The eastern side of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area has many great day trips, but one of the best starts at the Bower Trout Lake BWCA entry point. This route is an out and back paddle, so you decide how long of a trip you want. The fishing is good on several of the lakes, and moose often frequent Bower Trout late in the evening. Combine those factors with the burned area further west along the route, and you get a diverse day trip with plenty to see. Start early in the morning on this one, because there’s so much to explore
- Distance: 1 to 10 miles – This is an out and back, so you decide when to turn around.
- Trip Rating: Intermediate. The portages are rough, but route finding is easy.
- Maps: BWCA East Trails Illustrated Map, Voyageur Map Number Nine For the BWCA, or McKenzie BWCA/Quetico Canoe Map Number 3
- Hazards: Cold water in the spring and fall, rough portages, bog, moose.
Bower Trout Lake BWCA Put-in
The Bower Trout Lake BWCA parking lot is a little obscure. Find it by taking the Gunflint Trail out of Grand Marais, Minnesota to the South Brule River Road. Follow the South Brule to its end and then turn left until you see the sign. The parking lot is big enough for four or five cars, and you can fill out your free day use permit at the trailhead. Optionally, after you get your permit, you can begin by paddling up the South Brule River from the Lima Grade.
The one downside of this route is that you start with a 66-rod portage over bog logs to the put-in that is mucky and on a floating bog. On one trip, one of our group got sucked up to her hips in the bog when she stepped on the wrong place. After entering your canoe, paddle west along the north shore of the lake. To the south, the mountainous hills rise almost 600 feet above the lake. These forest-covered hills make up the southern shore of the entire route. For anglers, you’ll find bass, pike, a good amount of walleye and many perch in Bower Trout.
Find the rough, muddy, 91-rod portage from Bower Trout Lake into Marshall Lake at the west end of Bower Trout. Look for a small stream entering the lake on the south side. The portage is west of that. Marshall Lake is weedy and shallow, but it harbors walleye, northern and smallmouth bass. Paddle west to the end of the lake until you find the 30-rod portage into Dugout Lake.
Once on Dugout Lake follow the north shore looking for carnivorous pitcher plants. They flower during late June and early July. The blood-red flowers top a long stem that leads down to a pitcher that traps and dissolves bugs. Continue along the north shore until you find a small opening in the swamp that one canoe can paddle down to see the overgrown Iota Lake. Unless you have a 14-foot or less canoe, you’ll need to back paddle out of this stream. Dugout holds all sizes of walleye, northern and perch.
Next follow a twisty path of a slow moving and shallow river to Skidway Lake. This area is burned, but it is growing back. You still can get out of your canoe and easily walk around. If you have free time, hike to a nearby mound of granite and get an overview of the area.
The route continues along narrow lakes with short portages between them until you reach Swan Lake, which has several nice campsites for taking a lunch break. For anglers, Swan is a great destination. It holds northern, walleye, whitefish and maybe lake trout, which have been stocked there. Last time, I stopped at a campsite, I found lots of moose scat and other moose sign.
Bower Trout Day Trip Map
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