BOUNDARY WATERS CANOE ROUTE – SEAGULL, ALPINE, RED ROCK, SAGANAGA ROUTE
BWCAW Entry Point 54 Seagull Lake(11 entry permits) or Entry Point 55 Saganaga Lake(17 entry permits)
Minimum Trip Length 3 Days
The Seagull, Alpine, Red Rock, Saganaga Lake Boundary Waters route is one of the most popular routes from the end of the Gunflint Trail. It is a perfect canoe route for families with small children because they can opt to take a tow boat ride from the portage out of Red Rock Lake back to our base on the Seagull River. The portages are minimal and short making it a first choice for BWCA kayak trips and people who are opposed to portaging. For people pressed for time the distance of this Boundary Waters Canoe route is ideal. A different campsite each night or the same campsite for all of the nights is possible with the numerous campsites on the lakes of this route. If you’re looking for a route with great fishing, abundant wildlife and not much portaging then look at the Seagull, Alpine, Red Rock, Saganaga route.
BWCA Maps Needed:
- Fisher Maps: F-19
- McKenzie Maps:
- Voyageur Maps: 6
|Lake||DNR #||Fish Species||Maximum Depth||Acres||Elevation||Campsites|
|Alpine||16075900||Walleye, lake trout, smallmouth bass, northern pike||65||839||1455||25|
|Seagull||16062900||Walleye, lake trout, smallmouth bass, northern pike||145||4996||1451||36|
|Saganaga||16063900||Walleye, lake trout, smallmouth bass, northern pike, whitefish||280||13832.23||1430||77|
|Red Rock||16079300||Walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike||64||353||1431||8|
|Portages out of Alpine||Portages out of Red Rock||Portages out of Seagull||Portages out of Saganaga|
|North 48 rod to Red Rock|
South 45 rod to Jasper
Northeast 20 rod to Seagull
Northeast 105 rod to Seagull
|North 10 rod to Saganaga|
South 48 rod to Alpine
|North 235 rod to Grandpa|
North 38 rod to Gull Lake
NW 20 rod to Alpine
NW 105 rod to Alpine
West 20 rod to Rog Lake
South 535 to Paulson
|North 600 rod to Saganagons|
NW 130 rod to Saganagons Silver Falls
West 5 rod 3rd Bay to Zephyr
West 5 rod 3rd Bay to Swamp
SW- 10 rod RR Bay to Red Rock
South- 40 rod to Roy Lake
South- 38 rod to Seagull via Seagull River
SE- 10 rod to Tenor
SE- 80 rod James Bay to Morris
SE- 38 rod to Maraboeuf on Granite River via Sag Falls
East- 25 Currans Bay to Wantelto
NE- 20 rod Northeast Arm to Northern Light Lake
When time and experience are limited the Seagull, Alpine, Red Rock, Saganaga route is a great choice. The close proximity to two entry points as well as the great fishing makes this a popular route. It is a good option for those who want to get a taste of the BWCA experience without too much of a challenge in the way of navigating and portaging.
The loop can begin and end at our dock by entering into Saganaga Lake or entering into Seagull Lake. You can leave from our dock and paddle south to Seagull Lake via Gull Lake and traverse the falls at the Trail’s End Campground or walk the short campground loop from one boat landing to the other. Or if you prefer we can transport you to one of the two landings into Seagull Lake; we primarily use the one at the Trail’s End Campground. It’s just a short 2 mile drive to the landing which bypasses the 38 rod portage from Gull into Seagull Lake.
Before you get to Seagull Lake you will paddle the narrow channel and then pass through a narrow gap. The Seagull River Nature Trail follows the channel out to the point where paddlers can choose to get out on the left shoreline and portage around the chute. The water level can make this area a little tricky but if you are prepared then you should be fine.
