Island River Canoe Route


Paddlers on the Island River

This eight mile stream route provides a different experience than the standard lake-to-lake canoeing.  A narrow twisting stream brings wildlife on shore close to your canoe.  The current flows from east to west, so that is the preferred direction of travel.  Island River does briefly enter the BWCAW, so you will need a self issued day use permit during the summer.  You may not stay overnight in the BWCAW portion of the river without an overnight use permit - see the BWCAW page.  Water levels will dictate the number and length of portages - during low water, there may be sections that will not be possible to paddle.

The Pagami Creek Fire in 2011 impacted camping on the Island River.  It burnt over and destroyed several campsites which have not been replaced.  Three sites remain and are available on a first come, first served basis.  Otherwise, you may camp anywhere, provided you follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace.  

Leave No Trace

  • Plan ahead and prepare.  Pack to minimize garbage.  When selecting a campsite, beware of standing dead trees from the fire.  These may not be sturdy anymore and could fall down.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.  When creating a campsite, minimize your trampling of vegetation.  Do not cut live trees or plants.  
  • Dispose of waste properly.  Backcountry sites will have a latrine, but dispersed sites you create will not!  Bury human waste at least 150 ft from water.  Use degradable toilet paper, and bury it completely so it won't blow away.  Do not dispose of any waste of any type in a fire.
  • Minimize use and impact of fires.  Make small fires only when it is safe to do so.  Use a fire pan that you pack along, or if you create a fire ring, disperse the rocks after use.  Burn wood that is small enough to completely burn into ash.  Never leave a fire to burn itself out, or leave a fire unattended.
  • Respect wildlife.  Due to the fire, few tall trees remain.  We recommend campers use bear resistant food containers as there are few opportunities to hang food high enough to be out of a bear's reach.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

For a pdf file which includes a printable map and more information, click here.

At a Glance

Current Conditions: Island River Canoe Route was burned over in the Pagami Creek Fire of 2011.  Expect post fire conditions with limited shade and profuse regrowth.  Firewood may be hard to find.  Currently, there are only three developed campsites, camping is allowed off of campsites as well.
Reservations: If overnighting in the BWCAW, entry permits may be reserved.  Otherwise, there are no reservations
Fees If overnighting in the BWCAW, there is a fee.  Otherwise, there is none.
Permit Info: A self-issued day use permit for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is required on the section of the river that enters the BWCAW.  If overnighting in the BWCAW, you will need an overnight use permit.
Restrictions: Maximum of nine people per site.  
Closest Towns: Isabella
Water: No potable water available – river water must be treated.
Restroom: Wilderness latrines at campsites
Operated By: Forest Service
Information Center: Isabella Area (Tofte Ranger District) 218-323-7722

General Information


From MN 1 in Isabella:

  • Take FR 170 (Wanless Rd) to the east.
  • Drive 1 mile to FR 369 (Trappers Lake Rd).  Turn left.
  • Drive 4.5 miles to a fork.  Take the right hand fork, continuing on FR 369 (which, while the number remains the same becomes the Sawbill Landing Road).
  • Drive 4 miles to the intersection with FR 174 / FR 356.  Turn left on FR 356 (FR 174 goes to the right).
  • At 0.3 miles, there is a fork.  Take the righthand fork to stay on FR 356.
  • Drive 2 miles on FR 356.  
  • Just past the Section 29 Lake Campground, turn left on FR 913.
  • Drive FR 913 to its end in 2.5 miles at the Comfort Lake carry down access.

Comfort Lake is the start of the Island River Canoe Route.

Recreation Map

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Boating - Non-Motorized