need advice on BW

I want to paddle Boundary waters for 7-10 days and look for solitude, and peace. I have a kayak. Should I go early June or September? and any great routes I should do.I can’t go earlier because I am planning a kayak trip from Browsville, TX to Key West early in the year.

Also I will be towing my house (a 5th wheel) and need to leave it somewhere safe–Any ideas and costs. Sure appreciate any advice for the guy from Houston

For a trip that long if you’re looking to get off the beaten path, I’d recommend taking a canoe. Kayaks are not that fun the the BWCA. You could park your 5th wheeler near Sawbill Outfitters, and I suspect it would be safe. You may want to check with them before hand.

kayak verse canoe
I appreciate the advise about a canoe but I am a kayak man. A bit like trying to convert a Packers fan to a Cowboys fan–Ain’t going to happen. Also I am then driving over to Vancouver and go paddle with some Orcas–Not a great idea in an open canoe. But thanks for the heads up Nigel

Early June and September should not be too crowded. I’ve been in areas and did not see another person for three days in even mid June. Especially away from entry points, after a couple of poratges, and, especially starting mid week as opposed to Friday or Saturdays (I always begin my trips on a weekday with Tuesday or Wednesday preferred). Early June is great, but can be alive with biting (black) flies and, maybe mosquitoes (depends on the weather). The public parking lot at Sawbill would be a good place to park your fifth wheel. Free and I’ve had cars parked there many times over the years and have never heard of any problems. It is relatively large, well used, and has the outfitters store just across the road. The only people that use it are canoe trippers. Or, pay a small daily fee at an outfitters (I’d guess $5 a day). Most are very accomidating.

A kayak for that long would be difficult. That is a lot of gear to carry in the yak and you’d have to portage it sometimes a long ways (mile) on uneven, rocky and sometimes marshy and tree blow down trails. A canoe affords more space for gear and, especially, food. And, in my opinion, is easier to portage.

Lot of routes out of Sawbill. Their web site has some real good suggestions. Most outfitters have route suggestions on their sites. Just web em’.

You can do it in a yak, but a canoe would be much more comfortable IMO.

Repeat what others said
Go with a canoe. If you take your kayak, you’ll have problems getting off the beaten path to get the solitude you’re after. Note that it is perfectly possible to paddle a solo tripping canoe with a double-bladed (kayak) paddle, so you don’t have to learn how to handle a solo blade. The outfitter should have one available, probably ~235-240 cm. Some of the tripping solo canoes have very low seats too, similar to the kayak.

There is a reason this part of the world (the Canadian Shield) is called “canoe country” and a reason the kayak was developed for coastal waters. Your kayak would be great at paddling the big lakes, but it isn’t very good at carrying across the portages between lakes. It is the portages that keep the masses away from you. If you are positive you want to keep to your kayak, one alternative is the big border lakes between Canada and the US. Lots of water without a lot of portages, but you’ll compete with boats and some float planes. Another alternative is Voyageur National Park.


No problem
No problem. You could always bring your kayak and rent a canoe. Plus, with a kayak, you can head out on Superior.

Make sure before you head in you have a solid and tested portaging system for your kayak.

Definitely take your kayak. Portages
will be a little less efficient, but that’s offset by your greater experience in your kayak.

And don’t go in June. The bugs can be ferocious. We still had blackflies even in early July. September is relatively bug-free. Might be stormy, but in a kayak, you’re less likely to get stranded on windy days.

kayak Vs canoe
I just don’t get the idea of a kayak being such a bad idea in Boundary Waters. Mine is a kevlar 17 foot model weighing in at 42 pounds. I have portaged it miles in Canada without any problems. I feel very comfortable in it in any weather. I grew up on one of the windiest coast in the world–Perth in Western Australia -and have paddled kayaks for 20 years. My take is it doesn’t matter realy what you paddle as long as you are out on the water enjoying God’s country like Boundary Waters and not sitting in an office somewhere wishing you were out there. Sure appreciate all the advise though G’day Nigel

A week in the BWCA in a Kayak?
For solitude you want to get off the trail. That means portages. Lots of them. Get a solo canoe. There is a good reason you see few if no kayaks in the BWCA. Its called portaging.

If you are planning to

paddle in Vancouver, there are tons of

places to paddle that aren’t nearly as

crowded as BWCA between Lake Superior and

western BC. Check CCR. Then you can get away

from the crowds without too much portaging.

Take your yak, but be aware
that you will experience some frustration on portages.

