Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

June 2015 - Birch --> Ensign

By FreeRangeZombie Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (2)
Dates:June 20-23, 2015
Entry Point:25 - Moose Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Birch, Bonnie, Carp, Dix, Ensign, Knife, Missionary, Moose, Newfound, Seed, Skoota, Splash, Spoon, Trader, Vera

Five person trip, one of whom was compeltely new to canoeing. We planned on wanting to do a loop and in hindsight should have done a slightly shorter route. While planning I spent a lot of time reading campsite & portage reviews, weather stats (it would likely rain), bug stats (eh), fishing stats (yes), ... to make sure it had all the makings of a good time. We had decided to enter the BWCA at EP 25 on Moose Lake usingLaTourell'sas our Outfitter; a wise choice, so it would end up being. So, the five of us set out, myself, being the more experienced paddler, in the solo canoe, to see what we could see.

Scheduled itinerary & route:

  1. June 19:‚Äč arrive at our chosen outfitter, check-in, BBQ & drink some beer
  2. June 20: water taxi to the first portage (Indian Portage - portage #422), canoe to Knife & camp
  3. June 21: travel to Dix or Skoota and camp for night 2
  4. June 22: travel to Vera or Ensign and camp for night 3
  5. June 23: travel to Splash / Moose lake and get a water taxi back to EP 25 & drive home


  1. WenonahChamplain* 2
  2. Wenonah Encounter(I think this was it)

I should say this here in plain words, because this was oddly hard to find documented anywhere: "Indian Portage" is portage #422 between Sucker Lake and Birch Lake. It's the point the outfitters can tow you to. I think the only other one that's further is EP 71 (to/from the Great White North). So if anyone asks "where is Indian Portage?" you can say "it's way north on Moose Lake where Sucker and Birch meet".

June 19:

So, a late start, as per usual with most trips of this nature, but a little speedy driving from Minneapolis put us at the outfitters before sundown where one of our party saw a moose and we all got some brats & libations in us, thus preparing us for a good trip.

The cabins at LaTourell's are great. Electricity, lots of bunk space (I think our bunk house had 7 beds), a weber grill out front to use as you need & a water spigot outside. It's simple things like electricity that really help make a trip like this begin in a good way. The only outfitter that was better than that was Gunflint Trail that also had running water in their cabins.

June 20:

Up and at the dock for a 7AM water taxi. I must say I was not excited about being up and on the dock at 7AM, but you gotta do what ya gotta do. After a little bit of waiting (motor first water taxi was leaking oil all over) our water taxi pulled up and we all got on board right as the first raindrops began to fall -- hooray!indecision. Literally, as we stepped on the boat the first drops fell. I think Bob, the proprieter of the fine establishment said something like "rain before seven, shine by 11", but he ended up to be a big fat lying liar.

One great thing about this place that the place did not do was they took ANY valuables we had and locked them up for us. We used Bearskin Outfitters last year and they would only take your car keys. LaTourell's took rings, wallets, keys, phones, ... put them all in a paper bag, wrote our group name on it and taped the hell out of the bag before putting it in their safe.

Since there were five of us we couldn't all fit across the normal bench, so one of us needed to sit near the front of the boat. I took that spot. That ended up being a poor decision since I was basically the rain coat for the center of the group. But it would have been one of us no matter what, and all of us, save one, weren't wearing any rain gear at that point. That being said, a 7 mile tow was more than welcome in the downpour rain, knowing we could have a 10 mile paddle ahead of us. I'm very glad one member of our group set that up, he also setup our tow out of there, saving us a final 7 miles in some strong wind. So, on this day I learned what a "water taxi" is and how they take canoes any paddlers that distance.

We got to our portage, unloaded and bid our boat captain a fond farewell until we would meet a few days later.

