Boundary Waters canoe trip planning should be stress-free and fun. Here are some step to help you with that.
Who’s going? Your group make up will help us determine which canoe route is best for your group. Things to keep in mind: Age of the group, outdoor experience and fitness level. The maximum group size is 9.
What are the goals and interest of the trip. Here are a few examples: Fishing, relaxing, photography, solitude, wildlife, base camping or traveling.
Your Canoe Trip Dates. Entry permits are limited so it is important to plan in advance. We can help you with that to if your dates are already fixed the is great or we will find you the best canoe route based on the permits that are available for your date. Each season has different things to offer on a canoe trip. If you are looking for fewer bugs and more swimming opportunities July and August would be a good time of year. If fishing is the reason for you trip, May, June, and August would be best.
How many days for you trip? We can accommodate canoe trips of any length. We will make your trip anyway you want it.
What do you need to rent? We will help you out with our partial outfitting gear. Available to you are the essentials: Canoes, packs, life jackets, and paddles.
Trip Logistics: You drive to Ely, some people fly into MPLS or Duluth and then rent a car, and if you need tow service into Boundary Waters Canoe Area entry point, we can set it up for you.
Additional Services needed: Do you need a guide? It is not necessary to take a guide into the wilderness but we can help you find the right one for your trip if you book a trip early enough.
Call us to book your next Boundary Waters Canoe trip at 218-365-5489 or just fill out our reservation form.
At 12:15, July 4, 1999 disaster struck. Straight line winds hit our area and obliterated most of our neighbors. It just missed us by about a 1/4 mile. In its path, every tree taller than 40 feet snapped off have way up. Power line poles went as well and the just after Northwind Lodge went dark. I went over to the Moose Lake road to check on my mother-in-law Edith and her husband Bob Cary to see what happened. There were trees and exploded electrical transformers on the ground. Good thing I put a chainsaw in my truck because when I got there, Bob Cary was in his early 80’s and sawing on the pavement trying to open the road. Trees were twisted and under load so you had to be careful to watch so you wouldn’t get whacked when you poked the chain bar in there. It was truly surreal and the damage hard to believe. Fortunately, all the houses seemed to survive I think because the trees ate up the force of the wind. Now, where there once was brush, you had a scenic view of Moose lake as you drove down the road.
Well, as a result of the big wind, our outfitting customers had nowhere to hang their food packs. Everything snapped off. I had experimented with barrels and harnesses before and was not a huge fan of the one big barrel because it hits me on the tailbone. After a day of portaging, my tailbone is not a happy camper. So, I abandoned those in the mid 90’s. I really wanted to be able to carry 2 barrels but nothing existed to do so. Two barrels would allow two people a place to sit. They also allow one to separate out supplies better. Hiding two barrels makes it far more likely that a bear won’t find both and smaller barrels are easier to stash. The one big barrel has to be dumped out on the ground because everything you want ends up on the bottom. Also, the big barrel likes to roll around in the canoe which irritates me to no end. I hate stuff clunking around. I actually took one out on a long, 7-portage, day-trip to see how it would work. Well, it worked I guess, and comparatively, it’s cheap to own, but I was not a big fan.
I wanted a custom-made pack that would haul two 30 liter barrels so I headed over to Kondos Outdoors and met with Dan Kondos about my idea. In about 45 minutes, the Super Pack was born. I was going to make those little labels to sew onto the pack but I figured I would only sell 3 or 4 of these and at the time, I had to buy 5,000 labels so I held off. I should have had them made. We sold hundreds of Super Packs over the years to all sorts of happy campers. The only people who ever had a problem with it was a group of Boyscouts in a different state who borrowed a Super Pack from a guy who bought one from us, and a US Forest Service clean-up crew. In both cases, the scouts and the USFS did exactly the opposite of what you do with a Super Pack. They left the barrels inside the pack and hung it from a branch only to show the bears that the big pinãta at the end of the rope might have something good in it. Then they left camp for the day. When the USFS returned, a momma bear and two cubs were wailing on that nice, grounded pack which was holding those two barrels together resulting in their not sliding around which normally makes them hard to handle for a bear. In this case they were easy to hold down, jump on, and pummel. The bears managed to completely shred the pack into a garbage heap and tear a 6″ hole in the side of one barrel. Both barrels were completely flattened but they only got into one. That USFS worker who told me about the bears complained that these were not bearproof barrels to which I responded, “Well, who ever told you that they were bear proof and why the hell are you hanging in the first place?”
