The best part about the location of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters is the vast number of Boundary Waters and Quetico Park canoe trips that can be taken leaving right from our dock. One of our favorite said routes is the Saganaga, Knife and Seagull Lakes loop. There are a number of variations of this route depending upon how many days you have but believe me, you’re sure to enjoy this loop no matter what detours you choose to take along the way.
You can read about Saganaga and Seagull Lakes on our other trip route descriptions in full detail. For sake of brevity we’ll keep the information about those two lakes to a minimum on this route description.
This route can be done with either a Saganaga Lake permit or a Seagull Lake Permit. Since we prefer to use a tow boat to get us to American Point on Saganaga we’ll describe this route beginning from there.
American Point is as far north and west as motorboats are allowed to travel into the BWCA. From there it’s paddle power only as you make your way west along the Minnesota Canadian border.
There are a number of great campsites to choose from in this area that require no portaging to access. If you’re getting a late start in the day or want to spend some time fishing then locate one of these jewels.
The paddle from American Point to the first 5-rod portage into Swamp Lake is relatively short but very scenic. After paddling past the opening to Cache Bay of the Quetico Park the waterway begins to narrow. It eventually funnels down to an intimate stream like size as you straddle the narrow waterway with the bow of your canoe in the US and the stern in Canada. The waterway opens up again before the 3rd Bay of Saganaga where you can find a 5-rod portage into Zephyr Lake or continue along the route to Ottertrack Lake.
In high water we’ve paddled through the 5-rod portage into Swamp Lake but that has been a very rare occasion. Most of the time you need to unload your canoe and portage the short expanse of land. The paddle across Swamp Lake is a short one and before you get to the portage to Ottertrack Lake you’ll see the decking of the Monument Portage. This is a relatively easy 80-rod portage as it is quite wide due to the maintenance of the International Border. You’ll see why the portage is called Monument as you make your way to Ottertrack.
canoeing the BWCA
The bay of Ottertrack where the portage leads to is shallow and sandy. I love this area because you can see to the bottom and one time I was able to spy a beaver swimming beneath my canoe. The lake begins to open up and this is where you would find the portage into Ester Lake and one campsite before you reach the narrow passageway into the rest of Ottertrack Lake. This section of Ottertrack is lined by high cliffs on the Canadian side of the lake. It’s quite majestic looking and I’m always in awe when I paddle past. It’s a beautiful long and narrow lake with most campsites located at the opposite end of the lake. You’ll find one campsite on a point right after the portage into Gijikiki Lake. Then there are three campsites before the lake funnels around a bend toward the 5-rod portage into Knife Lake.
After the quick lift over you might want to spend some time fishing in the bay above the falls and below the falls. There’s a campsite right around the corner you could enjoy a break at if no one has set up camp there.
Knife Lake is a long, large lake that also straddles Canada and the US. There are islands, fingers and many bays to explore on this expansive and scenic lake. For the least amount of portaging you’ll paddle past a number of bays and campsites until you reach Thunder Point. There is a hiking trail to the top of Thunder Point and you can see down the rest of the expanse of Knife Lake from this vantage point.
The South Arm of Knife is narrower and there are again a large number of campsites to choose from as you paddle east toward the 25-rod portage to Eddy Lake. Eddy Lake is tiny and has just one campsite on the west end of the lake. The next portage is a 15-rod into Jenny Lake that has two campsites to choose from but if you really want seclusion then take the 20-rod portage into Calico Lake where you’ll find a campsite seldom seen by others. A 15-rod portage takes you into and out of tiny but beautiful Annie Lake into Ogishkemuncie Lake.
Ogish is a great place to camp due to the many day trip options it provides. Those who are interested in hiking will find the Kekekabic Trail by taking the 103-rod portage into Mueller then trekking on the 112-rod portage to Agamok. The most photographed bridge in the Boundary Waters is located on this portage thanks to the existence of the Kekekabic Trail that connects the East end of the BWCA(Gunflint Trail) to the West end of the BWCA(Snowbank Lake Area). The water cascades beneath the bridge as it makes its way from Agamok down to Mueller in a picturesque waterfall. The trail provides welcome relief to legs that have been cramped in a canoe for days.
While camping on Ogish one can explore Skindance Lake by taking the 22-rod portage from Ogish or explore Spice Lake to the North by traversing the quick 10-rod portage from Ogish. Both of these lakes have campsites, privacy from paddlers on Ogish and have fishing for northern pike and smallmouth bass.
All four species of fish are available in Ogish including walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass and lake trout. The many bays and islands provide great fishing and beautiful scenery just a day’s paddle from Seagull Lake.
At the east end of the lake you’ll find the 38-rod portage into Kingfisher which has no campsites. It’s a fast paddle to the opposite side of the lake where the 25-rod portage into Jasper can be found. Jasper has six campsites to choose from and since the Cavity Lake Fire of 2006 they are usually open. It was one of the hardest hit lakes during this forest fire and regeneration has been slower here than other places in the BWCA. It’s a private lake and tends to be super quiet too.
A 45-rod portage leads into Alpine Lake. Alpine is a favorite lake of many because there are a number of hidden bays and islands where 21 campsites await. A 105-rod portage leads into Seagull Lake where you can either exit or take one more portage into the Seagull River and back to Voyageur Canoe Outfitters.