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

East Bearskin redux

By TuscaroraBorealis Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (1)
Dates:August 12-15, 2022
Entry Point:64 - East Bearskin Lake (BWCA)

Friday August 12, 2022

The two youngest members of our crew had excitedly claimed the top bunks last night yet, somehow for them, resummoning that enlivened energy is an elusive task as we clear out of bunkhouse #1 at historic Clearwater Lodge & Outfitters this morning.Over in the renowned lodge it’s pancakes, bacon & fruit for breakfast. Next, we stop in the outfitting hut to grab our permit and rent a 3-man canoe for Brian, Grayson & Joe and then we’re off for East Bearskin Lake.

Clearwater Lodge

Pulling up to the landing there are a couple of other groups busily shuffling their gear to and forth. We soon discover one of them (a group of 4 men) is also heading in this morning and we alternately take group pictures for each other.

As she has done the last few trips we’ve done together, Aurora dons my Filson packer hat after taking her place in the Black Pearl. Innocently, Grayson quips, “Aurora, you look good in that hat.” I don’t know if it’s just fatherly instincts naturally kicking in but I immediately retort, “Eeeeeeasy there cowboy!” The adults in our group share a chuckle while Grayson & Aurora look at each other quizzically.

Paddling conditions are optimal as we encounter only the slightest intermittent ripples in our paddle eastward to the Alder Lake portage. At about the mid-point of our trek across this lake, along the southern shore, we come upon the first wilderness campsite on East Bearskin. It is right next to the portage into Crocodile Lake and has the river from that lake running right behind camp. The current breezeless conditions afford optimal auditory awareness of the cascading waters hidden back in the surrounding lush forest so, we decide to stop and ‘smell the roses.’

East Bearskin site #697rapids

The landing is small and riddled with boulders, there is a humongous fallen timber meritoriously serving as a bench to sit and contemplate the expanse of water out front of camp. While the camp itself is in the wilderness, unfortunately the waters out front is not, and cabins are within eyeshot across the lake. Still, it’s an OK site.

The trail back behind camp is, as one would expect, well-worn but does become a rolling path close to the main rapids and waterfall. Our two youthful crew members instantly shed their previously lethargic countenances and rush to climb to the pinnacle of this picturesque waterfall and explore the surrounding area. While I would hesitate to camp here, (fortunately this can be accessed from the Crocodile Lake portage as well.) this is definitely a worthwhile stop for anyone in the vicinity.


Back on the water, Aurora astutely points out the wilderness boundary sign north across the lake from our present position. We soon pull in to our first portage of the day.This portage is about as non-descript as a trail of this length could be. Large landings, a wide level path with decent footing and it’s not too long. Really about the only thing noteworthy to say about it; is that it is home to a nice stand of majestic old pines. Still, it being the first portage for our couple of newbies, there’s an undeniable element of anxiety.

Brian admits right off that he packed too much “stuff” but, we get across without serious delay or incident. I reassure everyone that, if things go to plan, this will have been our toughest portage.

Joe portagingGrayson portaging

It appears that a beaver is in the midst of damming up the narrow channel before we enter the main body of Alder. I have to partially step out and give us a couple leg thrusts to get us through. Good news greets us as the first site along the northern shore is vacant. We don’t plan on camping here but, it does insure us a safety net/fallback site if needed.

Alder narrows

As we work our way eastward, we discover the next couple of sites are vacant as well. Neither of these are on our desired list so we press on a little more concerned that we may not find an open site further up the lake. Sure enough, after zig zagging back and forth (S,N,S,N) we find all of the remaining sites on the lake currently occupied. Canoe Lake is our ideal target lake but, we would’ve grabbed any of the middle 3 sites on Alder had they been available.

Shortly after pulling up to the Canoe Lake portage, I run across and check to see if either of the 2 western most sites are available. The site directly across from the portage landing is definitely occupied. However, while it's tough to be 100% certain, it appears the western most site is open.

I scramble back across the short portage to find a husband/wife have pulled up to the landing. They're just on a daytrip to Johnson Falls and graciously volunteer to help us get our gear across the portage. Once we get a little closer, it becomes certain that the site it open. So, our paddle strokes gain a little more vigor for the home stretch.

No sooner do we pull in than Aurora spies a few big bullfrogs and is in hot pursuit. Grayson eagerly hops out of their canoe and joins in. Meanwhile Brian, Joe and myself begin hauling our gear up and scouting out the site for tent pads, tarp & hammock options etc.

