Canoe Trip FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
Over the years, we’ve heard many of the same canoe trip FAQs being asked again and again, so for your convenience, we’ve put the answers all in one place.
Click to see the answer slide down, click again to slide it back up.
The boundary waters, the border waters, the border lakes, the Canadian waters, the canoe country, the wilderness waters, and the north country, all are used to refer to the lakes laying along the Minnesota / Ontario International Border. Generically, if talking about the entire area, any of these would be correct.
There are, however, actually two governments involved, and two totally separate areas: The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the United States side, and Quetico Provincial Park on the Canadian side. Normally, the US side is referred to the BWCA, and the Canadian side is referred to as Quetico (QWIH-tih-co).
Oh, and by the way, the little Minnesota town laying in the middle of the southern edge of the BWCA is pronounced E-lee as in REALLY (not E-lie, nor EL-lee).
Carved by glaciers at the dawn of recorded time, the canoe country is a wilderness of lakes and forests stretching for 150 miles in northeast Minnesota along the Canadian border, between Lake Superior and Voyageurs National Park. These waters, first paddled by the Sioux and Ojibway Indians, were later explored by Europeans like Groseillers, and de Noyon. In the summer of 1660 Pierre Radison wrote “Out there we were kings, the richest men in all the world!” Portages between the lakes used by the French trappers and voyageurs of the Hudson’s Bay Company remain unchanged.
Your canoe will glide silently past beaver working on their dams and lodges as you journey through their timeless domain. White and yellow waterlilies blossom along these waterways just as they did when the English and French traders paddled this network of lakes and streams. The bald eagles and loons seen by native Americans centuries are still regular sights. At the waters’ edge are the moose and deer which roam the north country. Along these shorelines you might spot mink, otter, black bear, bobcat, pine martin, fox, and if you are very lucky … you might even catch a glimpse of a North American grey timberwolf.
You will paddle through lakes and rivers that show endless variety. Some lakes are over 20 miles long and 250 feet deep. Others have turned into shallow marsh ponds. Cliffs rise 200 feet over some waters; white sand beaches border a few. Rocky islands and peninsulas are common landmarks for paddlers. Waterfalls and rapids roar as water passes from one lake to the next. To bypass these hazards you will trade places with your canoe: now you must carry it rather than it carrying you. After traversing the portage (French for “the carrying place”), you will again paddle the waterways which would eventually lead you to Hudson’s Bay.
Waterfalls, pine and birch forests, and sheer rock cliffs form beautiful backdrops in this photographer’s paradise. Whether your interests are that of the fisherman, naturalist, camper/canoeist, historian, or photographer, you will be fully prepared for your north country wilderness experience.
Speaking of fishing, the cool crystal clear waters of the north country can provide fishing that is beyond compare. Whether you work your lure along rocky shores or in weedy bays, you will be rewarded with the finest freshwater game fishing in North America. If a delicious dinner of golden brown filets is your idea of good eating, then take advantage of the abundant walleye which prowl the rocky lake bottoms and submerged reefs. Cunning largemouth bass lie in log filled bays of some special lakes ready for a pole bending fight. Savage northern pike are waiting to tear into your tackle. And the cold waters found during spring and fall trips hold tasty lake trout in the shallows. But the experts all agree that the scrappy smallmouth bass found along rock ledges and below waterfalls are reason enough to fish the transparent lakes of the north country.
As part of the Superior National Forest, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is federally protected to preserve this national heritage and make a rare wilderness experience available to those who occasionally feel the need to escape to a different kind of life; life in the outdoors, unfettered by most man-made improvements. The BWCA, itself, is preserved in a natural state without roads, shelters, electricity, telephones, trash cans, or other amenities offered in most camping areas. As part of the National Wilderness System, the BWCA is the only lakeland wilderness area in the country.
Just over the international border with Canada is Quetico Provincial Park. Visitors can paddle between the two canoeing areas after making a pre-trip Canadian Customs Clearance application (not required for fly-in trips). Also, it is necessary to make a stop at a Park Ranger Station when entering. The areas are similar in appearance and operation, but the camping fees are significantly higher on the Canadian side.
NOTE: Passports are required for re-entry into the United States.
