Depending on who manufactured the maps you’re looking at, you may find the Little Gabbro Lake portage listed as 104 rods, 200 rods, or 290 rods. It’s the only BWCAW portage I’m aware of that has such wildly different lengths listed on different maps. It’s not unusual for the same portage to be listed with slightly different lengths depending on the map manufacturer, but this one is exceptional.
One of the reasons for this difference is probably that the portage was re-routed at some point. Which reminds me of when I was paddling the narrows between Little Gabbro and Gabbro Lakes and a perplexed canoeist paddled up for directions. He had been searching unsuccessfully for the portage. The reason for the confusion is that his map had the portaged mis-marked by a long distance. And because the portage landing was near a designated campsite, he felt that it was just the landing for the campsite rather than the actual portage. He appreciated me marking the correct location for the portage.
I’ve portaged this route many times, and had a guess on the actual length. But, we decided to put the issue to rest and hiked the portage with a GPS unit this week. The above map shows our track from the entry point sign to the lake.
Based on our GPS, the Little Gabbro Lake (BWCAW Entry Point 33) portage is 208 rods. A rod is 16.5′, so this translates to .65 miles. As portages go, this is a relatively easy one. It’s an old logging road with a good gravel base over much of the distance. It includes rolling hills and a total elevation change of about 24 feet. The hike took us about 16 minutes one way. The lake landing is a great sandy gravel beach at average and higher water levels. At low water levels, it is boot-sucking mud. To avoid the mud, resist the temptation to pull your canoe up at the obvious landing at the trailhead. Instead, go north along the shore toward the nearby campsite, and use the firmer landing there. You will get home with both of your shoes that way.
At Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service, we do our best to outfit our guests with the best information for a successful Boundary Waters canoe trip. At our shop in Ely, you’ll find our massive write-on map wall covered with specific tips and fresh info for your route. We also sell all of the specialized navigation maps for your Boundary Waters trip. We’ll even remind you of the actual length of the Little Gabbro Lake portage.