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

Little Indian Sioux - South of Lac La Croix loop

By Mike Monahan Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (4)
Dates:September 16-21, 2016
Entry Point:14 - Little Indian Sioux River North (BWCA)

Little Indian Sioux River North, entry point 14N.

Little Indian Sioux entry point postLittle Indian Sioux River North put-in viewDuck

After a winter of planning and packing, my wife and I leave our home in Madison, WI and drive 7-1/2 hours to Ely, MN. With the Grandparent's taking care of our kids, we shut the phones down and check into Wilderness Outfitters bunk house for the night before our 6 day trip away from technology and the daily noise of work. The evening brings rain with upwards of an 1" through midday tomorrow. This looks to be a wet start to the trip, however the rest of the week looks great. After dinner and a few spirits at the Boathouse, we walk back to the bunk house, testing out my new rain jacket at the same time.

Day 1 - Entry point to Lynx lake

The alarm goes off but we are already awake and excited to start our journey. As we travel the Echo trail, the sun slowly starts to light the forest and to our surprise we spot a cougar jogging along the road. As quick as we see the incredible animal, he vanishes into the forest. No words were spoke for what seemed like an eternity as the two of us were in disbelief over what we had just witnessed. Little did we know that this first sighting would be the start to a trip filled with magnificent wildlife.

2 hours after we departed downtown Ely, we arrive to the entry point, portage 40 rods to the river and shove off into the wild. The day couldn't be better, the rain moved south, the wind is nonexistent and temperatures hover around the 60 degree mark. Perfect paddling weather. As we paddle the Little Indian Sioux river we spot numerous ducks and trumpeter swans. A wet summer has the water at a high level, especially for a mid September trip. The first several portages are heavily used and trampled down. As expected the first day of travel we pass several groups of people on the water and on the portages. It looks as though every campsite is full on Shell Lake. Our plan is to continue on to Lynx Lake for the night. The first 2 campsite on Lynx are filled but lucky for us, the campsite that we had hoped to stay at is open.

It's a beautiful evening on Lynx lake as the clouds recede and a huge full moon(one of the reasons we choose this week) shows itself just above the tree line. Our first night tradition of rib eye steaks with carrots and mash potatoes are enjoyed as we watch a busy beaver make his way past the campsite. With the moon now behind a new front of clouds we retreat to our awaiting sleeping bag.

Campsite #65 Lynx Lake

Lynx lake campsiteMushroom on lynx portageLil Shell to Lynx

Day 2 - Lynx lake to Rocky lake

The morning of the second day brings overcast with warm temperatures, especially for this late in the season. Today will be a long portage day, 1,908 rods are on the itinerary. We decided that on this trip because it's just the two of us, we are going to double portage instead of carrying everything on one trip which we typically do. We want to slow down and smell the forest, so to speak. The wet summer and the rain before our trip has made it perfect conditions for mushrooms and the forest is littered with every color and style of mushroom possible. Double portaging and slowing down has already proven to be a well made decision as for some of the most interesting mushrooms were not seen on the first trip but rather on the return trip. However, the mushrooms are not the only amazing sites along the trail, on the portage from Hustler lake to Oyster lake we encounter wolf prints in the mud. As we double back for another load we stop at the footprint site to take a few pictures and once we arrive we find a fresh pile of wolf scat and more prints. The eerie feeling of being watched raises the hair on the back of my neck as we finish carrying our gear across the portage.


We have now portaged all 1,908 rods and have arrived on our destination lake, as long as the one and only campsite is available. Rocky lake has a set of pictograph's that we stop by first to observe and picture. The day is drawing to an end and we are crossing our fingers that the campsite is open. To our cheers, the site is open and looks to be a decent site with a very cool fire pit. We set up camp and just as we finish we hear some load voices, and see two canoe's paddling our way. The campsite is tucked away into the woods and back in the bay which make it hard to see if it's occupied or not, so we both walk out onto the rocks near the shore. The group spots us and turns towards the portage, I'm sure they were both disappointed but yet grateful to have spotted us before paddling farther than they needed. The night is quiet with one light rain shower passing through.

Rocky Lake campsite #249

Rocky shore around pictographsRocky lake campsite fire grate area

Day 3 - Rocky lake to Finger lake

"The local weather report is up next", I say to Julie. On the radio we hear, "Today's weather for Orr, MN calls for variable clouds with times of sun and NNE winds of 10-15 mph, gust near 25 mph". This shouldn't be problem as the only relatively large lake we have to travel is Ge-be-on-e-quet. Breakfast is cleaned up and the canoe is loaded as we take off for our first portage of 90 rods to Green lake. We make it to Gebe lake and decide to paddle over to the rock chairs for lunch. The wind is starting to pick up as we land our canoe and take out our lunch bag. I know people have mixed feelings on the rock chairs but one thing for sure, someone spent some major amount of time and effort making these surprisingly comfortable chairs. After my favorite BWCA lunch of peanut butter tortilla, we head back across Gebe lake towards the portage to Gebe Creek. "Do you see that on shore over there" Julie shouts and points towards the shore north of the Gebe chairs. It's large, dark and moving fast into the water. It's a bull moose!! We paddle towards it, seeing how we are paddling that direction anyway. He continues to swim out into deeper water and straight for us. Julie quickly takes out the camera and starts snapping pictures as he approached our canoe. I keep a good distance and watch his behavior as I don't want to stress him out anymore than he appears to be. What caused him to run so fast out of the woods and into the water? Was he being chased by wolves or another larger bull moose? He proceeded to swim across the widest part of Ge-be-on-e-quet lake and out of site.