NOTE: Parties entering Canada (other than by floatplane) must have an RABC Border Crossing Permit issued by Canada Immigration.
Full information can be had from the Canadian Government at: http://www.cbsa.gc.ca/prog/canpass/rabc-pfre/menu-eng.html#c03
For the first time paddler, there is very little difference between the two areas. What can be found on one side of the border can also be found on the other side … good or bad. The walleye are not bigger in the BWCA, the smallmouth are not smaller. The eagles don’t fly lower, and the moose are not easier to photograph. Neither side is busier … that is far more a function of the specific entry location (see Question 13). There are entry points with quotas as high as 14 to 27 parties a day on the US side, and as high as 15 on the Canadian side. There are entry quotas as low as 1 per day on both sides. Going farther north doesn’t mean a thing. Just as one would travel south to go from Detroit, Michigan to Windsor, Ontario, so too is it possible to travel south from points in the BWCA to enter Quetico. Both sides have isolated solitude & busy areas, abundant wildlife (or the lack thereof), as well as good fishing (and sometimes, mostly due to weather, poor fishing).
Quetico Provincial Park makes up the northern half of this international canoe country. Routes in Quetico differ slightly from the U.S. side (not better and not worse). Portages and campsites are a little more rugged because the park does not have portage crew teams managing the area to specific wilderness standards as is done in the BWCA. Our experience has lead us to believe the Canadian side has slightly better lake trout fishing, while the U.S. side has slightly better walleye. Smallmouth bass and northern pike are about the same on both sides of the border. Fishing limits are smaller on the Canadian side; almost all live bait is prohibited.
The biggest difference is the per night, per person, camping fee charged to visitors of Quetico Park, versus the per trip, per person, camping fee in the BWCA. Canadian paddle-in trips (ie: not flying) require that all individuals, 18 and over, to obtain a Customs clearance 45 days in advance of the trip. The cost is CN$30, each. Youth must be listed on an attached roster form and submitted with the adults’ application.
All paddle-in canoe trips going into Quetico Park from the Ely area funnel through Prairie Portage. There are 15 parties daily. At “Prairie” you will pay your camping fees, and purchase your non-resident Ontario fishing licenses. Prairie Portage is reached by a 6-mile paddle up the Moose Lake Chain (see Moose Lake Entry in the U.S. portion of this section). Most parties reach the portage about lunch time. From here, the entry points lie in three different directions: East to Carp Lake, North to Agnes, Kahshahipiwi, and Sarah, and West to Basswood River via Basswood Lake.
Unlike the Boundary Waters Entry Points which can all be reached via a van trip or directly from our docks, Quetico Park has some entry points which are reached via float plane. These trips start on Lac La Croix Lake. There are several entry points located on these two lakes from which directional travel begins. Because a landing is made at the Canadian Customs Station on Sand Point Lake (enroute), no advance customs clearance is necessary. This cost savings can be applied towards the charter aircraft rate on your budget.
It is whatever kind of outdoor experience you want it to be:
- A fishing trip
- A chance to experience solitude in God’s forest
- A chance for deeper bonding with a spouse or child
- A lengthy trip challenging the elements and your endurance.
- It can even be all of these things . . . in proportionate measure.
There is nothing that HAS TO BE DONE in a certain way. Canoe trips can be for:
- Any length of time
- Any distance
- Any degree of difficulty
- Tailored for almost any interest
Trips may start directly from our dock by just paddling away, riding out to a drop point by boat, or flying-off to Canada. Others start with a van ride to another entry point and paddling from there. Routes may return back to the starting point or to another pick-up location. Many work their way back to our lakeside base. This precludes having to set a pick-up time; rarely a problem, but certainly a consideration.
Travel patterns are left up to the individual parties pre-trip desires. One party may want to go out for 7 days, and have only one campsite. They plan to take day trips to various lakes each day, and return each afternoon to the same camp. Their sole reason for being on the trip is to catch walleye. A second party may want to be out 5 days, and be in a different campsite every night. In the morning, they will drop the tents, pack up, and head off to a new location. No one in this party is interested in fishing at all. A third party may want a 9 day trip, traveling every other day, having a layover on days #2, #4, #6, an #8. They want to do some fishing for smallmouth and northern pike, see some wildlife, swim below a waterfalls, and take a chance on staying up late to maybe see the northern lights. All of these trips have very valid goals, but they are totally different travel plans.
