Trip OverviewOn the northwestern edge of the BWCA lies a 39,000 acre island studded jewel, Lac La Croix. The U.S.-Canadian border runs down the middle of this horse-shoe shaped lake, and while motors are allowed on the Canadian side, the majority of the U.S. side of the lake (from Snow Bay eastward) is motor free. It is a large border lake--30 miles long, up to 160 feet deep, but its bays and islands on the U.S. side of the lake offer protection from the elements, and most of the lake has the intimacy of a much smaller body of water. Our plan for the trip was to utilize a Canadian outfitter to transport us and our gear to the western side of the lake, we would paddle the length of the lake, and we would have the outfitter tow us back.
Day 1: We started the trip in Crane Lake, Minnesota. Mark and Kathy Zup of Zups Fishing resort, located on the Canadian side of Lac La Croix, arranged a combination tow service/truck portage/tow service to what would be our starting point on Lac La Croix. Getting to our starting point was an adventure, with our kayaks strapped down on top of a large "tow" boat--a 24' open hull motorboat with a 240 hp-- a stop at Canadian Customs on Sandpoint lake, a 45 minute truck portage over the Dawson portage, where yet another motor boat waited to haul us to our starting point--which was to be Zup's resort on Lac La Croix.
When we arrived at Zup's, we were met with lemonade, cookies, our BWCA camping permits, and a lot of information. Mark sat down with us and our maps and marked out fishing spots, "the meat pit" (walleyes)..."alligator alley"(northerns)", a small lake two portages off the beaten path that held loads of brook trout. He suggested campsites which would be easier to load and unload kayaks, and pointed out every sand beach on the lake for the kids to swim at. We were traveling with 4 kayaks--two tandems and two singles. We were comprised of two adults and four kids aged 11-14.
Day 1: Weather induced no-travel day (except for the tow) we traveled 1/4 mile from Zups to the nearest campsite on the U.S. side. The wind was blowing large rollers from the west, and we did not want to start the trip in rough conditions. There was a sand beach across from our campsite on the appropriately named Sandbar Island. We practiced wet exits, self rescues and assisted rescues and spent the day in and out of the water. The three girls braided their hair so it would bleach out in streaks.
Day 2: We began what was to become a morning ritual for Ed and I. I woke up first and put the coffee pot on the stove. Ed soon followed and downed the food pack. I would have at least two cups of coffee while doing absolutely nothing before the kids emerged from the tents every morning, and Ed would have a quick cup and would start breaking down camp or doing whatever necessary work needed to be done.
My oldest daughter woke with the same ear pain she had complained of the day before, and by the looks of her swollen face, allergies had kicked in as well. She popped Tylenol and decongestant for the ear pain and took a prescription allergy pill and sat on a log stirring oat meal. She had no history of ear infections, and I hoped she had a virus which would run its course.
We disassembled the camp very quickly after breakfast. The kids had their sleeping bags stuffed, sleeping pads rolled, personal bags packed, and day packs ready to go in a hurry. We took time this first travel morning to pack our kayaks with thought. Ed's two Old Towns (Loon 160-T, and Loon 138) could hold a lot of gear. I brought my Current Design Crosswind (18 1/2 foot tandem) and our CLC14--both of which could carry a lot of gear in their sealed bulk-heads. We kept our day packs on the decks, as well as paddle floats, extra paddles, fishing poles and tackle box. By the time we launched at 9:30 my daughter was feeling better and she pushed off in her CLC14 with confidence. We immediately put into practice our rule of "paddle together, and stick to shore". The 12 and 13 year old took turns in the Old Town 138, and did quite well keeping up, but when we wanted to make time, I towed them behind the Crosswind, which I paddled with my 11 year old son in the bow.
We paddled north up the western arm of the lake and then headed east through a maze of islands. After a quick lunch of summer sausage, cheese and crackers we continued east through the islands, and found our campsite, just west of the "big water" part of Lac La Croix. We hit the campsite at about 2:00. As a group we averaged about 2 1/2 miles per hour in favorable, light winds on this first day.
Our island campsite offered both sunrise and sunset views. The girls donned swimsuits and fishing poles and fished for and caught smallmouth bass while wading waist deep in the channel off our camp. My 12 year old niece caught a plump 19" smallmouth while fishing with me in the kayak--classic fish tail dance out of the water three times. We ate smallmouth bass for dinner. The girls saved their lemons to squeeze in their hair to help bleach process.
Day 3: A planned no-travel day. We had forgotten our night crawlers at Zups, so over coffee Ed decided he would paddle over to the Canadian side of the lake and visit Campbell's Fly-in resort, 3 miles away, and see if he could purchase some worms. We decided this would also be a good test to see how far our walkie-talkies would transmit. Ed left at 7:00 a.m. We kept in radio contact his entire 6 mile round trip journey. He purchased 3 dozen night crawlers and another can of powdered Kool-Aid (the kids were drinking much more Kool-Aid than expected). He was back by 9:00 am and the kids hadn't woken up yet. When they awoke, my daughters ear pain and face swelling had returned, and the over-the-counter remedies were administered once again. Unfortunately, this too would become a morning ritual. Fortunately, the pain never got worse, and all symptoms were relieved by meds.