Soon Aurora & Grayson have their fishing poles out and are met with instant success! They’re certainly not world beaters but, they catch one tiny sunfish after another. Our nightcrawler supply dwindles quickly and I think about saying something but, realize they are having so much fun (and unlike me aren’t concerned about what species or size) which is the entire point anyways. Why rain on their parade?!


Camp goes up without any serious problems and we enjoy seasoned pork tenderloin and scalloped potatoes with stinky cheese for supper. It’s actually amazing how small some of the fish the kids are catching as they keep several specimens in their ‘aquarium’. Aurora harvests a few raspberries for dessert as Joe lights into a baseball bat of a cigar for his after-supper indulgence.

Canoe lake site #Big cigar


It’s a gray, gloomy morning and we are all sleeping in a bit. Ova-easy eggs with fresh bacon & bagels for breakfast motivate us to get out on the water. Since it looks like it's going to be overcast today, we decide to head for the old miner's cabin on Spaulding Lake and save the expedition to Johnson Falls for tomorrow with the hopes of more sunshine.

After negotiating the flat, somewhat overgrown trail into Crystal we pull out the fishing rods and are met with instant success. Aurora reels in what I would normally classify as a small bass but, juxtaposing it against what they were catching yesterday, it’sa monster!

The first site along the northern shore is vacant so, we pull in to get out and stretch for a bit. Aurora and Grayson are soon contentedly skipping rocks while Joe lounges in carefree comfort on the convenient sloped rock face near the lakeshore. Brian busies himself getting properly setup for fishing while I explore the campsite.

Crystal Lake campsite #Crystal Lake campsite #

This better percentage of this site is severely sloped but, it does offer a nice fire grate area. While there is room for an army here, there is really only one decent tent pad just off the fire grate with another less appealing spot much further up the hill. This is certainly the least desirable camp on this lake but, I think most groups could make it work if they absolutely had to.

Back out on the water, we are beginning to do battle with the wind which is starting to pick up a little. It doesn’t ever get too crazy but, we still stay close to shore as we trace the northern profile of this beautiful lake.

Arriving at the portage into Spaulding, I need to rein the kids in as they haphazardly head off for the campsite (which is occupied) just east of the landing, hopefully minimizing our intrusion. The trail is a bit overgrown and has a recently fallen tree across it that provides some extra effort but we make it across no worse for wear.

I’m always enamored by the small cliffs and rock formations along the southern shore of Spaulding Lake. I think they are more prominent because most of the lake is so low lying and swampy.

Spaulding cliffsSpaulding moss

Unlike most semi-poplar spots in the BWCA, for this cabin there really isn’t a landing per say. You just need to paddle to the extreme eastern end of the lake and land on the north side of the small brook flowing there. From there it’s somewhat of a bushwhack until you reach the small hill where there’s a bunch of faint trails heading back into the woods. Generally speaking, the trails all lead to the cabin but, if you’ve never been there, it can be somewhat confusing. I’d say the cabin is probably about 100 yards down the brook/base of the hill and then after turning north another 25-30 up the hill. The faint trails should get you there.

The cabin has dilapidated quite noticeably since my last visit. Still, it is a unique spot that certainly harkens memories of a bygone era. While the miner may have fallen on hard luck and be long gone, the descendants of the mosquitos that feasted on his flesh are still doing quite well and persuade us to make haste in returning to our canoes.

Spaulding Lake cabin

Once back in camp the hammocks are a popular spot and Joe takes a dip. I pretty much did the grocery shopping for this trip. Joe has done a number of trips but, this is Brian & Grayson’s first trip into the BWCA. I told them all they need to worry about food wise was perhaps a few snacks. Thus far I’d seen some beef sticks, cheese curds and nuts – all in plastic bags. However, A lone can of peaches has also made the trip! I instantly inform Brian that it is illegal to have that container here in the wilderness. Ultimately the (figurative) damage is already done and I take responsibilty for not properly informing him. However, it kind of becomes a source of humor for the remainder of the trip. For example: when Brian asks, “Will the rangers check how many fish we’ve caught? Can they ticket us if we’re over the limit?” I reply, “No, that’s not their responsibility. However, if they catch someone with a can of fruit – then they can give out a ticket!”

Joe swimmingpeaches

It’s steaks and potatoes tonight for supper. We stay up a bit later and watch the stars come out tonight.

