EAST BEARSKIN, CANOE, PINE
BWCAW Entry Point 64 East Bearskin
Minimum Trip Length 3 Days
This is a popular route with small lakes and relatively easy portages. It’s a good route for beginners because it’s just a quick paddle to get back to civilization. There are great lakes for fishing and for setting up a basecamp. The highlight of the area is a side trip to Johnson Falls.
BWCA Maps Needed:
- Fisher Maps: F-14
- McKenzie Maps: 2
- Voyageur Maps:
|Lake||DNR #||Fish Species||Maximum Depth||Acres||Elevation||Campsites|
|East Bearskin||16014600||Lake Trout, Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye||66||593.29||1782||2|
|Alder||16011400||Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye||72||528.92||60||7|
|Canoe||16011200||Northern Pike, Walleye, sunfish, sucker||40||55||30||3|
|Pine||16019400||Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye||34||97.72||1467||10|
|Lake||DNR #||Fish Species||Maximum Depth||Acres||Elevation||Campsites|
|Little Caribou||16012400||Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, perch, sucker||18||52.8||1563||1|
|Caribou||16014100||Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, perch, sucker, whitefish||65||461.73||1575||6|
|Deer||16013600||Northern Pike, Walleye, perch, sucker||33||82||1641||1|
|Moon||16019400||Northern Pike, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, perch, sucker, sunfish||30||148.03||1642||3|
|Portages out of East Bearskin||Portages out of Alder||Portages out of Canoe||Portages out of Pine|
|-NW 100 rod to Aspen Lake|
-South 100 rod to Crocodile Lake
-North 86 rod to Flour Lake
-NE 80 rod to Alder
-SE 48 rod to Alder
|NW 80 rod to E. Bearskin|
-SW 48 rod to E. Bearskin
-NE 22 rod to Canoe
-East 15 rod to Pierz
|SW 22 rod to Alder|
-SE 48 rod to Crystal
-NE 232 rod to Pine
| -SW 232 rod to Canoe|
-NW 80 rod to Little Caribou
-South 62 rod to Vale
-South 85 rod to Gadwall
-North 317 rod to West Pike
-South 150 rod to Long
-NE 2 rod to McFarland
|Portages out of Little Caribou||Portages out of Caribou||Portages out of Deer||Portages out of Moon|
|-SE 76 rod to Pine Lake|
-W 24 rod to Caribou Lake
|-N 142 rod to Clearwater|
-S 44 rod to Deer Lake
-W 206 rod to Clearwater Lake
-E 24 rod to Little Caribou
|-N 44 rod to Caribou Lake|
-S 13 rod to Moon Lake
| -N 13 rod to Deer Lake|
-S 102 rod to East Bearskin
-SW 83 rod to Flour Lake
Travel the south shore of East Bearskin Lake and be sure to stay south to get to the 48-rod portage from East Bearskin to Alder. This portage is not only shorter but much easier than the 80-rod portage which is steeper and longer.
Alder Lake is a nice large lake with a number of campsites to choose from. Some people like to stop here because there is good fishing for the four main species. The portage into Canoe Lake is a short and easy one at only 22-rods. There are three campsites to choose from in Canoe and fishing mainly for walleye and northern pike.
If you end up deciding to stay on Alder or Canoe and you don’t want to do the whole loop but you still want to see Johnson Falls then head east on Canoe Lake to the Pine Lake portage. You can haul your canoe up into the woods away from the landing and out of the way of other canoe trippers. Walk the portage to Pine Lake and continue west along a trail that will lead you to Johnson Falls. There are three sets of falls for your viewing or cooling off enjoyment.
Another day trip you can take if you stay on Alder or Canoe Lake is to take the short 15-rod portage into Pierz Lake. A MN DNR lakemap from 1964 refers to this lake as Beaver Lake. It also shows a trail that leaves from the north shoreline somewhere around or beyond the most eastern campsite. I don’t know if this trail still exists but if you feel like exploring you could check it out. There are three campsites on the lake and fishing for brook trout, green sunfish, hybrid sunfish, smallmouth bass, splake, yellow perch and white sucker.
A 48-rod portage from Canoe takes you into Crystal Lake. There are two campsites and fishing for green sunfish, lake trout, northern pike, smallmouth bass, walleye, yellow perch and white sucker. From Crystal you can take a 45-rod portage into Spaulding and then a 100-rod into Bench Lake. The DNR doesn’t have fish information for Spaulding but with a depth of 36 feet I would think there would be some fish in there. Bench is a 25-acre lake that according to the DNR has brook trout in it. The DNR map shows a hole of 18 feet and a trail following the stream into Table lake. Table Lake only has a depth of 5 feet so it probably isn’t worth the trek since a portage isn’t shown on current canoe maps.
The 232-rod portage from Canoe to Pine Lake feels much easier without a canoe and packs. It’s a hilly portage with switchbacks and it isn’t an easy one. The good news is it’s the longest portage on the trip and it brings you to beautiful Pine Lake. Pine is a large lake with the majority of the campsites located on the north side of the lake. Be sure to leave the triangle shaped campsite on the map open as it is designated for folks hiking the Border Route Trail. If you want to spend some time hiking then take the spur trail that leaves from that campsite up to the BRT. There’s fishing for all four main species on Pine and options for taking day trips into other smaller lakes. If you want to fish for brook trout then a 62-rod portage into Vale Lake or an 85-rod portage into Gadwall might be for you. A 150-rod portage into Long Lake and Stump Lake is an option for a day trip of exploring or fishing for northern pike.
