Pre-evacuation of the end of the Gunflint Trail

Last night the powers that be ordered a pre-evacuation for the end of the Gunflint Trail. What does this mean? The Sheriff’s Department and the GTVFD went door to door to inform people to gather their valuables, medications and pets so they were prepared in the event of a real evacuation.

The drought like conditions on the Superior National Forest aren’t like any thing that has been seen before. Fire behavior itself is unpredictable and when the wind suddenly shifts or humidity drops below a certain point things can happen fast. We witnessed how quickly fire can move during both the Pagami and Ham Lake Fire. While the John Ek Fire is quite a distance from us it is still too close for comfort. That fire could explode and reach the end of the Gunflint Trail within hours if all of the conditions for intense fire activity were met. It could also lay down and not grow if we get rain, calm days and cooler temperatures.

wildfire in the BWCA

Smoke plume John Ek Fire

The phrase “lack of resources” has been used to discuss the current fire situation. There are resources in Minnesota capable of fighting fire but those have been focused on the Greenwood Fire near Isabella, MN.  This means the John Ek Fire is basically being left alone without fire supression efforts, or at least, not any I am aware of.  I’m not sure if any water has been dropped on the John Ek Fire but I know there aren’t any ground crews working on it.

Should there be fire suppression activity on the John Ek Fire? Is it more important than the Whelp or Greenwood Fire? Are there more resources out West that should come back to Minnesota to ensure the safety of the folks on the Gunflint Trail? I’m trying to figure that out. In the meantime, please do a little rain dance.

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John Ek Wildfire in the BWCAW

What began as the John Elk Wildfire has now been renamed the John Ek Wildfire. Yesterday was a bad day for John and a good day for the Boundary Waters as temperatures and wind were moderate and didn’t allow for the fire to spread. In addition to that the boundary of the fire was better defined and found to be less than 1000 acres.  Details of John Ek and the Whelp Fire from MN Incident Command can be found below.camping in the Superior National Forest

We’re open for business at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters in spite of the Boundary Waters closure.  There are plenty of fun ways to recreate on the Gunflint Trail without entering the BWCAW. There are still lakes to paddle, trails to hike, museums to visit and solitude to be found at the end of the Gunflint Trail. We can also help you find an alternate opportunity for your Boundary Waters Canoe camping trip as well. There are paddle to campsites on lakes and small campgrounds throughout the Superior National Forest that are sometimes even more secluded than the BWCA.

John Ek Fire: The John Ek Fire was successfully kept in its current footprint yesterday with cooler temperatures and suppression activities by aircraft. The fire is estimated at 727 acres due to more accurate mapping from aerial flights. The fire is located 2.5 miles south of Little Saganaga Lake and extends from John Ek Lake to the SE corner of Elton Lake. Beaver float planes flew the Wilderness to identify campers and notify them of the current closure. Today crews and float planes will be used to sweep the area of visitors. Ground suppression activities are still not possible due to difficult access and firefighter safety concerns. Fire-suppressing aircraft continue to drop water on the fire to try to limit its spread. A MNICS Type 3 team will assume command of the fires beginning on Monday, August 23.

Whelp Fire: This fire continues to creep and smolder in the duff without moving outside of its current footprint of 50 acres. The Whelp Fire is a lightning-caused fire located five miles west of Sawbill Lake.

A helitack crew will begin improving a nearby helispot today to improve access. No firefighting crews have been sent in due to difficult access, limited aircraft resources, and safety concerns. Fire-suppressing aircraft continue to drop water on this fire to try and limit its spread.

Fire on the Gunflint Trail

Ham Lake Fire

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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Closed

I never thought I would write that as a blog title, but here it is. The rumors were true and the entire BWCAW has been closed for 7 days due to wildfires, threat to public safety, drought conditions and lack of resources to fight the wildfires. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been evacuated and affected by this closure as well as with the fire fighters.

