Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: Rocky Point to Round Lake

Glide through back-to-back lakes on this classic, 35-mile North Country paddling trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
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Glide through back-to-back lakes on this classic, 35-mile North Country paddling trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The prehistoric glaciers that chiseled and scoured northern Minnesota two million years ago created a paddler’s paradise: a vast network of crystalline lakes, backdropped by wooded hills and striking granite outcrops. In three days, link 23 of these lakes on a 35-mile point-to-point, less than two hours northwest of Grand Marais.

Start at Entry Point 55, and save half a day’s paddle with a seven-mile towboat ride across the sprawling, and sometimes wave-riddled, expanse of Saganaga Lake to the aptly named Rocky Point. Board your canoe at the drop-off, and point the bow southwest through Sag’s northwest arm (hug the left-hand shoreline to stay within the U.S.).

After two quick portages, cut southwest across Ottertrack, a narrow border lake with easy-to-hook walleye and northern pike. Next, string together Ester, Hanson, and South Arm Knife, a chain of pristine, high-elevation lakes ringed by granite bluffs and thick stands of white pine—giant cedars also flourish along the Hanson-to-South Arm Knife portage. At mile 12, beach your canoe and spend the night at a forested campsite tucked in one of South Arm Knife’s quiet coves.

Day two: Paddle 1.4 miles south-southwest to a short, 500-foot portage that parallels Eddy Falls, a cascading stream that pours down mossy boulders. Five lakes (Eddy, Jenny, Annie, Ogishkemuncie, and Mueller) and four portages later, stash your canoe along the Mueller-to-Agamok portage, and turn left on the Kekekabic Trail for a .3-mile out-and-back to a wooden bridge that spans a 20-foot-deep gorge.

Near mile 20, dip your paddle into 209-foot-deep Gabimichigami, one of the deepest lakes in Minnesota—and home to northern pike and lake trout (caution: Gabi has few islands to offer protection on windy days). Steer your boat southeast to Rattle Lake, then to Little Saganaga, where you’ll spend the second night camped on a 15-foot-high, west-facing bluff with prime sunset views.

On the last day, canoe through the eastern fringes of Little Sag, before crossing five more lakes and portages. Near mile 32, tackle the longest portage of the trip (1.3 miles), which connects Tuscarora and Missing Link Lakes. After a half-mile paddle through Missing Link, portage into Round Lake for the .7-mile stretch north to the take-out point. Shuttle back to Saganaga Lake.

Permit: Required; $16 user fee/person. Reservations recommended. Pick up permit the day before, or the day of entry.

Map: Voyageur Maps #6 (Saganaga Lake, Sea Gull Lake, Knife Lake, and vicinity); $10; voyageurmaps.com

Lakes: Saganaga, Swamp, Ottertrack, Ester, Hanson, South Arm Knife, Eddy, Jenny, Annie, Ogish, Mueller, Agamok, Gabi, Rattle, Little Saganaga, Mora, Tarry, Crooked, Owl, Tuscarora, Wish, Missing Link, Round

Contact: Superior National Forest, (218) 626-4300; fs.usda.gov/superior

Gear Up: Get canoe rentals, maps, fishing licenses, and towboat rides at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters, 189 Sag Lake Trail, Grand Marais, MN; (218) 388-2224; canoeit.com

-Mapped by Kim Phillips

TO TRAILHEAD: Put-in: From Grand Marais, drive north on CR 12/Gunflint Trail for 53 miles. Turn right on CR 11/Sag Lake Trail. Go .9 mile to parking on the right.

Take-out: From Grand Marais, drive north on CR 12/Gunflint Trail for 45 miles. Turn left on CR 47/Round Lake Rd. Go .7 mile to parking.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 73.5

Waypoints

Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

Location: 48.171856, -90.889809

http://www.canoeit.com

BND001

Location: 48.171403, -90.886604

The trip begins at this boat ramp on Sag Lake Trail/CR 11. From here, paddle north into the sometimes wave-riddled expanse of Saganaga Lake and turn left (west) at Clark Island. Save yourself this 7.2-mile stretch (at least half a day's paddle) by getting a tow to Rocky Point or American Point. Caution: Know the weather forecast and have an alternate route planned in the event of bad weather. If it’s windy, you may have to wait out the weather.

BND002

Location: 48.217846, -90.958661

Board your canoe on this small island just north of American Point. Next, paddle northwest, then southwest along the US-Canadian border. Hug the shores to the left to stay in the U.S. (You need a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit to enter Canada.)

