Boundary Waters Canoe Area Paddle Adventure
Experience America's Lake Country Wilderness
Located along the Canadian border, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is known for its expansive wilderness. Join our five-day Boundary Waters trip to paddle the pristine lakes of this northern gem. Experience stillness, silence and solitude as you travel among the pines, birch and cedar. Listen to loons call as the sun rises to burn mist off of a mirror-still lake. Relax around an evening campfire and watch for shooting stars and northern lights. Our lightweight Wenonah canoes make paddling and portaging easier than ever.
The Boundary Waters is where Wilderness Inquiry started running trips over 40 years ago. Wilderness Inquiry is one of the only organizations that provide two professional guides on each of its BWCA trips.
For standard meeting places and times, see Dates & Fees tab.
Note: There are many different routes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). The route described below is for Brule Lake. Your trip may follow this route, or one of the other Boundary Waters routes available. Every trip has its own unique sites and experiences.
DAY 1: Your trip starts in the afternoon at one of the BWCA ranger stations. You will ride to your entry point where the trailer will be unloaded and your gear packed into large dry bags. The first day’s paddle will be from the Brule Lake access point to a campsite in Jock Mock Bay. In camp you will prepare dinner and enjoy an evening around the fire as you discuss trip expectations.
DAY 2: Wake up early to make breakfast and review canoeing skills. Break camp and get underway, paddling north to Cone Bay and traversing several portages into Winchell Lake. Find a nice campsite on the north shore of Winchell and settle in for an evening around the fire.
DAY 3: You'll spend a layover day on Winchell Lake. The southern shore of Winchell has steep cliffs and palisades. If the group is feeling ambitious, you may climb up the cliff for a spectacular view. Otherwise, take a day trip to the east end of the lake or visit the nearby Omega Lake and Gaskin Lake.
DAY 4: After breakfast travel south through several portages and camp on the east end of Brule Lake. As the group learns to work together, more time is set aside for fishing, bird watching, exploring and learning camp crafts.
DAY 5: Rise with the sun and paddle across Brule Lake. Pack up the van for the ride home, the trip officially ends in the late morning. Those who use WI's van transportation can expect to return to Minneapolis in the evening.
Travel, Terrain, Etc...
TERRAIN/ROUTE CHOICES: The BWCA lies on the Canadian Shield, and is characterized by exposed granite with a thin layer of topsoil. The lakes and trails make this wilderness area one of the most accessible in the country. The BWCA offers a wide range of route options from very easy to very difficult. Wilderness Inquiry runs trips all over the wilderness area, on all kinds of routes. Your trail guides will determine the route you will take, based on wilderness conditions and your group's interests. No previous experience is needed to complete this trip.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: You will travel in 18-foot ultra-lightweight Wenonah Kevlar canoes, which hold two to three paddlers, plus all necessary gear. An average day's travel consists of 3-6 hours of paddling, and you can expect 2-4 portages (short trail crossings) per day. The portages tend to be hilly and range from 20 feet to 1/4 mile. Travel distances vary from 6-12 miles per day with the exception of scheduled layover days.
WEATHER: Temperatures in the summer range from 40° F to 95° F. Rainfall can vary, but you should expect at least a day or two of rain.
YOUR GROUP: Your group size will be no larger than 7 people, plus 2 Wilderness Inquiry staff. Most groups consist of people of various ages, backgrounds and abilities, including people with disabilities. Our trips are cooperative in nature. WI staff will assist you in whatever areas you need, however most people pitch in where they can. Part of the adventure involves learning about daily camp activities.
ACCOMMODATIONS: At night you will sleep in a comfortable tent that fits 2-3 people. Bathroom facilities consist of USDA Forest Service commodes.
MEALS: The fun of wilderness camping includes cooking in the wilderness, a challenge with great rewards. We pride ourselves on providing healthy ingredients for simple, plentiful dishes everyone will enjoy. Count on hearty breakfasts, trail lunches, plenty of snacks, and wonderful dinners, finished off with campfire s’mores. If you have special dietary restrictions, be sure to list them on your registration.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING: Wilderness Inquiry will provide all group equipment. You will need to provide your personal gear as outlined in the packing list. If you are new to outdoor activities, you do not need to spend a lot of money. Wilderness Inquiry can usually arrange for you to borrow most items.A note about the itinerary: Our trips are real adventures in the outdoors. While we'll make every effort to follow the itinerary listed here, elements may change due to weather or reasons beyond our control.
