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Backpacker Magazine – August 2011

Rip & Go: Rocky Point to Round Lake - Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN

Glide through back-to-back lakes on a classic North Country canoe trip.

by: Kim Phillips

Day Two: Little Saganaga Lake (Kim Phillips)
Day Two: Little Saganaga Lake (Kim Phillips)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.

GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.

Key Skill: J-stroke
Paddling across 23 lakes takes more than just muscle power. You’ll need a bit of finesse to master this basic corrective stroke, which allows continuous power-stroking on one side while keeping the canoe from drifting off a straight line. (Note: Use this stroke when sitting in the stern; the bow person should use a forward paddle stroke at a constant pace.)

1. Grip the paddle with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Raise your top hand to about head level, and keep the paddle vertical in the water.

2. Pull the paddle through the water, keeping it close to the canoe. Push forward with your top hand and pull back with your bottom hand, and engage your core to fight arm fatigue.

3. Toward the end of the stroke, rotate the powerface (the side of the paddle blade you pulled toward yourself) away from the canoe, and use your lower hand to push it away from the stern. This entire motion should resemble the shape of a J when paddling on the left/port side of the canoe.

4. Repeat every three to five strokes, or as needed to keep tracking straight.

See This: Common Loon

Minnesota’s state bird is a constant companion along this watery route. Listen closely for its four distinct calls. The tremolo (an alarm)sounds like frenzied laughter; the wail (a long-range social call) resembles a wolf’s howl; the hoot (a close-range social call) is soft and short; and the yodel (made by males to defend their territory) is a rising call that ends in a variety of short tones. In summer, loons sport black-and-white checkered backs and have iridescent black heads and red eyes.

Locals Know
Seasoned Boundary Waters paddlers say that completing each portage in one trip (a “single portage”) is key to traveling efficiently through this lake-filled landscape. “The Tuscarora-to-Missing Link portage takes about an hour, but if you have to make multiple trips, it can take up to three hours,” says Wilderness Ranger Brad Kremske. Make sure all your gear fits into two packs per canoe. Stuff the big pack with camping gear, and reserve the smaller pack for food, jackets, and other items you may need throughout the day. At every portage, divvy up the load so that the person hauling the canoe carries the smaller, lighter pack. The person with the heavier pack brings the two paddles. “You can travel twice as fast by doing this,” says Kremske.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star


Jul 13, 2012

It would be awesome if you guys could do a story about backpacking in the boundary waters. I live in Minnesota and I would love a chance to explore my state's most pristine wilderness, but I don't canoe and its nearly impossible to find any info about hiking the BWCA.

Jul 12, 2012

Chuck McCalment
Jul 12, 2012

Have done this trip, a wonderful change of pace for hikers. Another outfitter I personally have done business with and been very happy is Seagull Outfitters. Good people who have quality service, very adaptable to outdoors people with own gear.


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