BWCAW closed

Closure of the BWCA

We feel for those of you who have had their trips cancelled and hope you can find some place to unwind and relax somewhere else. There are other similar experiences to be found on the Superior National Forest and Voyageur Canoe Outfitters can help you plan a trip in our area.

There is rain in the forecast and along with cooler temperatures this should help alleviate the drought like conditions that have persisted for most of the summer.  The USFS will monitor the situation and make adjustments to the closure order as they feel it is safe for visitors to re-enter the BWCAW.

For those of you with inquiring minds like me, there is a $5000 fine if you are found in violation of this closure order.


Closure of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

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Boundary Waters Closed?

We’re happy to report our immediate area of the Gunflint Trail received over a half of an inch of rain last night. We’ve been in drought conditions much of the summer and wildfire danger has been ever present. While we have been able to operate business as usual, areas near Ely have had to deal with multiple closures. All of our entry points on the Gunflint Trail have remained open all summer.  We’ve been knocking on wood as we say this.

Last night’s rain came with lightning and there are sure to be small fires popping up when the humidity drops and the wind picks up. The John Elk Fire is the one in closest proximity to our entry points and the USFS is keeping their eye on that situation.

Rumors are floating around about the entire BWCA being closed and no overnight permits being issued?  I’ll keep you updated.

Superior National Forest Fire Information: Please call the fire information number at 218-214-7844 or
visit online at:, the Superior NF website: or the
forest’s Facebook page: For Greenwood Fire Information,
please call 218-499-9441.

Moose Lake Fire: The Moose Lake Fire was detected in the afternoon on August 18 near Britt, MN,
south of Lake Leander and Lake 14. It is currently 25 acres in size and is now 100% contained. Three
engines and one water tender remain on scene to continue mop up operations.

Bunggee, Fourtown Lake, and Sundial South Fires: All three fires are located within the BWCAW
closure area. The Fourtown Lake Fire was first detected on July 25 approximately 12 miles N of Ely. The
fire is in containment lines at 265-acres and still showing some smoke. The Bungee and Sundial fires
remain the same size, 3.5-acres and a quarter acre respectively, and show no fire activity. All fires will be
continuously monitored by air.

Whelp Fire: The Whelp fire continues to grow and increased from 15 to 25 acres in the last few days.
This lightning-caused fire is four miles NW of Sawbill Lake in a remote area of the wilderness. Aerial
monitoring reports describe this as an actively moving surface fire with open flames visible. No fire-
fighting crews have been sent in due to difficult access, limited aircraft resources, and safety concerns.
Fire Boss engines (water-scooping aircraft) and helicopters are being used to dump water on these fires.
Aircraft will continue to monitor fire activity daily.

A Closure Order for the Louse River area is in effect, see closure section below for details. There are
wilderness ranger crews paddling the Louse River to sweep visitors from the area. The Forest is
evaluating the scope of this closure based on the fire’s growth.

John Elk Fire: The John Elk Fire continues to creep and smolder and remains at three acres. It is in a
remote area of the Wilderness, 2.5 miles south of Little Saganaga Lake and north of the Whelp Fire. No
fire-fighting crews have been sent in due to difficult access, limited aircraft resources, and safety
concerns. Fire Boss engines (water-scooping aircraft) and helicopters are being used to dump water on
these fires. Aircraft will continue to monitor fire activity daily.

Clara Island Fire: This fire continues to show some heat and smoke but remains contained to the island.
Clara Lake Island Fire is located 10 miles NNW of Lutsen, outside of the Wilderness. It was detected on
August 12 and is the result of an illegal campfire. The sprinkler system installed this week has been very
effective. This system allows for water to be continuously added to the fire while also reducing firefighter
exposure to falling dead trees. Aircraft and ground crews will continue to monitor daily.