In 1964, Congress designated the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW, or simply BWCA) as one of the first federally protected wilderness areas in the United States as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The 1.1 million-acre BWCAW is our nation’s only large lakeland wilderness, where travel during the ice-free months is primarily via canoe. The area remains the largest wilderness east of the Rockies and north of Florida’s Everglades, and the storied Boundary Waters remains the most popular wilderness in the nation.
The BWCAW, the northern third of Superior National Forest, lies on the international border between northern Minnesota and the Province of Ontario, Canada. Together with the adjoining 1.2 million-acre Quetico Provincial Park on the Ontario side of the border, this international wilderness complex forms an unparalleled lakeland wilderness complex of 2.3 million acres, an area larger than Yellowstone.
These waters form a maze of interconnected lakes, formed by glaciation. This country is part of the Canadian Shield, a geological formation that comprises portions of the earth’s most ancient exposed rock, some of which is 3 billion years old! The Boundary Waters contains about 1,175 lakes in all, making a maze of interconnected wilderness waterways to explore. Whether you paddle one of the larger border lakes -- Saganaga, Knife, Basswood, Crooked, Lac La Croix -- or one of the smaller more intimate lakes, you’ll experience an undeveloped lakeland wilderness that appears much the same as it has for hundreds of years.
Two types of forests, the Boreal and Laurentian forests, converge to create a unique ecosystem with diversified plant and animal life in the Boundary Waters. Animals that would not normally be seen together, such as the white-tailed deer and the moose, have made the BWCA their homes. Many birds, such as bald eagles, loons and over 20 species of wood warblers, use the Boundary Waters as their nesting grounds. Anglers can test their skills against the area’s lake trout, walleye, northern pike, or smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Humans have left their mark on the Boundary Waters as well. Native peoples inhabited the Boundary Waters area for thousands of years, with some human relics dating back to 10,000 BC. The Anishinabe (sometimes called Ojibwe, or Chippewa) and Dakota (Sioux) used the intricate waterways of the BWCAW for hundreds of years. Native peoples first used many of the campsites and portages (paths between lakes) still used today. Artifacts from that period still turn up. European fur traders and missionaries first came into the area in the early 1700s. A working relationship developed between the European fur traders and the Ojibwe, based on trade of European goods for native knowledge and furs. This partnership ended in the mid 19th century due to the declining interest in furs as fashion.
Fur trading and logging of the Boundary Waters began taking its toll on the fragile ecosystem. People decided to act, setting aside this pristine wilderness area and working to protect it from further harm. In 1909, President Teddy Roosevelt established the Superior National Forest, with 1,000 square miles of roadless land (the precursor to the BWCAW) later set aside in 1926 as the nation’s second administratively-established wilderness. The 1964 Wilderness Act designated the Boundary Waters as an original unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System, but with some compromises that allowed logging and motorboats to continue there. Congress passed additional protections for the BWCAW in 1978, and expanded the area to its current borders and size of 1.1 million acres. The controversy surrounding this Congressional effort for the Boundary Waters also led to the establishment of Wilderness Inquiry; WI began by taking canoe trips in the BWCAW and continues doing so to this day.
This is just the beginning of your adventure to the Boundary Waters. We will continue to provide you with more history and details as you travel through the lakes with our trip leaders. Hope to see you on the trail!
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is your cancellation/refund policy?
Your 10% deposit is non-refundable. If you choose to cancel your trip:
For trips in the continental United States:
• 6 weeks prior to start date — we will refund fees paid minus deposit.
• Less than 6 weeks — we will refund 50% of the total trip fee, or 100% of fees paid can be transferred to a future trip.
• Less than 1 week— no refunds will be issued.
For trips outside the continental United States:
• 12 weeks prior to start date— we will refund fees paid minus deposit.
• Less than 12 weeks — we will refund 50% of the total trip fee, or 100% of fees paid can be transferred to a future trip.
• Less than 2 weeks — no refunds will be issued.
