Big Lake

Making Connections

  • Portage North, 80 rods, to the Echo Trail and Stuart Lake portage
  • Portage South, 160 rods, to Lapond


  • Fisher F-9, Cummings, Big Moose, Fourtown Lakes
  • McKenzie No. 12, Moose River; No. 16, Burntside Lake


Big Lake
Scale 1:42840
Full image approximately 4 miles square


Big is a very large, shallow lake in the Portage River drainage, 25½ miles ESE of Crane Lake and 12¾ miles NNW of Ely. Quite irregular in form with many islands and points, its 1789 acres touch over 22 miles of shoreline. The lake is quite shallow for its size, however, with a maximum depth of only 22' (in the narrows between the main body of the lake and the large southern bay) and 85% of its area less than 15' deep. In the southeastern corner of Big Lake is the mouth of Agassa Creek, entering from Agassa Lake, just over 1½ miles to the east. At the far west end, the lake drains into the Portage River by way of Big Creek.

Big Lake is entirely outside of the boundaries of the BWCAW, though part of its western shore abuts directly upon the wilderness and provides access to BWCAW Entry Point 7 and Lapond. There are resorts and road access along its northern shore (off the Echo Trail) and no motor restrictions. All in all, it's not the best place in the area to put in with a canoe.

Most of the forest on the BWCAW (west) side of Big Lake dates from the major, stand replacing fire of 1894, with smaller stands dating back to the earlier fires of 1863-64. The Independence Day windstorms of 1999 did not affect the Big Lake area.


Big Lake supports 3 established campsites, all on islands and all outside of the BWCAW proper.

Planning Considerations

The Big Lake entry point provides limited possibilities for extended canoe travel as there are no loop routes which can be taken from this location (without Herculean bushwhacking, anyway). It is, however, northern terminus of the Big Lake/Burntside route, which crosses this region of the BWCAW border-to-border, from Big in the north, by way of Lapond, Big Rice, Hook, Rice, and Slim, to the North Arm of Burntside.

Big is included in Beymer, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area, vol. 1, The Western Region, routes 7, 8, 9, 10, 18, 20, and 21.


Big supports populations of Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), Northern Pike (Esox lucius), Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieui), Tullibee (Cisco) (Coregonus artedi), Walleye (Stizostedion vitreum), White Sucker (Catostomus commersoni), and Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens).

Notes and Comments


Line of Spruce Trees

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Last updated on 11 April, 2004