Canoe Trip Length: As short or as long as you’d like
Permit Required: Saganaga Lake (BWCAW) entry permit (#55)
Off of the Gunflint Trail, a Saganaga Lake permit (#55) is the easiest to come by as there are 17 available per day. At over 17,000 acres in size, Sag is one of the largest lakes in the BWCAW and offers many trip options. One option is to avoid portaging altogether and base camp on the lake. This option is utilized by a number of groups. A boundary waters trip to one group may mean something completely different to another. The definition of “roughing it” is not a universal term. In fact, it’s all a matter of perspective. Portaging is not mandatory as some might think, and the west end of Saganaga Lake presents a number of opportunities to set up a base camp and still enjoy all that the wilderness has to offer with a fraction of the effort.
Although 25hp motors are allowed on Saganaga, not all of the lake is motorized. This route could begin with a headstart boat launch to American Point, at which point, motors can go no further, and here your trip will start. Within about a two mile paddle down the border you’ll find what are known as 1st, 2nd and 3rd Bays along the south (US) shore. There are a number of campsites on the south shore, and tucked back in these bays, you won’t even know you’re still on one of the largest lakes in the BWCAW. So here you are, not two hours into your trip, and already you’re at your base camp site, and you haven’t even had to portage. For some, this is your cup of tea. For others, this wouldn’t satisfy, and you’ll feel the need to continue on, in which case you’d be more interested in the Thunder Point Loop in reverse.
A base camp trip is extremely relaxing due the fact that you don’t have to spend extra time setting up and tearing down camp, and you can really take the time to explore in depth the area in which you’re staying. Fishing is quite excellent, especially in the cooler spring months because the smaller bays warm up faster on this large lake, and fish congregate in this area. Walleye, smallmouth and northern pike are all plentiful in this section of the lake. Day trips abound from this locale. Paddle southwest through Swamp Lake and hike the monument portage which you’ll find a number of USGS control points marked by “monuments” that determine the US/Canadian border. Beyond the monument portage you’ll find yourself in Ottertrack Lake, home of the last legal resident, Benny Ambrose, allowed to live within the borders of the BWCAW. Also some fantastic vistas line Ottertrack Lake that rise up over 100 feet along the shorelines. Maybe you’d be interested in taking a daytrip into Ashdick Lake and fish for largemouth bass which are a rarity in the BWCAW. Or take the short 5 rod portage south into Zephyr Lake and fish for walleye.
In the narrows between 2nd and 3rd Bay, moose can be seen in the shallows if the timing is right. Countless opportunities to explore are at your fingertips, and although you’re camping on the US side, a day trip into Cache Bay and stop at the ranger station might be part of your itinerary. Silver Falls is only a couple hour paddle away from your base camp, and a day pass can be obtained from the ranger station in Cache Bay to make this happen.
This type of trip is excellent for beginners, for families with children, for groups that want to fish, for groups that might be getting up in age and still want to enjoy the sights and sounds of the BWCA, or for the groups that want to bring the many comforts of home to the campsite without the worry of strapping it all on their back. Do you want to eat like kings and pack in fresh food and not worry about the weight? This could be your next destination.
This trip lends itself to lengths of whatever you would like to make of it. Two or three nights, or an entire week are entirely possible because paddling on this trip is almost in the optional category. Come and make the west end of Saganaga Lake your next base camp.
Learn more about BWCA Permits.