BWCA – Alder Lake, Canoe Lake, & Crystal Lake

Alder Lake BWCA, taken from my campsite an hour after sunrise.
Alder Lake BWCA, taken from my campsite an hour after sunrise.

Anybody following this blog for a little while will know I had a May BWCA trip planned for some time.  I recently got back from my trip and want to share some of the details.

I entered the BWCA at Entry Point #64 back on May 22nd, on East Bearskin Lake, and came back out 4 nights and 5 days later.  I base camped and did some fishing.  From my base camps I did some short day trips to explore the area.  Lakes that I paddled were:

  • East Bearskin Lake
  • Alder Lake
  • Crystal Lake
  • Canoe Lake

May Boundary Waters Canoe Trip – No Bugs!

One of the things that made me want to go to the BWCA in the spring was the potential for little to no bugs.  Another reason was because I never caught a lake trout aside from Lake Michigan fishing charters and I wanted to reel a few in without having paid somebody to put me on the fish.

The weather was nearly perfect for my trip.  The day I went into the wilderness I checked the forecast and it was being reported that there were chances of rain for three days.  One day was even being forecast to have serious thunderstorms.

Weather, good or bad, is all part of camping and the outdoors.  You have to take what comes at ya!

The weather turned out to be fantastic and there were no bugs.  I think I maybe saw a dozen mosquitoes the entire time, and a handful of the dreaded black flies.

Day time temps were warmer than I expected, in the low 80s.  Night time temps were in the low 50s.  Mornings were cool and calm, as were the evenings.  Mid day there was some wind, but nothing serious that kept me from paddling and exploring.

The best part was there were NO BUGS!  I can’t say it enough.  Just like bad weather, having nasty swarms of bugs can be a part of camping.  They can go hand in hand.  But I didn’t have to worry about the bugs.

My Canoe Rental

I rented a Nova Craft Pal.  A 16 foot long tandem canoe that is great for solo trippers who have a lot of gear, or maybe have a few extra pounds like I do.  All in all it was a pretty nice canoe.  Initial stability seemed a little poor, but once underway it shined nicely.  It weighed around 52 lbs.  A lot lighter then my twenty year old 18′ aluminum canoe.

Nova Craft Pal, image taken from the Nova Craft website.
Nova Craft Pal, image taken from the Nova Craft website.

I attribute the poor initial stability on my limited ability to trim it better than I what I had.  If I had another fifteen pounds of gear I could have stored up front it likely would have been just fine.

I paddled it sitting in the front seat facing backward, with my gear stowed away forward of my position.  I used a bent shaft paddle, which was nice, but I should have grabbed a double bladed paddle, I think it would have been better.

East Bearskin Lake To Alder Lake – First Day

I have all my own camping gear but did rent a canoe from an outfitter up on the Gun Flint Trail.  I loaded up my canoe, made sure it was trimmed as well as I could, and headed east towards the southern portage into Alder Lake.

It was a beautiful May morning.  A near clear blue sky, slight breeze, little to no wave action or chop on the water.  It was before Memorial Day Weekend, so there weren’t many people around.  Usually the Memorial Day Weekend kicks off the start for routine paddlers in the BWCA.

I didn’t see any other paddlers at all this day.  Taking my time, it took about two hours to solo paddle down the the southern Alder Lake portage.  It was only a distance of just under 4 miles, but I went slow and didn’t push it.  The fact was that it had been more than a few years since I last paddled a canoe, and I didn’t want to overdo it and make myself sore and wore out.

The water, like I said, was calm and cool.  Ice had just been off the lake about three weeks.  I was actually surprised at how warm the water already felt.  Still cool, but not unbearably chilly.

The Southern Portage Route

There are two portages into Alder Lake from East Bearskin Lake.  One is a northern route, and the other is a southern route.  I took the southern route for no other reason than it was listed as being a shorter portage than the northern one, at 47 rods.

The southern portage was about as easy as I can imagine a portage being.  Both ends were dry, but I could imagine they might get a bit muddy if there was a lot of rain.  Bear Skin empties into Alder, but it is a very slight water level change.

Going from East Bear Skin to Alder there was only a slight elevation increase for about thirty yards, and then rest of the way to Adler was a gentle downward hike.  Easy portage to carry a canoe over.  I double portaged, carrying my canoe and a smaller pack over the first time, then going back for a larger pack and some gear I carried in my hands

Alder Lake

The waters of Alder Lake were noticeably deeper, and colder.  It was just after 10Am when I paddled into Alder, and I immediately felt a change… I felt like I was in the wilderness.

Alder is a 530 acre lake with a max depth of around 70 feet.  It holds lake trout, northern pike, walleye, small mouth bass, and perch in a good abundance, according to online sources.

The smell of cedar and pine lofted gently on the breeze, mingled with the faint scent of clean and clear water.  I sat in my canoe for several minutes and marveled at my surroundings.  Listening carefully I heard… peace.  No cars, trucks, planes, voices… no man made sounds.  Just the breeze, an occasional bird call, and the sun above shining down on me.

It looked perfect, sounded perfect, and smelled perfect.  The smell more than anything got to me and caused me to smile.  Long ago I lived in Ely, MN and would go for hikes along various trails off the Echo Trail.  The smell of cedar and pine reminded me of when I was nineteen and going to School at Vermillion College.

I took my time paddling around the southern shores of Alder Lake.  I had my fishing pole along with me and a spoon tied to the end of my line.  I would take breaks in paddling to cast around me, catching a few small northern and small mouth bass.  No real size to any of them, but it was fun all the same to catch them.

My Campsite On Alder

On the BWCA Website Map it lists the campsite I stayed at as #706, lake camp #8.  From the water it didn’t look too big, but once I got out of my canoe and looked it over I was pleasantly surprised.