Most trips involve several portages (moving your gear and canoe from one lake to another) each day. Portages range from a few feet to a quarter mile; a “long portage” may extend up to a half mile. They take some effort to do as they are usually up or down hill to the next lake.
A travel day usually involves from four to six hours of paddling to get to your next campsite. For first time canoe trippers, we suggest having a few layovers. This allows for fishing and exploring without having to take-down and set-up camp. Greater distances can be covered as there is no gear to carry on portages. After a full day on the water, parties can then return to their camp, have dinner, watch the campfire and the stars, and turn-in.
Just like going to Europe where one can see 15 cities in 6 days or spend all 6 days in the Scottish Highlands, paddlers can try to do it all, or concentrate one specific area on a more relaxed pace. Of the two, we recommend a more relaxed schedule. After all, you can get a hectic pace while staying at home!
Naturally we, at North Country, want you to take your canoe trip with us. We also fully realize that no one individual outfitter can be all things to all people. For that reason, we have outlined a few areas you might want to consider when selecting the outfitter that’s right for you.
For every person that dips a paddle into one of our sparkling lakes, there is a particular set of reasons for taking a canoe trip. Quite often. members of the same party want different things from their wilderness experience. And that is how it should be. The outfitter you choose should be in a position to take all of those reasons into account, and be able to discuss them as he plans your trip with you.
It is very important to actually talk to your prospective outfitter. And when you initially talk to an outfitter (whether at a sport show or on the telephone) does he actually ask what you were looking for?
Does he start talking about beginning a trip from a particular lake, or into a specific area, without really knowing your unique circumstances?
How close is he going to be when it comes time to design your route around your expectations and ability level?
There are thousands of lakes in the north country; each one is unique. Some are good on one occasion, others may be better for another trip
If you would like some guidance in how to pick out the best outfitter, please visit our guide How to Pick the Best Outfitter.
The answer to this question should best come from our customers, not from us. Almost any business that has remained successful after the first three to five years probably has achieved that mark through repeat customers. We hear many comments from past guests as they book their second trip with us (or fifth, fifteenth, or twenty-fifth). We would say, however, that the single reason we hear from most of our customers as to why the chose us to again outfit their trip is our individual, personalized, pre-trip customer service. We make every effort to match your trip expectations to the areas and lakes that will provide the best outdoor experience for you. We pick your entry point and design your trip route around you; we don’t fit your party into an “off the shelf” trip that is convenient for us.
Experts? NO! But this should not be the first time you have been in a canoe or slept in a tent pitched other than in the back yard.
If you have mastered the basic camping skills of setting up and sleeping in a tent, along with boiling water over a camp stove or wood fire, you are well on your way to being ready to go.
Elementary map reading skills are handy, but can be picked-up quickly.
While you don’t have to be an accomplished canoeist, a few hours of practice on a local lake or park pond is highly recommended. Your first day on the canoe trails shouldn’t be your first time in a canoe.
We think it is very important that participants:
- Know how to swim.
- Know basic first aid skills
- Are in average physical fitness for their age
- Have average outdoor skills in evaluating weather and water level conditions, and understand how these conditions will effect camping and canoeing
- Have an understanding of their party member’s strengths and weaknesses, physically, as well as in their canoeing and camping skills, and their mental fitness for the trip
The big thing here is that you give us an honest evaluation of your camping and canoeing skills … beginner, novice, advanced, or ready for the “Iron Man Eco-Survival and Endurance Challenge”. Don’t inflate or diminish your skill level. You are not hiring us to be impressed or to be judgmental about your background.
If there is anything else you are unsure about, just ask … it is our business to assist you in preparing for your trip.
Once in a while, someone will tell us, “We want stringers full of record sized fish, get deep in the woods but no portages, see a lot of the area and lots of wildlife while staying in one campsite … and we need to come when it won’t rain!” Well, that trip only exists in their mind’s eye. Those who feel “roughing it” is when room service is late with the morning paper, probably wouldn’t enjoy the border lakes country.