Brian & Joe


I am up early this morning but, am denied the indulgence of a heavenly sunrise due to the exceedingly heavy fog hanging over the entire lake. I hear some rustling in one of the other tents and note that Brian has crawled out as well. He doesn’t immediately join me so; I presume natures call is taking precedence. I soon occupy myself with getting a fire going to boil some water and begin staging our breakfast for most efficient preparation once everyone has gotten up. Suddenly, I hear a large splash down near Brian & Grayson’s tent! Being Brian is a former Marine, my initial thought is he sure is a man’s man jumping in the lake right after getting out of bed at 6:00 in the morning. I soon discover that it is not Brian but a flock of mergansers swimming near shore.

foggy morningfoggy morning

The left-over steak from last night deliciously compliments our scrambled egg breakfast and affords us a bit of variety from yesterday's menu. The fog is quickly dissipating and the sun is beginning to pop out so we pack up for our journey to Johnson Falls.

steak & eggs

The landing on Canoe Lake is large, somewhat scenic and has plenty of room for us to stash our canoes out the way. This trail is a doozey and as we ascend the first hill, we immediately give thanks that this is only a day trip. I rather enjoy jaunts like this as these longer trails offer a lot of diversity. Aurora & Grayson find several unique spots to rest & explore along the way.

As we finally come out at the landing on Pine Lake there are a couple of canoes just landing. They are looking for the trail to the falls and I tell them they would be better off paddling to the extreme western end of the lake and starting there. So as to somewhat avoid crowding, we decide to take a short break before continuing on.

The group we met at the landing is still enjoying the lower falls area once we arrive so, we head just downstream to marvel at the colossal cedar tree residingthere. I haven’t been here in a few years and looks a little more worn than I remember. Still, when putting all things into consideration, I think this tree is more impressive than the falls.

boardwalkBig cedar

Brian & big cedarBrian

Aurora & Grayson are having a blast finding, skipping rocks & just exploring. Once the other crew vacates the area, we move over to the pool below the falls and do some swimming. Grayson isn’t too enthused and quickly retreats to the sanctuary of shore but, we all enjoy absorbing this surreal atmosphere God has created. Eventually we move on to the upper falls as well and explore the various semi-hidden nooks & crannies around that area.

Aurora & IBrian & Grayson

Brian & Graysongroup waterfall

Grayson swimmingCave

Pine Lake is entirely too beautiful to just pass on by without stopping and appreciating its Divine splendor so, we linger on the shores of this beautiful body of water. Besides locating several excellent skipping rocks, Aurora & Grayson also gleefully discover a multitude of toads and frogs amongst the shoreline roots & boulders as they enthusiastically continue their explorations.

Pine Lakeskipping rocks

After getting back across this formidable trail, we decide to pull into the vacant campsite located just up the lake. It’s nothing special but, it is in better condition than I recall. A tight landing leads to a small fire grate area encircled by tall grass & weeds. There’s a cluster of small sawed-off log pieces serving as benches. There is one decent tent pad just behind with a couple of marginal ones as well. It looks awfully buggy here so we don’t linger.

big hillCanoe Lake campsite #

Having caught our collective breaths back in camp, Brain, Grayson, Aurora & myself decide to paddle back into Paddle Lake to try some fishing. For the most part we are able to easily paddle the narrow channel but, I do need to hop out and pull us through the last bit of riffles before the lake.

Aurora hooks into a fish that is certainly bigger than the sunfish they had been catching from shore. We are hoping for some walleyes but, it turns out to be a small bass. We catch several more before we are joined by another group. Even though the fishing isn’t exactly what we were hoping for, Paddle Lake is a quiet, beautiful little getaway from the main travel routeand we savor the time spent here.

Channel into Paddle LakeBrian & Grayson fishing

Joe made the “sacrifice” to stay back and has the fire going and hot water on the grate for us when we return. It’s our last night and we have some chicken & wild rice soup for supper. Once again Aurora & I play some rummy in the tent as our nightcap.

view of camp from lakeclouds


While nothing like yesterday, it’s still another noticeably foggy morning. Breakfast is mostly an afterthought as Joe & I begin to get camp tore down. Soon the rest of the crew is up and joins in helping where they can. Aurora & Grayson spend these last fleeting momentsby the lakeshore watching the mergansers, pestering the bullfrogs & skipping rocks.


It’s a gloomy paddle back to the entry point but, we encounter only a brief and very light mist along the way. Aurora spies a lone mink up along the shores of East Bearskin whichbreaks up the cadence of our monotonous paddling. It always seems to me this lake is maddeningly long on departure days.

paddling Alderwater plant

Once back at the landing, we thank and wish each other well. Joe, Brian & Grayson want to get on the road home ASAP so, after dropping off the canoe at Clearwater outfitters, they don’t plan on joining Aurora & I at Trail Center for lunch.

Trail Center signGroup

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