Trip Length: 5-7 days
Permit Required: Knife Chain (Quetico) entry permit (#71)
Quetico canoe trips are often viewed as a bit more rugged than BWCA trips, but this trip begs to differ. If you’re looking for a relaxing trip with solitude that doesn’t require a bunch of portages to get there, this is a perfect trip for you. A Knife Chain (#71) permit out of the Cache Bay ranger station will allow you to travel this route. There are only two permits allowed per day into this area of the Quetico, but if you call five months prior to your entry date, you can almost assure yourself that you’ll get one. We’re more than happy to assist you with the permit and make sure you get the one you want…just give us a call and we’ll set it up for you.
All Quetico trips into Cache Bay begin with a tow boat launch to Hook Island where you’ll begin your trip. A short stop at the ranger cabin in Cache Bay will take care of fishing licenses and camping fees, and you’ll be on your way. Cache Bay itself is a large expanse of open water with few islands. Wind is always the unknown variable on a given day, and that is especially true in Cache Bay, so travel cautiously depending on conditions.
On this trip, you will actually exit Cache Bay through the same opening you came in and begin traveling southwest toward the Monument Portage. You’ll navigate the narrow section of Saganaga Lake until you get to Swamp Lake which depending on water level could be a simple paddle or float through, but if the water is too low, this will be a short in and out to get to the other side. Swamp Lake is small but holds some nice bass, walleye and pike fishing. Swamp Lake will lead you to the Monument Portage where you’ll be met by a nice dock in which to unload your canoes. This is an often traveled portage by both BWCA and Quetico visitors, so use courtesy if you meet another group on the portage. The portage itself is a pretty easy 80 rod carry that will take you over a couple of hills, but the footing is very firm.
Once on the opposite side, you’ve reached Ottertrack Lake, also known as Cypress Lake (as some maps still read). Ottertrack is a very scenic lake with 150 foot vistas rising up out of the water on the Canadian shore. Ottertrack is also home to the last living resident inside the BWCA until his death in 1984. Benny Ambrose is a legend in BWCA lore, and his homestead can still be visited in a bay on the American side of the lake just after you paddle through the narrows. There is also a plaque cemented into the cliff just across the lake on the north shore from the bay he once lived on. For you BWCA/Quetico history buffs, this is a can’t miss.
There are a number of campsites on the Canadian side of Ottertrack that are right along the border, but in your search for solitude you’ll be better served by paddling up the north arm of Ottertrack (toward Jasper Lake). There is an island just as you enter into the north arm that has a nice campsite on it that could be an option, but for more solitude, you may consider continuing north up the lake where you’ll find a nice site on the point on the east shore that will provide a nice breeze and a westerly view of sunsets in the evening. Or there is yet another campsite if you continue east from the point and travel all the way back into the corner of the lake. Based on the occupancy of these three sites, you can make your choice, but this area is usually a quiet area, and wonderful for the solitude you’re seeking.
Ottertrack holds some great populations of walleye, bass, northern and lake trout. If you look on the map, there are a number of streams that feed into the lake that will hold fish. Islands and points are also great fish habitat. For the adventurer, the streams that feed into the lake are being supplied by no name lakes that are a short hike away and just waiting to be explored and or even fished.
Some other points of interest in the Ottertrack area would be the hiking opportunities to the top of the cliffs that line the shorelines along the US/Canadian border. Banta Lake, that is located just north of Monument Portage can be accessed via a portage at the north end of the bay just as you paddle out of the shallows traveling west after the portage. Banta holds a nice population of lake trout and is hardly ever fished because it is off the beaten path. Jasper Lake to the north of Ottertrack is a pretty lake with lake trout and bass and is only a portage away. And on a day trip this could easily be done for some variety. Also, the Little Knife Portage that connects Ottertrack to Knife Lake on the far southwest portion of the lake is a great area for fishing, and also eagle viewing, as there is a large eagle’s nest on the US side by the campsite just to the east after you get across the short five rod portage on Knife Lake.
A number of day trips are available from a base camp on Ottertrack. You’ll see great cliffs, and some smaller waterfalls, have excellent fishing opportunities and endless places to explore. You could easily make this into a 5 to 7 day stay and keep the portaging to a minimum. On your last day of the trip, you will travel out the same way you came in more than likely. But as an option, you could choose to make it into a loop trip and portage into Jasper Lake, then into Lilypad, continue north into Saganagons and then come around for the Silver Falls portage that will land you back into Cache Bay where you could paddle out past the ranger station and then meet your tow boat pickup at Hook Island. This route would be too much to take on on your last day as an option to come out, but it could be an option to break up your Ottertrack base camp into two shorter base camps where you would spend a few days on Ottertrack and then pick up camp and spend a few more in the Saganagons or Slate Lake area before coming out via Silver Falls.
If you’re a group that enjoys the outdoors but doesn’t enjoy the extra work of portaging or paddling long ways, an Ottertrack base camp trip would be just the ticket. There’s a lot of fun to be had with minimal work to get there…if that appeals to your group, give us a call and we’ll help you obtain the necessary permit to make it happen.