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Paddling the Big Fork River

2inaCanoeonDoraLakeCropped Paddling the Big Fork River

Two in a Canoe on Dora Lake, part of the Big Fork River system


Having paddled many a route through the Boundary Waters and the Quetico, I was searching for new country to explore. Plus, since the large fire was currently burning the BWCA up, we needed a new route! Some of the local rivers came to mind, they are a fun way to see local country and get your paddle wet. The Big Fork River became a first class option. It fit the needed requirements; close in distance, navigable by boat, camping sites and low fees!

BendintheBigFordRiver1 Paddling the Big Fork River

A bend in the Big Fork River

Here are the brief details on the Big Fork River:


1.) The DNR has a great map outlining the whole river, portages and camping sites. You can find more information at the Minnesota Department of Resources Big Fork River page.

2.) The river is over 165 miles long and starts west of Big Fork (the town); it empties into the Rainy River, Ontario Canada.

3.) There is no charge to camp or paddle the river.

4.) Thankfully there are many landings and roads that intersect the river, allowing multiple entrance/exit points.

5.) Bring drinking and cooking water along. There are few options for water, and the river water is questionable in certain places.

JohnFisherattheLanding Paddling the Big Fork River

John Fisher at one of the landings along the Big Fork River

The first stage:

We covered the first 13 miles of the river in one day. It was very windy, and there were whitecaps on the river! I haven’t ever seen whitecaps on a river before, and it made paddling quite the workout. Dora Lake is the official start, and has a very nice picnic area with a boat landing. The lake leads to the river and the first 6 miles is marsh and wild rice beds. The scenery is not spectacular, but the birds, ducks and other water creatures make up for the monotony.

Our lunch spot was the landing in the small town of Wirt. You need to watch closely for the spot, as the landing is a hollowed out entry after a bridge on the left. If needed a vehicle could be left here as an exit location, or use this as your starting point. The scenery improves and the hardwood trees start stretching over the shoreline. You will also notice several historic homesteads located on the river banks. Many looked to be 100 plus years old, with square hand hewn logs and mud/stucco covering.

CabinonDoraLake Paddling the Big Fork River

Cabin along the Big Fork River

Harrison Landing has very nice camping sites, and usable outhouses (they were tilting and a bit unstable!) We had left a vehicle at this location with our camping gear. The weather forecast looked threatening for the following day and we wanted an exit option. Up went the tents, and into our bellies went chicken/bean enchiladas! We drove back to get the truck at Dora Lake and settled in for the night.

AnnFisheratHarrisonLandingCampground2 Paddling the Big Fork River

Ann Fisher at the Harrison Landing campsite

The next day dawned with a steady, cold driving rain. We were able to quickly pack our gear and decided hypothermia wasn’t on our list! The Effie Café was though, and we enjoyed a great breakfast before heading home.

Experiencing the whole river is a group goal, and we plan on paddling it in stages. Next year we are hoping to kayak another section in the spring with high water and do some whitewater adventure! We will document the experience for others to enjoy and learn.

IntheCanoewithAnnFisher1 Paddling the Big Fork River

In the Canoe with Ann Fisher

 Paddling the Big Fork River
pf button both Paddling the Big Fork River
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