I’ve always said, “Any time you can paddle the Boundary Waters is the best time to paddle the Boundary Waters.” Taking that into consideration the next thing to consider is what you want to experience while you are in the Boundary Waters or what you don’t want to experience while there. Knowing what you want out of a canoe camping trip in the BWCA will help you determine the best time to visit.
Many people come to the Boundary Waters to experience the solitude of the wilderness. While route choice plays a big part in getting away from people the time of the paddling season makes a big difference too. I was out paddling last week and I began to wonder if there had been an atomic bomb that went off somewhere because there were so few people out there.
If the main goal of your canoe trip is to not see many people then paddling the Boundary Waters around the 4th of July is a great time. We were towed out past American Point and we didn’t see anyone camping anywhere. We portaged into Ottertrack and didn’t meet anyone on Monument Portage which rarely happens. We saw a couple of canoes on Ester Lake and one group camped there but no groups camped on Hansen Lake or Ottertrack. For 4 days we had so few encounters with other people we felt like it was the middle of October.
Every year we see a dip in visitors around the 4th of July. People have picnics, parades, family reunions and fireworks to attend on the 4th of July and they don’t want to miss out on the annual festivities. That leaves the Boundary Waters empty for people who are willing to give up their sparklers for twinkling stars in the night sky. Of course May, September and October are also great times to paddle if you’re looking to get away from people, but in July you have water warm enough for swimming too.
I love camping in the BWCA when I don’t see other groups so I was super happy to be paddling a week after the 4th of July and see so few people. While it may not be great for business it’s super for folks who are able to paddle during that time.