corner of Thomas, head over a 35-rod portage to Kiana Lake, where you’ll wind your way through a labyrinth of peninsulas before you come to the 185-rod portage to Lake Insula.

Lake Insula is a masterpiece of a lake, a destination that rivals any other lake in the BWCAW for sheer beauty. It has over three dozen campsites, some of which have relatively sandy beaches.

The 105-rod portage between Insula and Hudson Lake is a good kick off to a series of much shorter portages that lead to ponds, over rapids, and into Lake Four. Now you are in the “number chain” comprising Lakes One, Two, Three, and Four. These spectacular lakes have great camping, healthy fish populations, lots of islands and are just plain beautiful. The biggest drawback to these lakes are that they get so many visitors.

Portage from Lake Two to Lake One, where you exit the Wilderness about 3.5 miles from your start on Snowbank. Draw straws to see who gets to do a 5K back to the car!

*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


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