Back to Routes

Loop through Phoebe,
Malberg and Louse Creek

Skill Level
Entry Point
Portage Rods
Longest Portage

Average Rating

Rated 4 out of 5

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.

Donate Now

A significant part of this journey is through remote interior lakes that get very few visitors, so expect some of the finest solitude available near Sawbill Lake. Because it involves a number of very challenging portages, this route is best covered by fit, experienced canoeists who want to visit a number of lakes.

Detailed Route Info

Paddle from the Sawbill landing to central Alton Lake via a 29-rod portage. Alton is a justifiably popular lake and makes a fine place to spend an evening or two.

From Alton Lake, take a 147-rod portage to Beth Lake and a 280-rod portage to Grace Lake, which is a great place to camp and fish for a night, a weekend, or longer. From here you will head down the Phoebe River and take four short portages to Phoebe Lake. As you reach the Phoebe landing a small waterfall cascades through the woods on your left. A trail leads back to the falls, and is a great place to refresh yourself and soothe any mosquito bites you may have picked up along the way.

To leave Phoebe, paddle through the channel on the north shore and enter Knight Lake and paddle up the peaceful Phoebe River until you see a portage on your left side. Stretches of the river are quite shallow, so keep alert for rocks. The 144-rod trail over to Hazel Lake is fairly level, and a nice, small lake awaits you at the end.

Now you will travel by way of the Phoebe River to Lake Polly, which involves five portages. Beautiful Lake Polly is another wonderful lake on this great route. Dozens of islands dot its surface, and thousands of walleye and pike swim below.

Paddle and portage a pleasant stretch of river from Lake Polly into Koma Lake, and to Malberg Lake. You will now be in the fantastic interior of the Boundary Waters. If you’ve packed light and well, this stretch will be really quite interesting as you enjoy the rhythm of alternating short stretches of paddling and portaging.

From Malberg Lake to Trail Lake, includes 9 relatively short portages along the Louse River gets relatively few visitors, and has prime habitat for moose and many other north woods animals.

The journey from Trail Lake to Wine Lake includes more than a half dozen portages, several of which are over 100 rods. Along this section, Mug Lake is especially noteworthy, a jewel in the rough. The shore on most sides are covered by exposed rock sloping up approximately 20 feet. In the southwest corner, a small waterfall cascades 20 feet down an exposed rock face into a little pool. Mug, along with Wine Lake and its neighbors, are probably among the least visited lakes in the eastern BWCAW, making for some of the most remote country in an already remote wilderness.

You will now head south to reconnect to Sawbill Lake. The big challenge here is the 460-rod portage between Zenith Lake and Lujinida Lake. From here, you head south into the Kelso River and on to Kelso Lake. Head to west at the fork on the southern end of Kelso and take an easy 3-rod portage back to Sawbill Lake. You deserve a burger!

*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.

Donate Now


Rated 4 out of 5

The boat traffic....

Rated 4 out of 5
October 10, 2022

Leave Your Review

Ready to Reserve Your Permits?

Once you have selected your route it’s time to reserve your permit to ensure your spot for the date you want.