He answered that it was “government policy” to always hang your food pack, to which I replied by pointing out how asinine that was given that these packs are supposed to have the barrels removed and stashed in two opposite directions after they’ve been sealed shut. Then you hang that completely empty pack on any tree branch. If the bear smells no food, he won’t touch it and you won’t have a destroyed pack. I don’t think I was able to get through to that government worker about the error in his ways. Nobody really knew what the scouts did on their adventure, but I’m guessing it was equi-dumb. Those were the only two instances of which I’m aware regarding the destruction of a Super Pack going on 16 years of outfitting them now.
Now, when you get to camp, take the Super Pack up to the site and pull the two 30 liter, air & water tight barrels out of the pack. Use them to keep your food and it’s associated odors sealed off from the outside world. Use the two barrels as two chairs while in camp. When you leave camp and/or at nightfall, standing at your fireplace, stash one barrel 50 feet to the left and the other barrel 50 feet to the right, in the brush. Throw a couple of rocks and/or sticks, maybe an old downed log over the barrels to break up their appearance as they lay in the brush. You don’t need to bury them but if you can find a slump in the ground to lay a barrel in so they are harder to see, that is even better. And, while thse two 30 liter barrels are great to sit on in camp while you are there, make sure you don’t fry fish next to them. Don’t smear grape jelly on the outside. Also, don’t leave them unattended on a trail or the path to the biffy – bears walk on paths, too. What you are trying to do is minimize exposure to bears. You don’t have to go crazy in camouflaging them. If they are clean and odor free on the outside, they are not a target.
If you have the misfortune of getting the last campsite on the lake and it’s laden with bear signs including fresh scat, a ring of bark at the base of the hangin’ tree from where the bear has been running up and down the previous night, do this: Tie a rope around the necks of your two barrels, take them 15 feet offshore and anchor them floating in the lake. It’s pretty unlikely that a land animal like a bear will swim out and go “bobbing for apples” to see what’s in those barrels.
Contrary to myth and various internet bulletin boards, these barrels are incredibly tough, but not “bear proof”. Bears just don’t want them because a sealed up barrel smells like food-grade polyethylene which is a very clean, inedible plastic.
While portaging, remember to get the pack on your shoulders and then reach behind your head and pull each of the cover straps snug for a great fit up against your back. For short-torsoed folks, pull out the hip belt, flip it over and re-install it back in its slot. Easy to do and requires no tools. This puts the belt up about 1.5 inches higher for women’s torsos generally allowing the waist belt to be on the hips.
Each Red Rock Super Pack is custom built for Red Rock by Kondos Outdoors of Ely. Our Red Rock Super Pack holds both barrels beautifully and allows an extra 6″ of space on top for things you may need quick access such as raingear, lunch, a 2-3 man tent, etc. It’s easy to carry with a built-in foam-padded back, 2 contoured padded shoulder straps complete with sternum strap and hip belt. Made out of 1000 Denier Cordura Nylon containing 2-8 gal/30 liter barrels (20″ H x 12″ W) with tough dependable “V” channel lock band. Pack is 6684 cu in. Too much room for your food? Put the food in one barrel and your clothing or other things you want to protect and keep dry in the other barrel. Just don’t put the your clothes in a barrel with hard German salami or something truly ridiculous to bring on a canoe trip: cantaloupes. You might end up with a bear licking your ear on the portage…
This is a picture of a used Super Pack. You always see the shiny new gear, not the one that’s been out in the woods and actually used by real people. This one was on many canoe trips. I just shot some quick pics to show the straps, the barrels in the pack. Then I had to move because a truck was coming down the driveway, so I didn’t get the top zipped shut, but you get the idea.
You need water. Clean water free from Giardia Lamblia and Cryptosporidium. The first one is NOT an airport out east and the second one is not Superman’s nemesis, but they’ll sure make you get all funky if you pick them up. There are ways to reduce your exposure to these two gastrointestinal terrorists without filtering the water.