Moose swimming across GebeMoose on GebeMoose swim

After all the moose excitement and countless theories as to why he made that great swim, we unload the canoe and start the portage to Gebe Creek. The majority of the portages so far we have made the statement "Boy am I glad we are traveling this direction" is in true terms on this portage. It is steep, slick and straight down to the creek. A small scenic waterfall flows next to the portage. As we enter the creek we are very thankful for the high water because the lily pads are thick and could certainly slow things down if the water was lower. This is a very beautiful stretch of the boundary waters. The tall grasses, the numerous beaver houses, the large lilly pads and the majestic forest that surrounds this river brings a very tranquil feeling.

The Gebe creek turns into pocket river and becomes very shallow and rocky towards the pocket lake entrance. As we look for the portage we spot a porcupine enjoying some type of wood snack along the west side of the creek. We find the portage and make our first trip over and as we returned for the last of our gear, what comes walking down the trail but none other than the porcupine. He slowly turns off the trail and walks straight past us about 3 feet away as if we weren't even there.

PorcupineGe-be creek portage

Once on Pocket lake the wind has certainly picked up and we head directly towards our last portage for the day as we plan on making camp on Finger lake. Pocket lake turns into another very scenic river to the portage. We spot an eagle as it lands on a branch close to the water and I have to say it because I have never seen it before. This eagle had the largest bowel movement I've ever seen from a bird. It was as if someone poured a half gallon of milk out...sorry for the graphic visual :)

We make our way into Finger lake and set up camp on an island campsite. It's about 4:00 now and after collecting some wood and exploring the island, I decide to make a few cast before dinner while Julie reads for awhile. On my very first cast a 19" walleye slams my Rapala. "Looks like our dinner plans have changed", Julie says to me as she tosses down my fish stringer. This is a perfect way to end such a great day filled with wildlife and incredible scenery.

Finger Lake campsite #107

Finger lake campsiteWalleye off Pocket lake campsite

Day 4 - Finger lake to Slim lake

Rain and wind hit us through out the night. As the sun rises and the wind gust pick up, the campsite dries out fast. I turn the weather radio on to hear that the weather outlook has changed once again, go figure. The bluebird weather that was predicted a couple days ago has now changed to sustained winds of 25-30 mph with wind gust of 40+ mph. We are traveling on smaller lakes but know that even these smaller lakes the waves can be to much. We pack up camp and take off as quick as possible in hopes of getting a head start before the stronger winds hit. After several lakes and portage we arrive to Steep lake. The wind is rolling right into the portage entrance making it a very tricky canoe launch. Steep lake is a gorgeous lake with a very "steep" cliff that you can paddle under and around some rock caves. After exploring the cliff side, we head over to the campsite nearest the portage for lunch. As we round the bay I spot a very large black bear standing on shore looking right at us. Just as Julie reaches for the camera he majestically disappears into the forest. We listen to the weather radio at lunch and decide that it would be best for us to push on to Slim lake. That way we can paddle across the very large Loon lake the following morning early before the winds. Several miles of traveling left, we load up and proceed on our route to Slim lake.

MushroomsEagle near finger lake portage

Tired and sore, we have battled the winds and portages to Slim lake. The first campsite is high on a hill and unprotected from the winds, plus it has several dead trees leaning over the site. We keep moving and make home for the night on the campsite closest to the portage into Little Loon lake. The wind gust are so strong that we hear tree's crack and creek with the occasional eerie sound of one crashing to the ground. Evening sets in and as if someone flipped the switch, the winds almost completely stopped and we enjoy a peaceful dinner around the campfire. Strong winds are predicted for tomorrow and our plan is to pack as much up as possible tonight so we can take off bright and early in the morning in hopes of beating the winds across Loon lake.

Slim Lake campsite #

Slim lake campsiteSlim lake

Day 5 - Slim lake back to the entry

With the strong winds from yesterday still in our minds, we wake up early and take to the water. Little Loon and Loon lake are mirrors, with no wind whatsoever. The long paddle down to the Devil's Cascade is well enjoyed as the wind starts to pick up towards the portage. Devils Cascade is a very beautiful area and the water level is rushing high for this time of the year. We enjoy the sites and sounds as we sit down for a quick lunch break. Back on the water we begin the last leg of the trip down the same way that we began the trip. We meet two women from the cities on the last portage who ended up becoming wind bound on Loon lake the day before. The end has arrived as we approach the portage to the parking lot. Stepping back in the car is always a strange feeling, as if I forgot how to drive a motor vehicle. We load the canoe and take off back towards Ely where we've decided to stay the night and enjoy the town with the new friends that we made before heading back to Madison in the morning.

It was a great trip and if you don't mind long tough portages I would certainly recommend this route. We look forward to coming back here someday with our kids.

If interested, here's a link to a video I made of this trip;‚Äč

Devils CascadeDevils CascadeLIS entry portage

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