Boundary Waters Lodge-based Adventure
Canoe the Boundary Waters from the Comfort of a Lakeside Lodge
Canoe and explore Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) from the cozy comfort of Paul and Sue Schurke’s Wintergreen Lodge on beautiful White Iron Lake. You’ll enjoy many day trip options including canoeing from the lodge to beautiful wilderness lakes and trails, or hiking to Kawishiwi Falls – a tumbling 67 foot cascade! Spend your evenings at Wintergreen Lodge, located on a remote, pine-studded peninsula of White Iron Lake, complete with the comforts of hot showers, comfortable beds, great food and a wood-fired Finnish sauna.
For standard meeting places and times, see Dates & Fees tab.
Note: There are a variety of routes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The route described below is for Wintergreen Lodge. Your trip may follow this route, or one of the other Boundary Waters routes available. Every trip has its own unique experiences.
DAY 1: Meet at Wintergreen Lodge in the afternoon, share introductions, and settle into your rooms. Enjoy a beautiful afternoon paddle on White Iron Lake to the historic Beargrease Island before returning to the lodge for a nice dinner and campfire.
DAY 2: Enjoy the Paradise Ponds circle loop - the first ever BWCAW canoe route paddled by Wilderness Inquiry in 1978. After breakfast, begin at the Lake One trailhead to make a full day of this great trip. Enjoy lunch on the trail, swim, fish and participate in all of the activities the BWCAW offers. This trip takes you across a few short portages, but our lightweight Kevlar canoes make this accessible. Cap off the wonderful day with a hearty dinner at Wintergreen.
DAY 3: After a great breakfast and coffee, embark on an all-day canoe trip from Wintergreen to the Kawishiwi River. Take a scenic hike to the Kawishiwi Gorge overlook for lunch, and possibly a campfire. We'll return to Wintergreen by canoe for dinner and an optional evening sauna followed by a moonlit swim at the Wintergreen beach.
DAY 4: Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we leave Wintergreen Lodge. We'll visit Ely's highly acclaimed International Wolf Center on our way back through town, and you'll say good-bye to your fellow travelers by 11AM.
Travel, Terrain, Etc...
TERRAIN/ROUTE CHOICES: The BWCAW 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 BWCAW 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.
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: The group size ranges from 6-12 participants, plus 2 or more Wilderness Inquiry staff. Each group consists of people of various ages, backgrounds and abilities, including people with disabilities. We will prepare our meals as a group using the kitchen facilities.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Stay in a cozy north woods lodge just outside of Ely, including indoor bathrooms, showers and all the amenities. Typically there are 2-3 people per room, matched by gender or requests to room together. In most rooms, solo travelers have single beds and couples share beds. Wintergreen Lodge has very narrow doorways and boardwalks, if you are concerned about accessibility please give us a call.
MEALS: We’ll enjoy a variety of meals, some served at the lodge and others we’ll prepare ourselves out in the BWCAW. You'll enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in our tasty meals. We'll share hearty breakfasts, picnic trail lunches, and lively dinners at the lodge. If you have special dietary restrictions, be sure to list them on your registration.
SINGLE TRAVELERS: If you are traveling alone you will feel at home with a welcoming group. If you would like to have your own room throughout the trip you may purchase a single supplement for an additional fee. Please email or call us if you would like this option.
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.
Can I pay more to have my own room on a lodge-based trip?
Yes, most times a single supplement is available on a lodge-based trip. Exact cost and availability depends on the trip.
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?
Yes this trip has electricity. Please indicate on your registration form that you need electricity and we will be sure to accommodate your need to the best of our abilities. If this is an international trip please check if you need an international adapter for your electronics. You can find more information on international plug ins here: https://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/
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:
Single Room Supplement
You can elect to guarantee a single room for the duration of the trip for $450 during the registration process.
Standard Meeting Places and Times
Start: Wintergreen Lodge at 2:30 PM (local time)
End: Wintergreen Lodge at 11:00 AM (local time)
This trip begins at 2:30 PM at the Wintergreen Lodge, in Ely. The trip ends at the same place at 11:00 AM on the last day. Most people meet us in Minneapolis at 7:30 AM the first day of the trip for a shuttle to Wintergreen Lodge. If you plan to drive to Wintergreen Lodge on your own, it is about 5 hours north of Minneapolis. Detailed meeting place instructions will be sent to you when you are confirmed for the trip. Booking a flight? We recommend flying in to Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport the night before the trip, and flying out of 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