BND003

Location: 48.20195, -91.002833

Paddle south through this tight spot.

BND004

Location: 48.193785, -91.01658

Paddle northwest, then south around the point.

BND005

Location: 48.189852, -91.035569

During high water, you can paddle through this area. Otherwise, it's a roughly 10-foot pullover.

BND006

Location: 48.188948, -91.047836

Monument Portage (78 rods): Named for the tall, silver magnesium poles that mark the U.S.-Canadian border.

BND007

Location: 48.178736, -91.07396

Potential campsite: Located up on a wooded point. Fish for walleye, northern pike, and lake trout off of the point.

BND008

Location: 48.179163, -91.064015

Portage (a rocky uphill stretch, followed by a rocky downhill). Next: Paddle south through a chain of pristine, high-elevation lakes (Ester, Hanson, and South Arm Knife) ringed by granite bluffs and thick stands of white pine.

BND009

Location: 48.15079, -91.072357

Paddle through a narrow passage with shallow water.

BND010

Location: 48.141745, -91.084594

Campsite: Good spot for lunch. Paddle south to portage.

BND011

Location: 48.1285, -91.091

Massive, old-growth cedars line this portage.

BND012

Location: 48.120275, -91.098343

Arrive at another potential campsite here.

BND014

Location: 48.116287, -91.115316

Campsite: This site is located in a small bay and backed by a wooded hill. Next day: Paddle south across South Arm Knife Lake.

BND015

Location: 48.105365, -91.12035

South Arm Knife Lake: Point bow into the waves on windy days to avoid being broadside to the waves.

BND016

Location: 48.097468, -91.122156

This short, 500-foot portage parallels Eddy Falls, a cascading stream that pours down mossy boulders. From the falls, you can look down onto South Arm Knife Lake. Note: Older maps show portages that connect South Arm Knife to Ogish through Nove, Nobek, Holt, etc. Don't follow them; they have not been maintained for 20+ years.

BND017

Location: 48.091592, -91.107355

Portage

BND018

Location: 48.084356, -91.102303

Portage

BND019

Location: 48.08295, -91.093452

Short portage, followed by a long stretch east across Ogishkemuncie. This lake is a popular place to camp.

BND020

Location: 48.085466, -91.079218

Although it's wise to filter all your water, local paddlers have been known to dip their bottles in these deep, pristine lakes for refills.

BND021

Location: 48.085331, -91.063123

Portage into Mueller Lake.

BND022

Location: 48.082613, -91.057773

This is a good lunch spot on the rocks, near a campsite.

BND023

Location: 48.080187, -91.051057

Portage. Continue south.

BND024

Location: 48.0776, -91.051839

Optional hike: Turn left on the Kekekabic Trail for a short, 0.3 mile out-and-back to a bridge that spans a 20-foot-deep gorge. The timber for the bridge was hauled in by dogsled during the winter and built in the summer by rangers. Built in the 1930s, the Kekekabic Trail was used as an access trail for firefighters.

BND025

Location: 48.078438, -91.049256

Stand on this narrow, wooden bridge for views into a shallow gorge. A waterfall pours down rocks to the south.

BND026

Location: 48.075227, -91.051486

Paddle south. Watch out for shallow stretches of water; there are rocks near the surface.

BND027

Location: 48.070535, -91.037997

Here, the landscape blackens due to the Cavity Lake Fire burn area.

BND028

Location: 48.069149, -91.029565

Portage

BND029

Location: 48.067414, -91.027564

Cross Gabimichigami, one of the deepest lakes in Minnesota, and home to northern pike and lake trout. Caution: A little wind goes a long way on this deep lake, and there are few islands to offer protection.

BND030

Location: 48.061991, -91.010914

Potential campsite on Gabi Lake

BND031

Location: 48.062848, -91.009081

Potential campsite on Gabi Lake

BND032

Location: 48.056631, -91.016904

Set up camp here: perched on a bluff, this picturesque site offers postcard views of Gabimichigami Lake.

BND033

Location: 48.054551, -91.009535

Portage

BND034

Location: 48.049778, -91.009813

Portage through the burn area. There are several old traps off to the side of the portage.

BND035

Location: 48.033791, -91.000582

Pass by an island of rock with trees several trees growing on it.

