I assume I’m starting my planning early enough. A little about me & paddle partner: Okefenokee, Everglades, Atchafalaya for a week each. We dig the swamps.
Going to BWCA next yr. I do not know the area AT ALL, but feel experienced enough to tackle it (in addition have also canoed extensively the Allagash, ACE Basin, Dismal, James, New & etc…).
Our interests are to be as remote as possible. We’re willing to consider a fly-in, too. With “remote” being our #1 priority, what would y’all recommend as a good 5-day paddle? (I’m not sure whether W.BWCA, E.BWCA or Quetico is my answer).
#2 priority- Wildlife. I’ll be a bit disappointed if we don’t see wildlife.
#3 priority- Scenery. Would love to come across a waterfall spilling into the lakes (as I hear that is not entirely uncommon there).
#4 priority- Did I say remote?
#5 priority- We aren’t there for the fishing, but will fish as a secondary thing. (Fishing slows progress in “getting around”). I’m assuming that if I am remote enough, I’ll be able to fish in the a.m. or in the p.m. after arriving at camp. Am I right? I’d like to fish, but would like even more to see cool sights.
#6 priority- We’re going to use an outfitter, though we have gear. Just getting to Ely from all points will be a trick. There will be 4 of us. (the other two are plenty experienced too, upstate NY & Allagash). VNorth looks great from what I’ve seen so far. Thoughts & recommendations?
BIG question for the board… Do we aim for May? For June? Later? We’re not afraid of bugs, but if they can be somewhat mitigated, that’s good too. How cold is it up there, and how late does it stay cold? I paddle in the winter in VA… but would like to be able to jump in the water if at all possible on this trip (or is that just crazy talk?)
Any book recommendations? I’ve seen a few on this site & others… what do y’all like?
I’ve not even gotten a map yet, though I am reading a BWJournal magazine. Great stuff. The BWCA is just so huge, I’d like to zero in a region based on the questions above.
Thank you for reading this long post, and thank you in advance for helping to guide me.
I assume I’m starting my planning early enough. A little about me & paddle partner: Okefenokee, Everglades, Atchafalaya for a week each. We dig the swamps.
The Beymer books are exactly what you’re looking for.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area: The Western Region
by Robert Beymer (and Eastern book 2)
You can support this great site by purchasing them in the Pnet store here:
They cover many different routes within the BWCAW in detail, and are a fantastic tool for planning a trip there. My paddling criteria is very similar to yours, although I go solo for 2 to 3 times as long as you’re looking to spend. I’ll look through my notes to see if I can offer some helpful suggestions as to specific routes for you.
If you don’t get the answers you’re looking for here, I know of some great BWCAW/Q forums that you’ll love.
On second thought
QuiteJourney is the premier Boundary Water and Quetico online resource. They have a great forum whose members will treat you well, unlike paddling.net. Tell them I sent you
BWAC.com is another good resource, they too have a forum.
How far per day?
I can offer some suggestions to get you back into the boonies, but first I need m more information to make realistic suggestions. You mention paddling #1, fishing secondary but how many hours a day on the trail for your group? What type of canoes will you be renting? How light do you travel - light enough to get everything across a portage in a single trip? A group that is traveling heavy, has multiple carries on each portage, rents slower canoes, and likes to get up late and quit early for the day; realistically that adds up to about 10 to 12 miles per day. Also remember that a group can't go any faster than it's slowest member. An experienced group that is traveling light, is in reasonable shape, does most portages in a single trip, paddles kevlar, averages 3.5 mph or better on the water, is on the trail by 8:30AM and puts in a 7 to 8 hour day; that adds up to 20 or more miles per day. Which are you?
Kinda hard to get really remote on a “short” trip. If possible, try for at least 7 days on the water - it will make big a difference.
Quetico is more “remote” in my opinion, because it is all in one big chunk, where BWCA is in several “smaller” chunks (though that isn’t as much of an issue on a five day trip). BWCA issues about 5 times as many entry permits as Quetico, but in Q, you have to pay to play. It takes about 2 to 2 1/2 days to get to the center of Quetico. BWCA means camping at designated campsites only, with outhouse and firepit. Quetico means camping wherever you want to stop - which appeals to you more? You might check into some of the Primitive Management Areas (PMA’s) in BWCA - they are more limited in access and permits issued, and its my understanding that portages aren’t maintained at all?