For the most part, our clients are just regular folks, but they are “special” regular folks. They are ones who reach out and grab Life before it goes by. They are not whiners; if something doesn’t go as planned, they re-group and alter their plan. They set realistic goals about their trip. If they want to be on a lake by themselves, they are prepared to venture farther than the average guy. If fishing is the prime reason for being here, they come when the fishing is traditionally best. For the folks that want to venture out on a 75 mile journey in 10 days, they know in advance that they won’t be spending three hours fishing after getting-up at 8AM. And for parents who take their trips with elementary school age kids, they think about warm water and good weather: great for swimming, but weak for fishing.
Most successful canoe trips take some physical effort. Sure, there are routes that stay close-in and can work with just one campsite. But not portaging into back country lakes will leave you with the rest of the folks who didn’t want to portage; chances are you won’t have the lake to yourself. As for fishing, we have some of the best in the world … but that doesn’t mean one only has to open a tackle box and the fish will line-up to jump into the canoe. Some knowledge and practice goes a long way.
First of all, you know your children far better than we could ever hope to. Secondly, every child is different. And third, you must evaluate your own trip goals and consider whether your children would fit into that picture.
As a general rule of thumb, we would say that most children should be of school age before they go on a canoe trip. We have had people try it with toddlers that were still in diapers. We were scared to death the entire time they were out, and the parents didn’t have a very good time. Beyond the toddler age (which is more of a safety consideration), pre-schoolers generally do not have attention spans that are long enough to avoid getting bored while mom and dad paddle. They also need to be watched ALL THE TIME in camp. We have had a few successful trips with pre-schoolers, but they were only two- or three-nighters, and the children had spent a lot of time camping with mom and dad prior to coming up.
Once a child is in kindergarten, attention spans start to stretch out to a usable length. By paddling along the shoreline when traveling (which is a good safety tip, anyway), they see a constantly changing environment, and don’t get bored. We tell parents with children in the 5- to 11-year-old range, that they are going on the child’s canoe trip. We would plan travel times and difficulty levels around the child. Activities would center on what the child likes to do.
We outfit literally hundreds of Boy Scouts in the 11- to 17-year-old range each summer. When children reach junior high, they have the physical ability and mental stamina to go on an adult’s canoe trip. Sure, we have to temper travel plans to take them into consideration, but for the most part, they can handle it. Upon reaching 15- to 16-years-of-age, they can do more than most adults. Unfortunately, they usually do not have the life experiences needed to always make sound safety judgments. That is why we insist that an adult ALWAYS be present on a canoe trip
A fly-in canoe trip is an experience like no other. From the moment you climb into a DeHavilland “Beaver” or “Otter”, or Cessna float plane … to the silence when it flies out of sight after leaving you on a remote Canadian lake … the start of your canoe trip will live in your memory for years. A fly-in trip gives you a grasp of the magnitude of the wilderness as it spreads out before you.
A fly-in, by nature, can get you into less traveled areas. For instance, the La Croix Ranger Station (fly-in) has about one-third the number of paddlers starting there as does the Prairie Portage Ranger Station (paddle-in). You can choose from a short 5-day trip with only two camps, to a full 10 to 12- day trip taking you deep into the heart of Quetico Park. About one third of our parties opt for flying-out; the others are picked up at a remote landing on the U.S.-side for a van ride back to our base.
The fishing pressure is significantly reduced, so larger fish are regularly caught (and released). As a testament to the fishing quality, on a few lakes you might even catch a glimpse of a Canadian/Ojibway Indian fishing guide plying his ancestral trade. The Ontario government still allows their natives to guide from small boats versus paddled canoes. Should you want to set-up a remote tent base camp outside of Quetico Park, we can supply motorized square stern canoes for your fishing adventure.
Now, with that said, you should not, by any means, infer that you have to get on a float plane to have a good trip. Or that if you don’t fly you won’t have a chance at catching larger than average fish. Or that if you want to get away from people that you have to pay the additional cost of chartering a float plane. These things simply are not true. We are simply stating that these things are easier to achieve with a fly-in trip.
