People go to the Boundary Waters Wilderness for varying reasons. I’m sure I don’t even know the half of them. I personally go for the fishing, the exploring, and the discovery. Other people seem to really enjoy the solitude, the quiet, and solo trips. Yet others want to push their physical limits, and see how far they can go in a certain number of days. One reason to visit the BWCA that I don’t hear mentioned so often though is to enjoy a beach vacation. The truth is, there aren’t that many sand beaches in the BWCA. In fact, vast swaths of the wilderness are just endless rocky shores. And let’s face it – the climate up here can be less than compatible with lounging on the beach. But there are exceptions. Our recent trip to Trout and Oriniack Lakes proved it.
We headed in on Thursday, July 15, from Moccasin Point on Lake Vermillion with our friends Tim and Daley. We were extremely fortunate that Tim had a 4 horsepower 1974 Evinrude motor that he was able to mount on his Grumman canoe, and use it to tow our canoe with me, Vanessa, Adriana and Stella and all our gear across Vermillion (outside of the BWCA), and up the entire length of Trout Lake (completely within the Boundary Waters, but with a special 25 horsepower motor limit). Needless to say, getting a tow was an absolute luxury!
Tim’s tow meant I could dedicate my time to keeping Stella in the boat (1 year, 10 months old), and take the pressure off Vanessa and Adriana to help me paddle. It felt like a real vacation! The tow also meant we could take a cooler, and lots of other extras, since we only had one 60-rod portage to do from Vermillion to Trout. We put in at 12:15 on Vermillion, and soon Tim had us cruising at 5 miles an hour with the motor, all while pulling our huge load!
We all stopped for lunch at the base of the falls coming down from Trout Lake – a beautiful spot.
We continued north on Trout Lake with Tim’s tow system after completing the portage. We stopped for a nice swim at the very same beach we had enjoyed with Jim and Andrew and Otis a year ago. It felt so good to know a special beach on the lake already. We cooled off, then motored up to the far northwest end of Trout Lake by 5:00.
We had done our campsite research before the trip, and we knew there would be three nice campsites close to the portage to Oriniack Lake. My main goal for the trip was to make it in to Oriniack, since we never made it that far a year ago after getting hit by the vicious storm. We found that two of the three sites we were interested in were taken, but the peninsula campsite was still open. According to the Paddle Planner website: “The campsite is on a point. It has great views. Numerous flat tent pads. Ideal for a large group. There are landings on either side of the peninsula. It is mostly red pines. Long walk to the latrine (100 yards), but it is a nice hike. It could be windy depending on the wind direction.” Well, there was no wind for all four days of our trip, and this campsite was to be our prime home base!
We set up camp, had a great dinner, and got in the tent by 11:00. Not bad for day 1, considering we started in Duluth.
My dream came true on day 2: we made it in to Oriniack! We took our time packing for the day trip in the morning, and left camp about noon. It was just a short paddle to the portage, and we stopped at the beautiful sand beach (#2) just before the portage for our second swim of the trip. I bought us a new snorkeling mask to share the day before we left, hoping to take advantage of the clear water on Trout Lake, and Adriana wouldn’t take it off! She transformed into a dolphin for this vacation.
The portage trail to Oriniack is one of the best I’ve ever seen. At a 170 rods, it’s not short, but it goes through beautiful oaks and maples, and there are some more open sections as well. A nice mix of terrain. Stella was able to hike all the way to the peak of the portage, about 10 minutes of climbing, then took a little spill and decided that was enough. I took the canoe off my shoulders and carried Stella down the second half.
When we got to Oriniack, it was time for snacks, then I went back up the trail to grab the canoe. Once I got it down to Oriniack, and we loaded it up, I saw an enormous snapping turtle watching us from five feet away. It looked me right in the eye – a spirit turtle that had come to tell me this was the right place for us to be. It swam slowly away after giving us its message.
We caught two nice northern pike trolling from the canoe. The second was particularly big and powerful. Thankfully we had just met up with Tim and Daley at their canoe as I caught it, and Daley was able to net it for me. A keeper for dinner! We were the only party on the entire lake! Oriniack fulfilled all my wildest dreams, and then some…
We continued heading east down the lake, looking for a lunch spot. Finally, about 3:45 p.m. we found a fabulous sand beach! Number 3! I was surprised – I wasn’t expecting to find any beaches on this relatively small lake. We got fabulously lucky – or maybe we just reaped the rewards that all explorers inevitably do. I cooked us all a hot lunch on my camp stove while all the kids swam. It was an idyllic setting, just like the rest of the trip.
Stella finally fell asleep for her daily nap in the canoe about 5:30, and we got back to our portage close to 6:30. We let her sleep a while longer, then I portaged her up the hill, and Vanessa carried her down to Trout. I returned to the canoe, and had a moment alone to say goodbye to this amazing body of water. Oriniack was generous to us – we had 2 walleyes and 3 northern pike on our stringer to bring back to camp.
We got “home” close to 8:30, and Daley and I went to fillet all the fish on a nearby island. Tim then conducted a massive fish fry, and we all ate so well in the bug tent. There were lots of dishes, but it was worth it.
Saturday just felt like a bonus, now that I had already achieved my main goal of reaching Oriniack. We headed out for the day around 1:00, and went straight to the huge beach campsite down the shore from our peninsula. Beach #4 for us! As luck would have it, the group that had been camping there packed up and left just as we were approaching. As Paddle Planner explains this site: “The most distinguishing feature of the campsite is the large, long sand beach. It is so big that you can pick it out on satellite photos.” We went on to enjoy swimming here for a good hour, before setting off for the North Arm of Trout Lake in our canoes. There was still no wind, and we were able to navigate the big water of Trout Lake quite easily. The incessant heat became somewhat of a problem for Stella. She started crying for the first time on the trip. But soon we pulled in to an island campsite, and I made another hot lunch of spaghetti and pesto and hot dogs, and all wrongs were righted. The kids ate a ton!
On our way home we stopped at beach #5 – an absolute gem that will go down as my favorite of the trip. We played a lot of water frisbee here, and the late-day-light was just perfect on the big west-facing rock ledge. The little cove was so protected and serene.
I really enjoyed being able to truly relax at this spot, and just dive, swim, play and splash. This was the pinnacle of the trip for me. We took a lot of photos, and let the spot sink into our souls.
Eventually we all got our fill of swimming, and felt so relaxed. It was heaven.
I found a leech swimming in the water as were leaving, and Tim baited my spinner rig with it, and soon we were trolling down Trout back towards our campsite. Stella fell asleep almost immediately as Vanessa and I paddled the canoe. We caught two smallmouth bass on the way home, and the second was a true beauty, which I released.
We had a nice last night in camp, and Stella napped until almost sunset. She could have slept right through the night, but I had to wake her up to feed her dinner, or else she would have woken me up at 4:00 a.m…
Our last morning was the inevitably sad packing up phase. The job was done by 12:45, and we headed back down Trout, Tim towing us once again. He had just enough gas for two full travel days. We did a little trolling in deep water on the way home to no avail, but stopped at beach #6 (another one we had found the year before with Jim’s family). Adriana swam the most, as usual, and from there we headed back to civilization knowing that we had just experienced the best beach vacation a family can possibly have in the BWCA.