Flatwater Freedom

May 30, 2008
Outside Magazine
Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area

At peace with Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness    Photo: Debbie Hartmann/courtesy, Superior National Forest

GRAND MARAIS, MINNESOTA - The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the largest wilderness areas east of the Rockies. It's also one of the most heavily trafficked: More than 200,000 people ply its 1,200 miles of routes annually. So while the weather's best in late summer, I go toward the end of June, when the water is cool, the smallmouth are biting, the blackflies are disappearing, and the Boy Scouts hoping to earn their tree-carving badges have yet to arrive.

Fly into Duluth and pick up a canoe on your way to Grand Marais at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters ($85 for three days; sawbill.com). There are nearly 80 entry points to the Boundary Waters; ignore most of them and enter at East Bearskin Lake, 26 miles from Grand Marais up the Gunflint Trail highway (entry permits, $16 per person; bwcaw.org). A 2.5-mile paddle plus a short portage lead to Alder Lake, where there's a perfect camping spot on the tip of the main peninsula. Bring a lightweight rod and cast a Rapala into the rocks just offshore. With any luck, you'll catch dinner to fry over the fire. The next night, stay six miles away in a lakeside cabin at the Old Northwoods Lodge, bear-and-lumberjack kitsch at its finest (doubles, $120; oldnorthwoods.com). Before leaving, dine on Lake Superior trout at the Angry Trout Café (angrytroutcafe.com), a refurbished fishing shanty on the harbor in Grand Marais.