From the background you gave, sounds like portaging may not be a familiar sport to you. It is the key to getting “remote”. A few “killer” portages will get you away from the majority of the people. Planning your trip around the portaging is the key to moving fast and efficiently, as Duluthmoose pointed out. Not necessarily single tripping, but try to limit it to two trips - so plan on 3 packs per canoe, which means 4 loads, two for each person, and very little if any to hand carry. If you are all in good shape, you can make 15 miles in a day on average. But keep in mind that the effect of strenuous portages and paddling on big windy lakes is cumulative, and it can get to be a lot harder to maintain that 15 miles per day.
I don’t think you are allowing enough time to get into really remote country, and to spend a few days there. The effect of limiting entry points is to concentrate people in those areas, for the first day of two, until they can disperse more - one thing that can help is to hire a “tow”, which can save a half day of more of paddling on each end of your trip, so it is something to consider.
When ? End of May beginning of June can be cold - have had below freezing weather many times in that time frame. Water may be too cold for swimming (icy cold in the morning when you portage - wet footing). On the other hand, it can be really hot, and swimming is nice - its more likely to be on the cold side though. If bugs bother you, (sounds like it shouldn’t) don’t even think about going till lat June, early July, after black fly season. Fishing is better in late spring, and fall. Mid summer is tougher, and you have to work harder at it. Normally, you can catch some Northern Pike anytime, anyplace. Lake Trout are shallower in Spring, deep in Summer - We will often troll as we pass through a lake, if we have the time, and that is one of the most productive methods. But not if you are on a fast paced trip - camping near moving water (falls, river inlets, rapids) is a good bet for evening and morning fishing from camp.
Summer on the other hand, is “prime time” with lots more people - lots more competiion for those designated sites in BW, you may have to stop sooner than you want, or go a lot longer if the sites on lake X are all taken already. It can get really hot in summer, but sounds like you are used to that.
those are great sites
no time this morning, but I am definitely going to spend some time at the quiet journey site. I poked around just a bit, and it looked great.
Thanks so much for your help. I’ll be sure to be asking again!!
narrowing the questions a bit…
Thank you for your thoughtful response. Let’s see if I can laser in on some answers & more questions…
How many hours a day in the boat? Our group is a hearty one… stopping for lunch on a rock or pulling aside to scout a cool feature will be the norm; otherwise, I’d say we could spend “all day” in the canoes w/o any stress at all. We’re not likely to be ‘crack of dawn’ packers, and will get a late start some mornings (8-9-10a.m.?). I’ve not camped w/ one of the guys before, but am told he’s ‘up to snuff’. Hard to say.
I don’t know yet what we’ll rent, but anticipate renting lightweight kevlar or the like. Definitely not aluminum.
Single-portage. Not likely at all. We travel somewhat light, but that’s a relative term subject to interpretation. Great question. We’ll likely plan for double-trip portages. 2 in our group are VERY accomplished hikers by anyone’s stictest standard (& therefore used to packing light). 2 aren’t (I’m not).
We’re not as likely to quit early for the day as we are to leave a touch late (like I said, 8, 9, 10 a.m.) It depends upon what we’ve seen that day. I’ll not likely slow down for fishing; but very likely to stop at a waterfall or significant feature for photos. Otherwise, we tend to motor along pretty well (again, relative term… we can paddle well).
I would think that a 12 mile day is VERY realistic. I’d rather undershoot bit, than over-shoot. If we knock down the day’s paddling early, that gives us time to either unload & go exploring, or to get out & wander in the woods a bit. My experience w/ the everglades was that we always got to our site earlier than we’d wanted to. I recollect that we had ~12-15 mile days there and tended to kill time.
7-8 hours in the canoe is absolutely no problem at all. Even in rain. Been there, done that.
Our group has some questions to consider amongst ourselves. I’ll probably copy-paste some of these discussions & forward (and will definitely encourage my friends to come HERE).