The 232-rod portage from Canoe to Pine Lake feels much easier without a canoe and packs. It’s a hilly portage with switchbacks and it isn’t an easy one. The good news is it’s the longest portage on the trip and it brings you to beautiful Pine Lake.
Pine is a large lake with the majority of the campsites located on the north side of the lake. Be sure to leave the triangle shaped campsite on the map open as it is designated for folks hiking the Border Route Trail. If you want to spend some time hiking then take the spur trail that leaves from that campsite up to the BRT. You may want to stay on the western half of the lake due to the fact folks entering through the Pine Lake entry point will enter via the narrow gap from McFarland. McFarland has cabins on it as well as motors so it’s possible to hear noise. There’s fishing for all four main species on Pine and options for taking day trips into other smaller lakes. If you want to fish for brook trout then a 62-rod portage into Vale Lake or an 85-rod portage into Gadwall might be for you. A 150-rod portage into Long Lake and Stump Lake is an option for a day trip of exploring or fishing for northern pike.
The 80-rod portage into Little Caribou Lake is located at the far west end of Pine Lake just north of the creek. There’s a little climb initially and a log bridge over a creek. You’ll descend before you reach the shore of the small but beautiful Little Caribou Lake. There’s just one campsite on the lake and it’s a beautiful site perched on a rock overlooking the lake. Unfortunately it’s at the most narrow part of the lake so paddlers traveling through will go right past your campsite. It isn’t optimal for privacy or seclusion but for an early spring or late fall trip it would be very nice. There aren’t too many lakes in the Boundary Waters that have largemouth bass but Little Caribou is one of them. It also has northern pike, smallmouth bass and walleye in it.
The portage into Caribou Lake is located at the west end of Little Caribou. It’s a fairly easy 25-rod portage but watch your footing as there are some rocks when you get close to Caribou Lake. Caribou is a long, pretty and very popular lake. It has good fishing for the four main species and it’s just a portage away from Clearwater Lake making it easy to access. The portage from Clearwater Lake splits with one trail leading to the portage to Deer Lake ad the other portage leading to the shore of Caribou. Unfortunately it follows an old railroad grade and the three campsites at the far west end of the lake can be accessed from it. If it’s an early spring or late fall trip then these three campsites would be fine for me but I prefer not to be in that close of proximity to other people and I wouldn’t want people to wander over into my site. There are three other campsites on the lake to choose from if you’re picky like me.
The portage from Caribou to Deer Lake is 60-rods and it begins with a steep incline. You’ll be able to catch your breath and the rest of the portage is pretty easy. There’s just one campsite in Deer Lake and you’ll find it very close to the end of the portage so you can expect groups to pass by.
It’s a short 15-rod portage from Deer to Moon but keep your eyes open as there are rocks and roots you’ll want to avoid tripping over. Moon has three campsites on it but they tend to be used frequently due to the proximity to East Bearskin Lake. A steep 102-rod portage takes you out of Moon and towards East Bearskin. There are some steps to help you navigate the incline before you’ll descend to the shore of East Bearskin Lake. A short paddle back to the landing on East Bearskin will bring you back to where you began.
A Brief History:
I mention Spaulding Lake as a possible day trip opportunity for folks staying on Canoe or Alder Lake. While there isn’t much that remains now there once was a mining operation on the eastern shore of Spaulding Lake. Captain William Spaulding arrived to the area shortly after Henry Mayhew who is credited with building a road into the wilderness from Grand Marais. It was in the 1870’s when Mayhew had natives cut a trail to Grand Marais and then he convinced the county officials to fund the “building” of a real road. The road went to Rove Lake and Spaulding’s road or “Tote Road” was the first side road off of the original road. According to the book, “Pioneers in the Wilderness” Spaulding was a prospector in search of silver and he focused his search at the east end of Lake Miranda(now Spaulding) just north of Lake Fanny(now Crystal). While he never struck it rich you may be interested in looking for your own treasure in the area. At one time you were able to see remnants of his camp and cabin and you could find tin, pipes, nails and other garbage around the area but I’m not sure how overgrown everything is now. I love digging through dirt and looking for treasures even if I can’t keep them they are fun to find and take photos of. It’s also fun to daydream about living on the shores of a wilderness lake long ago.
A Short Story:
When our children were very young we decided to take them to see Johnson Falls. Instead of carrying our canoe across the Pine Lake portage we decided to just hike from Canoe. I told the children to put on their rubber boots for the day trip away from our campsite. My kids, like most other kids, have a tendency to complain. Sometimes as a parent I tuned out the whiny voices while other times I addressed them somewhat sternly. I can’t remember exactly what was said on that day as we made our way to Johnson Falls but I do remember feeling very badly when we got there. Abby had been telling me her feet hurt and I hadn’t done anything about it. At the waterfalls I told her to take her boots off and put her feet into the water to see if it made them feel better. Well, it turned out I had told her to put her boots on but I didn’t specifically tell her to put socks on before the boots. The boots had rubbed the skin right off the back of her heels and she was bleeding! I felt so awful and probably ended up giving her a piggy back ride the whole way back. Well, maybe not but in my mind as a good Mom that’s what I would have done.