Tips on Entry Points
for BWCA and Quetico Park Canoe Trips
Our primary service is to help you choose an entry and plan a route. We do this based on party make-up, previous experience desire for solitude, trip interests, and length of trip. Please phone us to discuss trip ideas. Entry points should be thought of as the small end of a funnel. Each day a limited number of parties may enter through that “funnel”. The farther out they travel, the fewer other parties they will encounter.
If an entry point has a low quota (1-4 parties per day), dispersal happens relatively quickly. When starting from heavy use entry points with large quotas (14-27 parties per day), it will probably take a few days of traveling before the “crowd” thins out. In most cases, these heavier use areas are the easier routes to travel … they have fewer portages, and usually they are short. There are a few low quota entry points that lead toward routes with only a few short portages, but these are exceptions. Don’t get too hung upon portages, though; roughly 80% of the portages in the BWCA are less than 1/4 mile in length.
The intent of this information is to introduce you to the various locations from which your travel group may start your trip. We would hope that you do not treat this listing as a catalog from which to choose a particular location. Instead, pick out an two or three entries that sound good to you and let us know why you think they would be a good match for your group. This will help us understand what you are thinking and be more accurate in applying for your permits.
If your group has been to the North Country before on a canoe trip, you may already have a favorite entry point. But if this is your first trip, or if you are just looking for a chance to consider something new, the following is our synopsis of each of the major Entry Points in the Ely area.
BWCA Entry Points
Click each line for a drop down with more information.
An area rarely mentioned in guide books, the Crab/Cummings series of lakes is one of those “best kept secret” type of canoe routes. It is an excellent entry for a fishing base camp trip utilizing only one or two campsites over the course of your journey. Though it is one of the canoe country’s best areas for smallmouth bass, side trips can lead to lakes with above average walleye and pike fishing, as well as largemouth bass (which is very rare in northern Minnesota). One rolling portage of a mile and a quarter is required on both the first and last day to access and leave through this Entry Point. This is the primary reason many parties avoid this area. This is to your strong advantage as there are many portages, half as long, that are much “tougher” to get across due to terrain changes along the way. Exit Location: #4 (only), van trip needed.
A distant starting location from our base, Indian Sioux can provide great fishing along with a high degree of solitude for those paddlers willing to travel daily and carry some longer than average portages. A scenic highlight is Devil’s Cascade: a deep gorge with the Indian Sioux River spilling from one level to the next for several hundred yards. Exit Locations: #14, or 16 (5-8 days). Van trips required at start and end.
A distant starting location from our base, Nina-Moose River can provide great fishing along with a moderate degree of solitude for those paddlers willing to travel. The portages are average in difficulty, but one not need to do very many to get to a good spot for base camping the middle 3 days or so. Scenic highlights are Rebecca Falls, Curtain Falls, and the pictographs on Lac La Croix. The area, or associated routes, would be on Border Lakes with Canada being about half way across Lac La Croix and/or Crooked Lakes — touching Canada is OK for paddling and lunch, but not for camping or fishing. Exit Locations: #16 can be any degree of difficulty you choose (and can be adjusted while you are out there), 22/23 can be used with a good deal of travel, or 14 can be used with long portages and few people. Van trips required at start and end.
A challenging start to this entry is the 480 rod (1 ½ mile) portage from the parking lot. The Stuart River meanders past some small shallow lakes (northern pike), eventually reaching Stuart Lake on the second day. This fantastic walleye lake is seldom fished due to the difficult route to reach it. Parties then can continue on to Iron Lake and Crooked Lake for smallmouth bass. Exit Locations: #16 or 22, van trip needed. We don’t recommend returning to the starting location due to the difficulty of the route.
A beautiful lake reached by an initial 2 mile portage. We think this one is better left to those people trying to reserving their permit after everything else is taken. Or (said differently) if you insist on starting here, use another outfitter … you probably aren’t going to be happy with the trip … and we don’t want to be blamed!
This entry gets booked-up very quickly because of its scenic beauty and fantastic fishing. Routes start at the end of an old logging road from a private landing adjacent to the locally colorful “Chainsaw Sisters Saloon”. Portaging into Horse or Fourtown Lake can find the base camping unit at their campsite by noon. For those wanting to continue, a chain of small lakes to the northwest leads to quiet walleye and northern fishing. Parties may also paddle the Horse River up to the its’ confluence with the Basswood River which forms a section of the Canadian Border. Another mile, and paddlers can gaze at some very clear pictographs adorning a cliff face along the river. Groups may then work the border lakes heading north, then west, and finally south to exit at Nina Moose River (the reverse route listed above: 6-7 days). Traveling to the southeast will return parties via Fall Lake to our dock on White Iron Lake (6-7 days).
Used primarily by resort guests with motorboats and base camping canoe parties wanting to get to Basswood Lake’s Jackfish and Pipestone Bays. Excellent walleye fishing in May and early June. Exit Locations: 22, 25, or 26 via van, or 31 via paddle-in to base.