Do equip yourself with a kayak-specific clamp-on yoke. Some portages are long enough that one-shoulder carrys are out of the question.

Your frustration will manifest itself in packing and unpacking your boat for the portages. Some routes have portages that are only 100 yards apart. Canoes are much easier to deal with, quicker to load with one pack and one food pack.

If speed at portages is not an issue, by all means use your kayak.


People do it
Nigel, people do it and they always seem to not enjoy the portages. With the right route selection, you can minimize portages, which will make a kayaking trip in the BWCA much more enjoyable. But, when you use routes with minimal portages, you end up in areas that are pretty popular.

The routes that put you into remote areas are the ones with tough portages that occur often. You may end up paddling for just 5 to 10 minutes between portages. And I’m sure you know the routine for portaging a kayak: unload the hatches, put the gear in a pack of some type, carry the gear across, come back for the kayak, load the hatches, shove off. Doing this little operation seven to ten times a day takes much time.

With a canoe, it’s much easier, because you don’t have to unload a pack/hatches and reload the hatches at every portage. It’s easier, because you just throw the pack on and go. With my 32 pound Magic, and a pack load of under 25 pounds, I just single portage.

Is taking a kayak doable? Yes. Will it be fun? Yes. Is it the best way to explore the waters in the BWCA? Maybe, depending on how much loading and unloading many times a day bothers you.

For a location that would work for kayaking, consider running the border route. Until the Long Portage, there is very little portaging to do. Start in Voyageurs and head east.

I hope we’re not sounding too negitive about kayaks, it’s just that we’ve spent a ton of time in the BWCA and know how it goes. At any rate, if you’re in the area and want to chat, drop me a line.

Welcome to the BWCA
I agree with those on the canoe side but you have experience and I have not got the yak experience. The two months you selected are not the best for the BWCA. June is bug month, they are just waking up after a long winter nap and are iching to get iching. Sept is a wet, cloudy, bluster month. It can be nice too, timing is the key with lots of luck. Check out Robert Bymeyers book on trips in the BWCA.

Good luck

you might try taking a collapsable kayak cart–two wheels and an axle–to help with the portages—mine comes apart and can be stowed on top or in the hatches----if the terrain you were portaging over were relativly smooth it would make it a lot easier. you wouldn’t have to unpack the kayak just put the stern on the cart, cinch it down and pull the kayak by the bow handle. wouldn’t work over real rocky terrain but my experience here in Maine is that most portage trails are relatively smooth(there are exceptions) What are they like in the BW?

Not allowed
These are not allowed in the BWCA. Plus, they wouldn’t work on most of the portages. They’re just too rough for wheels.

Voyageurs National Park - Kayaking!
Things to think about when heading up there in no particular order when heading for Voyageurs National Park:

Most of the campsites have rock landings or dock access. The docks are high and near impossible to get out of a sea kayak at them. I think we came across three or four sites with sand landings the entire time. Therefore, you will have to get wet, although most are shallow enough (knee deep) for the average person to get out with the help of a paddle float and wade in. If you have an ultra $$$ fiber boat you will get it scratched up. I used some cheap roof rack foam blocks to pull the boat up over the rocks and rest the boat on.

There are black bears - a whole lot of them. They wont bother you if you dont bother them. Keep your food locked and out of reach. I cannot stress this enough. Bears are shot and killed if they become a pest to campers. So protect them by not feeding them anything.

You will need an excellent map (McKenzie Maps are the best) and compass - period. You say,“I never get lost”, well you will up here. The islands all look the same from your point of view and the buoys are never the same on the map, well most of the time.

Beavers will scare you out of you boat as you paddle. I heard they have more beaver than anywhere in the world. They will slap their tail on the water and swim under. Watch out for buried beaver damns along the shore lines.

There is a small fee for camping anywhere in the park. Make sure you have your permits. We were checked 2 times during the 10-day trip by the park rangers for permits. They are wonderful people and ready to help in anyway.

Campsites are amazing! Most have picnic tables and firepits (ya, like paddlers need fire pits :)).

Plenty of houseboats landing along your path to stop and have a break or lunch. Almost all of those are sand landings, but no privy.

Bring a portable marine band radio, if you have one. Cannot remember the night, but someone broadcasts trivia over the radio. Oh, and it can save your life too.

Very cheap vacation, if you already have the gear :).

Need to filter drinking water or boil. Brought the hiker pro and worked great!

There are a number of great outfitters up there that can help you out. They can take you out to anywhere and drop you off and you can make your way back if you want to save some time.