We packed a lunch and fishing gear and traveled south against a headwind, to a portage. We traveled to a small lake where we fished from shore and ate lunch. After one-half hour of no bites the kids grew impatient and soon all four were swimming. I moved down the shore and proceeded to catch 6 beautiful brook trout ranging in size from 8-16 inches. We had baked trout for dinner, but we lost one of our four walkie-talkies on one of the portages.
Day 4: Travel if calm day. I had been awakened in the middle of the night by high winds, creaking trees, and splashing waves, and thought our chance to skirt across the "big water" of Lac La Croix would have to wait. We had about a three mile section where we could keep close to shore, but the lake opened up to the north and west and this was known as a dangerous part of the lake. At 6:00 am, however, all was calm--I woke to silence and brewed my coffee. We woke up the kids and broke camp by 7:00 am without breakfast. We were across the big water which was more like a big mirror by 8:30, and eating breakfast at 9:00 on a little island on the west side of Coleman Island. Our kayaks were now pointed south down one of the narrow eastern arms of Lac La Croix. It was a sunny calm morning of paddling and we zipped quietly by rock ledges and perched eagles. My son read a book in the bow of the Crosswind. "I would have gone faster, but I had a slow reader in the bow" was my excuse for lack of speed during the trip.
We saw our first fellow paddlers of the entire trip this morning, one group at 10:30, then another group and 11:00, so we found a campsite just east of "Fish Stake Narrows" by noon. Mark Zup had marked this campsite as a "park". His description was perfect. It was a 2 acre island with intersecting paths, picturesque clearings, blueberry patches laden with berries, two good swimming areas, and more tent sites than a Boy Scout troop would need--stunning. We found nice lunch spot out of the shade, but we were all swimming before lunch was finished. It was turning into a hot, sweltering day.
One of kids noticed it first and screamed, "Snake". They were swimming off the campsite working on a synchronized swimming routine. Ed looked up, and saw it was an otter with its head and neck sticking straight up out of the water, watching the kids swim. For the next day and a half, the otter watched as the kids played in the water and on shore. He enjoyed watching us as much as we enjoyed watching him.
Day 5: No travel day. Ed and I fished for walleye for a couple of hours in the morning. We caught two nice fish (23" and 19") but lost a lot of fish. We had four jig heads bitten off. Kids swam and read and kayaked around our island. The otter was visible most of the day. The kids continued to practice their synchronized swimming routine and presented us with a 5 minute show at lunch. My son and I attempted to bushwhack to a nearby lake that did not have a portage to it, but we had trouble with thick brush and did not get far. I took two of the girls fishing in the afternoon and noticed what I thought was a large thunderhead to the east, but it never moved. It turns out this was smoke from the forest fire in the eastern part of the park.
Ed and I were amazed at the variety of fauna on the island--maple, oak and basswood trees next to the traditional jack pine, cedar, and towering red and white pines. All these trees clinging to the bedrock with just a little topsoil to provide nourishment.
Day 6: Travel day. We broke down our last camp and were on the water by 9:00 am. When we were about a half mile from camp, my son said, "Dad, there it is!" Just to my right the otter was looking at me, we made eye contact, and it disappeared. A farewell.
We headed to the eastern shore of the lake, the Canadian side, and paddled south and viewed the outstanding pictographs on the cliffs. We continued south with a slight breeze at our backs to Warrior Hill. Ed climbed the hill first and snapped photos of us in the water far below. We followed him up the hill where we enjoyed our last lunch on the lake. After lunch we paddled east to Bottle Portage. We unloaded our kayaks, and packed all our gear into 6 large Duluth Packs for the trip home. The girls unbraided and combed out their well bleached hair. Zup's boat zoomed in one-half hour earlier than our planned 2:00 pm pick up and we were soon cruising down the Canadian side of the lake at 30 miles per hour. Mark and Cathy again had lemonade and iced tea ready for us at their resort, and we made the return boat and portage trips to our cars which were parked in Crane Lake.
I used a marine radio for the first time in the BWCA because Zups Resort, Campbells Resort, and Andersen's Tow Service all monitor stations for their operations. This offers rescue potential on the lake that isn't available elsewhere in the BWCA. The weather was calm, and not a factor, but I was able to pick up two weather stations (Ely and Int'l Falls). I also utilized a lightening detector (never got put to the test on the trip--no storms). This added level of knowledge regarding the weather and ability to communicate in case of an emergency made this trip very relaxing for me. I've done over 30 trips into the BWCA/Quetico, and I felt much more relaxed and in control because of the technology. This was our first trip in kayaks and I highly recommend kayaks for exploring larger bodies of water where portaging is not an issue.
Outfitting:Zups Fishing Resort. Tow service, advice, route planning. OT Loon 160 T, OT Loon 138, Current Design Crosswind, Chesapeake Light Craft 14.
Fees:BWCA Fee (total about $42). Zups tow service $120 per person, $60 per boat.
Resources:Fisher and McKenzie maps.
- Trip Duration: Extended Trip
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water