Upon your arrival here at the base, we’ll discuss fishing on a lake by lake basis as we map out your trip route. Our information is updated daily by our staff on their days off and customers as they return from their trips. Here’s a few tips to think about:
You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment or bulky tackle boxes. Be sure to check our suggested basic tackle section of the What To Bring list. For your convenience, we maintain a good selection of productive lures in the correct sizes and colors for the specific lakes of your route. These are adjusted weekly, as the season changes, based on reported fishing activity. Additionally, live bait (night crawlers and ribbon leeches) is highly recommended.
Northern Pike are probably the most aggressive fish in the north country. They hunt for food in the morning and evening … this is the time to work creek mouths and narrow entrances to bays. Try surface lures. During midday, troll shorelines with medium to deep running plugs and spoons. Run your lure about halfway between the surface and the bottom. More on fishing for Northerns here.
Smallmouth Bass are pound for pound the toughest fighter in the north country. Worms, frogs, minnows, and crayfish are on the primary menu for bronze backs. Bass usually strike from below their target, so run a little shallower with your lures. Topwaters are (by far) the best for morning and evening if the water is flat. Midday, bass are not very active, but trolling a minnow-like lure in 8-12 feet of water will sometimes induce a strike. More on Bass fishing here.
Walleye are one of the finest tasting game fish in North America. Males get up to the 2 pound (+) size, and females can grow to as much as 12 pounds in our cool northern waters. In spring, fish the breaklines or around gentle rapids, using a jig and leech, or dead-slow with a minnow-like lure. In fact, if you fish the current below rapids, don’t retrieve at all. Keep lifting the rod tip and let the current do the work. More on fishing for Walleye here.
Remember: fish are a renewable resource … there’s no problem as long as everyone plays by the rules and lets nothing go to waste.
In most cases, our customers leave that up to us.
But before you think you must blindly go where we tell you, let us assure you that is far from the way we handle a trip.
Unless you have had several trips to the Boundary Waters or Quetico Park, chances are your understanding and perceptions of the area are based on something you have read or have been told. Your understanding is probably accurate for the most part, but there is the possibility that there may be a few errors or seasonal considerations. Perceptions, however, are usually wrong.
In almost every case where you’ve heard that an area is “better”, or has lighter use, or has better fishing, or more wildlife, or fewer portages … we can probably show you another area that will top it. The reason is that there is no one “BEST” area. Two common examples are:
If you want to see fewer people, go to Quetico Park. The basis of that statement is true: per square mile, Quetico has a lower total quota for the daily number of parties entering the park than does the BWCA. In practice, however, we would say it strictly depends on which two entry points you are comparing. To paddle into Quetico Park, all parties must pass through an area ranger station such as Prairie Portage. There are 15 parties every day that must check in at that one spot before moving off towards one of five directional entry points. The vast majority of parties exiting the park will also pass through the Prairie Portage location. This “funneling” concentrates the numbers of people that you will encounter. On the BWCA side, there is no ranger station requirement. If the Quota is 27, that’s how many parties start there. If the quota is one or two, that’s how many parties will start there. So, it is strictly a matter of quotas as to where you will see more or fewer people.
Once in a while, we will get a phone call that goes something like this: “My uncle knows a fellow at work who has a son that started at XYZ Lake and he camped on an island. He really liked his trip. We want to go there, too.” The problem comes up when we take into account that every party is different. One may want to be out five days, they want one campsite, and they want to catch smallmouth bass. Another party wants to be out seven days, they want a new campsite every night, they aren’t going to fish at all, and they want to see wildlife and waterfalls. And the third party wants to be out six days, have three or four campsites, do a little fishing, and really want to be by themselves. All three trips are very valid, but none of them are in the same place, and we haven’t even mentioned paddling abilities. Getting back to the “XYZ Lake” recommendation, the boy was with his Scout Troop, and the party that is telling us that’s where they want to go are two couples in their mid-40’s.
We feel it is far better if the outfitter actually asks the party about ability levels, travel desires, activity expectations, and party make-up. Then, by applying their professional expertise, make a recommendation based on what the party has in mind. While it may still be “XYZ Lake,” it could be Little Indian Sioux River, Mudro Lake, Moose Lake, Island River, Farm Lake, or a fly-in to Lac La Croix or Beaverhouse.