Moose Lake is without question the most popular starting point in the Boundary Waters. When we are talking to people at random at our winter sport shows over the winter, invariably almost all who say they’ve been to the BWCA say they went out of Moose Lake. It is one of the easiest routes to paddle as the portages along the border are short. After a day or two of travel, routes can lead to some very good fishing for all four of our major species: walleye, smallmouth, northern pike, and lake trout.Showing up in every guide book on the area, and having by far the largest daily use quota, it is certainly understandable why Moose Lake is referred to by some Sierra Club members as “The Canoe Highway”. In addition to the above quota for US-side canoe camping, 15 more canoe parties start here for heading up to Prairie Portage for Quetico Park trips. There is also an average quota of 16 motorboat parties coming from the numerous resorts and summer homes located on the lake. Additional motor use comes from the quota-free motor towboat shuttles transporting parties up the first 6 miles of the chain. That adds up to a whole lot of people. For this reason we seldom recommend Moose Lake for a starting point for US-sidetrips.All routes leading from Moose Lake were hit very hard during 1999’s Independence Day wind storm.If your group has the time to push deeper into the woods, and doesn’t mind two days in a high density area, Moose Lake can offer some good routes for 50-Miler seekers. Exit Locations: # 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, or 30, via van, or 31 via paddle-in to base.
A large lake best traveled in the morning. Easy portages (though sometimes a little long), lead into the areas between Moose Lake and Lake One … the first and second busiest entry points in the BWCA. These smaller lakes hold healthy habitats of walleye and northern pike. While a little heavy on people throughout most of the connecting routes, it is a pleasant area to paddle through. Due to the expanse of Snowbank Lake, exiting parties may get stranded 1½ miles out when afternoon winds pick up from the west. Exit Locations: #25, 29, or 30 via van, or 31 via paddle-in to base.
Lightly used set of lakes with good fishing. Good for a younger group that wants to base camp. Route may be extended out onto Basswood Lake (however we don’t usually recommend it for canoe travel due to its large size). Fisher Maps: F-9, 10, 17, 3. Exit Locations: # 22, 24, 25, 26, or 28, via van, or 31 via paddle-in to base.
Un-officially known as “North Kawishiwi”. This entry is a unique way to enter the Kawishiwi River flowage with your route being almost identical to one starting at Lake One (but without the people). The one-of-a-kind “roller portage” is modeled after 19th century logging shoots; your canoe slides across the portage on rollers! Unfortunately, the next portage is about 1/2 mile and has no rollers. With these two land crossings out of the way, you can be in your first campsite by noon. The remainder of the trip can be done with one or two camps allowing for day-trips, or you can poke into some very lightly used lakes for real solitude. There is a great brook trout lake nearby, and a beautiful cascade which your outfitter can direct you to. Exit Locations: #30, 32, or 33 via van, or 31 via paddle-in to base.
This is the second busiest entry in the BWCA. But unlike Moose Lake, there are several routes which branch away directly from the landing, or within an hour’s paddle, which can lead your party into lakes and rivers having more solitude. Also, it is probably the easiest chain of lakes to paddle which does not have motorboat traffic. Heading east will take your party through Lakes Two, Three, Four, Hudson, and into Insula. The fishing is great on this string into mid-July. From Insula, you may journey deep into the heart of the BWCA and then return to Lake One for a van pick-up. Or continue north and west on a popular route returning to Moose Lake for a 50-mile trip. Heading west from the landing will take your party into the Kawishiwi River system. These smaller lakes and the river (which is better described as a long narrow lake itself) have very good fishing for walleye and pike. Most of the portages are short, with only one 1/4- to 1/2-miler per day. Several routes are available here, all leading back to our White Iron Lake base location. This gives the flexibility to end your trip at any time on your last day without having to meet our van for a scheduled pick-up. Exit Locations: #22, 25, or 27 via van, or 31 via paddle-in to base.
Better described as the “western entry of the Kawishiwi River flowage.” This entry is the closest to our White Iron Lake Base, being only a 2-mile paddle from our dock. Many of our groups opt for this light use entry, as there is no van transportation needed. In addition, most of our parties exit the BWCA via this point so as to paddle-in on the last day on their own time schedule. The routes leading from Farm Lake are on smaller, wind/wave protected lakes, making this area good for both first timers or parties with younger members. Easy, slow-paced base camp routes are as simple to map out as longer, traveling trips for those in better shape. These routes can lead to fantastic walleye and pike fishing, along with smallmouth bass and crappie, too. For those heading to the southeast, moose and eagles will probably be sighted. There are very few bears in this area to get into poorly hung food packs at night (black bears are drawn to where people are most frequently camped). The area hold several of the BWCA’s wolf packs, so there is a good possibility that you might hear them howling. Wolves are timid around humans, though, avoiding camps and most portages. The chance of seeing a wolf is rare . . . but it does happen once-in-a-while for groups that are lucky (and very quiet). Exit Locations: # 25, 27, 29, 30, 32, or 33 via van, or return via paddle-in to base.* NOTE:A separate lake (South Farm) shares the Farm Lake Entry Quota with the North Kawishiwi River. South Farm is an isolated, motor-use lake. Canoe parties leaving from, or returning to, our North Country base docks never use the motorized South Farm Lake (unless they are REALLY lost).
