Plan a Boundary Waters Canoe Journey in Minnesota – Bearfoot Idea

Planning a Boundary Waters canoe journey within the Boundary Waters Canoe Space Wilderness (BWCA) entails navigating a labyrinth of over 1,000 lakes and islands. Positioned on the Minnesota/Canada border, I’ve made numerous journeys to the BWCA ever since I used to be a child and it at all times delivers once I need a quiet week crammed with nice views and journey.

The BWCA is the most-visited wilderness space within the U.S. and for good purpose. From brief in a single day journeys to multi-week distant adventures, the BWCA provides a novel tenting expertise for all talent ranges. Like most distant tenting journeys, although, canoeing the BWCA requires planning in an effort to safe permits, learn to navigate lakes and make portages, and assemble the fitting gear for a profitable journey. I’ve made many journeys to the BWCA, so on this submit, I’m sharing all of the essential suggestions and steerage you’ll have to have a profitable journey in Minnesota’s nice north woods.

On this Boundary Waters canoe journey information, I share the whole lot it’s good to know to plan your personal canoeing journey to this superb and distant space.

Greatest Time to Canoe the Boundary Waters

Because the lakes freeze over within the winter, the most effective time to canoe the Boundary Waters is between spring, summer season, and fall. Usually Might by way of October is the canoeing season.

The summer season months are the favored time to go, particularly the again half of August. The water is heat sufficient to swim in and the climate will get up into the 70s and 80s. The principle draw back to canoeing in the summertime months, nonetheless, is that mosquitoes and biting flies can put an enormous damper in your journey. Bugs peak in mid-June and whereas the black flies final every week or two, the mosquitos stick round all summer season. Folks share horror tales in regards to the mosquitos, however honestly they’re not a lot completely different than anyplace else within the Midwest.

Visiting throughout the spring is constrained to the month of Might because the lake ice normally doesn’t soften till then. It’s an incredible month for fishing, solitude, and returning animals and birds, however it may be chilly — lows are sometimes within the 40s.

Fall is among the finest occasions to go to the BWCA. There are fewer or no bugs, the crowds are principally gone, the fish are returning to the shallow water, and the autumn colours are altering. Tenting from mid-September to mid-October is the most effective time to go to if you wish to catch the autumn foliage because the aspen, birch, and maples leaves start turning crimson, orange, and yellow.

It doesn’t matter what time of yr you go to, it’s essential to be ready for chilly temperatures, wet climate, or submerged and moist gear. All the time pack additional heat layers and don’t use cotton.

Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more
Photograph courtesy of Isak Kvam

Planning Your BWCA Route

BWCA entry factors

There are two principal BWCA entry factors to begin your journey: Ely and the Gunflint Path. Generally, the Ely space is sort of wooded and has old-growth tree stands you’ll be able to camp close to. Guests beginning within the Gunflint space are more likely to see the consequences of fires and blowdowns, however whereas some forests on this space appear extra sparse, there’s a extra distant, rugged high quality to this terrain.

I’ve accomplished a handful of canoe journeys out of Ely, however I want the Gunflint space for beginning a visit since you instantly enter into wilderness with a rugged character.

BWCA Portages

When you’ve by no means been to the Boundary Waters earlier than, it’s potential you’ve by no means needed to portage a canoe earlier than. Merely put, a portage is whenever you choose your canoe up and transfer it overland from one lake to a different. The BWCA has over 1,000 lakes linked by portage paths of various lengths — the shorter and fewer of them in your route, the better will probably be.

Portages are sometimes measured in rods, which is 16.5 toes lengthy, roughly the size of your canoe. Portaging a canoe isn’t as arduous because it appears and it’s truly simple to select up and carry a canoe by your self. It has extra to do with talent than power — neglect the strategies that have you ever rapidly carry the canoe overhead like a powerlifter. Merely observe this technique for choosing up and carrying the canoe. I’ve seen retired of us do that within the BWCA with no downside in any respect.

Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more

Boundary Waters Route Choices

My favourite BWCA route is beginning off on the Gunflint Path at Saganaga Lake and canoeing to Crimson Rock Lake, Alpine Lake, and Sea Gull Lake to loop again to the beginning.

There are many completely different route choices, although, and you’ll’t go unsuitable utilizing the Journey Planner from the Pals of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (extra on them later) to cater the path to your journey. You’ll be able to select completely different routes relying in your timeframe, what number of portages you’d prefer to take, how lengthy you need to paddle every day, and your present talent degree.

Boundary Waters canoe leases & Outfitters

Whereas some individuals convey their very own canoes to the BWCA, there are many Boundary Waters canoe rental outfitters in each Ely and the Gunflint Path. Not solely are they cheap, however the guides listed here are a wealth of data for planning your journey, asking questions, and getting some nice beta on the most effective swimming spots and fishing holes. I’ve had nice experiences with Voyageur Canoe Outfitters.

