Canoe Trip Length:5-8 Days
Permit Required: Cross Bay Lake (BWCAW) entry permit
The Frost River Canoe Route is one of the more challenging BWCA trips in our area, but also one of the most remote. This route is designed for canoeists that want isolation, wildlife sighting opportunities and to be challenged by both portaging and paddling. The best time of the year to paddle this route is in the spring months of May or June. The river can become shallow later in the summer if there isn’t a sufficient enough amount of rain. When this happens, the challenging aspect of the route becomes even more of a challenge because there are more portages and pull-overs to deal with and more beaver dams. So we recommend this as a spring trip, or to make sure that the rainfall for the year has been at least average if not above average before embarking on this route.
The start of the trip is much like that of the Long Island Lake canoe trip because you’ll follow the same Boundary Waters canoe route until you get to Long Island Lake. The permit you’ll need for this route is the Cross Bay Lake entry permit that will allow us to drive you down and launch you into Cross Bay where you’ll paddle south (upstream actually) and portage around the waterfalls and rapids. You’ll go from Cross Bay, Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake and then into Long Island Lake where we’ll pick up the route. The in depth description of the above route can be found by reading the Long Island Lake base camp route.
From Long Island Lake you’ll leave what few people you have seen thus far on the trip and more than likely not see a single soul for the next two days or more until you get to Little Saganaga Lake. At the southwest corner of Long Island Lake you’ll enter the Long Island River and take that south to Gordon Lake where you will look for the portage trail on the western shoreline. This portage is a bit longer at 140 rods, but should be a straightforward carry up over a hill to Unload Lake. There is a small river connecting Unload and Frost Lake that you’ll more than likely have a beaver dam to lift over, but nothing too tough, and it’s better than the 40 rod portage option. We would advise you to stay the night on Frost Lake as you’ve got a long day of paddling and portaging ahead of you. There are three camps on the north shore and two on the southern shore of the lake. There are actually five separate sand beaches on Frost Lake which is certainly a boundary waters oddity. You should have your pick and more than likely be the only ones on the lake. Look for one of the two nicer sites on the north shore.
We suggest that you split the Frost River section of this route in half and plan to camp in the lone campsite on Bologna Lake that is off the River one portage, but what’s one more portage when you’ve already done 8 or 10? If you don’t camp here, the day gets very long because the next closest site is on Afton Lake and that’s a good 8 to 10 hours for the best of paddlers from your campsite on Frost Lake. So shoot for Bologna Lake to split the experience up and have more time to enjoy your trip and the potential wildlife that you’ll see along the way. Beaver, moose, turtles, otters and numerous aquatic birds are common in the area especially because there are few people that travel this route because of the challenge it presents. But you’re up for it right?
Keep your map handy and watch closely for the portages and keep track of which lake you’re entering and exiting so to be sure you always know where you’re at. The Frost River Canoe Route is very narrow in areas and the lakes run right in to the rivers in this area and can be easily confused if you don’t pay close attention. The Frost River connects Octopus Lake to Chase Lake. There are numerous portages and liftovers along the way, so tie your boots on tight and make it easy for yourself and don’t worry about getting your feet and legs wet. Once at Chase Lake, you’d be better off portaging south to Bologna Lake where you’ll want to spend the night. You are now in the heart of the wilderness. This was the goal right? You’ve certainly found it.
The next day you can portage back to Chase Lake where you’ll portage to Pencil Lake and then back in the Frost River and a series of short but numerous portages that lead you to Afton Lake. Here you’ll find a campsite, but depending on your schedule and how tired you are, you could push forward to Mora Lake or to Little Saganaga for the night. That will be up to you. But do prepare for the 20 rod portage heading north out of Afton Lake because it is very steep and rocky. Use caution. You’ll enter Fente Lake and have a short portage to Whipped Lake and then a 100 rod portage to Mora Lake there is a camp opportunity here on Mora if you choose. But Little Saganaga Lake is not far away and offers numerous island campsites if you choose.
As you leave Mora and head to Little Saganaga Lake, get your camera handy because this is one of the boundary waters’ most scenic portages in the entire wilderness as the path runs alongside some rapids connecting the two lakes. Once you’ve entered Little Saganaga Lake, keep your map handy as well as your compass. The numerous islands on the lake make navigation a bit more of a challenge. But the camping options on the lake are some of the best in the BWCA, and with more than 20 sites to choose from, you should be able to find a site rather easily. But do keep in mind that it is a pretty lake, and other canoeists know this as well, so there will be some traffic to compete with on Little Sag.
You can return to our base in a couple different ways. One way would be by continuing north to Gabimichigami Lake, Agamok, Mueller and then to Ogishkemuncie Lake and back to Seagull via Jasper and Alpine Lakes. The other way would be to paddle east from Little Sag or Gabi through the series of lakes of your choice as there are a number of options. Peter, French, Crooked, Gillis and Tuscarora Lakes are very nice. You may want to incorporate a couple of those lakes into your route back to Brant Lake and then to Round Lake where we can pick you up from the public landing. Both of these options are discussed more in depth in the “Round-Little Saganaga- Seagull” Loop route that can be found on our site.
This trip, regardless of how you choose to return to our base will be a comfortable 7 day trip. Those that are ambitious can do it in 5 or 6 days, but others looking to spend time exploring and enjoying the scenery may want to stick with the 7 or even 8 day option.
The fishing on the route isn’t the greatest until you get back a bit further north. Those on this trip will want to focus on the nature aspect of the wilderness and not spend much time with the fishing as it won’t produce much until you get back to Little Sag, Gabi, Ogish, Jasper, Alpine and Seagull Lakes. Northern pike can be caught in most all of the lakes though, so if this is a desire of yours, keep that in mind.
Once you’ve completed the Frost River Canoe Route you’ll know you have accomplished something. We can help discuss this for you more in depth if this is an option you want to explore. Give us a call, we’ll be happy to help.
Still trying to decide which route? Check out more canoe routes. Then, learn about BWCA Permits.