Category: Boundary Waters Trip Tips and “How To”

Day Trip Ice Fishing on Bat Lake

“People always catch fish on Bat.”

When Nathan, a family friend who happens to take a lake trout fishing focused winter camping trip each Martin Luther King weekend, told us that last fall, we knew we had to check it out. After all, Bat Lake is practically just a hop, skip, and jump from Tuscarora. So just four days into the Boundary Waters winter lake trout season, Andy and I headed across Round Lake to see if we could prove Nathan wrong.

Thanks to a bunch of ambitious winter campers who headed into the Boundary Waters just after Christmas, there are miles of very well packed trail from Round Lake through the Brant Lake entry point route. Since we weren’t pulling sleds and we also snowmobiled across Round Lake, we were able to reach Bat Lake in less than two hours.

Portage from Brant into Gotter Lakes Winter Camping on Brant Lake in the Boundary Waters

Down the stairs on the portage from Gotter Lake into Flying Lake

Gotter Portage Stairs

Along the hike, I kept stopping to take photographs of the icicles on the shoreline cliff faces. This cliff face on Flying Lake is just past the portage into Green Lake.

Icicles on a rock face on Flying Lake winter Boundary Waters

When we reached Bat Lake, we set up speedily. With just six inches of pure blue ice, it doesn’t take long to drill enough holes for tip-ups and jigging, even with a hand auger!

Still, by the time we had lines in the water, it was after noon, so we weren’t exactly capitalizing on the “morning bite.” Although the action was a little slow for a lake the DNR says has abundant (but small) lake trout, we were able to prove correct Nathan’s theory that people always catch fish on Bat Lake. About an hour into our afternoon on Bat Lake, I reeled up this little guy. Andy unhooked him quickly and popped him back into the drink.


While we waited for more action on the lines, we took a timeout to make some coffee and cocoa as we watched the tip-up lines. With the shadows growing long, we knew it was time to start the trek home.


After a stop to chat up some winter campers, we walked home with a beautiful sunset at our backs. It’s amazing what a little snow and ice can do to transform a boggy lowland into a spectacular vista.




We’ll be back, Bat Lake.

An October Towboat Ride

Before Andy and I took over at Tuscarora this June, the tow boat service offered by Tuscarora was one of the most fascinating aspects of the business to mull over in our minds. Food packing; cabin, bunk, and gear cleaning; even French toast cooking didn’t phase us, but motoring people around Saganaga Lake – the biggest lake in our neck of the woods – that sounded a little challenging and really fun. I’ve always meant to get to know Saganaga Lake better, but even though I spent five years working on the shore of Saganaga Lake (as the manager of Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center), I’d only been on Sag a handful of times. It’s one of those lakes with its own personality and unique lore and I’ve been looking forward to learning it.

NewTowDock All summer long, Andy, staff members (including Andy’s wonderful Uncle John), and guests traveled across Saganaga Lake, getting tows to and from Hook Island, American Point, or Red Rock portage as they started and ended their Boundary Waters and Quetico canoe trips. But sometimes when you’re the boss lady, it’s hard to get out of the office long enough to check the mail, let alone go on a tow boat ride. But earlier this month, I finally made it.


You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful time to be on Sag as the colors pop along the shoreline and the loons start to raft together in preparation for their migration. As we traveled up the Sag Corridor, Andy pointed out a mama moose and her calf who’d be hanging out right on the water’s edge all morning.

SaganagaLakeOctoberBecause the wind was pretty calm during our journey, it took us only about 20 minutes (versus about six hours of paddle time) to reach Hook Island where we were picking up a camper from his weeklong solo trip in Quetico. As we pulled into Hook Island, the sun peeped out from the low, grey clouds.


Our camper was all set to go and in just a few minutes, we had his canoe up on the towboat  racks and his gear loaded as we listened to tales from his trip. On the way back, we spotted the moose pair again. They looked pretty cozy and completely unperturbed by the boat passing them by.

MooseOctober Here’s to many more tow boat adventures!

Fall Comes Sneaking In

Fall seems to be the season humanity can’t help but wax poetic about.

CentennialVistaKeats wrote of “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” in his “Ode to Autumn.” George Eliot exclaimed, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

A couple nights back, we had the first frost warning for the season. We’ll cover up the tomato plants at night for a week or so to try to get a few more vine ripened, but around September 20, we give in and let autumn have its way. Then we’ll pick the green tomatoes and call it a year for the garden and declare it a very good summer indeed. It’s this time of year, when the frost starts to come more nights than not, that the words of Joni Mitchell start running through our heads:

I awoke today and found 
the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky 
then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold 
and all the trees are shivering in a naked row

I get the urge for going
But I never seem to go
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

“But I never seem to go?” What’s up with that, Joni?

Fall is a spectacular time to visit Tuscarora, the Gunflint Trail, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Sure, the days might be a little shorter, but the wildlife’s more active as they prepare for the long winter ahead, the bugs have basically disappeared, and a quiet calm settles over the forest. We find ourselves looking forward to this time of year and each year, autumn live up to our high expectations.
IMG_6410 Grouse

So, if you feel an urge for going up north this autumn, by all means, go. It’s a great time for a paddle or long hike through the changing forest. Ah autumn!


A Legacy of Wildflowers

Recently, my parents spent a couple nights in Cabin 2.


They had a great time on the Gunflint Trail, celebrating birthdays, testing out a new Souris River canoe, swinging by the house for evening ice cream, and doing a lot of hiking.

But when I asked my dad for some photos from their time at Tuscarora so I could post them on Facebook and this here blog, all I got were a bunch of wildflower pictures:

Irises in Flying Lake on their day trip into Bingshick Lake.Iris on Flying Lake1

The elusive Arethusa bulbosa orchid that prompted the day trip.


