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Boundary Waters in August?
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Liz C-S
Boundary Waters in August? on 02/24/2012 15:26:58 MST Print View

Hi all,

This forum has been tons of help in the past for trip planning, so I figured I'd throw out another trip idea. Some friends and I are tossing around the idea of a 7-10ish (fairly flexible) day trip in Boundary Waters for this August. I'm totally unfamiliar with the area, so was wondering if anyone would have any recommendations. We'd like to do at least most of it in a canoe (or perhaps a packraft?).

Thanks in advance!

Ryan Slack
(RWSlack) - F

Locale: Minnesota
Refining expectations on 02/24/2012 15:49:19 MST Print View

What would you like to see/do?
Wildlife? Interesting terrain? Waterfalls? Historical interest?
High mileage? Photography? Fishing? Gourmet food trip?

How would you like to spend each day?
1. Get up, pack up, and go all day.
2. Lazy mornings, move a few miles, relax.
3. Early start, but relaxed evenings in camp.

How large is your group? What are their thoughts?

The BWCA is highly conducive to loop trips of varying lengths, which means you will often have a flexible itinerary so that up to a few days into your trip you can decide to cut it short or stretch it out depending on how you all feel.

Most outfitters in this area are highly knowledgeable and helpful, though I think many are geared toward heavyweight/short mileage/relaxing fishing outings. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: Boundary Waters in August? on 02/24/2012 15:57:36 MST Print View

Are you restricted to doing a loop (same entry/exit point)? Packrafting would be quite the undertaking as it is mostly water travel. Most portages are short and if you've followed the advice on this forum you're packs should be fairly light.

Liz C-S
Re: Boundary Waters in August on 02/24/2012 16:24:37 MST Print View

It's seeming like we're more in the 7-8 day range with wildlife/interesting terrain/waterfalls and some afternoon fishing being main interests. There are four of us, and we'd be aiming to get an early start and get into camp with a few hours of daylight, and can probably swing two vehicles if that makes for a more interesting trip. We'll undoubtedly pack more in a canoe, but we're at 8ish lbs baseweight, and portages aren't a big concern.

Thanks for the help thus far!

Tyler H
(ctwnwood) - F

Locale: The Palouse
Re: BWCA in August on 02/24/2012 17:23:40 MST Print View

First, you're in for an awesome trip! August is the best month to see the BWCA because crowds and bugs are at a minimum and the lakes are at their warmest.

I've taken about a dozen trips to the BWCA, a few as a camp counselor and it's a beautiful place.

If you want to see waterfalls check out Basswood Falls and that area. It's pretty busy, but it's for good reason because there are some excellent campsites and things to see in that area, including pictographs.

I would highly recommend a loop just because it's so possible and makes the planning cheaper and easier. I've entered at Mudro a few times and their are a multitude of loop options from there. Also plan to spend some time in either Ely or Grand Marais because they're the two best towns in MN.

You should 100% plan on doing the trip in a canoe. Two people per boat unless you've got kids who'll want to duff, otherwise nobody wants a wet ass. Frankly, I see absolutely no reason to take a packraft.

As far as gear and pack weight, this is a whole different ball game. Not to be sacrilege (I'm a UL backpacker too of course) but this a canoe trip. Your belongings aren't on your back all day and portaging isn't a big deal. You'll already be carrying a 40lb canoe (at the very lightest) so why fret over ounces in your other bags?

I could go on all day about gear recommendations but I'd suggested boat-centric gear like dry bags. Traditional backpacking packs don't fit into canoes well at all. Rent or buy a Duluth-style pack. I find that a communal system where everybody fills a drybag full of "personal gear" like sleeping bags and clothes, then all the cooking gear in another (black-pot friendly) bag, and another for food (it will need to be hung our dealt with anyway), works the best instead of the "I've got all my own stuff and not an ounce more in my pack" philosophy.

Wear cheap leather work boots, like Rhino brand, and plan on having wet feet. Put on your wet socks in the morning and keep the dry ones dry. Flipping a canoe on slippery rocks and in deep mud requires more support than UL backpacking, so I don't recommend running shoes or sandals for daytime use. Bring camp shoes, yes, I said it!