Seagull is a favorite lake of many who like to have easy access to wilderness campsites without any portaging. The scenery is gorgeous with over 100 islands an acre in size and over. There is excellent fishing for smallmouth bass, lake trout, walleye and northern pike. Wildlife is abundant and moose are often seen in the shallow bays cooling off in the heat of the summer. The 300 year old trees on Three Mile Island and the hike to the top of the Palisades are favorites of those who camp on Seagull Lake.
With map in hand you can successfully navigate your way around the numerous islands and make your way to the portage leading into Alpine Lake. The best portage is the 105 rod portage that is well maintained and has a nice sandy landing. There is another route shown on the map via the rapids but it is not recommended because there are not portages around all of the rapids. People who make the mistake of taking that route risk scarring their canoe, twisting an ankle and worse due to the slippery, rocky terrain.
If you want to take the less traveled route then choose the portage to Rog Lake. This is a quiet little lake that is perfect for a private picnic lunch, a swim break or for fishing for brook trout. The portage into Rog from Seagull is 60 rods and out of Rog into Alpine is only 20 rods.
Alpine Lake has a number of islands in the middle of the lake that make the lake appear smaller in size than it actually is. These islands provide excellent structure for fishing with all of their rocky outcroppings and varying depths. Smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye like to hang out in the water surrounding the islands. There are over 20 campsites to choose from on Alpine Lake so don’t settle for the most popular ones right on the beaten path. While they are beautiful sites there are other more private sites if you want to avoid any possible traffic from the portages.
Red Rock Lake lies to the north of Alpine via a short 50 rod portage. Our guests almost always see moose in the bays and have even had them walk through their campsite. Bald eagles soar overhead with a number of nests in the area. There is good fishing on Red Rock Lake and eight nice campsites to choose from. Choose a campsite in a bay if you do not wish to see people traveling the route. Right near the portage to Alpine Lake one of the fires burned a small area and one other small spot near the NW side of the lake but those are the only parts of Red Rock affected by any of the fires.
There’s a short portage into Saganaga Lake where a towboat can come to pick you up at the end of your trip. When the water level is high you can paddle through to Red Rock Bay instead of portaging the 10 rods around. Red Rock Bay is one of the most beautiful areas of Saganaga Lake with twists and turns around numerous the numerous islands. It’s protected from the rest of the lake and almost feels like an entirely different lake. Campsites in this area are well protected from wind and have the small lake appeal.
Saganaga Lake is a large lake located half in Canada and half in Minnesota. There are cabins on the Canadian side of the lake so if you see one then you know you are no longer in the USA. Motors up to 25 horse power in size are allowed on Saganaga so do not be surprised if you see a boat or tow boats from the various outfitters on the lakes. The number of permits for day use motor use is not large and on a “busy” boat day on the big part of the lake you may see only 2 or 3 boats. If you camp on the straight path to Canada then expect to see a few more.
Campsites are plentiful on Saganaga and are some of the nicest you will find in the Boundary Waters. Towering pine trees, large granite outcroppings and excellent fishing make Sag a favorite of many. Take time to stop at campsites to stretch your legs, eat a snack or take a quick swim. An evening spent camping on Sag will surely include a bedtime song from a loon so you may want to spend your last night camping there. In the morning you’ll only have a short paddle back to our dock on the Seagull River.
This loop can be done as a very long day trip without any gear, but we recommend you spend at least 3 days on the loop. There is no sense rushing through these beautiful Boundary Waters lakes. If you want to hit the fishing harder then a longer trip is better and I would plan for the extra time to make the most of the trip.
The history of this area would not be complete without talking about wildfires. Where there are forests there are fires and the region around the end of the Gunflint Trail has seen its fair share. The Roy Lake Fire of 1976 burned a relatively small area but it caused quite a stir due to the proximity to cabins and resorts at the end of the Gunflint Trail. It was started by a lightning strike on August 21 near Roy Lake just south of Saganaga Lake. The fire burned outward from Roy Lake to the northern shore of Seagull Lake, the southern shore of Saganaga Lake and directly up to the shoreline across the water from the Trail’s End Campground to the east end of Gull Lake. The fire burned a total of 3380 acres before it ended on the 27th. From the Roy Lake Fire of 1976 until the Saganaga Corridor Fire of 1995 there was very little fire activity with the exception of Red Tank Island, Spruce Island and the small island near Toe Island on Saganaga that has been aptly named Burnt Island.
