Wednesday, July 8, 2015

July 3, 2015, Escanaba and Lost Canoe Lakes, NHAL State Forest, Boulder Junction, WI

I don't normally blog about day trips, but there is not a lot of information about canoeing in this area and not all of it is accurate, so I thought it would be worth writing about our experience paddling in the National Highland American Legion (NHAL) State Forest. 

As a compromise for missing out on Independence Day festivities last year, we settled on a mixture of day paddling and tourist activities in Minocqua, WI. After poring over maps of the area over the winter, I decided I wanted to try paddling/portaging around Lost Canoe Lake, partially because of the name and because there are a number of canoe campsites in the area. The NHAL offers a number of canoe routes (pdf) with both reservable and first-come campsites. 

DNR Map of Escanaba Lake area
GPS track showing portage
We arrived at the public access at Escanaba lake around 10:30 on Friday morning and quickly set off for our day paddle with tentative plans to make a loop from Escanaba to Lost Canoe to White Sand back to Lost Canoe to Pallete and finally back to Escanaba Lakes. Our plans, however were quickly derailed as we discovered the portage on the NE end of Escanaba Lake was no longer there. We paddled along the shore, and I got out and scouted and bushwacked the area looking for the portage. We certainly found signs that the portage used to be there, but it is no longer maintained. So, we decided to head for the portage on the west side of the lake into Pallette, but as we got toward the middle of the lake, we noticed a portage sign along the North shore of the lake, so we turned around and headed for this new portage. The portage to Lost Canoe Lake was easy and well-maintained but note that it also intersects and briefly follows a hiking trail in the area. There are signs indicating which way the portage goes, but one of the sign posts appeared to just be leaning up against a tree, so be careful with the trail intersection or you might just portage all the way around the lake! 

GPS track on Lost Canoe Lake
Kid napping at Lost Canoe Lake campsite landing
Once we arrived at Lost Canoe Lake, I was quite disappointed to find that it's not such a lost lake after all. There was a ski boat buzzing around the lake and development along the western side, but it was pretty quiet for a holiday weekend. We spent some time at campsite 1, which seemed to have also been moved slightly west from where it was indicated on the published maps. The site was pretty nice with plenty of room to put multiple tents with numerous possibilities to hang tarps or hammocks. There was also a picnic table and a backcountry latrine. It's elevated, so there was a nice breeze. It seemed that the trail that lead back past the latrine probably went all the way to the developed area, so there might be some local foot traffic to the site. The landing was sandy and nice and easy with some vegetation, but there would be plenty of space for kids to play in the water. Speaking of the water, it looked clean enough, but I would be a bit nervous drinking it due to the development, including houses and a nearby road. I would definitely treat the water for viruses and bacteria in a place like this. Nonetheless, I definitely would be happy to camp here. 

We paddled through this looking for the portage
We took the portage sans canoe to White Sand Lake. I wasn't sure we would want to paddle it because it appeared it might have more boat traffic as it had easy public access and some development. I also promised my daughter that we wouldn't have to paddle it if there were wind-driven waves or a lot of boat wake. However, it seemed relatively quite, and I didn't notice any boat traffic. Still, she began to protest, so we made some compromises and decided not to paddle White Sand Lake. We then tried to find the portage on the southwest side of the lake to Pallete Lake, but there was no luck. We paddled through some thick weeds and brush looking for signs of the portage, but we never found it. Maybe it was also moved, but I definitely felt defeated at that point. If I were by myself, I think I would have bushwacked through to prove myself, but I think I would have had a mutiny. It was getting pretty late in the afternoon by this point, and we still needed to check into our hotel. So, I decided we would just head back the way we came in. 

Despite feeling like whatever the opposite of an explorer is and having our daughter basically sleep in the canoe the whole time and act like a bump on a log, I had a good time on our paddle. We paddled and portaged a total of 8.4 miles and saw a few common critters, and it felt good to get in some miles before our upcoming Boundary Waters trip. Although this was not exactly wilderness, we didn't see very many people, and I don't think a lot of people travel these routes, especially compared to some of the other places, such as the BWCAW, that we travel. I certainly am interested in trying out some of the routes suggest in the above DNR publication, but I will expect and consider contingencies for missing/closed portages and campsites. 

I would love to hear from anyone who has paddled this area or who is interested in doing so.

I guess she did manage a smile, and I look like the one not having fun.

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