Lake Insula

Making Connections

  • Portage Northwest, 15 rods, to Cache
  • Portage North, 180 rods to Kiana
  • Portage Northeast, 60 rods, to Carol
  • Portage East, 10 rods, up the Kawishiwi
  • Portage Southeast, 35 rods, to Hope Creek
  • Paddle West, 105 rods, to Hudson


  • Fisher F-4, One, Two, Three, Four, Bald Eagle, Insula Lakes; F-11, Snowbank, Knife, Kekekabic Lakes
  • McKenzie 19, Isabella Lake


  • DNR Lake No. 380397
  • Lake Map No. B0319
  • Lake Table No. 6A
  • MDH Fish Consumption Advisory - N/A
  • MPCA Water Quality - N/A
Lake Insula
Scale 1:85682
Full image approximately 8 miles square

Lake Insula


Insula is a very large, island studded lake on the Kawishiwi River, 23½ miles east of Ely, and 6 miles north of Forest Center. The 12th largest lake in the BWCAW, Insula stretches over 5 miles from north to south, and up to 2½ miles across, covering 2957 acres, to a maximum depth of 63'. Very irregular in shape, with numerous islands, bays, and points, Insula boasts a whopping 45 miles of shoreline. The Kawishiwi River enters Insula at the far northeast end of the lake, exiting at the far southwest end bound for Hudson.

In the northwestern corner of Insula, a 15 rod portage, which may be unnecessary with adequate water levels in the channel, connects with little Cache Lake. Out of the end of one of the northern arms, a 180 rod portage climbs up to Kiana, gaining some 60' in the first 30 rods before settling into a more rolling grade, then another steep 25' gain before dropping back 30' to the Kiana shore. To the northeast, where the Kawishiwi enters the lake, a 60 rod up-and-over carry with a 24' crest leads to Carol. A 10 rod portage on the south bank bypasses the shallows at the mouth of the Kawishiwi.

In the southeastern end of the lake, a 35 rod portage bypasses the rapids at the mouth of Hope Creek, gaining over 30' of elevation as it climbs to reach more navigable waters upstream. Farther to the west, the south shore of Insula holds the mouths of two more streams, though neither is maintained as a canoe route. Arrow Creek flows north into Insula from the Arrow Lakes, 1½ miles upstream, while Tornado Creek has but a ¾ mile course north from Tornado Lake.

Most of the forest over a large area around Insula burned in the big Lake Insula fire of 1864. The only exception is the stands to the east of the north arm of the lake, which date back to the fires of 1875.

Portions of Insula were hit hard in the Fourth of July windstorms of 1999. The southwest end, with the Hudson Lake portage, and the islands offshore probably suffered the worst, with estimates of standing tree losses ranging from 34% to 66% for the area near the portage and extending south to Tremolo, and estimates of 67% to 100% of the trees down for the south shore just to the east, and the nearby islands. Areas near the north end of Insula suffered lesser damage, estimated in the 10% to 33% range, with greater damage farther back from the shore. However, a broad swath through the center of the lake sustained no significant damage. Go figure...


Insula supports over three dozen established campsites, distributed over its 45 miles of shoreline. Many of them, rare for the Boundary Waters, boast sand beaches.

Planning Considerations

Insula is a major destination and junction for travel in this part of the BWCA. In a small backwater in its southern end is the eastern terminus of the ever popular Number Lakes to Insula route, running east from the Lake One entry, up the Kawishiwi River, through lakes Two, Three, and Four to Hudson, and into Insula. North, by way of Kiana, Insula provides access to the very core of the BWCAW, around Thomas, Fraser, Adams, and Boulder. Travel up the Kawishiwi provides connections to Alice, Malberg and a host of routing options. To the south, Insula makes a great jumping off point for travel up Hope and Maniwaki creeks, as well as the exploration of the trackless region south towards the Isabella.


Insula supports populations of Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), Northern Pike (Esox lucius), Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Tullibee (Cisco) (Coregonus artedi), Walleye (Stizostedion vitreum), White Sucker (Catostomus commersoni), and Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens).

Notes and Comments

Insula means the "Lake of Islands" and an appropriate name it is. This is one of the preferred scenes for aerial photography of the BWCAW. Note too, however, that the many points and islands of the big lake can make navigation difficult and confusing. Have a good map and know how to read it. Have a good compass and know how to use it.

Line of Spruce Trees

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Last updated on 11 April, 2004