In 1995 a fire started on August 10th just west of Roy and south of Saganaga on the north side of Romance Lake. Within minutes the fire jumped across the narrows of Saganaga and continued east to beyond the Granite River and into Canada. If the winds would have been from the north it would have spread just as quickly taking the cabins and businesses that were spared during the Roy Lake Fire with them. Fortunately the fire was kept from structures and burned primarily in Canada with the exception of the southeastern shoreline of Saganaga including James Bay and north of James Bay up to Sag and around the shoreline to Saganaga Falls and beyond into Canada. The Sag Corrirdor or Romance Lake Fire burned 12,600 acres before being contained on August 22nd.
Wildfire returned to the end of the Gunflint Trail after the turn of the century. In 2005 a fire was ignited by a lightning strike just to the east of Alpine Lake. It remained fairly inactive until August 8th when it heated up and spread north and east until it was contained at 1335 acres on August 20th. This relatively small fire touched a small portion of Seagull Lake, Red Rock and a bit of Alpine Lake.
The Cavity Lake Fire was spotted July 14th, 2006 southwest of Seagull Lake near Cavity Lake. It heated up and torched 31,830 acres before it was contained on August 8th thanks to firefighters and rain provided by Mother Nature. Miles Island and Three Mile Island on Seagull Lake as well as areas along the southern shore were touched by the Cavity Lake Fire. Prior prescribed burns done on Three Mile Island and other wilderness areas on the Gunflint Trail helped to control the spread of the Cavity Lake Fire.
In 2007 fire visited the end of the Gunflint Trail once again. The Ham Lake Fire began on May 5th and quickly spread to create mosaic burn patterns in a number of places. Seagull, Alpine and Saganaga were affected by the Ham Lake Fire as it burned over 75,000 acres until it was contained.
The wilderness traveler visiting the end of the Trail has a unique opportunity to explore all of the various ages and stages of forest growth. From the 300 year old trees on Seagull Lake to the 3 year old trees and everything in between there is quite a variety. Towering pines and lanky aspen take turns dotting the shoreline along with stands of thick and never-ending jackpine. Blueberries thrive in new forests as well as mushrooms, wildflowers and bird species rarely seen in the BWCAW. When you paddle Seagull, Alpine and Saganaga you will be treated to a rare mosaic landscape designed by forest fires of the past. Campsites, fishing and the beauty of the BWCA remain on these lakes as well as abundant wildlife and solitude found nowhere else.
A Short Story:
A neighbor by the name of Bob Lewis who owns a cabin on Moose Point of Gull Lake has told the story of his near death experience fighting the Roy Lake Fire. He lived in Duluth at the time and received a phone call shortly after 10:42 A.M. when the USFS spotted the fire. With the wind blowing from the west and the fire just 2 miles away from his family cabin he made the decision to head to the end of the Gunflint Trail to try to save his cabin. Luckily he was a pilot and had his own plane so he was able to get to the cabin quickly. The sky was black and orange and it was raining ashes when he landed. He quickly started spraying water as the wall of flames approached and were soon licking at his cabin. Suddenly he felt a burning sensation and thought he had caught fire. Looking over his body he realized he was being stung by a swarm of bees that had been chased out of the woods by the fire and they were none to pleased. He took the brunt of their anger and received over 80 bee stings which nearly killed him. Neighbors drove him to Grand Marais to be treated. His efforts were worth it as his property was saved and you can still see the distinct difference in terrain less than 100 feet from his cabin where the Roy Lake Fire was stopped.