Getting Ready

Scouts around a campfire -camping for Scout troups

A High Adventure trip for your unit is not hard to put together. The basics are: find out who’s going, set a date, make the reservation, and get into shape. Some councils have good training programs which include ideas on how to plan a trip of your own. It would be well worth a weekend for one of your active parents to take the course.

When is the best time to go on a group canoe trip?

As in most areas, there are certain times that are better than others to be here.

  • Fishing is, by far, best in late May and most of June. Cooler lake temps make swimming “invigorating.”
  • Mid-June usually brings the start of our bug season … not a big deal … just another consideration.
  • July begins to see more people in the woods, warmer water for swimming, some decline in walleye fishing but good smallmouth and pike. Mosquitoes, though present, vary a great deal depending on weather conditions and the particular lakes you may be on.
  • Late July and early August are by far the busiest on the canoe trails; campsites need to be chosen earlier in the day. Fishing is only fair due to peak water temperatures, but can be improved by fishing at dawn and dusk. Swimming at his time in wilderness lakes is great! For some reason unknown to us, many Scout troops single out this particular time for a trip. If you are one of these, you must make your reservations early. A mid-week starting date is strongly suggested!

When should reservations be made?

Set your dates accordingly. Remember, federal permits are on a first-come basis. Get your reservations to us as early as possible, and have an alternate date, too. We take reservations up to a year in advance. It is best to reserve as soon as possible for Ontario’s Quetico Park. We can confirm Canadian permits immediately. for U.S.-side trips. We can start submitting US-side requests for the coming summer to the Forest Service on November 1st, so try to have reservations and deposits in by Thanksgiving. U.S. confirmations are mailed January. With all of this rush emphasis said, we should also point out that we regularly accept youth group reservations as late as early June for the same summer.

Group Canoe Trip Travel Considerations

Who Should Come?

The type of group canoe trip you take should be based primarily around your travel group’s make-up. Are the youth in the group all approximately the same age or is there a mix of older (more experienced) and younger participants? What about the adults? Are they in roughly the same physical condition? If your party is made up of one travel group only (6 to 9 total people) your party make-up is pretty well etched in stone. If, on the other hand, your party is made up of several travel groups of 6 to 9 people each, they can be mixed or matched as your desires dictate.

For instance, younger boys can be grouped together for an easier route, base camping for instance. They can then strike out each day to a new set of lakes for fishing or advancement. They will travel easier and faster than if they had to take down camp, carry everything with them, and be at the next site early enough to set up and start dinner. At the same time, a group of more experienced boys can get earlier starts, carry more on portages, and have the maturity to “get the task done” when it comes to a fast camp set-up at the end of a long travel day.

Another way to design your travel groups is to make each one relatively the same ability-wise, in other words, older and younger boys together in each group. The advantage here is that the older boys can teach the younger boys — utilizing their leadership skills. Travel will be slower than that of an all “older guy” group, but faster than an all “younger guy” group.

The same thoughts hold true for adult leaders. They may be matched by a mutual desire for the same “pace” trip: an aggressive 50-miler, a laid-back fishing vacation, a moderate travel-every-other-day sojourn. They can compliment each other with a younger or stronger adult paired with one of less physical stamina. Or they can reflect each other’s ability level and strength. One combination you want to be very careful to avoid is having a group of boys who are “too strong” for the leader(s) they are with. The adult may try to “keep-up” with the boys and drive himself right into an injury by doing too much.

Route Considerations

Just what do you want to get out of your trip?

Your trip through the wilderness will only be as good (or bad) as the route you travel. There is no one route that is best, and there is no one entry point that is best. Routes can change a great deal over the course of a summer. In June, some portages may be very muddy. In August, some of the smaller rivers drop to a point where whole sections might have to be walked because there isn’t enough water to float a loaded canoe. Some lakes have different kinds of fish than others. The bug situation of June and July varies from one section to another. All in all, it is a changing wilderness that offers different things to different people, at different times of the summer, starting from different entry locations. We know what those differences are, and are prepared to offer our suggestions so your trip can match your expectations.

Here at North Country, we try very hard to match your entry point and route to the plans and the ability of your group. The ability levels of your travel group(s) as a whole must be considered. If your participants have had a lot of time in canoes prior to arriving in Ely, they will travel farther each day than a group who has only had canoe experience in the swimming area at summer camp. How well do the boys work as a team? Must each boy carry his own pack and set up his own tent; or can work-pairs do it for the group? Can meals be cooked in 15-20 minutes, or is it an all evening chore?

In addition to ability levels, we must also look at your time frame. Obviously, a group that has only 5 days to spend in the woods will not have the same route as one having 7 – 10 days. We want to know how many campsites you will want to be in. On a 6 – day / 5 – night trip you can have as many as 5 different sites, or you may choose to travel every other day using 3 sites, or even set up a base camp and take day-trips from your one location. Remember, every time you take-down and set-up camp, you are pulling about three hours out of your day that you could have been doing something else. Also, on day-trips you can travel farther and faster since you are not taking equipment across the portages.

Health and Medical Considerations

High adventure activities, by their very nature, demand more from participants than regular camping situations. Activity is at a stronger pace for a longer period of time. Physical and mental conditioning is a “must” for all participants. They will be portaging unimproved and non-maintained wilderness trails between lakes and around rapids. Paddling for several hours each morning and afternoon is the norm, not the exception. While we can scale back the difficulty of a trip for younger / smaller youth, or older / out of shape adults, we cannot eliminate it.


