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Frost River Loop

Skill Level
Entry Point
Portage Rods
Longest Portage

Average Rating

Rated 5 out of 5

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This demanding route travels through the heart of the BWCA and is the favorite of many BWCA veterans — including Cliff Jacobson. Plan on doing this trip early in the season, as later, water levels might drop to make it unnavigable. There are lots of portages, so don’t bring your Dutch oven or wanigan on this journey! This Frost River competes with the Little Indian Sioux River as the most remote navigable stream in the BWCA!

Detailed Route Info

Your journey begins on Round Lake and follows several long portages to Snipe Lake and downstream along the creek draining into Cross Bay Lake. From here, take a series of short portages into Karl Lake.

Either continue along a portage-free route to the south-east or take a short, tough portage over the peninsula from Karl to Long Island Lake, where excellent camping, islands, beautiful shores and great fishing combine to make this a truly wonderful destination.

Continuing south into Long Island River which widens out into Gordon Lake. Take tough portage over to Unload Lake and into Frost Lake. From here, there are no more campsites for the next 7 miles! So this is an excellent spot to stop before you head down the Frost River.

Depending upon water levels and the work of beavers, there may be twelve or more portages before you reach Alton Lake. Otherwise, the river is a lot of twists, turn and accidental beachings. Such conditions continue all the way to Crooked Lake, an excellent spot to slow down, camp and cast a line for lake trout. If you don’t catch any here, your next stop is the 180-foot Gillis Lake, another great place to hook into lakers.

You’ll proceed through eight short to medium length portages until you reach Round Lake and paddle to your starting point at the northwest shore.

*Route information provided courtesy of Dan Pauly, and have been modified from his book, Exploring the Boundary Waters: A Trip Planner and Guide to the BWCAW. University of Minnesota Press, 2004

Like what you see?

Donate to support this valuable resource and ensure the wilderness you love stays protected from threats and stays wild for future generations.

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Rated 5 out of 5

Just the right time for the Frost

Rated 5 out of 5
September 22, 2022

I did a 5 day solo trip in early June 2022, just after the flooding and higher waters in May, swinging through Little Saganaga amd Gabimichigami. The high and fast water had washed many beaver dams out and I didn’t have to pull over a single one! Take the route clockwise and stay quiet on the Frost. Wildlife is abundant along (and in) the river. If you fish, bring gear for lakers and northern on this route’s lakes and enjoy!

A beautiful pre-permit April paddle

Rated 5 out of 5
May 5, 2021

I put in about a week after ice out and spent a 3 glorious days paddling up from Sawbill Lake to do the legendary Frost River Loop. I was not disappointed! Great weather, a strong headwind (because when isn’t there a headwind!) lots of portaging and a pretty packed schedule left me sore and as happy as a guy can get. This route is both challenging and unsurpassed for scenery. Highly recommended to all!

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