Have fun! Any more questions, just ask.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Re: Boundary Waters in August on 02/24/2012 17:42:19 MST Print View

I would probably recommend a canoe if half the miles are on water. A UL canoe can be fairly easy portage. On the water it will more than make up for any effort. Wheels are another option, but, I am not that familiar with Boundary Waters regs and portages. The wheels come in two varieties. One is stern mounted like kayak wheels and the other is center mounted. Not sure which would be appropriate.

If you cannot use wheels, with four people, I would recommend a split pack load. Set up in pairs, it is easier to set up one with tent, stove, sleeping bags, cook gear, pads and misc items for camp. This usually ends up to be about 10-12 pounds. That person will also carry the boat, paddles and life vests. For longer than 1/4mile, up to about 4mi, it is much easier to do it in one shot rather than worry about switching off. The other pack will carry the food and cloths for the pair. Often his pack will weigh 45pounds at the start of a trip, mostly food. Each person should have their own water, of course.

If the portages are shorter than about a 1/4 mile, the packs can be left in the boat and the boat just grabbed and carried with the packs in them. This works ok for short carries but can bother your back for longer distances, with the weight off to oneside. Switching helps every 100 yards or so.

If you have a heavier boat, say roylex or or another plastic, I *have* carried them with two people. But height differences can be difficult up and down rugged terrain. Certainly possible, though. This requires good team work so it is best to practice a bit befor actually putting on packs.

You should bring one larger, community tarp. This goves you a good place to stay dry in any rain and out of any winds. Likely a 10x12 or the like. August will likely be warm with cooler nights. You probably need a fire, so a saw is probably something else you might want.

I do a lot of canoe camping in the ADK's, often for a week or two in the St. Regis, Saranac Lakes, Fish Creek Ponds area. Also, the Fulton Chain, Raquette Lake, Forked Lake, Long Lake and, Raquette River, Saranac known as the Northern Forest Canoe Trail(New York Section.) Lots of portages and good canoeing.

Anyway, sounds like you are in for a nice trip!

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: Boundary Waters in August? on 02/24/2012 18:05:13 MST Print View

I recommend reading some of the books written by Cliff Jacobson. He details the necessary gear (again different from hiking) for canoe camping in the BWCAW as well as tips on portaging and carrying your gear. If you plan on traveling long days and makeing camp near sundown you may run into trouble fining available campsites (the BWCAW has designated sites). I've found that you can easily travel about 12mi in a day if you get a good early start and find your camp around 2. This gives you plenty of time to find an available campsite and still gives you time to do some exploring/fishing/reading/napping/etc.

Little Indian Sioux and Nina Moose entry points are the ones we used the most when we could go on trips in the area. They have several possible loops depending on your trip duration.

Tyler H
(ctwnwood) - F

Locale: The Palouse
BWCA - portaging on 02/24/2012 20:37:29 MST Print View

Just some opinions on portaging:

The old saying is air, water, bread dough. Meaning that a canoe shouldn't be dragged across rocks, sand, etc. It should be unloaded and flipped in water about shin deep. When you know how to carry a canoe correctly it's way easier than trying to coordinate two people awkwardly dragging it along.

Check out this cartoon:

1. Pull it up onto your thighs and steady your feet.
2. Reach one hand across and grip the gunnel, other hand pulls up a little on the yoke.
3. Wrap the yoke hand around the bottom.
4. Twist your hips and snap the boat onto your shoulders.

A two-person flip is cool too, but the two person carry is silly. If it's a rental boat maybe you don't care but.... it's good to do things right, right?

Just opinions!

Edited by ctwnwood on 02/24/2012 20:39:31 MST.

Liz C-S
Re: Boundary Waters in August? on 02/25/2012 08:08:40 MST Print View

wow. thanks all! portaging technique is definitely something we'll have to try out beforehand, having only done multiday day trips with IKs in the past. it's great to hear that august is somewhat less crowded and buggy. in checking out proposed itineraries on some outfitters' websites, it looks like mudro lake to moose river is a recommended 7-day trip. does anyone have experience with that route?