Sunset from my campsite on Alder Lake in the BWCA.
Sunset from my campsite on Alder Lake in the BWCA.

It was actually a fairy nice sized campsite with a handful of good tent pad areas, and many trees for hanging hammocks.  The fire grate/kitchen area was fantastic with logs around it for sitting, and trees close by for hanging a rain tarp if needed.

Looking around I checked for bear sign (tracks and scat).  Finding any signs of bears would have indicated they frequented the camp, likely due to past campers leaving food accessible and easy to acquire.  I didn’t find any indicators that bear had been around.

Another thing I checked for was widowmakers; dead limbs on tree branches above the camp area that could fall and hurt me, or kill me, leaving my wife a widow.  I have a pretty good insurance policy, so although she would have been sad she could easily have gone to Disney Land or Hawaii.

After my stroll around the camp area checking things out I wasted little time unloading my canoe and pulling it up on shore out of sight.  It was after 12:30PM and I was feeling hungry after my paddling.  So before I did anything else I unpacked my Solo Stove and one of the dehydrated Mountain House meals I brought along.  Twenty minutes later I was eating and felt much better.

Short video below of my campsite shortly after I arrived and had setup up gear.

After that I setup my tent and tossed my sleeping kit inside, then I setup my hammock near the water’s edge.  I spent a couple hours messing around camp, rinsing off in the lake, taking it slow and easy, and just enjoying the smell, sounds, and the sights around me.

Fishing Alder Lake & Canoe Lake

I brought some video recording equipment along on my trip with the intent of making a fun video of my activities, including fishing, to show my friends and family. By far the hardest thing to try and do on this trip was make digital video recordings.  I managed to make a few short clips here and there, but wasn’t able to get good footage of myself canoeing and catching fish.

When the camera was on the fish weren’t biting.  Then when the camera was off and I had a fish on it was a little tedious to try and turn the camera back on.

With that said, I did do some fishing… not a lot, but enough each day to have some fun and break up the time.

The first two days I fished Alder and Canoe Lake.  I mentioned the species of fish up above in this post on Alder and I managed to catch a few lake trout, walleye, northern and smallmouth bass on that lake.  Canoe Lake was supposed to have walleye and bass in abundance, but I only managed to catch bass.

One evening it did turn a little gloomy, and there was a distant lightning storm later that evening/early morning.
One evening it did turn a little gloomy, and there was a distant lightning storm later that evening/early morning.

I didn’t bring along much in the way of tackle, just a handful of spoons, mepps spinners, a few walleye divers, some jig heads, Plastic baits from Prescott Bait Company, and some Little Cleos.  I mostly used spoons and Little Cleos, but also found some success using the Prescott Bait Company plastics for bass and walleye.

First Night In Camp

That first night I didn’t even stay up until it got dark.  There was still about thirty minutes of light left in the day when I decided to crawl into my Luxe Tempo two man tent and crash.

It didn’t take long to fall asleep.  My sleeping pad was very comfortable, and I used the wool blanket from my crash kit to wrap up in.  Around 11PM I did wake up… no, not to pee, but rather because there must have been six loons calling out not far from my campsite.  At first is was awesome to hear them but after fifteen minutes of non-stop calling back and forth I would have paid each of them ten bucks to shut the heck up.

Of course they eventually stopped and I was lulled back to sleep with the distant croaks of frogs and the occasional owl call.  It was a calm night and for the most part the wilderness was still all around me.  Peaceful.  Perfect.

I dreamed of my dog Asgard, my wife Nancy, living in the mountains, apple pie, and eventually peeing on a bush… lots of pee dreams early in the morning.  So yeah, eventually I got up to go pee.

Early To Rise

I was up and about by 4:30AM the next morning.  Within several minutes I had my Solo Stove burning some twigs and boiling up some water.  Breakfast was Mountain House Bacon and Eggs and some instant coffee, Bavarian Mint – it was soooo good.

It’s funny how camp food tastes better to me than anything I could eat at a five star restaurant, even the dehydrated meals I typically bring along on my outings.  Of course some fresh cooked bacon and some flapjacks would have been heavenly, I made due with what I brought, and it was very satisfying.

Sitting there on a rock near the lake shore feeling the sun come up over my right shoulder, shining its light down on the far reaches of the lake was just awesome.  All was calm and quiet.  Occasionally I would see a fish creating small waves in the water in the shallows as they swam around.

I was looking forward to a day of exploring the lake and doing some lake trout fishing.

Solo BWCA Canoe Trip – Conclusion

I could go on and on about this trip, but a lot of what I would say would be much of the same as you have already read in this post.

My campfire from my second night on Alder Lake in the BWCA.
My campfire from my second night on Alder Lake in the BWCA.

Weather was perfect.  A little warmer perhaps than I was expecting, but nice.  It rained one evening for a about ten to fifteen minutes.  That same night when it rained there was a distant thunder and lightning storm I listened to and watch the flickering from within my tent.

I saw nature, heard nature, smelled nature.  It was all around me.  The fishing was okay, not great, but fine.  I explored and fished a few other lakes in the area I day tripped to, and moved my camp once to Canoe Lake.  I’ll likely share some of those other experiences on this trip in a future post.  But for now, this post is already over 2300 words.  Time to end it.

I’m going back to the BWCA later this year in August, and again in September more than likely.  I love it up there!



TD is the owner and publisher of TD All Outdoors. He has been enjoying the outdoors since since he was a child. Over the years he has spent as much time as he can solo wilderness canoe tripping, overlanding, hiking, fishing, bushcrafting, hunting, hammock camping, and more. Aside from this blog, he also own his own coffee brand,

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