Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kawishiwi Lake

With the heart of the summer spent preparing for and attending our son's wedding, which was held near Yosemite National Park at the end of July, we haven't done much camping. With that joyous event accomplished, we decided to head north for a bit of camping and kayaking on the edge of the famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Much of our camping with the kids was done in the BWCA. The wilderness was designated in 1978 by an act of Congress after years of controversy. It is now a cherished icon of the north country and one of the most visited wilderness areas in the entire country. Nearly 20% of the wilderness is water- over 1100 lakes, rivers and streams. There are no roads. Motorized travel is prohibited. Canoes are the transport of choice, although kayaks and paddle boards are becoming more common as well. Our experience of canoe camping greatly informed the choice and design of our truck camper- traveling light, living outdoors and going where most people don't go.

These days, we are less inclined to sleep on the ground in a tent and carry our gear and canoe over portages. But we still crave the call of the loon, the peace of paddling on still water and the serenity of being in the forest. The memories of past trips are strong.

The Superior National Forest has quite a few rustic campgrounds with no services (and no camping fee!). We settled on the Kawishiwi Lake rustic campground. It has 5 sites on the shore of Kawishiwi Lake, which is an entry point for the BWCA. We could camp in our camper and travel in the BWCA steps from our door.

Instead of our canoe, we borrowed some skin-on-frame kayaks made by the apprentices at Urban Boatbuilders, where I volunteer a couple days a week. We were both curious to try them out. The boats are very light (25 lbs.) and fun to paddle. Easy to lift, I tied two on the roof of the camper and we were off.

Location map for Kawishiwi Lake

Entrance to the campground (photo credit: here)

A signpost at the canoe landing
Our campsite- #2 of 5
Looking toward the lake past our screen house

View from camp.

Afternoon sun on the shoreline
After 4 hours of driving, with a stop along the way for lunch packed at home, we arrived at the campground. Sites are first come, first served with no reservations. We were delighted to find a nice site available and went about setting up camp. This trip required the screen house addition we have made for our camper- bugs and rain were likely companions. As it turned out, we had no idea how much we would appreciate the shelter. Mosquitoes and flies were abundant. The rain would prove to be abundant as well.

A nice breeze kept the bugs at bay into the evening. We made camp, cooked dinner, cleaned up and started our usual campfire. We had bought a couple of nice bundles of dry split birch, certified by the DNR, from the back of an old pickup alongside the highway- just put the money through the open window, thank you. Then we took time to watch the sunset. It started slow but turned spectacular at the end. We drifted off to sleep listening to the haunting calls of loons sounding across the quiet lake- a fitting end to a great day.

Kawishiwi Lake Panorama from camp.

Setting up for cooking dinner

Post dinner campfire

This did not portend what was to come.
Waiting for the sunset.

It was a spectacular light show.

The next day we took the boats out for a nice paddle. Kawishiwi Lake is in the BWCA and requires a daily day-use permit which is self-issued at the boat landing. Longer, overnight trips into the BWCA require permits to be obtained in advance due to a quota system to keep the wilderness from being over-used.

The wind was light but sufficient to keep us comfortable.

Great day for a paddle.

Passing some rocks.

Skin-on-frame kayaks

Weather was threatening on day three but we had a nice paddle on calm waters in the morning before the storm. We had lunch and had time to straighten up camp before the rain hit.

Day two of paddling.

Greenland-style hand-carved paddles- light and efficient

A taste of paddling.

Typical BWCA scene- rocks and water

Water Lily

Ancient Lichen
We retreated to the shelter to watch the storm. Little did we know it would not stop raining for more than 24 hours, with the included lightning and thunder. We cooked dinner and took a walk in the rain after to avert boredom and stretch our legs.

We were thankful for our shelter, and a warm, dry place to hang out after dark. We played some cribbage, read our books and relaxed. A good nights sleep was only slightly interrupted by bolts of lightning and cracks of thunder. The camper kept us dry.

Not all days can be sunny- rained for 24 hours straight.

Nice to have shelter from the rain and bugs.

Morning dawned with it still raining. The awning was beginning to protest the continued onslaught- drips began falling on our heads. Puddles were everywhere, and no sign of good weather was in the offing. We cooked and ate a nice breakfast and sat under the tarp for a while. Chickadees, nuthatches and cedar waxwings kept us entertained, as did the chipmunks and squirrels dashing about; even a snowshoe hare. Rain did not seem to be a problem for them.

We pulled out the weather radio to see if we could get a report. We had planned to head home Friday and it was now Thursday noon. Would it make sense to stay the day and hope for another chance to get out on the lake before we had to leave? Alas, the weather report was not good: clearing expected after midnight. Friday, of course, looked to be a very nice day.

We decided to call it a day and head home. We had accomplished our goal of relaxing, paddling in the BWCA and communing with the forest.

Packed up and headed home.

I love forest roads.This one is headed toward Lake Superior.

We passed an unfortunate clearcut in progress- no buffer to the road and the land badly torn up.

On our way home, we passed an unfortunate clearcut in progress- no buffer to the road in a scenic area- and the land badly torn up. It is a reminder of the economic forces that threaten the wild places always, but also a reminder of the variety of livelihoods provided by the forest. Later, a young timber wolf crossed the road, right in front of us. Unperturbed, he looked both ways and sauntered across, disappearing into the woods. The north country is alive and well and we will be back to enjoy our time there.


  1. Neat boats, but I'm not sure about the Eskimo style paddles. I could never get the feel for them. Beautiful country! Why no buffer between the clear cut and road?

    1. Steve, thanks for your comments.

      On paddles- to each their own- there are so many styles. You gotta like what you use, right? I like the traditional paddle. I carved it so I am going to use it. :)

      As for the clearcut, I am trying to get more information but so far, I haven't been successful.

  2. Thanks Al.
    Our trip up that area in 2012 with our friends from
    Winona is still one of our fondest.

  3. How wonderful, you took us both there with you with your photos and narrative! The boats look grand and thanks so much for your volunteer work. We watched the paddling video a couple of times longed to someday visit that area. Thank you

    1. Ski3pins, you will have to make a visit- add it to your long list! Thanks for your comments.