Granite River BWCA Canoe Route

Thinking about paddling the Granite River this summer? Here’s some information from our website we thought we’d share with you.

The Granite River trip is one of our all-time favorites at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. The route straddles the border between Canada and the US so you’ll find yourself alternating between the two as there is not a line or fence between the two countries.
The Granite River is a section of the larger Voyageurs route traveled years ago. You can picture the Voyageurs paddling among the pines and portaging their gear through the woods as you travel this scenic route.

The word “river” conjures up different things in different people’s mind.  If you’re thinking of floating along with the current and barely paddling then get that out of your mind. The Granite River has lakes interconnected by rapids that are for the most part non-navigable.  You’ll be portaging around the rapids and paddling to propel yourself onward.

We’ve paddled the entire Granite River in a day but it’s not something we recommend.  It’s nice to have a minimum of three or four days to paddle and camp this route.  If you plan to fish then you’ll definitely want to spend more days so you can take advantage of the great fishing for walleye, smallmouth bass and northern pike.  Some folks call this an easy beginners route but I have a difficult time calling it that with the number of portages there are.

The trip can be paddled beginning in the south or the north. Because the current is mainly located near the portages it doesn’t require much more effort to paddle against the current.  Most people begin the trip by getting dropped off or parking at the public landing on Gunflint Lake. From our location it’s just a quick 15-minute drive to get to Gunflint Lake. From there it’s just a short paddle into Magnetic Lake, the actual entry point into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  You’ll need to paddle, fish and camp in Minnesota unless you obtain proper permits to enter Canada.

Paddling on Magnetic Lake you’ll see a beautiful Swiss Chalet looking house on an island. This is a summer cabin and is known as Gallagher’s Island. The waterway past this is sometimes referred to as the Pine River. The waterway will narrow until you reach the 5-rod portage around Little Rock Falls.  This is a photo opportunity for sure.

There’s a 30-rod portage called Wood Horse Portage into the next section of the Pine River where you’ll find the first campsite. If this is taken you’ll need to continue paddling until you reach the 100-rod Pine Portage into Clove Lake where there are three campsites to choose from.

To the west of Clove Lake is a portage into Larch Lake. At one time Larch Lake was a beautiful place to camp especially the island campsite. Unfortunately fire and high winds have eliminated most of the towering pines but you can still camp there and enjoy the solitude of the small lake. You can also spend some time exploring the area during a day trip, just be sure to remember to bring your fishing rod along.
Paddling out of Clove Lake you’ll find a 48-rod portage into Granite Lake and the beginning of the actual Granite River. The majority of Granite Lake is in Canada so you won’t spend much time paddling before you reach the next portage known as Swamp Portage.

The name aptly describes this 72-rod portage as much of the time you’ll find knee-deep muck somewhere along the path. Tighten your footwear prior to this portage because the suction power of the muck is enough to pull a strapped tight Chaco off of a foot and swallow it whole never to be seen again.
This is known as Granite Bay where you’ll paddle to a 25-rod portage known as Granite River Portage.  Another quick paddle and you’ll be at the 25-rod Gneiss Lake Portage that takes you into Gneiss Lake. Be sure to keep your fishing rod handy in this section of the river because there can be good fishing at the rapids.

The area of Gneiss Lake and Maraboeuf is sometimes referred to as the  “Devil’s Elbow.” Unlike Swamp Portage the name does not come from a man wearing red carrying a pitchfork here.  So feel free to camp at any of the campsites, just remember if you have a BWCA permit you need to stay on the US side where there are 15 to choose from in this large area.

There is a 25-rod portage that eliminates paddling past many of the campsites on Maraboeuf if you are looking to avoid a little paddling perhaps in pursuit of a certain fishing area.
After the long stretch of paddling you’ll find the 27-rod portage around Horsetail Rapids. It’s on the Canadian side of the river and can sometimes be tricky due to the water level. Just don’t convince yourself that it would be easier to paddle through the rapids than to portage. Others have thought this and left their canoes wrapped around rocks in the river.

Another quick paddle and you’ll be at Saganaga Falls.  Again, don’t be fooled by the looks of the falls. Take the 34-rod portage around the falls.  There’s a reason artifacts from the days of the Voyageurs have been found at the bottom of the falls and it isn’t because they were thrown into the water on purpose.

From this point you can decide whether or not you will paddle Saganaga Lake back to our base on the Seagull River or get picked up by a towboat.  It’s a beautiful paddle if the wind and waves are cooperative but it does add a few hours onto your trip.  But if you’re like me, then you’re never ready for a BWCA trip to end.

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