Rose Lake - A BWCA Day Trip

Rose Lake – A BWCA Day Trip is a popular way to experience the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness without having to plan an extended or overnight excursion. Exploring the North Shore Podcast did this very trip in 2019.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The BWCA is a protected wilderness area. It is free of motorized vehicles and full of incredibly peaceful sights and sounds that are hard to find anywhere else these days. 

Encompassing over a million acres, the BWCA runs through parts of Lake and Cook County, Minnesota. The Gunflint Trail, which runs from Grand Marais to Seagull Lake, is surrounded on both sides by the BWCA once you hit the mid-trail area. The BWCA runs as far west as Ely and beyond. It is bordered by Voyageurs National Park near International Falls and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario.

The BWCA has been a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It is only accessible by non-motorized mean. Primarily, canoeing and hiking. This makes the area ideal for a peaceful getaway where you can be surrounded by nature.

Our Journey to Rose Lake

On a warm day at the end of July, we stopped in at Hungry Jack Outfitters to start our journey. We needed to rent a canoe, some lifejackets, and paddles to start off our Rose Lake – A BWCA Day Trip adventure.  Rose Lake is one of the most popular, and scenic, lakes in the BWCA.  Personally, this was my first trek into the BWCA as an adult and my first time visiting Rose Lake.

Hungry Jack Lake to Bearskin Lake to Duncan Lake

Our journey Rose Lake – A BWCA Day Trip started right from the dock of Hungry Jack Outfitters. We were able to drop our canoe right into Hungry Jack Lake and start the hour and half long journey to Rose Lake.  It was a warm summer day, temps in the mid 70s and nothing but a light breeze to help keep us cool but make for easy paddling across crystal clear waters.  

A quick paddle across Hungry Jack Lake led us to the first of three portages we would take that day.  From Hungry Jack Lake to Bearskin Lake brought us right to the Duncan Lake portage. At that point, where we were officially in the BWAC.

Duncan Lake to Rose Lake

Once on Duncan Lake we paddled roughly 25 minutes, the longest trek on a lake throughout the entire journey. Finally, we tucked into a shallow inlet on the northern tip of Duncan Lake. 

We pulled our canoe alongside that of about half a dozen other canoes taking their rest along the shores of Duncan Lake.  The occupants of these canoes were exploring the portage between Duncan Lake and Rose Lake.  It is, indeed, a very popular area!

The Portage to Rose Lake

It’s a short hike from Duncan Lake’s shoreline to the famous Stairway Portage to Rose Lake. The stairway portage is actually two wooden stairways that sandwich the incredibly beautiful Rose Falls.  I’m told that while Rose Falls is beautiful in the summer, the Frozen Falls are a must-see in winter. This Makes Rose Lake – A BWCA Day Trip worth a trip in the winter, as well.  Replace your canoe with some cross-country skis and you can follow the same path from December until April.

After soaking in the falls for a few moments we descend the larger Stairway Portage. Another quick hike later and we are at the shores of Rose Lake.

Rose Lake

It is in fact true, the views of Rose Lake are stunning.  The lake itself is located half in the US and half in Canada. We stood on the US side looking at the Arrow Cliffs on the Canadian side.  The Arrow Cliffs are steep, dramatic cliffs that flow one after another, are a sight to see by themselves. Add in the crisp, blue waters of Rose Lake and you have an image that will stick with you for a lifetime.

How the lake got its name has proven to be harder to determine than I thought it would. I had heard that the lake is named after a person, not a flower, but one source suggests it was a mispronunciation of the French name for the lake: Lac Roseau.  However, aside from that one reference, I have yet to find any other suggestions as to how the lake got its name. So whether it be the name of a woman, last name of an early settler, or a misinterpretation of a French name, the lake is as beautiful as the flower.  It fits. And makes Rose Lake – A BWCA Day Trip fun, easy, and will provide you with views to remember.

Rose Lake is located half in the US and half in Canada- we stood on the US side looking at the Arrow Cliffs on the Canadian side. The Arrow Cliff's are steep, dramatic cliffs that flow on after another- in itself they are a sight to see but add in the crisp, blue waters of Rose Lake and you have an image that will stick with you for a lifetime.

History of Rose Lake

Rose Lake itself is contained entirely within the BWCA. However, prior to the establishment of the wilderness area, it was actually the terminus of the Alger Smith railroad. The railroad was used by logging companies until the Great Depression. That essentially ended logging operations in this remote part of Minnesota for the better part of a decade.

By 1938, Rose Lake was included in the Superior Roadless Primitive Area (later renamed to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area). That limited motor use and logging.  There were a few clauses that allowed logging and motor use, but in 1978 Congress enacted the BWCA Wilderness Act. That officially ending all motorized access and logging in the designated BWCA area. 

Visitors today will not encounter even as much as a plane flying overhead as flight restrictions also surround the area (barring a true emergency, of course).  At Rose Lake, you are greeted with the sounds of the water lapping the shoreline. Birds can be heard chirping in the trees. And, on the day we visited, the laughter of a group of kids swimming just out of our sight range.

Enjoy the Peace and Quiet on Your Rose Lake – A BWCA Day Trip

We spent some time on the shore of Rose Lake- enjoying the scenery and grabbing a bite to eat before making the return trip to Hungry Jack Outfitters. An entire day could easily be spent hiking and exploring the area around Rose Lake.  I’m told the views from the overlooks are as incredible as the views from the shoreline.  But, alas, time was not on our side as we had gotten a later start than one would normally get if heading into the BWCA for the day.  We needed to get back and get home before it got too dark, so, we set out, briefly stopping before the Duncan Lake to Bearskin Lake portage to take a quick dip in the water to cool off.

It makes sense to me why Rose Lake is so popular.  You won’t find yourself alone, deep in the wilderness there.  Sure, you’ll be deep in the wilderness, but it’s unlikely you’ll be alone if you head in during the warm summer months.  But, even with at least a couple dozen people likely dotting the shoreline, we found peace and quiet.  It’s definitely worth the trip for anyone looking for a nice, easy day trip into the Boundary Waters.

Listen to the Rose Lake episode on Exploring the North Shore Podcast:

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