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Canoe or Kayak the Ensign and Birch Lake Loop

Ely, Minnesota


Added by Devin K

This 3 day, 24-mile loop offers peace and quiet on beautiful lakes. If you're lucky, you'll see loons and bald eagles. Be sure to bring your fishing pole.

This is a great 24 mile loop if you are last minute planning or are only doing a weekend kayak/canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, MN. The starting point is at Moose Lake boat launch and parking lot, which is about a 30 minute drive north of Ely, MN on Co Hwy 18. You must obtain a permit for Moose Lake entry point 25 from the Kawishiwi Ranger Station just north of Ely. Moose Lake does have motorized boats, but most are taxis and are respectable to paddlers. Recommend canoe rather than kayak due to the longer uphill portages.

Once in Moose Lake, paddle along the southeast shoreline until you come to an inlet that leads to Splash Lake where there is a short portage (a trail to carry your boat between lakes or rivers). Splash Lake is small and quick to cross.

There are two portage options to Ensign Lake from Splash, one is short and can potentially be paddled and the other is rather long. The short portage is to the right up another inlet. Ensign Lake has a number of camping locations, some of which are on islands north of the portage from Splash Lake. These are nice and more private due to them being located away from the main paddling corridor. Time to Ensign Lake should be 2-4 hours with no stops.

From Ensign Lake to Birch Lake there are two lakes and three portages. This will be the longest day if you choose to do the loop this way. In Ensign Lake paddle east through the middle of the lake and then turn north once at the far east end of the lake to find the portage into Trident Lake. This portage involves going over a hill. Trident Lake is a great spot to sit and have lunch or fish. Trident and the next lake, Frog, provide the most solitude because they are far enough from Moose that you can't hear any motorboats and they have longer portages keeping many people away.

The next portage on the north side of Trident Lake can be difficult to locate. The portage is up a narrow and shallow inlet hidden in tall reeds with a wooden dock on the left. Again, this portage goes up and over a hill to Frog Lake. Frog Lake has a feeling of complete solitude and provides a great reward after the tiresome portage.

The last portage to Birch Lake is located a short distance on the north side of Frog Lake. Much like the last two portages this one has a hill involved as well, but it is much smaller than the last two. From the portage entry into Birch Lake the paddle will take you around a point and then you must follow the south shore of the lake west back toward Moose Lake. There are a few camping locations along the south shore of Birch Lake that make good places to watch the sunset or aurora borealis over Canada if you're lucky. Time to Birch Lake should take 5-8 hours.

Back to the original Moose Lake entry point from Birch Lake is easy and quick with one short portage. Follow the south shoreline to a small inlet in the southwest corner of the lake. Here you will cross a very short portage into Moose Lake. From here you paddle along the southeast shore of Moose Lake back to the entry point and the parking lot. Time to parking lot should take around 2 hours.

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