Ran into a few of these (I guess they're the international boundary markers). Found this one on our first portage (Birch --> Carp)

A few more uneventful portages found us on Knife lake where I had picked out 6 possible campsites, the last one being just above Bonnie Lake, and the furthest I was willing (wanting) to go on day 1. Through the downpour we found site after site to be taken until the last two (1451 & 1449). I had one canoe go to 1449and one to 1451, incase 1449was taken (it was obviously a busy week on the lake so we didn't want to take chances). We did not bring any handheld radios, so I stayed in the middle of knife waiting to see a sign from our party at 1449so I could go grab our other canoe. As luck would have it 1449was open, so I went and informed our party at 1451to canoe on up to the island in the middle of knife. We were tired & cold, but I was also EXTREMELY excited that I was getting to camp at the site I had hoped would be open months before while I was planning, and it did not disappoint. It was around 4PM. Pretty soon after that we saw some fresh moose scat. Here it is with a cigar I was smoking for some size comparison; don't ask me ring guage for true size as I can't recall the cigar, but it was a welcome end to a day.

So, we lit a fire, made ramen, and other warming foods, and after some bourbon and whiskey retired for the night. It was around this time when one of our party discovered that their sleeping bag did not make it on the trip, not a good way to start the trip. He ended up wearing a lot of clothes every night, not all of which were his.

June 21:

The day began nice and sunny, so we canoed out, dropped some fishing lines -- caught nothing --, saw a black bear swimming to our island from Canada and then got a jump on things in case the rest of the lakes ended up being as crowded as Knife, which ended up being a smart call.

On our first portage I found myself WAY too close for comfort to a brown bear ( < 100') in front of me while I was carrying the canoe. Luckily he/she had better things to do and carried on, as did we all into Bonnie Lake. Our plan was to find a place on Dix or Skoota for night 2, but they ended up being packed and staying for the night, so we had to pack it on to the two campsites on Missionary -- wasn't planning on a 177 rod portage that day --, one of which ended up being taken, so we camped at 2044. So, Bonnie --> Spoon --> Dix --> Skoota --> Missionary was day #2. No fish were biting here either.

June 22:

Rain. Rain. Wind. This pic basically sums the whole trip up. I was doing everything I could to just keep forward momentum on Vera Lake -- I had repositioned weight in the canoe and was sitting in the middle as low as possible and leaning forward as much as possible (trying to keep as low a profile as possible) -- when I looked up and saw the opportunity for the summation shot of the day. Knowing full well it would cost me, and likely send me backwards, I put my paddles down grabbed my camera from my PFD pocket. The wind, living up to its expectations spun me in circles and pushed me back across the lake as I snapped a few pics. The rest of my companions said they felt bad for me, but were laughing their asses off watching the wind have its way with me. Being the more experienced paddler I'm just glad it was me in the canoe and not one of them.

A few more portages found us on Ensign Lake, which was also crowded. It took us quite a while to find a spot, and we even lost one site while trying to communicate about where we should stay (the "hey, what'd that site look like?" conversation in the middle of the lake), but we eventually ended up at site 1269. While circling this island I inspected 1271, which ended up basically being the eating spot for the local bald eagles and was littered with fish carcasses and stank to high hell. I also found some River Otter scat at 1268, which I happily took some close-up pics of.

Anyways, 1269ended up being an OK spot. A great landing and good campfire spot, but we had to end up all sleeping in a clump due to there being few trees available for hammocks. We survived :)

June 23:

The next day, our last, was gorgeous. I spent some time on the far side of the island throwing some lines in the water, but still no bites.

We packed up, paddled through a small channel and portaged one last time (441) and spent a few hours laying in the sun awaiting our taxi & talking to others that were also arriving or leaving. One family, up from Colorado, was donepaddeling and asked us to contact their outfitter when we got back to let them know the portage they were at. The rain did them in worse than us and they just wanted out of the BWCA. Eventually, and a little early ("we always arrive early"), our taxi showed up with the same captain as before, and we headed on home, getting soaked in the process due to the strong wind that day. Again, I was grateful for that 7-mile taxi ride.


It was an experience. The rain, wind and crowded aspect really drained the fun out of it, thus "experience". However, we were paddling, which is always great. I got to see moose poop for the first time, which if you didn't know you can burn as incense due to its nice willowy smell :) and I'm absolutely sure we'll use LaTourell'sas anoutfitter again

Lessons learned:

  1. Do a smaller loop to leave more time for fishing, and not force us to go further than intended (so we don't feel so rushed
  2. Waterproof (submersible walkies) to help us keep in easier contact

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