Needless to say the BWCA is a really giant wilderness space, and with so many lakes and islands, you can spend a lifetime exploring completely different routes. Regardless of if you happen to select Ely or Gunflint as your Boundary Waters entry level, you’re going to have a blast.

Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more
Photograph courtesy of Isak Kvam

BWCA Permits

When you’ve selected the place you need to begin your journey, you’ll should safe a BWCA allow. Permits are required for in a single day journeys from Might 1 to September 30. Stroll-up permits can be found the day of and the day earlier than your journey, however their availability isn’t assured. Take note you don’t have to know precisely what number of days or how many individuals are in your occasion to order a allow.

One Boundary Waters allow permits a gaggle of as much as 9 individuals and 4 watercraft to enter the wilderness. You’ll be able to’t exceed the group restrict at any time on water or land. Charges are $16 per grownup per journey ($8 per child per journey), and there’s additionally a non-refundable $6 reservation charge.

When you plan on fishing, receive your fishing license earlier than your journey both on-line or at any gasoline station/bait store throughout the state. When you’re a Minnesota resident, an annual fishing license is $25 or $14 for 72 hours. When you’re a non-resident, it’s $51 yearly, $43 for 7 days, or $36 for 72 hours.

The reservation system for Boundary Waters permits opens up at 9 a.m. CT on the final Wednesday of January yearly on the BWCA recreation.gov web site. When you plan on canoeing outdoors of the Might-September season, you do not want a allow. BWCA canoe rental companies also can present permits.

You’ll want to select up your permits in particular person at both a Superior Nationwide Forest district workplace or a BWCA clothing store in an effort to full the obligatory Depart No Hint & Tread Flippantly schooling session. This can be a comparatively brief video/Q&A session that ensures guests perceive how you can reduce their influence within the backcountry and keep protected within the distant wilderness.

Whilst you don’t want a allow to convey a canine into the BWCA, it is best to convey a present rabies certificates and rabies tag on their collar. Canines are welcome within the wilderness if they’ve good voice management, don’t bark or chase wild animals, have expertise in a canoe, and are usually not left unattended. All the time be ready to scrub up after your canine.

Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more
Photograph courtesy of Isak Kvam

Boundary Waters Campsites

Boundary Waters campsites are unfold all through the wilderness space and are typically on wooded shorelines. It’s fairly apparent the place most of them are, and they’re clearly labeled on BWCA maps. A simple technique to inform if a campsite is occupied or not is to search for canoes on the campground shoreline. You’ll be able to solely camp at present campgrounds within the BWCA and the campgrounds are first-come, first-serve.

It’s a good suggestion to interrupt camp early and snag the campsite you’d like by early afternoon so that you get the one you need. I as soon as slept in and paddled throughout the afternoon as an alternative and located each campsite was already taken on the lake I had deliberate to remain on. That meant a for much longer day of paddling for me since I had no alternative however to canoe on to the subsequent lake and discover the subsequent empty campground.

My principal consideration when selecting a campground is the view. Do you need to be on a peninsula surrounded by water, in a thickly wooded space, or do you need to be sure you have an incredible view of the sundown? Take your priorities under consideration when selecting your spot.

BWCA Camping // Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more
BWCA campsites have fireplace pits

Boundary Waters Canoe Journey Gear

Among the finest components about canoe tenting is that you simply solely should lug your gear on portages.

You’ll be able to learn our 3-day backpacking guidelines to get a normal concept of what you’ll want. It goes with out saying that the Boundary Waters is a distant space; be sure you pack heat clothes and rain gear so you’ll be able to keep protected within the occasion of storms, submerged and moist packs, or days or wet climate.

Footwear for the BWCA

You’ll need good footwear for the Boundary Waters that may take care of water and rugged portages. I like to recommend water sandals everytime you’re within the canoe or getting out and in. Verify our assessment of the Teva Common Path Sandal. These can be an incredible alternative for a BWCA journey.

For portages, you’ll need mountain climbing sneakers or boots which have a closed-toe and closed-heel. These will maintain your toes and ankles protected whereas carrying heavy packs and the canoe. Portages within the BWCA are crammed with rocks, tree roots, and slippery mud so plan accordingly.

Dry Luggage and Canoe Packs

Whilst you can technically use a backpacking pack to hold your gear, utilizing canoe packs from Duluth Pack, Frost River, or Granite Gear has its perks — it’s additionally what you’ll get out of your clothing store if you happen to lease a canoe. You may also spend money on a number of light-weight dry baggage to maintain your objects dry and separated, like these Sea to Summit Light-weight Dry Sacks.

For a less expensive possibility, merely line your pack with a rubbish bag and organize your gear inside.

Navigating the Boundary Waters

You’ll want a compass, map, and map case (outfitters will present these) for a Boundary Waters canoe journey. Fisher Maps, McKenzie, and Voyageur make the most effective BWCA maps or Nationwide Geographic additionally makes an in depth BWCA Map Pack. There’s little to no cell service within the BWCA, so don’t depend on your telephone for navigation and pack or lease a satellite tv for pc communication system for security.