We utilize 24 entry points into the BWCA, and 11 into Quetico Park. They are all different … but, then, so are each of our parties.
We normally consider all of the options based on the entry points that have not been previously reserved at the time we receive the reservation. We then secure the most appropriate permit through the US Forest Service (for the BWCA) or the Ministry of Natural Resources (for Quetico Park). At that point, the planning process stops until your arrival at our base. Then, armed with the most current information available, we will discuss the entire area with you, pointing out specific highlights and drawbacks. You then evaluate that briefing and tell us what sounds best to you and your party. Then, with waterproof colored pens we plan out a route, marking the best campsites, the best spots to fish, where you should see wildlife, where the special scenic spots are to be found, and how to go about locating the portages along the way. We also give you an approximate timeline so that you finish the route on the same day you want finish your trip … not a day early because it was too short, or a day late because it was too long.
Yes. This, of course, would be a base camp type trip where all nights would be spent at the same campsite, returning to the original entry point for pick-up. There are several entry points that lead directly to campsites on the initial lake and do not require additional portaging. We use the following:
United States – Boundary Waters Canoe Area
- #22 – Mudro Lake – No Motors Allowed – One campsite
- #24 – Fall Lake – Motorboat Use Allowed – 6 campsites.
- #25 – Moose Lake – Motorboat Use Allowed – 5 campsites. Leads to two additional motor use lakes with a total of 23 campsites.
- #27 – Snowbank Lake – Motorboat Use Allowed – 6 campsites.
- #30 – Lake One – No Motors Allowed – 12 campsites.
- #31 – Farm Lake (Kawishiwi River) – No Motors Allowed – One campsite.
- #31 – Farm Lake (South Farm Lake) – Motorboat Use Allowed – Two campsites.
- #32 – South Kawishiwi River – No Motors Allowed – 4 campsites.
- #33 – Little Gabbro Lake – No Motors Allowed – 2 campsites. (Requires 1/2 mile portage to/from the unloading spot to the lake).
- #35 – Isabella Lake – No Motors Allowed – 10 campsites.
Canada – Quetico Park
- Prairie Portage: Carp Lake – 7 campsites.
- Lac La Croix Fly-in/out: McAree Lake – 2 campsites.
CAUTION: It is possible on lakes that have only one or two campsites, that all of the sites may be occupied. It would then be required that you portage on into an interior lake where an available site could be found.
Unless there is a physical constraint that precludes doing any portaging (medical restriction from lifting, Mom & Dad traveling camping with young children, or just not physically able to lift packs and canoes), most parties want to get more out of their trips than just the lake where they enter the BWCA or Quetico Park.
It is very easy to accommodate parties who want to do some traveling, but want to limit the number or length of the portages they must do. It becomes a little harder for us to design a route for a party who only wants a few short portages, and also wants to be away from people, or who want to fish for a specific specie (smallmouth bass is the hardest to accommodate). In these instances, we would recommend phoning us to discuss the specific trip requirements in person.
The wilderness making up the BWCA and Quetico Park is considered a lakeland situation, not a series of rivers. Where travel takes a paddler on one of our major rivers (the Kawishiwi and Isabella in the BWCA, and Quetico’s Maligne River and “Fall’s Chain”), the impression is more of a long narrow lake versus a flowing river. The lesser rivers, such as the Horse, Nina-Moose, Indian Sioux, normally have a slow flow and not much volume. Between some connecting lakes, and interspersed along our rivers, are a few rapids or small falls. Only a handful of these would be of any interest to a “kayaker” or “river runner”.
Running rapids here in the north country is bad practice and here’s why:
There is a high probability for ending up in the water if not done correctly. Rarely does this, in itself, present a hazard to the paddler. (While there have been a few drownings, in these cases each of these individuals were not wearing their life jackets.) But from a materialistic point of view, packs get soaked, sleeping bags are soggy, tents are wet, and food is ruined. Hundreds of fishing rods and tackle boxes have ended up on the bottom. These occurrences can really be a negative impact on the success of a canoe trip, and can be very expensive.
