Newbie’s Boundary Waters Canoe Trip

“It’s like a dragonfly riding on the back of a cockroach!”

I ran over and saw this weird thing happening.


When I looked around more, I found a ton of them all over the place…like on my boot.2547_10100670550802613_457780392_n-001

Basically, we didn’t leave for like 20 minutes as this alien spawn emerged from its carapace.

These things dragged themselves out of the water, like huge stinkbugs, found some vertical thing to climb, then started coming out. About 20 hours later, a swarm of dragonflies decimated the mosquitoes at camp. They were like a thousand tiny robocop drones…and we needed them because I was getting tired of being bit through my mesh pants and devoured while I was in the bathroom.

This was well into the trip.


Trip started in Ely, Minnesota where we stayed in a lodge powered by the Voyageur North Outfitters team. People I went with (Wayne G, Ben E, Matt) had been up a bunch of times, for almost the past 10 years, with these guys. They have bunk houses you can stay in, I think it’s $20 a person per night for a cot. Each room has up to 4 cots, so it’s kinda hostel style. Having the rental / sleeping all in one place cut down on some logistic hassle, plus you get a free can of pop and a shower when you come back….yeah pop, because they don’t say ‘soda’ here. They helped me purchase a fishing license (worth it…I was definitely going to skip it….it’s worth it), set us up with some sweet canoes and paddles, and helped get them tight on the truck before we left.

Drive up from Minneapolis, Minnesota took a few hours…tried to duck out early before traffic picked up.

Next morning we tried to strike out early.



Drive like 10 minutes from the lodge to a a super smooth put in. Like…I couldn’t imagine a place being a nicer put in. Gravel / sand on the shore. An f’in dock. A parking lot. Could have had canoes made of lead and just slid them into the water. As it stood, they opted for fancy kevlar canoes (light and not as durable)…I don’t know why. Aluminum wasn’t much cheaper?

I think had seven people (5 people over 20 and 2 younger people). With that setup we brought a 4 person canoe, and two 3-person canoes. Yeah the group did not pack light. In addition to personal packs, each canoe had another pack…basically of food and stuff. As a reward of that heavy lifting, we ate gloriously.

I think we still had a couple of packs of unopened bagels when we got back.

Paddling is strenuous. You go about as fast as hiking on a mountain trail (I’d estimate around 25 to 35 minutes per mile). A couple of differences though are that you can benefit from slight current (like on the Taylor’s Falls trip I wrote about), and you can haul a lot more stuff. Canoe camping is closer to car camping in the amount of stuff you can carry … lol be care to keep those packs light.

Watch some paddling videos before you go.

It’d be better to get out on the water, but in lieu of that, the videos did help me. I’m a big believer in self-sufficiency. Even though it was my first trip and I was going with seasoned people, I mapped out the routes, familiarized myself with the maps, and had everything I needed should I get separated from my group (shelter, sleeping bag, fire, food, water purifier). Basic paddling skills make sense. Obviously 9/10 times you won’t need it, but if you do, understanding how to rudder, how to J-stroke, and good form (twist your torso, semi-stationary arms) can be critical.


The sky was in HD that day. This picture was taken on a pretty crappy camera. The clouds were gorgeous.

It’s beautiful out there, but it’s not Disneyland.


Went out for a day-trip fishing. Rain started to come down and we sat out in the middle of a big lake. The clouds rolled by quickly, which was good for us, but looked like the wind up there was moving the clouds 25+ mph. Later we got caught in a really bad downpour. Should have been watching the clouds…coming at us a dark storm front. We paddled like mad across the lake and wind, and luckily made it within 50ft of shore before it hit us. That last 50ft was grueling…there was lots of yelling and cursing…lol.

Victor tip: watch the clouds if it’s a rainy day. Stick close to the shore to cut some of the wind. On a few trips, we ducked behind islands and used the shore to shield us from the wind. Helped out a lot.

Also paddled by this island filled with seagulls. Those things are mean. Avoid.


Other moments were picturesque.


1009744_10100670550193833_229917284_nMy overweight, ungainly pack. It made it. It worked.

Took a while of searching. At Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) there are designated campsites with latrines, but the closest campsite may be a quarter to a half mile away. We searched for a site that had good airflow and relatively nice floors (not too many roots) because we’d be putting up 4 tents. Again could have gone lighter with the tents, but the adults all wanted one.

Found a nice slightly downhill spot, without any huge dead branches above it.


Had the tents up in a few minutes, rainfly was mandatory. LOL. My tent is on the right. It’s a Coleman and I love it. It was cheap (~$40) and a fantastic starter tent. I’ve camped in pouring thunder / rain with it. It has a TARP bathtub bottom so I don’t need a ground cloth. Huge ventilation windows, which was perfect here. Nights only got down to like 45-50 F so it was no problem. On the left (yellow) is a sweet expedition style tent –10+ guylines so you can handle crazy wind, an atrium with vents so you can cook in the rain or stash some gear, full-cover rainfly (down to the floor). Basically built to handle most kinds of weather. I dunno. The guy has had it for like over 20 years and put it through a lot.

Gear note: I think buying cheap gear is okay at the beginning. You have really no idea if you’re going to continue or what constitutes good gear. Ex. that expedition tent is was great when the guy was camping on a low-cover small rock island on kayak trip, ripping winds, and snow. In this case it was hot, humid, and tiny. The cheap tent excelled in summer camping environments. I knew I’d be camping mainly in the summer…if it was really crappy out, you don’t really need a tent to survive, and you can adjust some things about this tent to keep it alive even in 30mph winds, and I’d probably not be going out in those conditions anyway.

Next day around the same time it looked like this:


Huddled under a tarp with some really crappy support poles (dead branches with life jackets). I ran out to take a picture (waterproof camera). Tent held up just fine. No water damage or leaks.

Maybe I’ll break this post into two. Including:


Day trip to Basswood Falls




BWCA is a really special place. In the spirit of misplaced adventures, centered around Minneapolis, you don’t have to make it a crazy survival situation. You could ‘paddle’ 2 hours across a lake and be relatively remote. Sure there will may be some people around, but it’s definitely a taste of being real outdoors.

Canoe camping is closer to car camping than hiking in terms of gear you can bring and still feel comfortable. You can use that to your advantage and bring a comfort or two.

Part of adventure is risk. It’s what kinda puts us out there. So keep your wits about you and be prepared. I know of a trip where they couldn’t find a propane tank, couldn’t start a fire because it was so wet, and didn’t have rain gear. It was cold, damp, and difficult. Preparation and planning can avoid these situations. We didn’t go late season, so didn’t have to deal with temperatures.

BWCA – find someone or a group that wants to go. It’s gorgeous.


One thought on “Newbie’s Boundary Waters Canoe Trip

  1. Pingback: best water filtration to use on a hike: pump vs aquamira vs iodine vs boiling | mplsadventures

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