Planning a BWCA Canoe Trip

Top 5 things to consider when planning a Boundary Waters Canoe Trip

  1. Who is going
  2. Do you plan to fish
  3. Can you handle portaging
  4. Experienced paddlers
  5. Time of year

You’ve heard people talk about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  You’ve seen BWCA photos of big fish caught in the wilderness of Minnesota’s canoe country and you’ve been shown Boundary Waters maps.  A wilderness canoe camping trip has always sounded like fun but you don’t know how to begin planning a BWCAW canoe route.  There are millions of canoe routes to choose from and if you keep the following 5 points in mind then you’ll be able to determine what BWCA entry point you want to start at and what BWCA lakes you will paddle to and camp in.

Before spending any time looking at Boundary Waters maps determine who will be traveling the wilderness waters with you.  A trip that involves young children will most likely be much different than one with a group of Boy Scouts who are attempting to earn their 50 mile canoe patch.  Young children do well with short periods of paddling and portaging.  Most children are not too helpful at portages so keep in mind you will be the one hauling most of the gear.  Setting up and tearing down a campsite takes patience and time.  Do your group members have either of these?  Are the people you’re thinking about asking to paddle with you fun to be around?  How would they be in a crisis situation if one came up?  Who you plan to paddle with largely determines where you will enter into the BWCA.

“What is the purpose of the trip?”  If you want to relax and hang out at one campsite then choose a lake that is easy to get to.  This may be a Boundary Waters entry point lake or a lake that is just one portage in from the entry point lake.  Limiting the amount of portaging you will do allows you to bring along additional gear that will make you more comfortable at your campsite.  Some folks like camp chairs, screen tents, coolers and even cots but hauling all of that gear is not a good idea if you want to travel through many lakes and across numerous portages.

Are your paddling partners up for the wilderness challenge of portages?   A Boundary Waters portage isn’t like a sidewalk in a city park.  It’s a path that has been worn down to dirt that can have boulders in the middle of it, trees toppled over it or mud the entire length of it.  Even though a portage is measured in rods(16.5 feet/rod) and most aren’t real long(1/4 of a mile or less) they can be quite challenging.  Aluminum canoes weigh upwards of 60 pounds with some older canoes topping out around 100 pounds.  They balance on shoulders fairly well but try maneuvering a 17 foot canoe between the crotch of a tree or down a sheer rock cliff wet from a recent rainfall.  Duluth Packs filled with gear can weigh 50 pounds or more so make sure you aren’t the only one capable of carrying it.  One portage may be too much for your group depending upon the shape your participants in.  You will want to consider how much portaging your group can handle and then determine if you should travel and camp at different lakes each day or take day trips from one centrally located campsite.

Many BWCA routes include large bodies of water.  Are your canoe trip participants able to paddle and navigate across open bodies of water?  Wind and waves are normal in the canoe country but bigger lakes can pose problems when paddlers take unnecessary risks to cross them.  If you have planned your trip properly then you can avoid dangerous situations by not taking risks.  Allow an extra day or two if dangerous conditions exist because of wind and waves.  People have died in the canoe country because they have to get back to civilization or they’ll miss their flight or an important event back home.  It obviously isn’t worth the risk but determining your level of comfort and common sense along with everyone else’s on the trip will be important information when planning a canoe route.

The main reason some people take Boundary Waters Canoe trips is because they want to fish.  Knowing how important fishing is to your group is vital information needed to determine the right BWCA canoe route.  Some lakes only contain certain fish species that bite better during specific times of the summer.  This information is critical to a successful Boundary Waters fishing trip.  And remember, if fishing is the focus of your canoe trip then don’t plan to travel great distances each day.  If you do then you’ll spend all of your time setting up and taking down your campsite only to find yourself too tired to fish when you finally are set up to camp.

A wilderness canoe camping trip in the Boundary Waters is a memorable experience.  Whether or not the memories are good or bad will depend largely on the canoe route you choose.  Spend time thinking about these five issues and you’ll have a better chance at having a successful and fun BWCA canoe trip.

Find maps and routes at our website…

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