How to Choose a Canoe Camping Campsite
Location, location, location
Selecting a good canoe camping campsite is the most important part of a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area or Quetico. When asked what is remembered most about a canoe trip, the campsite is what is most often mentioned, so be sure it is a good one. If a bad campsite is selected, the canoe trip will very easily be remembered as a bad experience just because of the poor campsite selection.
In high-use areas, especially in July, look for a canoe campsite at least by mid-afternoon or you may be out of luck! Travel early for best campsite selection; doing it in the dark is no fun. Campsites off the main canoe routes or in back bays are more likely to be available and will be quieter. But watch those bays, they can be loaded with bugs! If you don’t have rocks in front of the campsite, you will probably have bugs in the site.
Setting up camp on small islands well away from shore usually helps provide a breeze to keep mosquitoes away. Exposed points also are good for this, but they also expose your camp to higher winds if a storm comes up. Tents should be set up in protected areas to avoid wind exposure but away from large trees to reduce the chance of injury from lightning strikes. It is common for lightning to strike a tree, the bolt travel down the tree trunk and then fan out on its extensive root system. Tents pitched beyond this root system are more safely positioned.
Observe campsite topography to avoid pitching the tent in depressions that could fill with water in a heavy rain. Look for level tent sites away from the fire grate, a tarp under your tent should keep you dry, don’t let excess go more than a couple of inches past tent though. Watch for, and avoid tenting under, widow makers (loose limbs or leaning trees that might fall in a wind).
Never make campsite “improvements.” It is illegal in a wilderness area, and detracts from the nature of the site. If you stumble upon one of these “KOA sites” in a busy area, avoid it. They get used by the first-timers almost every night. The regularly used sites, in busy areas, are the prime target for camp raiding bears.