In the rare event that WI cancels a trip, or we are unable to serve you, all fees are immediately refunded, including the deposit. Unfortunately, we cannot be responsible for personal expenses such as airline tickets. To protect your investment in your travel plans we recommend purchasing travel insurance. Information on travel insurance is included in your trip confirmation packet. If after registering you wish to switch trips, you may do so subject to availability. Fees may apply.
Under certain circumstances, such as death of a family member, change in health status, loss of employment, etc., we may make exceptions to our refund policies. Please let us know immediately if your plans change!
Can people of any age attend a trip?
Yes. Adults of all ages join our adult trips. In most circumstances children under 18 years of age are only allowed on family trips. We do not recommend many of our trips for infants or children under age 3. If you have young children, or if you have questions about which trips are most appropriate please call our office at 612-676-9400.
How do I portage on a Boundary Waters trip if I use a wheelchair?
Portages vary in length and terrain on BWCA trips. Some are flat and relatively easy, others are rugged up and down paths. Some start with a nice landing, others are rocky or swampy. We chose routes that have more accessible portages.
We can only accommodate manual wheelchairs on Boundary Waters trips, power chairs are typically too big and heavy to fit in our canoes.
If you can transfer independently in and out of a car and wheel around a hilly city park you should be able to portage with minimal assistance. If not, we have a variety of ways to assist you, including carrying you over difficult spots if necessary. If you will need help being carried our upper weight limit is typically around 160 lbs. We recommend you call our office to discuss.
Over the last 40 years, WI has successfully served well over 1,000 people who use wheelchairs in the Boundary Waters. So while portaging may seem a bit daunting, we always figure it out and have fun while doing it.
Does this trip have electricity for my CPAP machine, phone, camera or other electronic device?
This trip does not have electricity. If you'd like to join us please bring a battery pack on your own. We recommend the Generator Power Station. You can find more information here: https://goo.gl/1h9rCF
What is the maximum group size in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness?
A group of 9 people is the largest that can travel together within the Boundary Waters. This is a strict regulation that all Boundary Waters visitors must follow. Wilderness Inquiry provides 2 professional guides on each trip experience, so a group of 7 participants is the largest that can travel together at the same time.
If you are traveling with a group of more than 7 people, the group will need to split into two separate groups with traveling within the BWCAW.
What does BWCA or BWCAW stand for?
Boundary Waters Canoe Area or Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
How much portaging will I do on a Boundary Waters trip with Wilderness Inquiry?
The number and length of portages varies from trip to trip. Portage choices will be made by the Wilderness Inquiry trip leaders based on the strength of the group and specific route chosen within the Boundary Waters.
Which route will my group follow on a Boundary Waters trip with Wilderness Inquiry?
There are many different route choices available within the Boundary Waters. The route will be chosen by Wilderness Inquiry trip leaders based on availability and the strength of the group.
I am riding in the Wilderness Inquiry van to the trip starting point. Where can I park my car?
Wilderness Inquiry has no participant parking available in our lot. We strongly recommend that participants meeting at WI make arrangements to be dropped off and picked up at WI. If you are unable to make a drop off/pick up arrangement, you can park your car at the St. Anthony Standard parking ramp ($10/day). Long-term street parking is not available.
For more information, visit these links:
Standard Meeting Places and Times
Start: BWCA Ranger Station - TBD at 1:30 PM (local time)
End: BWCA Ranger Station - TBD at 11:00 AM (local time)
This trip begins at 1:30 PM at one of three meeting places: Ely, Grand Marais, or Tofte. Each trip ends at the starting location at 11:00 AM on the last day. WI uses many different routes for Boundary Waters trips, so if you plan to meet your group at the entry point be sure to check with your trip leader about the specific starting point for your trip. Some meeting locations include a parking fee. You can take your own transportation or use WI’s van transportation from Minneapolis. To use our transportation you will meet in Minneapolis at Wilderness Inquiry Headquarters at 6:30 AM on the first day of the trip. The van returns to Wilderness Inquiry Headquarters at 6:00 PM on the last day of the trip. Detailed meeting place instructions will be sent to you when you are confirmed for the trip. Booking a flight? We recommend flying in to the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport the night before your trip, and flying out from Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport after 8:30 PM.Want to Ride With Us?
We typically provide transportation for this trip from the following places (make your selection when you register):
- Wilderness Inquiry Headquarters FEE: $75 per person