A drive down Ely’s main street will take you past several outfitting companies. In front of some of them, you can see bent and folded canoes. Each is accompanied by a sign telling of some customer that tried to run a set of rapids and ended up destroying the canoe. Here at North Country, we, too, have several canoes that have cost customers hundreds of dollars in additional costs to pay for their lack of good judgment. Each of these people were specifically warned to STAY OUT OF RAPIDS and to ALWAYS USE THE PORTAGES. Yet most had some excuse as to why an additional charge of $500 to $1500 shouldn’t be charged to their Visa credit card. “It didn’t look that hard” or “The other two canoes got through OK” or “Isn’t that covered by equipment insurance?” (NO!)
Unlike paddling the rivers in Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri, or Arkansas, if there is a problem, there is “no farm house just over the hill to call from”. Here in the canoe country, a wrecked canoe means the trip stops right there. The only way out is to wait for some other paddler to come by (a few hours or maybe the next day), and talk them into changing their plans to give one of you a ride out. (Canoes don’t hold four people.)
In short, if you want to insist on shooting rapids along your trip, or even if you think you might be tempted to “give it a try” on one of the small ones … do us a big favor:
USE ANOTHER OUTFITTER!
With just a little thought and early preparation, they’re really no big deal.
If you have been lucky enough to enjoy the north country’s prime fishing period of Memorial Day to the third week of June, you probably ran into these tiny little pests. Much like a mid-western “chigger,” they make a small nip to pool a droplet of blood. They tend to bite where they find the most protection from being brushed off: top of your socks, around the collar or sleeve edge of your shirt, around your ears, and the hair-line on the back of your neck. They are attracted most to dark colors (blue!), and are drawn to body heat in the early morning and after dinner.
The best repellents are 3-M’s Ultrathon and Bug Stop. Wear light colors, tuck your pants into the top of your socks, and tie a bandana around your neck.
These miniature vampires are most often experienced from mid-June to the later part of July. If you have no repellent, and get out on a still evening or a long damp portage during this period, they can be awful. On the other hand, they are very easy to repel.
We have found most name-brand repellents work well. You need some amount of DEET in the formula, but 25-40% is plenty. More than that percentage often produces headache and nausea in some people. We suggest the following forms in our order of preference: stick, roll-on, pump spray, aerosol spray, and lastly, lotion.
These fellows have no direct impact on paddlers. They can, however, have a very big impact on fishermen … especially those hunting smallmouth bass. Actually it is the nymph stage, or “hatch” that is the biggest concern. Over the one week (+) period when they grow towards their adult stage, the bass slurp these critters by the gut-full. Fishing can get really tough.
The easiest solution is to switch to walleye or northern pike. They both feed on them also, but to a much lesser extent.
We would venture a guess that we hear this question from about 99% of our parties. It’s not that our paddlers have a fear of bears, it’s more likely that there are so many conflicting stories that it is hard to know what is the right thing to do.
Bears have a lumbering gait, walking on the entire foot as humans do. Their short tails are almost concealed in long course fur. Adult bears measure 2-3 feet high at the shoulders when standing on all fours. They range in color from glossy black to dull brown, with a brown snout. Weight is often 250-300 pounds. Their dietary habits are truly omnivorous: they can eat anything! Although much of their food is plants and berries (especially blueberries), they also eat ants, grubs, mice, and carrion. They can be a real nuisance around beehives, outfitting bases, and campsites in heavy use areas.
The black bears we have in the north country are not aggressively dangerous. Their behavior differs from grizzly and polar bears which should be avoided at all cost. But even with these bigger, more aggressive bears, actual attacks on humans are very rare. In the United States there are more people hurt by buffalo each year than by bears (how many buffalo attacks do you read about?)
In the 80+ years that the Quetico – Superior has been an entity, there have been only three people hurt by bears. The first two cases involved the same bear. Due to it having ingested plastic from a food pack, it could not digest anything. It was starving. The situation was totally a freak happening. The result was several stitches, and a couple of severe bruises. Several years later, the third incident involved an individual that didn’t like the fact that a bear was dragging off his food pack from a portage. He chased the bear, but just as he got close, tripped and fell down. The bear spun around and swatted him with a huge paw. The scratches didn’t need medical treatment.
