5 Day BWCA Trip – Voyageur Highway

Posted by Christopher Lundeen on

Back in March, my Uncle Terry who runs our sister camp, Camp Birchwood for Girls, asked me if I had any interest in leading a 5 Day BWCA trip for a group of seven girls and one co-leader.

I believe my answer was, “heck yeah!”

The plan was to do the Voyageur Highway, which was a common trade route the French-Canadian Voyageurs paddled long ago. I had done a route slightly south of the Voyageur Highway years ago but never the actual Highway.

After having completed the trip, I would absolutely recommend it to everyone from novice to seasoned paddlers. There’s a good mix of big water paddling and small lake paddling but the portages are few and short, making it achievable for newbies and kiddos but not so easy that you won’t feel a sense of accomplishment at the end.

Below, I’ve summarized my trip for you including maps, statistics, menus, photos, and highs and lows from each day. At the very end, I’ve written a special message to my girls from the trip!

Total Trip: 

Seagull River to Moose Lake
*Red lines indicate portages
  • Miles Paddled: 41.5 miles
  • Hours in the Canoe: 24 hrs
  • Rods Portaged: 260 rods
  • Campsites: 8/10

Trip High:

  • We had the most amazing weather the entire trip!
  • My co-counselor, Krissy, and I worked together like peanut butter and jelly! She loved doing all the things I wasn’t wild about and I loved doing all the things she wasn’t wild about. I would paddle with her any day! You rock, Krissy!
  • The girls! I was blown away by their positivity and perseverance!

Trip Low:

  • We didn’t see one single all-female group the entire trip until we got to our pick up spot at Moose Lake where we saw one adult female group. Other than that, literally all of the groups we came across looked identical. Not much diversity.

Day 1

Entry Point 55 (Seagull River) to Swamp Lake
  • Miles Paddled: 10 miles
  • Hours paddled: 5 hrs
  • Rods Portaged: 0 rods
  • Campsite: 7/10

Menu:

Breakfast – Oatmeal with blueberries and muffins

Lunch – Cheese crackers and granola bars

Dinner – Mac and cheese with potatoes

Dessert – Nutella s’mores

High:

  • My top high of the day was paddling through an unusually calm Saganaga Lake. While small narrow lakes make you feel held and at home, expansive lakes like Sag spark a sense of adventure. They make you think about life in a grander sense, which is why I love paddling on big water.
  • Seeing the girls have such a fun time “swimming to America” from our Canadian campsite.
  • My co-counselor, Krissy, asked the girls to share their goals for the trip and I was so proud to hear every girl say that her goals were to be positive, get stronger, and improve on paddling skills.

Low:

  • The first day of any trip always seems to be the hardest. By the end of the day, girls were a sunburnt (despite gobs of sunscreen), homesick, and spent.

Photos:


Day 2

Swamp Lake to Knife Lake
*Red/Yellow lines indicate portages
  • Miles Paddled: 12 miles
  • Hours paddled: 7 hrs
  • Rods Portaged: 90 rods
  • Campsite: 9/10

Menu:

Breakfast – Oatmeal and left-over potatoes

Lunch – Beef jerky and Nutella/peanut butter wraps

Dinner – Pasta with red sauce

Dessert – Hot chocolate

High:

  • Playing in the rapids into Knife Lake with the girls! The girls that were sunburnt and/or homesick really rounded a corner here!
  • Paddling on the big open parts of Knife.
  • Paddling hard to reach our goal campsite to find the campsite was available and GORGEOUS!

Low:

  • The girls got eaten alive by mosquitos at Monument Portage. This was the most challenging portage for them so the mosquitos just made it even more challenging.

Photos:


Day 3

Knife Lake to Sucker Lake
  • Miles Paddled: 12 miles
  • Hours paddled: 8 hrs
  • Rods Portaged: 170 rods
  • Campsite: 8/10

Menu:

Breakfast – Bread with jelly and oatmeal with cinnamon, brown sugar, and chocolate chips

Lunch – Granola bars, Fruit Roll-Ups, and peanut butter wraps

Dinner – Chicken ramen

Dessert – Roasted marshmallows

Highs:

  • Day 3 was the day we fell into a good rhythm! We were all excited about reaching our goal campsite on Sucker Lake because that would mean that we were 24 hours ahead of schedule and would get to do some fun sightseeing and relaxing on day 4.
  • Day 3 was also the day with the most porages, 5 to be exact. I was so proud of how efficiently, positively, and joyfully the girls completed all 5! Girl Power!
  • Krissy and I were paddling across Seed Lake when we both agreed we had never seen a Loon swimming underwater. About a minute later, a Loon pops up right next to our canoe, looks directly at us, then dives alongside us so we could see him torpedoing along. He swam under, around, and alongside our canoe, popping up to say hello, the entire length of Seed Lake! Without a doubt, my favorite wilderness encounter of the trip!