You can use chemicals (bleach) which work if used correctly but make the water taste like crap
You can boil the water which takes far more effort and fuel than it sounds. Plus, you always end up with hot water in the middle of a hot summer day.
There is an ultraviolet system that works after you stir the light in the water for 90 seconds to expose everything to the disruptive UV radiation. Sounds cool until you’ve stirred for 90 really, long seconds. It feels like it takes forever.
Now, what is wrong with all three of the above? What do they do that I really don’t like? No matter which you choose, you will end up with “crunchy” water. All those dead bacteria are floating around in there along with bug wings, bird poop, moose poop, fish poop, and soap from the moron down the shore who thinks she’s bathing in the Ganges River in India. (Doesn’t everybody dump soap and scrub up right in the lake in the Boundary Waters? Rather disgusting habit in my opinion and yet, I have seen it more times than I can count. This is NOT India, you campers-with-no-clue!)
If you use the right filter, you end up with clean, drinkable water and no bug parts, etc., floating around. If you want to see which one I like the best and why, CLICK HERE to Red Rock Outdoors.
A lot of time is expended on sizing a canoe paddle properly. Some paddlers get all excited if they don’t feel they have a precise paddle fit – on land. Well, here’s a paddling perspective you may want to consider when picking the correct paddle size for you.
One of the biggest hurdles in taking a canoe trip in the Boundary Water or anywhere for that matter is bringing along a rod and reel. Conventional open water rod/reel combos are long, get caught in the brush, and challenging to transport without snapping the tip off turning a medium light 6 foot rod into a medium 5’6″ rod. I’ve successfully carried a lot of rods through the brush on portages for a lifetime without ever having one break. I didn’t say that I never came close to wiping my rod out on a branch but I’ve never broken one personally. That being said, I’ve had other people break my rods because they were clueless. It’s no surprise that I only let my dad carry my rod on a portage or I carry it myself. Those are the only two people allowed to handle my fishing rod when out in the brush.
Based on the fishing rod sales at Red Rock, a lot of people snap their rods off while carrying them in the woods around here. They do a whole bunch of other dumb stuff, but two ways to handle fishing rods will keep your rods going for a long time if you like remote places:
More rod tips die unnecessarily by not understanding that “one ALWAYS carries a fishing rod on any trail in the brush, ‘rod-butt-first'”. I would venture that 95% of fisher-kind gets this ass-backwards every, single time. Carrying your rod tip forward in brush can, at times, end poorly.
When passing through a screen door, DO NOT walk out “rod butt first”. If I had a nickle for every customer who walks out through the screen door at Red Rock with a BRAND, SPANKIN’-NEW, ROD, and pokes the rod butt to the outside world completely forgetting about the remaining 5 feet of rod behind them. Guess what? The screen door gets it every time. WHAP! SNAP! For this reason specifically, I built the screen door at Red Rock with no spring on it. A magnet holds it shut. You have to physically shut it. If you physically shut it on your brand new rod, there’s no hope for you.
Sure, you can tie your rod into your canoe, but depending on a number of variables, this is sometimes a time-eater and causer of neck pain. It is also no guarantee that the rod will survive your Labrador or your 13 year old, and you still have to wander around in the brush. You’re in the woods for Pete’s sake.
At least, that’s what I’m calling it. I was at a buying show wondering why, in a sea of ice fishing rods, would Daiwa have this neat little ice fishing rod and not be teaming it up with a reel for a cool winter combo. I asked the snot-nosed sales rep that and the young lad looked at me like my “completely unheard of, totally unique, idea” for an “ice rod combo” was going down as a great revelation in fishing history. Never mind that when I arrived at the Daiwa space, he and the other children (first time at the show), were throwing casting weights to irritate the women across the aisle and cranking them back in with their Daiwa reels, ironically while looking at competitor booths selling every conceivable ice rod combo all around Daiwa.
Young lad aside, he couldn’t answer questions about this little rod other than it was a “dock rod” . Turns out, this is a pretty cool little rod for fishing out of a canoe as well. They say it can cast up to 20 yards which is 60 feet. For sneaking around with a canoe or even a boat, that is WAY enough for darn near any kind of Boundary Waters fishing. You can plug the shore for bass, drop over the side and jig for walleyes and lake trout, and throw some fairly heavy tackle for big northern pike.