Thanks again, Duluthmoose!
The more I research, the more it sounds like Q will suit us. Again… REMOTE is the key. I’m in VA; I don’t want to travel that far just to be bumping in to other groups all week.
I didn’t realize that BWCA has firepits & outhouses. On the one hand, it is nice to crap in a crapper instead of over a log w/ a hole dug deep. On the other… well … it’s nice not to be coming across outhouses! LOL!
The PMA’s as you call them… that may be an answer for us, too. We’ve briefly discussed the idea of having an outfitter fly us in on a pontoon boat, and dropping us off (the drawback to that is being ‘responsible’ to other paddlers for the air traffic & noise I’ve thus generated. :o( I have a feeling our group will over come the guilt & be willing to fly in _)
I have portaged before. Did some of that through jungle & swamp conditions in teh Atchafalaya. We understand that portaging is the ticket of admission to the area. Above, you’ll see that I anticipate “double trips” and do not want to plan on single portages (I’d rather plan for 2, but do it in one, than to plan for one, and be set way back by the necessity of having to do it twice). If a key portage is what will get us remote, I think the group would be willing to tackle that.
You really think 5 days isn’t enough? Wow. I’ll discuss w/ the group. IF (and that’s still a huge “if”) we fly in… that should save us some time. It comes down to what we can take off from work.
So, the black flies abate just a bit when you go in July? If waiting is at the expense of fishing, I’d be willing to wait a bit. Like you said, there are some fish that should bite anytime (the Pike, the smallies). If I hooked into a lake trout by some miracle, that would be a blessing, but I’m not going to plan around something like that. I know for fact that 2 of the other guys probably don’t even know how to rig a line. Our 4th, I just don’t know. I may be the only fisherman in the group. Not a priority.
Heh-heh… we’re not worried about the heat. (one guy coming from TX).
After reading your post… I’m wondering if late June wouldn’t be our best bet. That or July. The bugs actually decrease in July? Amazing. We were thinking may or june hoping to get there “before” the bugs became a MAJOR problem, but late enough that it wouldn’t be freezing (though 2 of the guys ice-climb). If the bugs abate a bit, maybe we should wait. I would think that the bugs would get progressively worse as the summer wore on, and get knocked back by cooling fall temps. Interesting.
I appreciate your time & help, and will be posting again and hope you can help me. You & Duluth have been helpful. Thanks Mattt.
Try This Again, Some Questions
Electric went out and lost my first reply! First, let me clear up a few misconceptions. There are no outhouses in the BWCAW. The latrines are un-enclosed fiberglass pots located off in the woods. The reason the USFS provides them is to help keep things sanitary. As some will attest, there are sites in Quetico where you need to watch your step back in the woods. As for the fire grates, the USFS does this simply to deter people from building fires in an area that might be unsafe (big fire a few years ago originated from someone with a campfire in an unsafe place). Now, as for “Remote,” we all define it differently. What’s your definition of crowded? I’ve found you can sometimes find remote, uncrowded areas on otherwise crowded lakes by finding campsites in deadend bays, etc. Now, MY opinion for your first time is the Gunflint Trail area. Grand Marais is a beautiful little town on Lake Superior. The Gunflint has several routes originating from it. There’s an outfitter that I’ve used and reccomended since they bought the business back in the '80’s. Hungry Jack Outfitters. Dave and Nancy are good people and will you right and steer you in the right direction without any BS. Their website also lists a FEW possible routes. I’ll put a link to them at the end of this post. I have a few routes in mind myself, but I’ll throw them out there later, after you’ve narrowed things down a bit. Hope I helped a bit! I took my first trip up there in '84 and the place still beckons me back. It’s special, and I’m certain you’ll feel the same! WW
These are my suggestions and I think #1 would be a very good scenic introductory trip for your group going through several less traveled areas. If you can't do 6 days then my suggestion to get away from the crowds a little bit is #2 in Quetico and #3 as an option in the BWCA.