Canada Fires: Quetico Provincial Park is managing several fires burning across the international border
from the BWCAW. Three of those fires have potential to spread into the US near Crooked and Iron lakes.
Today’s flight along the Canada Border showed very active fire activity. Fire was observed to be backing
towards the U.S. border. The Forest is conducting daily monitoring flights over the fires and coordinating
with counterparts in Ontario. For more information on the fires in Ontario and for an interactive fire map

Superior National Forest Fires


Air Quality: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued an air quality alert effective until 3
p.m. on Friday, Aug. 20, for the inland portion of Minnesota’s Lake County. For more information on
current air quality conditions in your area and to sign up for daily air quality forecasts visit MPCA’s
Quality Index webpage
Closures: There are three closures in place throughout the Superior National Forest: the Whelp Fire
closure, the Greenwood Fire closure, and the Crooked Lake area closure. For details, visit the
National Forest webpage
. With continued fires and a shortage of firefighting resources, these closures
allow firefighters to focus on existing fires or new starts without worrying about public safety.

Fire Restrictions: Due to continued long-term drought conditions and limited fire-fighting resources, the
Superior National Forest is not allowing campfires within the Forest boundary on National Forest lands,
including the BWCAW. Propane devices with an on/off switch are permitted, including lanterns, stoves,
and firepits. Please see
Fire Restrictions Order and our Campfire Restrictions FAQ for more information. The MN Department of Natural Resources has various fire restrictions throughout the state. The burning
restrictions reflect on-the-ground conditions and wildland fire response capacity as assessed on a county-
by-county basis. Please see their website for additional details: ###

Posted in BWCA

Gunflint Canoe Races-some things never change

Clash of canoe races

Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

The official Gunflint Trail Canoe Races didn’t happen last year due to Covid 19 and they didn’t happen this year due to a lack of organizers and volunteers. Over the past 10-15 years the races had turned into a pretty big deal and they raised a large amount of money for the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department.  Two separate raffles were held each summer, one for a watercraft and one for a number of smaller items as well as a silent auction. People were needed to sell raffle tickets, pick up prizes from local businesses, make awards for canoe race winners, put up tents, sell t-shirts and make and serve food for the spectators. While this was a nice gathering for the community and a good fundraiser for the fire department it was a lot of work to organize. The races were kind of overshadowed by all of the focus on fundraising. canoe races at Gunflint

In the past resorts and outfitters held weekly canoe races at various locations on the Gunflint Trail. Employees would gather, compete and have a great time racing against each other. I don’t know the details of those events or when the races turned into a bigger deal but I do know the more formal races at Gunflint started sometime in the 70’s.

This year the employees of Gunflint Trail resorts and outfitters gathered for fun at Gunflint Lodge for the Clash of Canoes. Different name, same thing.  In fact if you look closely at the photo from 2017 and the photo from this year you’ll recognize a number of familiar faces.  Cassidy, Maddy, Sarah, Paige and Matt all participated in 2017!

Canoe Race Trophy

Voyageur Wins First Place

While some things change over the years one thing has remained unchanged.  The Voyageur Canoe Outfitter Crew has predominantly taken home the First Place Trophy and this year was no exception.

Voyageur Canoe Crew

Voyageur racing crew 2021


2017 Voyageur Canoe Outfitters crew


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Fire at Voyageur on the Gunflint Trail

We all breathed a sigh of relief after receiving much needed rain over the weekend. We felt like it was enough to alleviate a little bit of the fire danger but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. The forest is still overwhelmingly dry and when a tree fell across a power line on our property across the Seagull River on Sunday evening a spark started a fire near our bunkhouses. Luckily we had fast acting guests and our crew sprang into action quickly as well. With fire extinguishers, buckets of water and hoses they worked to suppress the flames that were creeping up trees. A portable fire pump was obtained and before long the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department was on scene. Our next door neighbor along with Matt and Cassidy are all members of the GTVFD and they ensured the fire was completely out. Luckily no one was injured and no buildings were lost. We’re super thankful people were there to report it and get the fire under control in fast time or it could have been very bad.

