Planning a Trip to the BWCA? Here Are Four Routes You Gotta Try


NOTE: Since publishing our blog we have created a greatly expanded Boundary Waters Canoe Routes Library with over 50 maps, routes and descriptions. Please visit it here:  


Deciding which entry point to go in at is tough — do you pick an old favorite or somewhere new? Even more baffling is which combination of lakes, rivers, ponds and portage trails will make up your route.

To help inspire you, here are four loops (or near loops) that some of our members suggested. These canoe trips range from four to six days and as far as difficulty goes, they run the gamut.

Of course, everyone has their list of favorite lakes and routes in the BWCA. Let us know yours in the comments section.

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1. Islands, Rivers and La Croix

  • Overview: This route begins on The Little Indian Sioux River and leads into large bodies of water, ultimately ending on another river, the Moose.
  • Length: Approximately 49 miles. 4 to 6 days
  • Entry/ Exit Points: Start at Entry Point # 14, “Little Indian Sioux River (North).” Take out at #16 “Moose/Portage River.”
  • Fisher Maps: F-16 and F-23
  • Highlights: On your first day you’ll come to Devils Cascade, which is a spectacular display of rock and falling water. Along with the scenic rapids and falls on both rivers, the islands of Lac La Croix are a treasure. Bring your map, compass, and navigation skills because the inlets and islands of the big lake beg to be explored

2. The Big Water and Big Portage Loop

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  • Overview: Starting on Fall Lake you travel north into Basswood Lake and after two days or so of paddling, around the time you start to miss portaging you portage back towards Fall Lake. There is an alternative way to finish, (the red line) in which you continue south to an old logging road that is mostly grown over, submerged under water, and four miles long. Unless you have a sadistic sense of fun, we don’t recommend attempting this.
  • Length: Approximately 30 miles. 3 to 5 days.
  • Entry/ Exit Points: Begin and end at Entry Point #24, “Fall Lake”
  • Fisher Maps: F-10
  • Highlights: Lots of lakes and not a lot of portages! Alternatively, bragging to your friends about the four-mile portage you did.

3. Frost River

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  • Overview: This is Cliff Jacobson’s favorite route, which is saying something. And it’s a challenging one. So be ready for lots of short portages, beautiful lakes and a small, intimate stream.
  • Length: Approximately 25 miles. 3 to 5 days
  • Entry/ Exit Points: Begin at #50: “Cross Bay Lake.” End at #51 ”Missing Link Lake”
  • Fisher Maps: F-12
  • Highlights: Paddling the Frost River is a unique and intimate experience. You really get the sense you’re hundreds of miles away from anything on this route.

4. Minnesota’s Mountains

  • Overview: There are a lot of lakes in Minnesota, but not a lot of mountains. What we got is beautifully displayed in this route that features bluffs, cliffs, long lakes and stunning overlooks.
  • Length: Approximately 50 miles. 4 to 6 days
  • Entry/ Exit Points: Enter at #60 “Duncan Lake.” End at Clearwater Historic Lodge.
  • Fisher Maps: F-13 and F-14
  • Highlights: After you huff it through the Baby Grand Portage (600+ rods) you arrive at a series of small lakes hemmed in by stunning mountains. Truly awe inspiring. Once you portage onto Clearwater Lake, don’t forget to turn around. It’s silly gorgeous.

Needless to say, we didn’t even scratch the surface of the possible routes out there. Grab a few maps, bring your imagination and tell us what you adventure you concoct!

Comments (5)

Meagan Reissy

4 years ago

Make sure to do the Frost River in the spring ;)

Gail loverud

4 years ago

Where would we go if we just wanted to rent a canoe for a day and paddle around yet get the idea of what the BWCA is like? We’ve portaged many many years ago now we are 73 and haven’t canoed for years and don’t own a canoe anymore.

Peter Marshall

4 years ago

Check out Border Lakes Tour Company out of Grand Marais. Mike will show you the best of the BWCA in just one day!

Anne Jasperson

4 years ago

How about trips that would include young children with grandparents? Thanks for all you do.

Peter Marshall

4 years ago

Great suggestion - stay tuned! We're planning such blogs in the future. Thanks for your support!

Jim O'Reilly

5 years ago

Did the Voyager route from Rainy Lake to Lake Superior. 12 days, 225 miles. All the historic sites along that route make it worthwhile. Table Rock, Crooked Lake and LaCroic pictographs, Basswood and Pigeon Falls. Kettle Falls resort. All inspiring.

Bob Swenson

5 years ago

Stating the entry /exit number on the map would have been useful. Fish species readily catchable useful for those that eat along the way.(Frost L. Lake trout etc..)

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