1) In Quetico; out of Ely about 65 mile trip; requires Remote Border Crossing Permits; 4-5 nights, 5-6 day paddlers trip; Moose Lake put-in; Carp Lake entry through Prairie Portage; Day 1 wall to wall people and powerboats until Birch; Moose, NewFound, Sucker, check in at Prairie Portage, Birch; Night #1 Carp Lake, Day #2 nice scenic and less traveled route; Sheridan, That Man, No Man, This Man; Night #2 Other Man Lake; Day #3 find more people again Bell, Fran, Slate, Saganagons, 3 scenic falls on Malign River, Wet; Night #3 on McEwen; Day #4 will be lonely, Glacier, Turn, Edge, Rod, Dumas, Fauquier; Night #4 on beautiful Louisa Lake; Day #5 portage down Louisa Falls into Agnes, consider a refreshing dip and maasage in the plunge basin half way down the falls, Agnes, will see people again from here on in, Sunday, Bailey Bay of Basswood, Sucker, NewFound, Moose.
2) In Quetico; out of Ely; about 50 mile trip strenuous trip; requires Remote Border Crossing Permits; 4 nights, 5 days paddlers trip, no layovers; Moose Lake put-in; Agnes Lake entry through Prarie Portage; Day #1 lots of people; Moose, NewFound, Sucker, check in at Prairie Portage, Bailey Bay, Burke; Night #1 North Bay; Day #2 your choice S chain to Silence or Agnes to Silence; Night #2 on Silence; Day #3 will be lonely and strenuous; Pothole chain heading to Trant, if enough energy push on to Khashahpiwi portage from Trant to Khashapiwi is a rough one; Night #3 on Trant or Khashahpiwi; Day #4 cruise down beautiful Khashahpiwi, Side, tackle hilly portages to Isabella; Night #4 Isabella or North Bay; Day #5 North Bay, Burke, Bailey Bay, Moose Lake chain.
3) In BWCA; about a 45 mile trip; 4 nights, 5 days; You'll see people every day but shouldn't be campsite problems; Start from end of Gunflint trail out of Grand Marais; Day #1 Saganaga Night #1 west end of Saganaga; Day #2 Scenic lakes; Ottertrack, Ester, Hanson, Cherry; Night #2 on Cherry; Day #3 Topaz, Amoeber, South Arm Knife; Night #3 S Arm Knife; Day #4 Eddy, Jenny, Ogoskemuncie, Jasper; Night #4 on Jasper; Day #5 Alpine, SeaGull, back to parking lot.
I’m finding that
the BWCA isn’t as “remote” as I’d like for it to be. There are a LOT of people making their living by bringing people in. That tells me that there are a lot of people in the BWCA at any given time. That said… of course, it is a HUGE area.
You ask how I define “remote/crowded”? I’d like to go in, and not see anyone else the whole time I’m there. That simple. I’d be disappointed to be in the wilderness, approach a site, only to find folks already there… or, to have folks do the same…or, to see canoes “just ahead” on the same route I’m taking… or, to have to wait en portage for others.
I’m fond of areas where we don’t see people.
I need a map, and some time to look over and locate areas that people refer me to. As yet, these are just “names without meaning” to me and I need to figure out where places are that I read about online and in the BWJournal mag.
Thanks for your help, and I will definitely be back to ask for more guidance!
Good to have you back on this board WW
The BWCAW is definitely not as quiet as it used to be. My 1st trip was a 10 day trip in '84, and MOST days we didn’t see people. You can still get that, but you have to go early or late. Between ice-out and the fishing opener and late September-mid October. Both times you could expect cool-cold weather and possible snow so swimming would definitely be out. I usually stay on the US side of the border, so I can’t help much with Quetico, except the areas immediately north of Saganaga area. A couple other areas you might check on are Atikaki and Woodland Caribou Provincial Parks in Manitoba. I checked into them years ago, but love the BWCAW so much, I rarely went anywhere else for 20 years. I’m pretty fortunate in that I have the oppurtunity to go days without seeing anyone here on our farm if I choose to, so soltitude isn’t as impotrtant to me as it used to be. You might also pose this question on Canadian Canoe Routes. http://www.myccr.com/ Seems like a decent collection of wilderness trippers there, and soltitude is definitely easier to find north of the border these days. Good luck! WW