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.
Sample ItineraryExpand All Fields
Day 1: Meet your trip mates and paddle to a campsite on Sawbill Lake.
Your trip starts in the afternoon at one of the BWCA ranger stations. You will drive to your entry point where the group will unload the trailer and pack gear into large dry bags. The first day, you will paddle from the Sawbill Lake water access to a campsite along the lake’s shores. In camp you will prepare dinner and enjoy an evening around the fire as you discuss trip expectations.
Day 2: Paddle and portage to Kelso lake.
Wake up early for great coffee and breakfast and review canoeing skills. Break camp and get underway, taking a short portage into a narrow channel. Keep an eye out for wildlife enjoying the calm waters before paddling into Kelso Lake. Find a campsite in the lake’s open northern reaches and settle in for an evening around the fire.
Day 3: Spend a layover day on Kelso Lake.
Paddle the Kelso River into Lujenida Lake and see a boulder perched atop three small stones. Take a longer portage to Zenith Lake if the group is feeling ambitious or return to camp and spend the afternoon swimming, fishing, or practicing your canoeing skills.
Day 4: Paddle south and portage into Alton Lake.
As the group learns to work together, more time is set aside for fishing, bird watching, exploring, or learning camp crafts.
Day 5: Enjoy a peaceful early morning paddle and say farewell to your group mates.
Cross Alton Lake and take one last short portage to Sawbill Lake. Pack up the van for the ride home, officially ending the trip in the late morning.
Dates & Fees
What to Expect
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.Read more »
Frequently Asked Questions:
Where do we meet?
Standard Meeting Places and Times
Start: Tofte Ranger Station at 1:30 PM (local time)
End: Tofte Ranger Station 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. 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.
Do you have any additional health restrictions on trail?
In addition to following CDC guidelines, we work with a team of community and health experts to help guide our safety measures on and off the trail. Find a complete list of steps we are taking to provide you the safest experience here: https://www.wildernessinquiry.org/covid19/
Do you offer financial aid?
Yes - we believe the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors should be available to everyone. To keep our programs as financially accessible as possible, each year we raise funds to support need-based scholarships. Certain restrictions apply. Financial aid is available for a select number of trips only and typically not available for international trips. Click here to apply for financial aid. This website also shows a list of trips that are currently eligible for financial aid. Check back often, as this list is updated regularly! Call 612-676-9400 for more information.
Do I need paddling experience to join a canoe or kayak trip?
Paddling trips with WI are appropriate for beginners and seasoned paddlers alike. On the first day of all trips, basic paddling strokes will be taught by the trip leader. Each trip gives participants multiple opportunities to practice their skills. Participants with more experience will have plenty of opportunity to paddle during the trip, and even to help teach less experienced paddlers!
What is the maximum group size in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness?
A group of nine 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 professional guides on each trip experience that count toward this total.
If you are traveling with a larger group, you will need to split into two separate groups while traveling within the BWCA.
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.
What kind of wildlife will I see on this trip?
Northern Minnesota is home to many animals including, loons, deer, bears, moose, wolves, and more! While we can't guarantee you will see these animals on your trip, there is always a possibility of catching a glimpse (or hearing the call) of one or more of these animals in the north woods.
I heard the BWCA is threatened by mining. Where can I learn more about this issue?
The proposed sulfide-ore copper mining in northern Minnesota is a true threat to the BWCA. On our trips, you will get a chance to experience first hand why this pristine wilderness is worth the effort to save from the potential destruction of mining. Find more information on this issue at https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org
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, Wilderness Inquiry 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.