A wood lily blooming along Magnetic Rock Trail.

A cluster of pink moccasin flowers near the start of the B.A. Trail just outside Cabin 2.
BAMoccasinFlowersAll those flowers made me smile, not just because I also greatly enjoy wildflowers, but because suddenly it was so obvious why I delight in finding wildflowers tucked among the forest duff. When we were little, my dad often took my brother and I on outdoor adventures, not only to give Mom a little peace and quiet, but so he could look for whatever wildflowers happened to be in season. An early springtime hike in search of Hepatica impressed me so much that when we returned home, I declared to my mother that if I ever had a daughter, I’d name her Hepatica and call her Patty for short. I still have a copy of Peterson First Guide to Wildflowers from that era tucked on my bookshelf.

As we got older, the hikes tapered off and I started to prefer time inside with library books over chilly, mucky springtime hikes in search of teeny wildflowers, but by the time I’d graduated from college and was working at a Gunflint Trail canoe outfitters, I’d once again taken to walking along the side of the gravel roads with a wildflower guide in hand. I find great satisfaction in identifying the habitat where a plant should be growing in, looking, looking, and then, discovering the flower right where it should be. And yes, during the summer, my camera’s memory card has more wildflower photos than anything else.

It’s interesting the things that end up “sticking.” Maybe you’ve brought your own children up to the Boundary Waters or tried to share your love of wildflowers or the night sky and didn’t get the unbridled enthusiasm you expected. (I certainly wasn’t above whining on some of those wildflower hikes decades ago.) It can take time to fully understand experiences. After all, it’s taken years for the significance of my childhood wildflower hikes to soak in. In the big scheme of things, all those little prompts and introductions that were initially met with apathy often add up to something that can enhance entire lives.

It’s a Beautiful Portage!

It’s a beautiful portage.

That became our mantra for the Paulsen portage which connects Seagull Lake to Paulsen Lake.  A beastly 515 rod portage with such mystique that it even has a “formerly known as” moniker, The Jap Portage.  Every time the vertical incline seemed to reached it’s vertical asymptote one of us would yell… “It’s a beautiful portage!”.  Every time the trail crossed the creek on dicy looking glacial granite that liked to shift as soon as weight was applied… “It’s a beautiful portage!”  Every time the swarming mass of tiny vampires found a hole in the head net… “It’s a beautiful portage!”  You get the idea.


View of Seagull Lake from the portage


Blue Flag iris on Flying Lake

But you know what the kicker of all that is?  It really is a beautiful portage.  Every climb is rewarded with sweeping views of Seagull Lake or some nameless pond blushing with yellow water lilies.  The babbling brook that likes to tug at our ankles is fringed with Blue Flag iris.  And along the whole portage, Lucy’s boundless enthusiasm for her first official camping adventure was evident as she covered more than 3 times the ground we did with her little pack bouncing.

Lucy with her backpack

Lucy with her backpack

However, 515 rods is a long way and by the end we were all really glad to see that lake.  With one more shout of “it’s a beautiful portage!” we quickly loaded up to find our campsite for the night.  The campsite on the north side is spacious with plenty of open rocks to clamber around on.  We chose the island site for the two of us giving Lucy an island to explore where she might not get in as much trouble.  The trail to the latrine is a bit treacherous, the tent pad is decently flat, and the fire grate area had a great view.  Lucy split her time between exploring the island and watching a pair of loons fish.  The sunset over calm water on a quiet night just can’t be beat.  The wolves sang us to sleep.

Sunset over Paulsen

Sunset over Paulsen

Campsite on Paulsen

Campsite on Paulsen

The next morning we headed south starting with Paulsen then Glossy, Elusion, Glee, Bingshick, Flying, Gotter, Brant, Edith, West Round, and finally back home on Round Lake.  Not going to lie, if you take away the sugar coating, these were some vertically challenging portages.  I spent a lot of time looking at my feet focusing on each step so as not to lean back accidentally and be pulled back down the trail by my turtle shell of a pack.  But I like watching the ground go by, you see some neat stuff that way.  Like wolf scat, Lucy paw prints in the mud, and TONS of little green blueberries just waiting to ripen in the July sunshine.

Paddling on Glossy Lake

Paddling on Glossy Lake





If you watch your feet too closely, you can take a wrong turn heading into Bingshick.  The portage crosses the Kekekabic Trail which can turn a quick 53 rod portage into a 4 mile hike.  We stopped for lunch on one of the two campsites.  Both are designed to service hikers on the Kek so they are set a little further back from the water.  The west campsite where we had lunch has plenty of space and showed evidence of little use.  Bingshick is a quiet little lake out of the way of major canoe travel with a fishy little secret.  It is stocked with stream trout.

Taking a wrong turn down the Kek

Taking a wrong turn down the Kek

The rest of the lakes are small and quiet, perfect for spotting the back end of a black bear as it slips into the woods.  The pitcher plants and sundews were out in abundance in the boggy backwaters.  Both are carnivorous plants which I’m sure are doing very well this year feeding on all the insects.  And there is a major benefit of starting your trip off with a 515 rod portage…we did not meet another soul the whole trip.  The woods were ours to explore, even though it was a beautiful Friday in June.

Pitcher plants

Pitcher plants

Pitcher plant flowers

Pitcher plant flowers



All in all, not a bad little trip for a quick overnight.  Lots of seclusion, wildlife sightings, the promise of blueberries to come and one happy little puppy.  Just goes to show, if you are willing to put in a little effort portaging, you can find yourself a nice little corner of the BWCA regardless of the time you  have.

Lucy says "Safety first!  Wear your life jackets."

Lucy says “Safety first! Wear your life jackets.”