We use this entry to provide essentially the same trip as those starting from our dock when the limited number of Farm Lake permits are booked-up. The first day differs in that you are paddling the scenic South Kawishiwi River, past some very pretty rapids, and some great walleye fishing spots. The van trip to the landing is only about 15 minutes. Exit Locations: #29, 30, or 33 via van, or 31 via paddle-in to base.
One long portage (1/2 mile) leads from the end of the road down hill to a small, pretty, northern pike lake. From here, a short paddle can find you base camped on Gabbro Lake, fishing for walleye, or exploring an old logging dam site. A “lift-over” portage will have your group in Bald Eagle Lake for some battles with smallmouth bass, northerns, and walleye, and camping at some lovely campsites. For those wanting to push a little harder, a series of back lakes provide solitude camping and good fishing. Parties may return to the Little Gabbro Landing for pick-up, or get back to our dock with a day-and-a-half paddle. May and June (and some in July) report seeing not only a moose or two along the shorelines, but also wolf tracks on the portages. The river is also home to beaver, otter and mink. A 2-day paddle will have you on Bald Eagle Lake. Like the Little Gabbro routes, you can stay here for a night or two, push back into the remote back lakes, or continue on to the Kawishiwi River and return to our docks on White Iron. Exit Locations: # 29, 30, or 32 via van, or 31 via paddle-in to base.
These entries were heavily affected by the 2011 Pagami Creek Fire. We now only recommend them for parties particularly interested in FIre Ecology. If you have an interest in this area, please call our office, and we can discuss it in detail.
A very remote entry point which leads to the mid-point of the Isabella River (see below). Because it is so lightly used, wildlife is in good supply: moose, deer, beavers, otters, owls, etc. The short portages, and narrow, winding river make it a gentle start for younger groups. Routes would normally lead thru Bald Eagle and Gabbro Lakes, and then possibly into the to the North/South Kawishiwi River System and back to our dock. Exit Locations: #29, 30, 32, or 33, or 31 via paddle-in to base
We use this entry as a back-up when other permits are not available for a particular date. The good news is that it is the shortest paddle route into Bald Eagle Lake . . . the bad news is that it has a long portage at the beginning, and is susceptible to low water conditions.
Quetico Park Entry Guide
All paddle-in canoe trips going into Quetico Park from the Ely area funnel through Prairie Portage on the extreme eastern end of Basswood Lake.
A variety of different distance trips can start through this entry. It is a great entry point for short duration or distance trips, as well as being ideal for longer trips where fishing is paramount. Therefore, it is ideal for a group that wants to base camp at only one site, wants three sites for some variety, or has the time to knock out a vary remote 50-, 60-, or 70-mile trip. It is difficult, however to have a good route with four or five campsites. Portages are generally on the mid-length side, but the majority are over easier terrain than most Canadian portages. It is consistently an above average locale for fishermen seeking mid-summer smallmouth bass or lake trout.
Probably the best known of the Canadian canoe routes, trips into Agnes have the added reward of Louisa Falls. This cascade drops some 90′ in two sections with a natural “spa type pool” half way down. Pretty good walleye fishing can be had in the area. Returns can be made through the “S-Chain” which is a gorgeous string of crystal clear lakes connected by shorter length portages. Also, for those parties wanting to base camp on the Canadian side of Basswood Lake (i.e.: North Bay), an “Agnes – Base Camp” permit must be reserved.
Probably the most remote of the Canadian Entries thru Prairie Portage, “Kash” requires a pretty tough second day to get into the lake. After crossing the “Yum Yum Portage” (acknowledged as one of the hardest in the canoe country) you are home free. There is an alternative route to by-pass Yum Yum that we can tell you about during the mapping session. This long narrow lake has some great fishing for walleye, with some fantastic lake trout spots in the area as well. Bordered with cliffs, some up to 250′ high, this was the home of the last ranger within the interior of the park. The former site now is a nice spot to camp.
It takes most groups 2 days to get into Sarah, but except for the very last portage, it is a pretty easy trip. Sarah, along with neighboring Tuck, Robinson, and McIntyre provide a wide variety of fishing opportunities for smallmouth, walleye, northerns, and lake trout. Routes through Sarah can be modified to handle any length trip from 5 to 10 days. A nice bonus for this area is that you can exit through Mudro Lake, and not have to retrace your path across North or Bailey Bays, while also avoiding a second trip on the busy Moose Lake Chain.
Entry into the Basswood River is made via Basswood Lake. This 20-mile (+) lake can get very choppy in windy conditions. For this reason, we do not recommend youth groups use this entry point. Exiting through Basswood River, however, can make for a nice ending for 6 to 7-day paddle-in trips heading through Sarah Lake. To use this exit route, a BWCA permit should also be secured to allow camping the last night on Horse or Fourtown Lake, just prior to your pick-up at Mudro Lake.