Low:

  • Unfortunately, we came across some rude men at the 75-rod Big Knife Portage. When we came upon the entrance, it was clear that two or three large groups were within eyesight behind us. I informed the girls that we needed to make this our best portage yet – be efficient, polite, and communicate clearly with each other. As we were starting to get canoes on shoulders, a man from a group the same size as ours that had just paddled in behind us addressed Krissy, “Can we cut in front of you? We’re going to be faster.” **eye roll** I wonder, had we been a group of guys would he have asked to cut? Krissy ended up telling him he could not cut and to wait his turn. **applause** Once I put my canoe down at the end of the portage, I looked back to see all three of our canoes right behind me! They really impressed me and showed the group of rude guys that they shouldn’t underestimate based on gender and size.

Photos:


Day 4

Sucker Lake to Canadian Customs to Newfound Lake
  • Miles Paddled: 3.5 miles
  • Hours paddled: 2 hrs
  • Rods Portaged: 0 rods
  • Campsite: 8/10

Menu:

Breakfast – Chocolate chip pancakes

Lunch – Cheese crackers, granola bars, Fruit Roll-Ups

Dinner – Wild rice and vegetable pasta

Dessert – Hot Chocolate

High:

  • Two of the girls made me and Krissy friendship bracelets, which really meant a lot to me. So sweet!
  • Exploring the dam, beach, and store at Canadian Customs was a fun little detour!
  • Relaxing at the campsite all afternoon was a nice change of pace. We all read, swam, napped, played Sudoku, and made friendship bracelets.
  • After dinner, we all gave “kudos” (gratitude) to each other. All of the kudos were very empowering and heartwarming. The kudos I received made me tear up a bit! It was my goal to make sure each girl had a positive experience in the BWCA and their kudos to me was that I made the trip feel like home…I’ll take that as a job well done.

Low:

  • Krissy and I had planned to wake the girls up around 11:30 for a paddle under the stars. Unfortunately, we opened our tent to discover lightning, meaning operation night paddle was a no-go.

Photos:


Day 5

Newfound Lake to Moose Lake
  • Miles Paddled: 4 miles
  • Hours paddled: 2 hrs
  • Rods Portaged: 0 rods

Menu:

Breakfast – Chocolate chip pancakes

Lunch – DAIRY QUEEN!

High:

  • The girls were still asleep in their tents as Krissy made breakfast and I took our tent down and made her and I coffee. As I boiled water, we heard, “Oh, say can you see, By the dawn’s early light,” coming from two canoes paddling by. We had forgotten it was the 4th of July! Next, we heard, “USA! USA! USA!” coming from our girls’ tents. The two canoes chanting back, “USA! USA! USA!” It was a fun way to start the day.
  • After everyone finished up with breakfast, Krissy and I noticed raindrops hitting the water. We looked at each other nervously and I yelled out, “Ladies, pack your tents as fast as you can and put your rain gear on! Let’s get out of here!” Ten minutes later we were on the water paddling towards Moose Lake, singing in the rain. It might not sound like a high but it was really fun!
  • The Moose Lake Landing (our pick up point) came into view. Then Arlo sitting at the water’s edge came into view. Then all the girls started screaming, “Is that Arlo!?” Then we all gathered close and sang our camp song before beaching the canoes on shore and erupting in laughs, excitement, and pride. Our border route trip was complete!

Low:

  • No lows

Photos:


My Message to the Girls

Come September, when you’re back in school, I want you to remember this trip. I’ve written about the basics in this post but you’re the ones who know the real stories from the trail. You were the ones who paddled and portaged the Canadian border.

I want you to remember the way of the Voyageur. They were known for their perseverance, resilience, and joyful nature. They paddled the same route you did, singing songs like you did, throwing canoes over their heads like you did.

It’s no small feat to be a female Voyageur so let that remind you, in times of challenge, that you have the resilience, joy, and perseverance to overcome and achieve your dreams.

Happy Trails,


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