A regular exercise program should be implemented for all participants several months prior to arriving in Ely. Activity that is fun will prevent boredom, and participants are more likely to do it more often and for a longer time. Exercising with a friend not only makes the activity more fun, but forces both partners to stick with it and not skip a session. Jogging, wind sprints, or climbing long flights of stairs are excellent activities for increasing stamina. This should be done for a dedicated 30 – 60 minutes, every other day. We have found sit-ups to be best for strengthening the stomach muscles; an important aspect of paddling long distances. If a participant puts off their conditioning program until the week prior to departing on the trip, they probably shouldn’t bother at all. It may do more harm than good. As always, it is highly recommended that participants check with a doctor before starting any exercise program.

Medical Examination

For all high adventure activities, the Boy Scouts of America require a physical examination by a doctor, using the Class 3 Personal Health and Medical Record Form, Number 34412. North Country Canoe Outfitters strongly concurs with this requirement, and though we are not affiliated in any way with the Boy Scouts of America, we hope that you will comply with their wishes. A copy of the BSA form is included in the informational booklet we will send your group. It is a good idea to include family medical insurance information on the health form for quick reference while away from home.


Check to make sure that all participants are current on their immunizations. MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) should have been received by the 12th birthday. All four doses of oral polio vaccine should have been received. Probably the most important for a high adventure trips is tetanus and diphtheria. These should have been received within the past 10 years. Checking with the family physician about a new booster might be a good idea!


Group Budgets

When estimating funds for “on the road” (charges like gas, meals, overnight accommodations, and bus or plane tickets) be sure to figure EVERYTHING on the high side. If you are not electing to use our equipment protection option, reserve some funds in case of damage to gear. Then add an additional 10% contingency to cover unforeseen trip costs. If this puts the trip out of reach for some financially, it is far better to know before signing up. Also, it is much easier for canoe trip leaders to refund some money at the end of the trip (you’ll look like a hero) than to ask for an additional payment due to an unforeseen situation.

Personal Budgets

It is easier if the total fee is collected in installments. A non-refundable trip deposit of $100/person (plus a one time group reservation fee of $10) must be sent to us when the reservation is made. Be sure to tell the participants whether items like on-the-road meals, any needed travel lodging, and fishing licenses are included in the collected monies or if they are to be paid for individually. Have them plan on having some cash for last minute forgotten items. “Fun things” like live bait for the trip, extra fishing lures, a can of pop, T-shirts, souvenir maps, a gift for the folks back home, etc., must also be in the personal budgets ($35 – $75).

The Paperwork – VERY IMPORTANT!

Licenses and Permits

There’s an old quotation that says “the job isn’t done until the paperwork is complete.” When it comes to taking Scouts on a High Adventure Canoe Trip, the paperwork comes first. North Country Canoe Outfitters will take care of the required entry permits for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and/or Quetico Provincial Park. We have been designated as an agent for the Department of Natural Resources, and maintain a license terminal for the automated issuing of Minnesota Fishing Licenses.

Personal Risk, Parental Permission, and Liability Release

Beyond these forms handled by us, we can guide the trip coordinator with the forms and paperwork to insure everything is complete and submitted on a timely basis. A listing of the required and optional forms is supplied on the links below. These forms are all contained in our Leader’s Guide To High Adventure Canoe Trips. Two items that you can begin coordinating immediately are Risk acknowledgements and sales tax exemptions.

As with all Scouting trips, parental permission should be secured prior to any scout signing-up for the trip. Parents / Guardians must be appraised of the differences between a wilderness High Adventure trip and the more familiar summer camp/ weekend overnight camping trip. In addition, the risk factor involved with this type of activity should be contrasted. We suggest printing out our Risks page, which will help the committee discuss risk and lay a foundation for informed parental consent.

In our Leader’s Guide To High Adventure Canoe Trips we have included North Country Canoe Outfitters’ parental risk acknowledgment, consent, and liability waiver form which MUST be initialed and signed by the parents /guardians of minor children participating in this experience. These agreements are considered part of your payment for our services. (Several trips have been delayed as we have tried to find parents so as to have them fax their signed and witnessed liability waivers to us when their child arrived at our base without it.)


Sales Tax Exemption

One other thing you should do well before the trip is to secure a Sales Tax Exemption Number from your state, or a copy of your state’s Sales Tax Exemption Letter, whichever applies. This will save your unit a great deal of money (7.375% on everything). Without it we must, by law, add Minnesota Sales Tax to your bill: no exceptions. Tax exemptions do not, however, apply to, or eliminate, (1) sales & lodging tax on accommodations, (2) US Forest Service User Fees, or (3) Canadian Camping or Fishing Permit Fees or Remote Area Border Crossing Permit fees

View our Leader’s Checklist as seen in the Leader’s Guide to High Adventure Canoe Trips.

Arrival Time

For groups spending the night with us

Prior to starting on your canoe trip, try to plan your arrival for between 10 AM and 4 PM, if at all possible. This will assure you that we will have sufficient staff time to review the equipment and/or food that we are supplying to your group and to properly plan and map your route(s) with you.

You can then return back into Ely for any shopping or meals … it’s just 6 miles from the base. If you cannot arrive between these hours, be sure to let us know your plans, and we will try to make the best arrangements possible for staff time.

For groups not spending the night

Prior to your trip embarkation, plan to arrive as early as possible after 8 AM. It is our practice to launch the previous day’s arrivals first each morning. Then we try to have all “arrive-and-out” parties on the water by noon. Briefings last about two hours, personal item packing time adds another one-half to one hour. As the owner maps each trip personally, the more travel groups (6-9 people) that you have, the more time which must be spent. Finally, if we are driving to a remote landing, we need to add an additional half hour to an hour and a half. Paddle time to your first camp site can range from 15 minutes to an hour and a half.