This Is Your Year, Plan That Boundary Waters Trip!

BWCA permits for summer 2021 went live at the end of January, time is of the essence to snag one for your desired entry point.

With the recent spike in temps, we’re all leaving our winter fortresses and thinking ahead to spring and summer. Maybe reminiscing on those warm days replete with paddling and portaging. 

Ahh yes, the mystical Boundary Waters. Many seem hesitant to plan their first ever trip, but once you go once, you’ll never get enough!

Make this year the one you (finally) pull the trigger on an adventure in the Boundary Waters. If you don’t know where to go, read on for some routes Nick and I suggest.

Nick portaging out of the Boundary Waters.
Nick was happy when we upgraded to a Kevlar canoe.

A Loon Lake Route

  • Best in late June, early July.
  • Ely, MN
  • Entry Point 14, Little Indian Sioux River

A 40-rod portage leads to a slow paddle down the Little Indian Sioux River. This river is the place where I witnessed my first pair of otters swimming.

Head to Upper Pauness, then Lower Pauness, check out Devil’s Cascade, paddle down the Little Indian Sioux River again into Loon Lake.

Loon Lake is expansive and permits motorized boats, 2 things that often give me heart palpitations. Stick near the perimeter and find a campsite that overlooks the big waters. If you don’t find one, there’s something to be said about one of the few campsites on Little Loon Lake.

FYI, it’s customary for paddlers to select a campsite in the early afternoon, so stop to camp at any one of the lakes from the route above. Generally, a person travels 6-7 miles each day, so map your route accordingly.

Flower on shore of Boundary Waters lake.
Pink flower found on Octopus Lake.

Little Saganaga Lake Route

  • Best: Any summer month
  • Gunflint Trail
  • Entry Point 52, Edith Lake

After the long drive up the Gunflint, you’ll launch your canoe at Round Lake. Hike a few short portages, then enter the BWCA at Edith Lake. 

Travel towards Brant Lake, then Gotter Lake, Flying Lake, Green Lake, Bat Lake. Stop on Bat for some fishing, it’s quite deep and makes for some great pictures. Next go to Gillis Lake, Crooked Lake, Tarry Lake, Mora Lake, then finally land on Little Saganaga. 

This trip provides an interesting perspective of forests before and after fires since you pass through the boundaries of the Cavity Lake Fire.

Make this trip a loop and head back out through Gabimichigami Lake, a well-known destination of the BW.

“Little Sag” is one of those lakes that most Boundary Waters veterans have at least heard of. If you do make this your route, be prepared for all of us to tell you about that one time we visited it ourselves.

Luna laying lake side.
Luna found the one patch of lawn grass to lay on.

Starting with Brule Lake

  • Best: Any summer month
  • Tofte, MN
  • Entry point 41, Brule Lake

Brule is a popular entry point into the Boundary Waters. Often, people make it their base camp and head out in various directions for day trips. 

On my first ever trip to the Boundary Waters, Nick and I went west to South Temperance, then Cherokee, and traveled towards Frost Lake. (Yupp, you read that right… Nick had the temerity to bring me, a wilderness-newb, to the most remote region of the Boundary Waters on my first trip. Turns out, it was a risk with a large payout!)

There are many, many directions to head out of Brule! Any of them would be just as worth the drive. There are zillions of articles on the interwebs that are likely more poetic detailing routes to take from Brule. If you don’t want to listen to any of them, you can always give up eating at the kitchen table and instead, use it for your map laying area until you determine your own route!

All of our BWCA maps laid out on the floor.
Voyageur Maps complete set, laid out to see get the whole picture.

Some more quick facts for the novice:

  • When you pick up your first permit- you’ll have to watch the Ranger video, then be asked a series of questions (i.e., what do you do with your trash… pack it out.)
  • You’ll wear fewer clothes than you think.
  • Do NOT bank on catching fish. Read: pack extra food.
  • If you really hate bugs, go in early June.
  • To save money, buy a food dehydrator (often carried in your local thrift store) and dehydrate your own meals. If you have a fruit leather tray, your menu is limitless!
Food for a 6 night trip through the BWCA

But what do I pack?

Instead of going into a long-winded gear paragraph (which I have a tendency to do…) here is our gear spreadsheet:

Gear spreadsheet for 2 adults and 1 dog.

With the limited gear, Nick and I single-portage (carry all our items in one trek.) This might not be the case for you, perhaps you want more gear. I’ve asked a friend to share her thoughts on packing for her family of 4, here’s what she recommends:

“Packing for kids is the same as packing for adults. We just bring an extra pair of underwear for the boys for every 3 days, good rain gear with pants is a must, they can always wear it as a layer. Wool socks. Our kids use Crocs. Add extra food with kids, including junk like candy, in case they need sugar. Most important is a good first aid kit. The kit was well worth it on our long trip.”
Be sure to remember that, “The more stuff you bring, the more you carry. Kids don’t realize their clothes are filthy, so you don't need a lot other than layers.” -Sarah H.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t wait! There are quotas on permits. So even if you don’t know your route, buy the permit and state a tentative route, you can always change your mind later.

Annie in front of the BWCA entry point sign.

This post was written by Annie Schmitz, February 2021.

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