John mapping a trip

Choosing a Canoe Trip Route

Do you need to choose your own route? 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 or Farm Lake.

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.

Next:  Canoe Portages