BWCAW Entry Point  60 Duncan(3 entry permits)
Minimum Trip Length 3 Days

This is a great canoe camping trip for folks who want to spend time in the Boundary Waters but aren’t too concerned with seeing people. There are a number of folks who visit Stairway Portage and the waterfalls as a day trip and there is no quota on day use permits. This means you could see an unlimited number of groups of up to 9 people paddling to the waterfall each day. If you make your way off of Duncan and camp on Rose Lake then you will avoid seeing the majority of these folks but chances are you will see people on your way into and out of Rose Lake. This route is close to civilization so if you are a beginner with concerns about camping out then this is a good place to start. Rose Lake is a beautiful lake with high cliffs and hiking opportunities.

  • BWCA Maps Needed
    • Fisher Maps: F-13
    • McKenzie Maps: 2
    • Voyageur Maps: 9

  Fast Facts:  

LakeDNR #Fish SpeciesMaximum DepthAcresElevationCampsites
Bearskin16022800Lake Trout, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike7849316781
Duncan16023200Lake Trout, Smallmouth Bass13048116587
Rose16023000Walleye, Lake Trout, Smallmouth Bass90131516787
Portages out of BearskinPortages out of Duncan Portages out of Rose
-North 60 rods to Daniels
-South 21 rods to Hungry Jack
-West 75 rods to Duncan
-South 53 rods to Moss
-SW 230 rods to Partridge
-SE 81 rods to Bearskin
-NE 78 rods to Rose
 South 80 rods to Duncan
-SE 337 rods to fork, 87 rods to Daniels or 291 rods to Rove
-West 4 rods to Rat


Route Description:
The entry point for Ducan Lake is accessed via West Bearskin Lake. There’s a nice parking area and a short trail down to the waterfront where you’ll launch your canoe.  It’s a very short paddle across the west end of West Bearskin Lake over to the 75 rod portage into Duncan Lake.  The portage is is relatively flat and dry and is intersected by the Caribou Rock HIking Trail. 

Duncan Lake has several campsites to choose from but they are very popular due to the easy access.  You may not have a choice of campsites and in my opinion one of the nicer ones is not very private. Then again, if you’re looking for privacy and solitude camping on Duncan may not be the best choice.

The Stairway Portage is an 80-rod portage into Rose Lake and there’s a popular waterfall along the trail. Due to the proximity to a number of mid-trail resorts and outfitters this route is a very popular day trip. The BWCA does not regulate the number of groups entering for day trips so there can be quite a bit of traffic. 

The waterfalls are pretty and it’s fun to cool off beneath them and relax in the pool.  The portage has stairs as one would assume due to the name.  The Border Route hiking trail intersects the portage and leads to some awesome views of Rose Lake. There’s nice elevation on top of the cliffs so you can see most of the lake from on top of them. It’s worth taking the time to veer off of the trail and explore, just don’t forget your camera. 

There are a number of campsites on Rose Lake to choose from. There is a beautiful site right out from the portage but with day trip traffic it might not be the quietest.  There’s a campsite to the west of the portage as well but any groups paddling by you would see.  There are a number of campsites on the south side of the lake.  The sites are all protected by pine trees and somewhat hidden.  Since the lake is half in Canada and half in the US you’ll need to camp and fish on the south side of the lake. 

If you’re a hiker then consider camping at the most eastern site.  It has direct access to the hiking trail and you can do a number of awesome day hikes including hiking back to Stairway Portage.  Rose is a beautiful lake that offers good fishing and is easy to get to in a short amount of time.

Brief History:
Imagine sitting on the shores of a wilderness lake and hearing the sound of a train whistle in the distance. When the Gunflint Trail area was opened up for settlement in the 1800’s people began their journey inland from the shores of Lake Superior. They found towering pines, lakes teeming with fish and geological features that piqued their interest. Some who ventured here saw the beauty, solitude and peacefulness and decided to settle here. Others saw the tall trees and imagined making profits by harvesting and selling the lumber. And yet other folks saw the rocks and thought there might be gold or other minerals to mine and sell. But before any logging or mining could be done there needed to be a way to transport materials off of the Gunflint Trail and railroads were the answer.
The history of railroads on the Gunflint Trail is a little confusing because there were a number of them built by different companies for different reasons. Information about the railroads is somewhat sparse but this is what I have pieced together from a number of different sources.
Russell Alger and M.S. Smith both from Michigan decided to build a railroad in 1898 and name it the Duluth and Northern Minnesota, also known as the Alger-Smith line because it was owned by the logging firm of Alger, Smith and Company. The plan was to harvest timber and bring it from the Arrowhead Region to the Duluth area near the mouth of the Knife River.
The details are fuzzy but the line originally ended at Hornby.  I believe Alger-Smith completed their logging and sold the line to the General Logging Company of Cloquet who dismantled the railroad and stored the steel at Hornby. 
In 1926 the General Logging Company of Cloquet decided to build a spur trail from Hornby(the end of the Duluth and Northern Minnesota) to Cascade Lake.  This spur was known as the General Logging Line and by 1929 it extended to Brule and Rose Lakes.  The logging didn’t last long for a number of reasons including the Brule Lake Fire of 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression, the dropping of the lumber market and the poor quality of the pine. The company pulled up the steel lines between 1939 and 1941 ending the era of the railroad on the Gunflint Trail.  

A Short Story:  
A trip to Stairway Portage and the waterfalls are always an awesome treat. The views from the cliffs along the Border Route Hiking Trail are amazing. One time our family camped at the most eastern campsite on Rose Lake. We decided to visit the falls without having all of our gear along so Josh and I hiked to the falls on the Border Route Trail while Abby and Mike paddled. I remember watching Josh thinking he looked like a gazelle bounding through the forest over downed trees and around rocks strewn in the path.  I had to watch where I stepped and traveled at a much slower pace. On the way home Josh decided to catch a ride in the canoe while I hiked back to the site. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to take long hikes while on a canoe camping trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.