Want a mini canoe trip right from Okontoe’s canoe launch? We have access to three small lakes that are linked by short portages.
Part of your stay at Okontoe includes free use of our canoes. One of the activities our guests love to do is paddle over to Shoko Lake to fish, swim or simply enjoy a beautiful day on the water.
If you’ve never done a Boundary Waters canoe trip, it gives just a taste of what it’s like to paddle and portage.
Bow Lake: Canoe Launch
[If you have your own canoe, you’re welcome to skip this step and start at the Quiver Lake canoe launch. You’ll see the sign pointing to the trail next to Campsite 20.]
Using one of Okontoe’s canoes, you’ll start at the canoe launch on Bow Lake, across the campground road from the Welcome Kiosk.
Paddle past the Swimming Beach and into the channel to the left. While it’s shallow there, you should be able to get all the way to the end to the footbridge. Take your canoe out there and prepare for your first portage.
You’ll carry the canoe up the mowed trail to the campground road and take a right over the bridge. Hike up the small hill and hang a left, following the Quiver Lake sign’s arrow down the short trail through the trees to the launch.
We’ve not actually measured the distance of this portage, but we’ll guess it’s 20-30 rods. Not long at all. (A “rod” is how portages are measured in the Boundary Water. It’s roughly a canoe length.)
Quiver Lake: In the Middle
Once you’re on Quiver you’ll meader down to the far end of the lake. But take your time! You have a beautiful shoreline to explore and maybe will want to throw in a line or two.
You might even be fortunate enough to see a moose in the woods along the lake—it happened to my husband and son one afternoon!
If you decide to paddle straight through it won’t take you long. Quiver is the smallest of the three lakes.
Getting to the next portage is a bit of a trick. You want to paddle down towards the very southeast tip. As you near the end look for the opening in the reeds on your left.
You’ll paddle through that (very shallow) channel into the pool, then take a hard right and you’ll see the rocky beginning of the portage.
This one’s short enough that if you have two people, one can take each end of the canoe and carry it across. Though short, it’s rocky, narrow and uneven—so watch your step!
Shoko Lake: The Destination
Once you’re on Shoko you have several options:
- Take your time paddling the shoreline looking for turtles, birds and other wildlife.
- Try your skill fishing for walleye, northern or smallmouth bass.
- Look for the old beaver lodges along the south shore.
- Find the wilderness campsite on the last point on the north side (on your left as you paddle down). The telltale sign is a clearing on the shore and a firegrate up in the trees.
- If it’s unoccupied (which it almost always is) pull off for a picnic or a swim.
When you’re ready to head back simply turn around and paddle the way you came.
With fairly experienced paddlers it’s easy to do the whole route in 60-80 minutes. If you have small children along, allow more time. If it’s a beautiful day, for sure just soak it in and take your time!
Here’s a map of the whole route to give you perspective:
See the snowmobile trail on the north side of Shoko? Every once in a while someone will access the lake via this trail from the Gunflint to fish or camp. Just FYI.
PFDs and Paddles
Paddles and PFDs (life jackets) are on the far end of the Garden Cabin/Library in the Paddle Shack. Be sure to take a PFD for every person in your boat.
Do You Plan to Fish?
Anyone 16 and above needs a Minnesota Fishing License to fish any of these three lakes (and every other lake in the state).
Canoe Kindness & Wet Foot Policy
Please be kind to our canoes! When you shove off, be sure the canoe is floating freely before all the weight is in the boat. When you get to a portage plan to step out into the water before the canoe hits a rocky shoreline. You’re goal is a non-impact approach.
The far end of Quiver is where this is most tricky. The water is quite deep in that pool, and the shoreline is rocky. The person in the bow should get out first and steady the canoe for others to carefully walk up and step out.
[If you haven’t done this before: Keep low and with a hand on each side of the canoe to steady it. Walk in the center of the boat until you can step out on a rock.]
Don’t drag the canoe over the rocks. Have one person lift the bow off the ground while someone else passes it hand-over-hand until he/she can grab the stern.
Sunscreen and Bug Repellant
During the summer months there WILL be bugs, especially along the portages. Once you get on the lakes the mosquitoes are usually left behind, but there may be flies or (earlier in the summer) black flies.
See “7 Tips for Battling the Bugs” for help!
Don’t forget sunscreen or long sleeves/pants and a wide-brimmed hat. Sunglasses are also a great idea. The glare off the water can be intense depending on the time of day.
We don’t recommend going barefoot at the portage entries and exits. There could be lost fishing lures, sharp rocks or other hidden hazards. There’s certainly mud and muck in a couple places.
Old tennis shoes, sports sandals or supportive water shoes work well both for getting in and out of the canoe and walking the portages.
Dress in Layers
Depending on the day, what might feel calm and warm on Bow may be windy and cold on Shoko. Consider bringing layers (and even rain gear, depending on the forecast) just in case.
Can You Take a Kayak Instead of a Canoe?
Our family hasn’t personally taken kayaks over these portages. The only tricky part would be the portage entry from Quiver to Shoko. As I mentioned above, it’s rocky there and drops off quickly. It would be tricky to enter and exit a kayak there.
[Any kayakers we’ve seen fishing on Shoko got there via the snowmobile trail.]
Enjoy your trip!
Article and photos by Sharon Brodin