Lightning during the weekend rain started another small fire near Agamok Lake. Agamok is between Ogishkemuncie and Little Saganaga and it’s where the bridge for the Kekekabic Hiking Trail passes through. Pray for precipitation or do a little rain dance so we can lower the needle on the fire danger scale.

Agamok BWCA fire

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Boundary Waters Entry Points Open on the Gunflint Trail

The good news, that really isn’t “news,” is the entry points into the Boundary Waters on the Gunflint Trail are open. The fires affecting recent BWCA entry point closures are on the western side of the Boundary Waters and are not affecting travel routes  from the Gunflint Trail. We’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood.

The conditions in the forest are dry and there is a total fire ban at this time. The raspberries and blueberries that are normally found during this time of the year are non-existent due to the parched earth. Creeks are low, portages are dry but for the most part canoe trips into the BWCA from the Gunflint Trail are unchanged. Our lakes are filled with fresh water, teeming with game fish who have no clue the land surrounding them is in need of moisture.

Voyageur Canoe Outfitters crew members have been out canoe camping in the Boundary Waters on their days off and are having wonderful trips.  Matt and Cassidy took a couple of days off to paddle down to Long Island Lake and they, including Bosley had a terrific trip.

There are permits remaining for BWCA travel from the Gunflint Trail after the first ten days of August so if you’re still looking to get a trip in this summer then give us a call.  We’d love to see you. 218-388-2224.

Dogs in the Boundary Waters

Bosley enjoying the BWCA

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Fire Ban in the Boundary Waters

BWCAW campfire fun

Fire Ban in the BWCAW

It’s been dry and hot in the Boundary Waters and the USFS has implemented a complete fire ban. No campfires and no grills may be used in the BWCAW. It’s a bummer to not be able to have a campfire but it’s necessary for protection. Let’s just hope we get some unforecasted or forecasted rain in the near future, minus any lightning.

Boundary Waters fire ban

Superior National Forest fire ban

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Boundary Waters Permit Pick up

Gunflint Trail

Boundary Waters

Forest Service Ranger offices are opening up for the first time since Covid. This means people will be able to pick up their Boundary Waters permits in person again. This is good news since they will be able to educate visitors prior to their BWCA trip. The virtual permit sessions created during the pandemic were convenient for folks but I don’t think they did as good of a job as a person does.

From the USFS-

Beginning in mid-July, virtual permit issuance and Leave No Trace & Tread Lightly education sessions will be offered only on Sundays at 9:00 am for those who have selected LaCroix District Office or Tofte District Office as their issue station due to these offices being closed on Sundays. 

If you have an upcoming reservation and have already received an email with the virtual session link, or receive one in the coming days, this change does not affect you.  

For reservations in the second half of July or later, the forest encourages you to modify plans accordingly to pick up your permit in-person. Permits can be picked up at a Forest Service district office or a cooperator. For a full list of cooperators, visit this link. If you have questions regarding your issue station, please contact the Forest Service office nearest your entry point.  

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4th of July in the Boundary Waters

I can’t think of a more perfect place to celebrate the 4th of July than in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. And in spite of the fact we have owned Voyageur Canoe Outfitters for over 20 years we’ve been able to spend quite a few 4th of July’s camping and canoeing the BWCA.

Canoeing the Boundary Waters

Canoeing the BWCA

How could we be out paddling when guests were needing our outfitting services? Most years the time around the 4th of July isn’t a popular time in the canoe country. Why not? There aren’t parades in the BWCA on the 4th of July, unless you count merganser ducklings swimming behind their momma or grouse chicks trailing theirs. There aren’t fireworks either, unless you compare them to fireflies flickering or the millions of stars sparkling in the dark night sky. There aren’t big picnics with loud music out in the wilderness but there is food cooked over a campfire and the sound of the loons or wind through the trees.

I know where I would rather spend the 4th of July, how about you? Have a safe and wonderful one wherever you may be.

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