Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places
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Riley Smith  
#1 Posted : Wednesday, February 27, 2019 10:02:58 PM(UTC)

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The glorfied beaver swamp known as Meat Lake


I am not sure if this has been discussed on this forum or not, but a good discussion post is always fun this time of year to get the mind dreaming of future adventures.  The BWCA is full of lakes of every size. For good reason, the big, open water gets all the lore, and I think that's fair. Also, it's so much easier to paddle for 20 miles than paddle for 15 and portage for 5, but the little lakes have a charm all their own. The trips I plan often are portage heavy because of a weird love I have for the small lakes and the frequent portaging. I don't know why, but I much prefer a chain of small lakes to one big paddle, but that's me. Little lakes often get a bad rap for not much breeze, lots of bugs, and sometimes questionable water quality, but there are a lot of little lakes out there that are super special for a variety of reasons. Some of the little lakes are beautiful because of the scenery or topography, or even just the surreal silence you can find at an out of the way, tiny lake (Plume, Rove, Wattap, Meditation, and Link are some of my favorites.) Other small lakes simply gain my respect for the adventure it takes to even put a paddle in the water there (Nawakwa, Maxine, Skindance, Tick, Azion, or Relection are ones I remember for this reason.) And still there are others that are remembered for other, less positive reasons (Hassel, Meat, Wooden Leg I am looking at you.) All the same, I love the little lakes, and make a point of visiting a couple as "end of the day side trips" whenever I make it back into the BWCA. So my question: without giving away your secrets, what are your favorite little lakes? For the sake of this discussion let's define a little lake as a body of water less than 100 acres in size. My favorites that I have explored are probably Maxine, Rove, and Link, though there are many on my "visit someday" list.


Edited by user Thursday, February 28, 2019 9:23:58 AM(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

Ben Strege  
#2 Posted : Wednesday, February 27, 2019 11:44:39 PM(UTC)

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I also prefer small lakes over large ones. I like the solitude that usually comes with small lakes, and some have really nice campsites. Here are my favorites:

  • Hook Lake - small and scenic, excellent campsite, no traffic. Keneu Lake is also nice, but I liked Hook more.
  • Korb - excellent view from the campsite, but gets quite a bit of traffic going towards the portage to the west.
  • Emerald - very clear water, decent campsite, no traffic. But also no fish...

I also visited Jig Lake, the one north of Maxine. I can't say it is one of my favorites, but you can't beat the solitude!

#3 Posted : Thursday, February 28, 2019 8:45:56 AM(UTC)

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I like the big ones for traveling -- Sag, Ottertrack, Knife -- but the little ones for spending a day on.

  • Plume for accessibility while still a step away from the highway
  • Rivalry because it's a chore to reach and fun to think how high up it is
  • LotC similarly
  • Does Swamp by Monument Portage count as small? Fishing in there can be hilarious and you can witness a full spectrum of BWCA visiters.

#4 Posted : Friday, June 28, 2019 11:34:54 AM(UTC)

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I'm going to make time this  year to check out Spice Lake (from Ogish). There is one campsite on the lake and it might be fun to stay there a couple nights but we will be base-camping on Ogish. 

#5 Posted : Friday, February 28, 2020 10:07:02 AM(UTC)

Originally Posted by: AmateurHour Go to Quoted Post


  • Does Swamp by Monument Portage count as small? Fishing in there can be hilarious and you can witness a full spectrum of BWCA visiters.

Is this Swamp by Poplar? What makes the fishing "hilarious?


#6 Posted : Friday, February 28, 2020 12:45:56 PM(UTC)

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Originally Posted by: WanderingKansas Go to Quoted Post

Originally Posted by: AmateurHour Go to Quoted Post


  • Does Swamp by Monument Portage count as small? Fishing in there can be hilarious and you can witness a full spectrum of BWCA visiters.

Is this Swamp by Poplar? What makes the fishing "hilarious?


Swamp at the west end of Saganaga, right next to Plume Lake and Monument Portage. The US side has a bunch of thick weeds up against a couple rocky reefs and a deep, narrow bay. Not uncommon to see 4-6 boats anchored right next to each other fishing one particular rock. Little smallies and hyperagressive snake northern can provide nonstop madcap fun, but I've also seen a couple really quality fish pulled out.

Edited by user Friday, February 28, 2020 1:17:20 PM(UTC)  | Reason: Adding map

#7 Posted : Saturday, April 2, 2022 4:44:17 PM(UTC)

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Not necessarily a comprehensive list & I didn't take the time to verify the size of the lakes listed below but, i think of them as small lakes.  

- Clam Lake just off of Hanson.  The portage in is short (10 rods) but it's certainly no gimme.  I doubt the lake holds any desireable fish but, still offers a quiet beauty that sports a couple of small islands an interesting scenic contrast to the larger lake trout waters that surround it. The campsite is certainly nothing special but, would adequately serve a smaller crew.

- Gogebic Lake south of West Pike.  There are 2 portages up to this gem.  And, I do mean UP!  Both are amoung the toughest maintained trails in the BWCA.  There is an enchanting spot along the longer trail where there is a small footbridge crossing a idyllic stream. The reward for expending the sweat equity is a majestic lake that has a distinct alpine feel to it with high hills and cliffs rimming the perimeter.  There are 2 campsites but,one would be tough to find from the lake; as it is situated more for hikers on the BRT. 

- Zenith Lake north of Alton.  Another well protected lake, that likely means it would be relatively quiet.  The campsite isn't spectacular but, would be adequate for smaller groups.   There is remaining wreckage from an old plane that crashed here in the 1940's near the portage to Duck Lake.

- Sema Lake east of Spoon.  A lush forested green crown surrounds this tiny lake.  The lone campsite leaves a lot to be desired but, the small lake trout provide good entertainment.  Another nice change of pace lake from the big water that is the South Arm of Knife.

- Gijikiki Lake south of Ottertrack.  A gorgeous little lake.  Truly a goat path in from Ottertrack but, the other route in/out is no walk in the park either.  Excellent campsites.

- Lake of the Clouds north of Cherry.  Beautiful lake with a cool name.  The cliffs just off the portage in/out of Rivalry are an awesome backdrop to this enchanting watery paradise. No campsites but, that's actually part of the appeal.

- Pemmican lake south of Mountain.  Definitely in my top 5 most difficult portages in the BWCA.  Just getting up there is it's own reward.  No campsites but, you need to go right through a campsite on Mountain Lake to get there.  

- Kek ponds deserve honorable mention.



#8 Posted : Saturday, March 4, 2023 7:59:40 PM(UTC)

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In Quetico, I love Isabella and all the little lakes around it. I've been trying to talk my group into basecamping that area for several years. 

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