Alton is a large lake on the southern border of the BWCAW, 3/4 of a mile across in places and almost 3 miles long on its North/South axis. It provides immediate access, through Beth, to the popular "Lady Chain", the Phoebe River chain of lakes to the west and to the delightfully obscure little corner where Sunhigh and Wonder Lakes sit at the headwaters of Plouff Creek, but a 200 rod carry to the south. Brian Johnson reports, "The portage from Alton to Wonder is not well maintained (many deadfalls), but there is a blueberry patch in the middle of the portage that produces even in dry years- perhaps that's why there are so many bear tracks along the portage."
To the north, Alton provides easy access to the boggy banks of the Kelso River, especially striking when the Cotton Sedge (Eriophorum vaginatum) and Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) are in bloom, and beyond that to the long portage to the Louse River country. (There is no easy way to the Louse, but however you go, it's worth the effort).
CampsitesAlton had 15 campsites at last count, but it still pays to get one early. There's nothing quite like coasting the length of Alton, in the dwindling light, in a downpour, with 9 and 11 year old nephews, on the first night, of their first canoe trip, with all the sites taken. (Been there. Done that. 'Nuff said.)
Planning ConsiderationsMost traffic into Alton comes by way of Sawbill Lake, over a short, heavily used portage, wide enough to carry your canoe broadside across your shoulders, were it not for all of the other visitors you'd slap in the face with it. Sawbill, and the Sawbill entry point, are located at the end of the Sawbill Trail, which snakes up through the Superior National Forest from the Lake Superior shore at Tofte. At the trailhead is Sawbill Outfitters, in our opinion one of the finer outfitters serving the BWCAW and a strong advocate for the wilderness.
WildlifeAs a lake relatively popular with campers, Alton, like its equally large neighbor to the east, is popular with the bruins. Hang your food bag high and keep a clean camp. But this is still wilderness. Brian Johnson reports a Lynx (Lynx canadensis), the secretive and rarely seen northwoods cat, visiting their camp one August morning in '97, on the peninsula site in the southwestern end of the lake.
The gamefish population in Alton consists of Walleye (Stizostedion vitreum), Northern Pike (Esox lucius), and Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieui). It has the reputation as a fishing lake known for quality and not quantity. Other species present include Burbot (Lota lota), Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Tullibee (Cisco) (Coregonus artedi), White Sucker (Catostomus commersoni), Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), and possibly remnant Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush). Walleye abundance is lower than in most other area walleye lakes but the fish are of a nicer size. The population is maintained through natural reproduction. Lake trout were stocked for many years in Alton but with little success. Stocking was discontinued after 1986.
Notes and CommentsAlton is not our favorite -- too big and too close to the front door. On the other hand, if you're looking for someplace to pitch your tent after a long drive up the highway, Alton might just be the ticket.
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