Why Seagull Lake is the Best Route Choice for BWCA First-Timers


If you call us up and ask for a route recommendation for your first Boundary Waters canoe trip, chances are, we’ll mention Seagull Lake.

This large, versatile, and visually stunning BWCA lake near the end of the Gunflint has a route to accommodate every type of Boundary Waters first-timer, whether you’re a new parent wanting to introduce your toddler to the Northwoods (hello, Seagull Base Camp), an avid angler looking to cover some distance (Border Route), a scout or church group in search of good fishing and easy portages (Red Rock Loop), or an experienced backpacker, but first-time paddler, who wants to get a snapshot of what the Boundary Waters is all about (Seagull to Round, or vice versa).  

It might seem a little strange that we so often recommend routes that don’t start on the lake where our business is located, but we feel strongly that Seagull Lake provides one of the best Boundary Waters introductions out there. The public landing on Seagull Lake is just a 10 minute drive from Tuscarora Lodge and we offer free shuttle service to and from Seagull Lake with any canoe rental.

Of course,we’re a little biased.

Andy and I lived on Seagull Lake for six years before moving to Tuscarora and I had my first overnight BWCAW trip on Seagull Lake back in my toddler days. As kids, Andy spent a lot of time at his aunt and uncle’s resort on Seagull Lake, while I ended up on Seagull Lake with fairly frequent trips to Wilderness Canoe Base with my friend, Kati. Suffice it to say, this is a lake we love and know well.

Seagull Lake looking south

We truly believe that Seagull Lake has something to offer every type of camper. You can portage off the lake if you want, but there’s plenty to explore without ever leaving Seagull Lake. 

If you’re tired of paddling, you can hike to the top of the Palisades or tackle the mile and a half portage to Paulson Lake. History buffs can search for old abandoned resort properties on the western end of the lake. (Hint: the large lilac bushes and domesticated roses are a dead giveaway that you’ve stumbled upon on a resort property.) Explorers can search for a hidden waterfall on the lake’s south shore and anglers have miles of lake to keep them busy for days. Sand beaches at many of the campsites make the lake a favorite for base campers and young families. The islands on the northern shore provide a navigation challenge for those wanting to test their orienteering skills.  Day trip possibilities include Alpine, Grandpa, Rog, and Paulson Lakes. 

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That feeling when you find the perfect Seagull Lake campsite


Seagull’s a place to observe Northwoods ecology in action. In the last twenty years, the lake has experienced a significant blowdown event in 1999, and three wildfires in the 2000s. Happily, fire recovery area translates into bountiful wildflowers, as well as acres and acres of marble-sized blueberries on the south facing rock faces in late July and August. 

Blueberries on Seagull Lake Boundary Waters


A noted lake trout lake, Seagull Lake is a Grand Slam Boundary Waters lake, meaning it offers angling opportunities for the four main fishing species: lake trout, walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass.  Don’t forget to try your hand at catching smallmouth in the flowage between Seagull and Alpine Lakes.


A few qualms are frequently raised against Seagull Lake, chiefly that it’s a big lake with motorboats and homes.

While big water can be scary and challenging in high winds, in the case of Seagull Lake, its size is one of its assets. With tons of campsites to choose from, you can set up camp within a 45 minute paddle (at most) of the public landing. Close proximity to your exit point can be reassuring for anxious first-time paddlers, regardless of age.

Conversely, you can paddle for three – four hours and feel like you’re deep in the wilderness without ever portaging. We guarantee that if you’re at the far western end of the lake, you’ll forget that you’re on a lake with homes and motorboats on its eastern end. We’ve day tripped to the western end of Seagull Lake in early August and felt like we had the lake to ourselves, so don’t let the high daily permit quota (12 + 2 Seagull only permits) scare you. 


Of all the canoe trips in your life, it is the most important for your first canoe trip to be a really good time. And that’s probably why we lean on Seagull Lake so heavily in our recommendations for first trips. It’s a lake with something to offer just about everyone and we find most people walk away from a Seagull Lake experience saying, “That was fun! Where should we go in the Boundary Waters next year?” 

Are you a Seagull Lake fan? Where did you go on your first-ever Boundary Waters canoe trip?