Boundary Waters canoeing for city slickers

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of March 13-19, 1997
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Boundary Waters canoeing for city slickers
Question: I'm a city slicker, but I can't seem to shake the idea of going canoeing in the Boundary Waters (BWCA). How should I prepare--other than canoeing and camping around here? Thanks.

Robyn Dochterman
Minneapolis, MN
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: First off, you'll need to gauge just how much of a city slicker you really are. If you're the kind who has little canoe-camping experience, you might be better off going with a guide. They provide all the equipment and meals (no freeze-dried linguine on this trip) and take care of the details, such as paddling route and backcountry permits. Plus, they throw in added perks such as wolf-watching excursions and fishing outings. Piragis Northwoods Company (800-913-9023) is a good place to start. Their six-day trips range in price from $650 to $950, including first- and last-night accommodations in the local Holiday Inn. Other companies worth checking: Nor'Wester Outfitters (800-992-4386) and Clearwater Outfitters (800-527-0554), both of which are based out of Grand Marais.

If, on the other hand, you're the kind of city slicker who's really an outdoorsperson at heart but just happens to be stuck living in a city--and the kind who cringes at the thought of group trips--you'll need to do the BWCA homework on your own, starting with choosing a route. Depending on how much time you have, you can design a weekend, week-long, or even a month-long paddling trip with the help of the two-volume Boundary Waters Canoe Area guide (Wilderness Press, $15 each). One trip worth highlighting, however, is the three-day paddle from Entry Point 9 at Little Indian Sioux River South down to Little Crab Lake and your take-out at Entry Point 4. If you opt for this route, you'll need to reserve a launch permit well in advance ($9 reservation fee; call 800-745-3399), as the put-in limits launches to one every two days. For a week's worth of BWCA paddling, head to the eastern region and Entry Point 39; a loop will take you through Baker Lake, Cherokee Lake, Hub and Masaba Lakes, and back to Baker.

If neither of these sound appealing, consult the guidebook or call Wilderness Outfitters in Ely (800-777-8572). A BWCA fixture for 75 years, they're pretty savvy when it comes to plotting routes. They'll also take care of your next pre-trip logistic: equipment. Seventeen-foot aluminum canoes start at $15 per day and lightweight (a good 35 pounds lighter) Kevlars rent for twice that, but are well worth it when you find yourself at the start of a long and tortuous portage, of which there are many. They also supply a full set-up of gear (tent, sleeping bag, cook stove, etc) for $55 per person, per day, including an aluminum canoe. Finally, you need to prepare for unpredictable weather (rain) and plenty of bugs, especially between May and July. August is generally warmer and bug-free, but crowded; if you can swing it, hold off until early September. No matter when you go, however, you'll need to bring plenty of warm clothes, rain gear, and bug juice.

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