Portage between Fall Lake and Basswood Lake and surrounding area
Length in Rods: 1,280 rods (4 miles) - portage wheels are allowed Date portage was last visited: July 22, 2018
Portage Rating: Easy (just really really long) out to north end of Muskeg Lake; between Muskeg Lake and Basswood Lake the portage rating is "Rugged" or "Bushwhack" - read below for details  

The Portage between Fall Lake and Basswood Lake

Four Mile Portage or The Long Portage

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Portaging Direction: From Fall Lake to Basswood Lake

This is a well known portage in the BWCA. It is known as the Four Mile Portage or The Long Portage. It is approximately four miles or 1,280 rods in length. Yup, that's a long ways to carry a bunch of gear. This is about half of the length of the grandpappy of all portages, The Grand Portage. On a positive note, you are allowed to use a portage wheel on this portage (a hand pulled or pushed cart with wheels).

The portage, which was built in 1901 by the Swallow and Hopkins Company, was previously a railroad grade used to serve the logging industry (Heinselman). The portage extends from Fall Lake to Hoist Bay on Basswood Lake (there are spur portages off the Four Mile Portage to Ella Hall Lake and Mud Lake too). Hoist Bay is named for the hoist that was positioned there to lift logs onto the rail cars for their trip back to Fall Lake. They actually ran a 40 ton locomotive along this railway (Heinselman, 1999). Read the book "The Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem" by Miron Heinselman, which contains a wealth of information about historical logging operations in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. More information about this portage can be found in the book "A Wonderful Country - The Quetico-Superior Stories of Bill Maggie" by Dave Olesen (see pages 9-11).

After World War II, the Four Mile Portage was used to transport tourists to some of the many resorts operating on Basswood Lake. There is even a gift shop located on the Basswood Lake end of the portage. Basswood Lake was buzzing with large motorboats and even houseboats during the late 1940's until the early 1960's. Buses carried the tourists across the portage. After the railway was removed, wheels traffic started using it instead. The last motorized vehicles to cross the portage were removed in about 1984 (Rom, 1987).

As noted above, there are two spur trails along the Four Mile Portage. One spur portage is to Ella Hall Lake. The other spur is to Mud Lake. Back in the logging days, both of these portages were rail spurs of the main rail line between Fall Lake and Basswood Lake (Hoist Bay). There also used to be a rail spur that directly connected Fall Lake to Ella Hall Lake. This railway started in the northeast part of Fall Lake and was built in 1899 or 1900 (Heinselman, 1999).

The Four Mile Portage is in good condition out to Muskeg Lake. However, a short ways past that lake, the portage is in rough shape in many areas. Depending on water levels, recent precipitation and beaver activity, there may be parts of the trail between Muskeg Lake and Basswood Lake that you need to bushwhack through or even paddle across! The section of the trail from Fall Lake to the north side of Muskeg Lake is very easy to follow; a wide path and quite flat along most of its length.

Heinselman, Miron, The Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 101, 102.
Pauly, Daniel, Exploring the Boundary Waters (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 17.
Rom, William N., M.D., Canoe Country Wilderness (Stillwater: Voyageur Press, 1987), 47.

Four Mile Portage Lake 1
Before starting this portage, you may want to do a little fishin' (notice swirl right in front of canoe). This portage used to host a railway back in the logging era, so it is wide and flat as a pancake. The canoe landing as you can see, poses no difficulties.

Four Mile Portage Lake 2
A close up of the sandy canoe landing on the Fall Lake end of the Four Mile Portage.

Other than being ridiculously long, this portage is pretty easy. It is wide, well trodden and flat. Even better, you can use a portage wheel on this portage...just roll your gear down the trail.

Four Mile Portage Lake 3
Perhaps 1/3rd of a mile before the Mud Lake portage intersects the Four Mile portage, you will come to this wetland area. This is actually Muskeg Creek where it intersects the portage.

Four Mile Portage Lake 4
A typical view of the Four Mile Portage (aka Long Portage on many maps).

Four Mile Portage Lake 5
You have arrived at the intersection of the Four Mile Portage and the Mud Lake portage. This is a somewhat rugged portage leading to Mud Lake. It is 84 rods long.

Four Mile Portage Lake 6
The northeast corner of Muskeg Lake as viewed from the Four Mile Portage. It's still about 2 miles further to Basswood Lake from here. You are about halfway done. Note that this portage is much more difficult to travel between Basswood Lake and Muskeg Lake. The section of the portage nearer to Basswood Lake is often flooded because of beaver activity. There are several sections you may have to sometimes paddle across because the water gets so deep. If you do make it to Hoist Bay on Basswood Lake, look for an old steam locomotive just below the lakes surface near the end of this portage.

You aren't at Basswood Lake yet. More to come...

Now that you've made it over the portage, visit: BASSWOOD LAKE

Portaging Direction: From Basswood Lake to Fall Lake

Four Mile Portage Lake 7
Coming from Basswood Lake, this is your first view of Muskeg Lake. This means you are about halfway across the Four Mile Portage.

Traversing the Four Mile Portage coming from Basswood Lake and heading for Fall Lake. You can use portage wheels on this portage. You will often see these contraptions stowed on the ends of this portage or its spur portages.

Four Mile Portage Lake 8
Looking to the north at the lowland area through which Muskeg Creek flows. This is the location where Muskeg Creek is crossed by the Four Mile Portage.

Now that you've made it over the portage, visit: FALL LAKE

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