One summer we had a very dry canoeing season. Blueberry and raspberry patches were a total bust … grubs under logs were nonexistent. The result: bears were forced to become bolder. We battled two solitary males, and a mom with two cubs, from late July into September. A couple of nights each week they nosed through garbage cans. They tore a 3/4″ thick sheet of plywood which was the cover on our trash trailer. Next they tore through the door of our fish cleaning room. As the summer wore on, they started showing up in the afternoon. At this point we turned from yelling and waiving to throwing rocks and chasing. That usually solved the problem here at the base.
Out on the canoes trails, paddlers should follow the same routine: show the bear who’s the boss. Be firm but not threatening. If the bear is actually frightened, it will climb a tree. Then you are stuck with it up there for hours. If mom perceives a threat to her kids, it will be you that will do the running … not her! That’s just what nature has taught her to do.
The most important thing to do is not have bears around in the first place. Avoid camping on the “canoe highways” such as the Moose Lake Chain, Ensign Lake, and Basswood Lake in the BWCA, and on North Bay in Quetico Park. Keep your campsite clean, and never take food into your tent for any reason. Be sure to hang your food pack at night! This helps for chipmunk and mice problems, too.
If the worst happens, and a bear tears into your pack, it would be covered by our equipment protection option … if you elected to take it. (Otherwise, used packs run from $60 to $100 to replace.)
Dangerous? NO! Are there risks? Of course.
But then all outdoor activities have some sort of risk. Add to that the risks involved with sports, and the risks involved with isolation and no immediate response medical help, and you will be in the range of a wilderness canoe trip.
However, the inherent risks of a canoe trip pale in the light of not using common sense or taking unnecessary chances.
- Always wear your life jacket while on the water.
- Never run any sort of rapids. Always use the portages … they are there for a reason!
- Never dive into wilderness lakes.
- Never swim above a rapids or falls.
- Use extreme caution swimming below a rapids or falls; currents and undertows are always present to some degree.
- Get off the water if winds increase to the point of making you feel uneasy, or if lightening is imminent due to the proximity of storms.
- Use a great deal of care around fire, whether that be with wood or a gasoline stove. Never take a heat source into your tent.
In short, always consider the risk involved with whatever you are planning to do. If there is little benefit, or there is more than slight risk of injury or death, DON’T DO IT ON A CANOE TRIP!
Read our Risks page.
Although the northern lakes may look pure, there could be a rare problem with giardia lamblia (often called Giardia), a water cyst which can cause unpleasant intestinal illness. It is interesting to note that we’ve never had a guest get sick from the water since we started almost a quarter of a century ago. With that said, however, it is best to treat drinking water by one of the following methods:
Use A SteriPen (North Country’s Recommended Method)
These are a flashlight type item which uses Ultraviolet light to sterlize water. They are included as part of our Ultra-light GOLD Packages, or can be rented as an additional item. For our Complete Parties using our SILVER, SILVER +, or Non-Profit Youth Group Packages, we discount the rental by about 30%.
Boil Your Water
Bring water to a full boil for at least one minute, then let stand until cool enough to drink. We suggest you do this with the large cooking pot after dinner, and let it cool overnight. Then just fill your drink bottles in the morning; you’re good for the day.
Use Tablets to Purify
In our shop we sell tablets (chlorine, iodine, or halizone base) to treat your water. Follow manufacturer’s directions for use. Cold or cloudy water will take longer to treat and may require additional tablets.
Purify Or Filter Your Water
Use a purifer or filter to that is specifically designed to remove giardia lamblia. The problem here is that the filters will plug with algae very easily. For this reason, we personally do not recommend (or use) filters.
The Voyageur Method
Many of our guests use the straight out of the lake method. If you use this method you must do it correctly: away from shore and in water that is deeper than you can see bottom. (Especially avoid the stagnant bays and small streams where beaver and moose are commonly seen.) Take your water bottle and gather your drinking water at least an elbows length deep, cap it and return to surface.
Anyone with a medical condition, or a pregnancy, should boil, filter, or treat their drinking water.