BND036

Location: 48.028821, -90.993169

Little Sag campsite: Spend the night camped on a 15-foot-high, west-facing bluff with prime sunset views. Optional: Cast for northern pike and lake trout on a 3.9-mile loop (see FSH001-FSH006).

BND037

Location: 48.022367, -90.959821

Pull up to the earth and log dock and portage into Mora Lake.

BND038

Location: 48.020301, -90.954954

Paddle east through a narrow section of Mora Lake.

BND039

Location: 48.023283, -90.935562

Look for bald eagles sitting in the blackened trees. Caution: This area is narrow and shallow; watch out for submerged logs ahead.

BND040

Location: 48.026574, -90.933446

Portage: 5 rods

BND041

Location: 48.032472, -90.929695

Portage: 50 rods

BND042

Location: 48.034553, -90.928833

Paddle east, then north, then east through Crooked Lake.

BND043

Location: 48.041769, -90.917394

Portage into Owl Lake.

BND044

Location: 48.039568, -90.904683

A partially submerged rock slab makes a good spot to eat lunch.

BND045

Location: 48.039624, -90.903836

Portage

BND046

Location: 48.0393, -90.899421

Tuscarora can get really windy. Paddle carefully, heading east, then northeast.

BND047

Location: 48.040774, -90.889473

Potential campsite

BND048

Location: 48.037433, -90.882995

A campsite is located at the tip of this small bay.

BND049

Location: 48.046272, -90.867081

Portage: 428 rods. Prepare for the longest portage of the trip (1.3 miles). Tip: Do this in a single portage to save time.

BND050

Location: 48.060873, -90.848652

The last portage of the trip is 138 rods and leads to Round Lake.

BND051

Location: 48.065866, -90.842847

Head to the northern tip of Round Lake to find the dock.

BND052

Location: 48.07464, -90.837163

Take-out canoe at this dock. The parking area is just north of this point. Shuttle back to the put-in point.

FSH001

Location: 48.028383, -90.993501

Fishing Loop: Paddle south from the campsite and explore the small coves.

FSH002

Location: 48.024893, -90.997396

Continue heading west.

FSH003

Location: 48.023796, -91.007328

A Forest Service cabin is located on the northern edge of this tiny island.

FSH004

Location: 48.02274, -91.018939

Point bow north.

FSH005

Location: 48.028997, -91.018875

Turn your canoe east at this rocky slab.

FSH006

Location: 48.030403, -91.000829

Turn right between these two islands to return to the campsite.

Canoes at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

Location: 48.171867, -90.889506

Towboat Ride

Location: 48.171438, -90.886288

Unloading canoes at Rocky Point

Location: 48.218089, -90.95875

Rocky Point Wildlife

Location: 48.218028, -90.958707

Paddling through Sag's Northwest Arm

Location: 48.214591, -90.974003

First Portage

Location: 48.189937, -91.036041

Swamp Lake

Location: 48.189866, -91.035826

Ottertrack Lake

Location: 48.182026, -91.06636

Ottertrack Lake

Location: 48.181654, -91.066489

Ottertrack Lake

Location: 48.181168, -91.066682

Ottertrack Lake

Location: 48.180753, -91.066854

Fishing for smallmouth bass

Location: 48.178836, -91.073613

Eddy Lake

Location: 48.096357, -91.121279

Views from the Kekekabic Trail

Location: 48.07844, -91.049364

Views from the Kekekabic Trail

Location: 48.078444, -91.049358

Mueller-Agamok Portage

Location: 48.077604, -91.051809

Campsite on Gabi Lake

Location: 48.056649, -91.017201

Campsite on Gabi Lake

Location: 48.056648, -91.016809

Gabimichigami Lake

Location: 48.05657, -91.017222

Burn area surrounding Little Sag

Location: 48.04886, -91.008748

Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.043534, -91.001023

Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.040451, -91.003759

Campsite on Little Sag

Location: 48.028739, -90.993132

View from the campsite on Little Sag

Location: 48.028739, -90.993132

Campsite on Little Sag

Location: 48.028681, -90.993378

Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.02876, -90.993351

Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.024871, -90.996783

Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.024422, -91.001964

Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.024466, -91.00557

Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.024406, -91.006481

Fishing on Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.024888, -91.017988

Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.029033, -91.018671

Sunset on Little Saganaga Lake

Location: 48.028896, -90.99327

Little Sag-Mora Portage

Location: 48.021115, -90.957752

Mora Lake

Location: 48.021088, -90.957726