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Explore Rifle Lake in the BWCA

Ely, Minnesota


Added by Dan Mirocha

Secluded, remote location. Beautiful landscape. The lake is all yours if you claim the campsite. Feeling of accomplishment when you arrive. It's a workout to get there. Unspoiled Northern Minnesota wilderness.

The best part of Rifle Lake is how remote it is. There's no quick way to find this small, secluded lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The lake supports just one campsite and is less than a half-mile long, according to rook.org. It is also part of the Rifle/Bridge Loop, which is a good option for campers looking for a more secluded adventure away from the Number Lakes.

Planning your trip to the BWCA requires some planning ahead. First, you'll need acquire a permit/reservation via recreation.gov. Specify how many people are in your group, the number of watercraft you plan to use and how many days you'll be in the BWCA. You'll also need to select a group leader and alternate leader. Each entry point in the BWCA has a limit on the amount of people that can enter each day (Lake One, where you will enter, allows 18 permits per day), so reserving your spot well in advance is a good way to go. For our trip, we had three guys and two canoes for two nights. Our total price was $54. Once your reservation is secured, you'll receive an email confirmation that you'll need to print and bring with you to check in at the entry point ranger station the day of your reservation.

Enter the BWCA via the town of Ely, which is four hours north of Minneapolis. The ranger station is located at 1393 MN-169, Ely, MN 55731. At the ranger station, you'll confirm your reservation with a ranger and watch a 20-minute video that details all the rules ('pack it in, pack it out,' 'leave no trace,' etc.) and guidelines for your time in the wilderness.

After leaving the ranger station, continue traveling along MN-169 as it turns into County Road 18. The drive to Lake One from the ranger station is about 40 minutes. Upon arriving at Lake One, load all your gear into you canoe and paddle northeast (left). You'll travel through some narrow passages until turning south where you'll reaching the larger, more open center of the lake. I recommend starting this trek in the morning, as the warm, summer wind from the south presents a challenging paddle once you hit the middle of the lake. Follow the map, as it will lead you southeast to the Lake Two portage. There are two small portages to Lake Two. The first is 30 rods, which leads to a small pond. Once you cross the pond, there's another 40-rod portage to Lake Two. Both portages are flat, well-worn and easy to traverse.

Once in Lake Two, continue paddling east along the northern shore for at least 90 minutes until reaching a long, narrow bay which is home to the Rifle Lake portage. Lake Two stretches two miles long and combined with trekking across Lake One, which covers 876 aces, it should take about 5 hours to reach the Rifle portage.

The portage to Rifle Lake is only 65 rods, but feels much longer due to the rugged terrain, steep inclines and declines, and narrow passages. It is a great workout. Once you reach Rifle Lake, you'll be greeted by a small lily-pad filled cove that is spectacular is its serenity. The lone campsite, which is perched above the lake on a sizable rock outcropping, is located at the other end of the lake on the eastern shore.

To complete the Rifle/Bridge loop, portage north out of Rifle to Bridge Lake (170 rods) and follow Bridge southeast to Lake Four. Once in Lake Four, head back west to Lake Three, Lake Two and finally, Lake One.

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Leave No Trace

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