To navigate the Boundary Waters, your finest guess is to orient your self utilizing portages, campgrounds, and distinguished options of the shoreline like factors, islands, bays, and many others. It’s regular — and a proper of passage — to get fairly confused about precisely the place you might be because the lakes and islands could make it seem to be a maze. Don’t fear, it’s uncommon for guests to really get misplaced!

Water Gear & Gear

Aluminum canoes are heavier to hold on portages, however they’ve bought one huge profit: they’re bombproof. No want to fret about scraping a rock in these! Kevlar canoes are extra fragile and require additional effort when utilizing them, however they’re a lot lighter to make use of whereas paddling and portaging.

You’ll additionally want a good quantity of substances in your canoe (outfitters will present all of this): paddles, life jackets, duct tape, sponge and bailer, and cords to tie in your packs. When you’re planning to fish, convey a pole and deal with field. And don’t neglect a swimsuit!

Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more
Photograph courtesy of Isak Kvam

Bear baggage

There are bears that dwell within the BWCA, however they not often trouble individuals. Most guests decide to hold their meals from a tree as an alternative of bringing a bear canister. To hold your meals bag, discover a tree limb about 15-20 toes off the bottom. Connect a heavy merchandise to the top of your rope and throw it over the department in order that the rope is 4 toes away from the trunk. Now connect your bear sack to the rope, pulley your bag into the air, and tie off your rope. With a bit looking out, you’ll be able to normally discover a widespread tree limb that’s used close to every campground.

Water Filtration

Fortunately, acquiring water within the Boundary Waters is way simpler than most backpacking journeys. Whereas old-timers should drink straight from the lake, it’s safer if you happen to boil or filter the water. Merely paddle out away out of your campsite and fill your containers from the lake, then purify or boil the water earlier than utilizing. Whereas I used to drink straight from the lake, it’s not price risking a Giardia an infection.

The Platypus GravityWorks filter system is easy to make use of while not having to pump it. I’ve additionally used a Katadyn Hiker Microfilter within the BWCA, too, which I like as a result of you’ll be able to filter water straight into your water bottle whilst you’re canoeing.

I like to recommend filling and treating a 1- to 3-gallon water container whenever you arrive at your campsite to make use of for dinner, breakfast, and filling smaller 1-liter Nalgenes for the subsequent day’s paddle.

Hearth, Camp Stoves, and Cooking Gear

BWCA campgrounds have a fireplace pit space that can be utilized for cooking so long as there isn’t a fireplace ban within the space. The fires should be small and be put out fully whenever you’re not in camp. Firewood is on the market from the encircling forest, however keep in mind to solely take lifeless and downed wooden — dwell wooden doesn’t burn effectively, anyway. If there’s a fireplace ban, convey a camp range in your cooking.

Solar Safety

It’s simple to get sunburned on a Boundary Waters canoe journey. Not solely are you spending a number of trip underneath the solar, nevertheless it’s additionally reflecting upward out of your canoe and the water, too! Use sunscreen, a solar hat, and take into account UPF clothes to maintain the solar at bay.

Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more

Assist Defend the Boundary Waters

The BWCA is a novel, particular place. However that doesn’t imply it at all times shall be. Contemplate supporting the Pals of the Boundary Waters Wilderness to make sure this nationwide treasure stays protected. Proposed copper-sulfide mines like Twin Metals danger contaminating and completely polluting the Boundary Waters.

Be taught extra about threats to the BWCA and how one can assist defend it by supporting Pals of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more

Taking a canoe journey by way of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters is a visit not like some other, and because of its large dimension and undeveloped character, it’s a wilderness you’ll be able to return to many times for brand new adventures. Whether or not you’re a seasoned paddler or new to canoe tenting, the BWCA won’t disappoint!

Have you ever accomplished a Boundary Waters canoe journey or are you planning one? What questions do you continue to have? Tell us within the feedback!

Start planning your Minnesota Boundary Waters canoe trip with this complete guide including BWCA entry points, Boundary Water camping, & more

Written by
Isak Kvam

Isak is an outside freelance author that loves touring by way of Western public lands in his self-converted van to hike, ski, and discover the nation’s finest used bookstores and occasional retailers. When he’s not writing or adventuring, Isak is engaged on Search Extra Wilderness to supply out of doors items that give again to the outside. You’ll be able to view his writing clips at isakkvam.com and observe his van adventures on Instagram.


Journalist specialized in online marketing as Social Media Manager. I help professionals and companies to become more Internet and online reputation, which allows to give life to the Social Media Strategies defined for the Company, and thus immortalize brands, products and services. I have participated as an exhibitor in various forums nationally and internationally, I am the author of several articles in digital magazines and Blogs.

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