Michael Moser
(michaeldmoser) - MLife
Re: Re: Boundary Waters in August? on 02/25/2012 09:29:22 MST Print View

The area immediately east of Ely had a significant wild fire late last year causing most of the BWCA to be closed for the last part of the season. There are still some restrictions in place and of course since the area was heavily affected by the fire it may not be the most exciting to travel through. The Forest Service has a site available with maps about the fire at:

The area by Grand Marais is another popular place to go through via the Gunflint Trail and slightly less traveled than the Ely area. I usually go through Poplar Lake which has lots of options for 7-10 day trips. The benefit here is you get to drive up the north shore of Lake Superior which is beautiful especially if you take the scenic drive. There is also Betty's Pies near Two Harbors which makes a great post-trip stop for pie and ice cream.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Re: Boundary Waters in August? on 02/25/2012 15:23:52 MST Print View

+1 for Betty's Pies.

sue prom
(BWCABlogLady) - F
Re: Boundary Waters in August? on 02/26/2012 07:28:22 MST Print View

I'm new to this forum and just thought I'd post a reply to your Boundary Waters post. The BWCA is a great place to paddle and camp and I'm partial to the Gunflint Trail since I live at the end of it, 56 miles from Grand Marais, MN. It is a great town and you won't want to miss pizza at My Sister's Place restaurant or a stop at the Lake Superior Trading Post.

While some of the information supplied is great, one piece of advice I wouldn't follow is leaving gear in the canoe for the portage. Not only is this difficult it is dangerous too. The person in the back can't see the ground which is uneven terrain and it's more like a game of tug o war. Please carry the canoe as instructed in the illustration.

There are plenty of great routes to choose from and you can browse some of them online, we have a trip route finder on our website, as well as some good route descriptions. Hopefully you've already found our site at

You can rent high quality, lightweight gear from outfitters and we outfit all kinds of trips of varying lengths. We have different packages to choose from based upon the trip you want to take; comfort traveler, pro-angler, base camp, etc.

No matter where you go you will no doubt love your time spent in the BWCA. It's a wonderful place to get away from it all, see moose, hear loons, watch eagles soar and have a chance to see northern lights in the breathtakingly beautiful night sky.

Happy Paddling and let me know if you have any other questions:)

Sue Prom- Boundary Waters Blog Lady from Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

Erik Anderson
(ewlaBWCA) - F
Pagami Creek Fire on 02/26/2012 12:39:21 MST Print View

I wouldn't say "most" of the BWCA was closed, perhaps not even half. I think there were less than 20 entry points closed during the fire. Additional information can be found at:

Liz C-S
Re: Boundary Waters in August? on 02/26/2012 17:26:00 MST Print View

thanks for all your insight, all! the gunflint trail is looking like an interesting area to start from. appreciate all the portaging tips...should be fun! :)

Ryan Slack
(RWSlack) - F

Locale: Minnesota
responses on 02/28/2012 22:23:04 MST Print View

It looks like you have gotten a lot of positive feedback and I hope you enjoy your trip! Most likely you will be based out of Ely or the Gunflint, and either is good. My experience is mostly via Ely. In any case, work with an outfitter to figure out your two canoes, shuttles, logistics, etc.

It isn't a bad idea to rent packs, since they sit in bilge water or on the ground for much of the day, unlike the bags you use backpacking. They are also soft to fit into a canoe better (lower center of gravity). Just don't fill them all the way up (huge/heavy); instead watch your lightweight load disappear into them!

In most of the BWCA, choice campsites near waterfalls and on south-facing island dreamlands are taken by 4 pm, in higher traffic areas by 2 pm. The wind will generally begin around 10 am and may be quite calm, or a tailwind, or a serious inconvenience depending on fate/weather/direction of travel. Your plan to get on the water early--I won't prescribe a time because I say the earlier the better, and I don't want you to get in trouble with rousting your group--will allow for great wildlife viewing opportunities and peaceful, fast travel in the mornings, with less time in the afternoon sun and wind and better choice of campsites.

Be sure to ask your outfitter about nearby attractions along your route. If you travel light and ahead of schedule it won't be as big of a deal to hop over a lake or two to see something special (pictographs, waterfalls, etc). Or, arrive in camp early and take an afternoon/evening trip to a landmark with photography and fishing along the way.

Yeah, always unload/reload canoes in water and always just use one person carry. Split the load as advised above. One trip per portage, always.

Gear notes: I have been fine in trail runners for my many trips there, but you should be cautious with your footwear choice as you will be carrying unstable loads over short stretches of rough terrain, with steps into the water on each end. Bring a pair of dry shoes, since you'll be spending time in camp. I prefer not to bring sandals for this...something mosquito-proof. A camp/cook tarp is totally unnecessary but if you don't bring it it WILL rain ALL WEEK. ;)