A weeklong canoe trip launches from Lake One Entry Point in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.(Photo: Courtesy of North Country Canoe Outfitters)
Following are some of the points to consider in an initial conversation with an outfitter.
Not all entry points are the same, Schiefelbein advises. “Some are absolute death marches at the beginning,” he said.
How many options does the outfitter present? How long are the portages? Planned routes should map out longer or shorter trips in case the weather kicks up or paddlers start to flag. Over-estimating the distance a party will cover is one of the most common mistakes.
Honeymooners often say they want solitude. Do they really? “That means you’re REALLY going to be all alone. That gets a little spooky for the first time visitor” Schiefelbein said.
Paddlers with the flexibility to pick a launch date based on permit availability have the best chance of landing a more remote starting point.
There’s no time of the summer that is perfect in all ways. The wilderness is less populated in May and September. Fishing is better June through early July. Weather is generally warmest July through early August. Swimming is best from July 4 through Aug. 15.
What brand is the canoe? If it’s something you’ve never heard of, you might want to do a bit more research. How often does the outfitter swap out used for new canoes? How much does it weigh?
What’s the tent’s capacity? (A four-person tent might comfortably fit two.) Does the rain fly extend down far enough to be useful? How much does it weigh? (Lightweight doesn’t necessarily mean high quality.) Is it an expedition-style tent or one best-suited for car camping? To what temperature are the sleeping bags rated?
Just as a tent is not a tent, a steak is not a steak. What’s the cut? What’s the ratio of fresh food to dehydrated?
“You can eat just about anything you want in the Boundary Waters. It’s just how it’s prepared. You don’t just have to eat hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches.”
Ask the outfitter to describe what they think a young paddler might be capable of. “Most kids can handle it” might not describe your kid.
The BWCAW shouldn’t be a kid’s first camping trip. But a trip with kids must be structured around their interests and abilities. Four days and three nights might be the longest you’d want to consider with young kids.
“You want this trip to be positive,” Schiefelbein said. “Even if the parent is more bored, a kid who isn’t scared and exhausted will be more likely to want to return.”