Parking at the national park lot(s) are free and the camp fee is self-serve pay box. Park the car in a spot that is not in the way of others when you go out for long trips. Hide a key somewhere on your car with a magnet; trust me, finding a key in sand is hell. Dont leave a note on the car saying when you will be back. Tell the ranger station or someone like your mom at home.

Weather radio is necessary. Most weather will come from the west and you should be able to predict a bad storm coming in, but they can surprise you fast. We had super strong winds come out of nowhere and just made it into the tent.

Wear things that can dry fast, although you already knew that. Some areas are tree covered and hard to find sun to dry out things until afternoon.

Fishing requires permits. You will need one for Minnesota and one for Canada if you plan on fishing both. I have been told by a number of people it is the best fishing in the world.

If you plan on going to Canada, you will need to fill out some paperwork before crossing over the border. We had fun paddle in two different countries side by side, but you can get into trouble for entering without the proper paperwork. We did not see any border patrols the entire time, not to say there is none.

Kettle Falls - if you stay in the Inn (which I HIGHLY recommend for long trips) they will send down golf carts to bring ALL your gear up except the boats. So do not carry it all up just walk up and enjoy the place and food and moose drool. We had some great conversation on the awesome porch. Food is great and worth it. They charge a small fee for the portage, worth every penny. The portage is a hike with sea kayaks and gear, let them do the work and have some lunch at the Inn. The rooms are very clean and the shower(s) are down the hall. No A/C either but didnt notice even at 88 degrees out.

You can get stuck on the islands from bad winds/waves. Plan ahead and come off early.

Stay near shore lines to avoid being hit by power boats. I had to powerboaters ask me for directions.

Fun places to explore along the way.

No portages! Well one short one, the other you can pay to have your kayak moved. There are a number of interior lakes only accessable by trail. Some have rowboats there already.

Interior trails you will see more wildlife and it is so quiet you can here yourself think!

Yes, you can snowmobile the whole place.

The privies rule and are cleaned weekly by the rangers.

The place is HUGE!

Anderson bay, Mica Bay places to see.

Rainy Lake side has less traffic but more open to winds.

I am not sure what I started but I sure appreciate all this great advise. I have 5 months off in the summer, plus even more importantly–the wife’s permission to go paddling. Believe it or not, I am going to try and do them all. I am setting up a trip plan from Houston to Northern British Columbia and this will be one great 2008. Have kayak and RV will travel. I might have to throw on a solo canoe as suggested. I have about 4 years experience up in Canada in one so should be OK. Any other spots to get wet for a week or so? G’day Nigel

Not too far from the eastern side of the BWCA is Pukasaw Provincial Park. Pukasaw would be a great place to spend a week.

Lots of nice day trip on MN shore of Lake Superior if you head into the eastern side of the BWCA, you’re pretty much on Superior. There is the Lake Superior Water Trail, which runs from Duluth to Grand Portage. Suzy Islands are cool. Apostle Islands in WI. Too many places to paddle in the area – it’d be hard to squeeze it in.

…and don’t get me started on how great Georgian Bay is on Lake Huron. That’s only a short 14 hours away from Grand Marais.

Voyageur’s is nice, but if you are looking for solitude, go to the BWCAW instead, or better yet, Quetico Provincial Park across the border. Although September weather is unpredictable, it has been a favored time for experienced Boundry Waters paddlers to avoid the crowds. The bugs are almost always gone as are the crowds.

The water temperatures in the lakes will be a lot warmer in September than June. The water level in the rivers, however will likely be a lot lower, if you are planning a trip involving river travel.

I both canoe and kayak. I wouldn’t plan to take a kayak to the Boundry Waters myself, for the reasons that have been well-described, but there certainly isn’t any reason you can’t do it. If I had a kayak, I would probably head for one of the big lakes in Quetico like Agnes, where you could spend the best part of a week paddling and exploring without any portaging at all.

If you take your kayak, make sure that you have some type of pack sack that you can put all your food and toiletries in so that you can easily hang them up at night rather than having to individually hang up multiple dry sacks. You will need the same for portaging.

I have decided to take most of the advice in this thread and rent a single canoe. Something inside my nature hates throwing money at rental stuff but this might be the right answer—so no registration BS for my kayak–that realy sucks but that is another topic. (But I can say we spend billions trying to get obese Americans to loose weight but tax and hinder excercise like paddling–go figure) so I will see you all next summer in God’s Country–Looking forward to it but feeling a little guilty contributing to making such a cool place even more popular

G’day Nigel