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Off the Beaten Path

8/12/22 – For me personally, one of the hardest parts of planning a trip in the Boundary Waters is figuring out where to go. I usually start by opening up a map or Google earth and pouring over the countless lakes, streams, and bluffs. There is so much to see, that it is overwhelming in the most wonderful way possible. It’s what keeps so many people coming back. 

A great part about working at Sawbill is that you get time off to explore. I love Sawbill and Alton as much as the next person, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t curious to find out where the creeks led to, or see what’s on the other side of the beaver dams. Luckily, many members of the crew share that same curiosity and intrigue of what lies down the paths less traveled. On a crisp, yet sunny Tuesday morning, my coworker David and I decided to use the break in our schedules to explore somewhere we’d never been.

Although technically out of the wilderness boundary, the junction of Swanson and Koski Creek still offers the same atmosphere as the BWCA. Intertwined with the better-known Temperance River, it’s as much of this area and experience as Ada or Hog Creek. A section of it is visible from the Sawbill Trail and its subtle beauty has captured the attention of those who pass by it.

We had always wondered where it led to and finally decided to grab a Minnesota II and check it out. Upon arrival, we joked about how we’d probably paddle 300 feet just to find it too shallow to paddle or have it dead-end altogether. To our surprise, we made it a lot farther than planned. Around each narrow bend, we’d find another up ahead. The creek was surprisingly deep, the full length of our paddles couldn’t even touch the bottom in most spots. The water was a deep mahogany color and flowed gently through the meandering streambed. It was so still that you could see a perfect reflection of the trees ahead glowing in the soft morning light. Once we were away from the road, it felt quiet and remote. There were delicate flowers floating along the edges and little patches of flattened grass where a beaver chewed the bark off of a stick or a moose came to drink from the stream. It was a secret world that we would have never known existed had we not set out to answer our questions. 

We agreed to paddle downstream for an hour or until the creek’s natural end, whichever came first. To our surprise, we reached an impassable beaver dam close to the time we needed to turn back. We set the canoe in the tall marsh grass and clambered over the swampy tussocks that separated the creek from the solid ground of the shore. Eager to see what lay on the other side, we pushed our way through a dense patch of forest to find a small, rocky stream on the lower side of the dam, not quite passable by canoe. It was a satisfying end to a nice little morning adventure.

As we paddled back upstream, the sun was high above us. Areas that were previously shadowed by the trees were now easy to see. That’s the beauty of out-and-back paddles. It allows you the opportunity to see a place from two different perspectives and perhaps notice things that you missed before. 

On the way back to the car, we took a brief break at one of the few beaver dam crossings to romp around a mossy clearing in the woods. We watched as our shoes sank deep into the fluffy sphagnum, and admired a little brown frog toddle along the moss. We made it back to the car in good time and reminisced about the little world we had just discovered.

There are so many wonderful things to see in the Boundary Waters and oftentimes we’re intent on seeing the bluffs and waterfalls found in magazines and on postcards. Those things are indeed awe-inspiring and wonderful; they deserve to be seen. However, little trips like this remind me that there is also magic in the unassuming places. And there is something very special to be said for that too.