On the Loose: Watch Out, It's Mating Season in the Boundary Waters! by
September-- We had been planning our annual October canoe trip
into Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area for several weeks, as
always, and had finally decided to return to the Frost River area for
the first time in a number of years. We knew for certain that we'd see a
few moose along this beautiful winding waterway
but we never suspected what lay ahead.
As we left Long Island Lake, on a clear and crisp fall day, and
paddled up a very shallow Long Island River, we spotted our first moose,
a huge bull, in the shallows near the right hand shore. My wife, Debbie,
grew up on the Gunflint Trail but still has a healthy respect for the
largest inhabitants of our area. I, of course, knew better and suggested
we ''paddle quietly by'' to the portage just beyond the moose.
We heard the cow moose bellowing on our left long before we saw her
and were still looking her way when we heard her new boyfriend bearing
down on us from the right side. Our hearts stopped, and our paddles
froze, as we waited for him to crash through our brand new Kevlar
canoe in his frenzy to be near his mate. I had the presence of mind
only to wonder what our two Golden Retrievers were going to do when they
came face to face with this angry beast. But they never moved a muscle
or uttered a peep! And neither did we!
Fortunately the love struck boyfriend went just across the bow of our
canoe. As our hearts began to beat again we had a birds-eye view of the
magnificent pair running in the shallow water next to the canoe.
Obviously they were in search of a more private place to resume their
A Restless Night
As we made camp that night on a wide sand beach on Frost Lake we
could hear the thrashing, and bellowing, of more than one bull moose in
the alders near the end of the beach. The dogs were as nervous as we
were and decided to stay quiet lest they attract the attention of
whatever was causing the terrible ruckus in the nearby woods.
We spent a restless night listening to the thrashing around our tent
and awoke to find our sandy shore completely covered with moose tracks.
While the water was boiling for coffee and oatmeal we broke camp and
loaded our canoe. For the first time in our paddling careers we ate
breakfast with our life vests on and our paddles laid across the
gunwales. We could hear the moose nearby and wanted to be one hundred
percent ready to go. The dogs gave us no argument when told to 'STAY' in
As we paddled away into the early morning mist on Frost Lake we
breathed a large sigh of relief and began to joke about the first day of
our trip and what we thought were a couple of rare encounters with
Boundary Waters moose. But we hadn't seen anything yet!
The second day of our trip, the real Frost River, is a tough day in
and of itself. With the numerous portages, and multiple beaver dams to
traverse, it means a long day in the saddle and some tired bones that
evening. And considering the extra energy required to elude seven pair
of courting moose we thought we might never get to camp that night.
That's right, seven! It seemed as though there were a pair at every
portage and we had to be on our toes the entire day for fear we would
Good Spots for Moose Viewing
All of these encounters, in two short days, led us to a discussion of
the many moose we have seen over the years and the routes, off the
Gunflint Trail, which seem to be good bets for seeing these magnificent
creatures. And I thought I would share just a few of them with you so
you might plan your next trip in these directions if moose watching has
a place on your agenda:
Cross Bay area (Cross Bay entry point #50): This stretch of
small, shallow lakes between Ham Lake and Long Island Lake is well known
for it's abundance of moose. My personal record of six moose (on Ham
Lake alone) was beaten by a guests report of seeing eight moose one day
last summer. This route has a small quota of permits and can be enjoyed
by families with small children due to it's small lakes and short
Frost River area (Cross Bay entry point #50): This route takes
several days, and is pretty rugged at times, but if it's moose you're
after this is the place to go. Beginning at the Cross Bay entry point
this route takes you south to Frost Lake, then west to Mora Lake, and
returning via Round or Seagull Lakes. Early October is a particularly
good time to see the moose during their annual mating season but extra
caution is advised as these creatures can be deadly if provoked.
Ester/Hanson area (Seagull or Saganaga entry points #54 or
#55): Due to the large uninhabited area to the east of these lakes, the
moose population is heavy in this region, which is found south of the
Monument Portage. The shallow lakes in the Pitfall Primitive Management
Area east of Hanson are hot spots for setting up your tripod and waiting
for that great moose photo to hang in your den. Day tripping is allowed
in this area but it requires special permission from the local Forest
Service office to camp in this Primitive Management Area. Because of all
the moose in this region our guests also enjoy rare wolf sightings, and
lots of howling, while camped in this vicinity.
Roe/Vee area (entry point #54 or #52): This lightly traveled
area, lying roughly between Little Saganaga and Kekakabic Lake, is
another likely spot for seeing a number of moose on your next trip. This
route requires a couple of days to get to, and is a bit more rugged than
most, but is well worth the trip for its solitude, smaller lakes, and
various wildlife sightings.
Kiskadinna/Henson area (entry point #50 or #47): This area,
between Poplar and Long Island lakes, may see a little more human
traffic in the height of the season but draws a lot of moose
nevertheless. The lakes are, once again, smaller and shallower, which
seems to be the main attraction for the moose. This route also has many
small side lakes, to the north, which are off the main travel route, and
known to hold a lot of moose.
Moose Viewing Tips
Now, obviously, there are thousands of moose in the Boundary Waters
Canoe Area and you may very well run into them at any point on any
route. However, some areas, such as those I've just mentioned, have a
little better habitat for them and therefore your odds may be better in
these areas. I recommend that you ask your outfitter where, and when,
they would suggest you go if you would like to see more moose on your
In general, I suggest that you treat moose viewing like fishing and
focus your attention on the hours around dawn and dusk. Seek out the
shallow lakes and bays and sit quietly with your mug of coffee as the
moose come down to the shore to eat and drink. Travel quietly during the
day and have prearranged hand signals for moose sightings to avoid
having to shout to your paddling partners. Your camera should be
equipped with a medium length telephoto lens and should always, always
be out of your pack and ready to go.
Bear in mind that these large beasts have rather poor vision but have
keen senses of smell and hearing. Move slowly, and quietly, and you may
be treated to a close up view of the Boundary Waters' most magnificent
creatures that you, too, may never forget.