I’ve often wondered why my ice fishing stuff which is comprised of everything being tiny (compared to my summer stuff) can work absolutely great in the middle of winter dragging a fish up through 2 foot deep hole in the ice. Why is that? My tiny little 27″ medium rod can pull 1 ounce airplane plugs 55 feet down and then pull up a 7 lb laker with a reel smaller than I would ever think to use in the summer. Ice fishing is THE most brutal use of fishing gear. If it’s not frozen, it’s freezing. Everything is colder. Water lands everywhere and freezes instantly. And, then after all those knots of ice get cranked up through the eyelet of that tiny rod and into that tiny reel, they all stick together and you are there trying to crack it off to unstick it just so you can do it again. Everything is more brittle and it gets used pretty hard whether you are catching fish or not. My ice gear gets used every bit as hard as my summer gear and maybe even moreso.
So, if we have a short rod, reel combo for summer fishing to do exactly the same thing as ice, who is to declare us wrong?
Just think how easy it would be to tie a 36 inch fishing rod into a canoe under the seat with a couple of lighter weight bungees?
How much easier would it be to walk on a portage with a 3 foot rod?
Just think of how easy it would be to land your own fish with a landing net using a 36″ long rod instead of a 72″ rod.
What do you think the odds are that your partner in the front of the canoe is going to knock your hat off with a sloppy back-flip of a rod while winding up for a cast with a 3 foot rod?
What would it be like to jig heavy trout lures over the side when jigging in Kekekabic Lake for lakers in May/June?
The Daiwa Triforce Shorty is available in both spinning and casting versions. For those unfamiliar, casting versions have a “trigger” on the handle and would be the style you’d use for a baitcaster reel. You could also rig it up with a a spincast reel like a Daiwa Silver Cast or Gold Cast.
We’ve teamed it up with the Quantum Triax TRX10 Reel for great balance. This reel would take 100 yards of 6 lb. mono and probably 80 yards of 8 lb. mono. You could cheat and go to 15 lb. test braid which would fit 125 yards on this reel as it is 4 lb. test diameter. The Quantum Triax reel very nicely matches the Daiwa Triforce Shorty and comes with 7 ball bearings and anti reverse. It’s bail closes with just the right amount of force. I like an easy-closing, but not too easy, bail. The reel weigh in at 5.8 ounces.
Kevlar – yes kevlar canoes are what you want for your next BWCA wilderness canoe trip. They are lighter on portages. But remember that nobody ever drowns on a portage. So don’t assume that all kevlar rental canoes in the BWCA are created equal. A lot of people are reticent to rent kevlar canoes for a whole host of reasons. Here are a list of the top concerns that I’ve heard over the last 25 years of renting kevlar canoe for rugged boundary waters canoe trips:
kevlar is too fragile and will puncture easily
kevlar canoes are tippy
they are fast but won’t turn in a wind
don’t have much freeboard when loaded
you have to “wet foot” canoe all the time.
Here is a list that corresponds with the above list to address each point:
Not if it is made by Souris River. Yes, Wenonah, Bell, and all other canoes are fairly fragile.
Not if it is a Souris River Quetico 17 or 18.5. Yes, Wenonah’s and Bell’s are tippier with the exception of Wenonah’s Boundary Waters which is stable but an odd canoe on the water. Bell’s are always a little on the jittery side.
Souris River’s are fast with a load and without a load plus their stability doesn’t change even when their load does. They are properly designed to turn in the wind. Wenonah’s (MNII) is a retired racing canoe with no rocker. Wenonah, with their racing roots, doesn’t know how to make a canoe not go straight. That’s great until you get caught in a crosswind with their associated low-freeboard. Bells are much better handling than Wenonahs, but they feel jittery when empty and stabilize when loaded. A truly great canoe never changes handling/performance characteristics. – that’s the SR Quetico 17.
Wenonah builds a bunch of different canoe models which tend to be somewhat obscure on the Boundary Waters front. I don’t see those models and aren’t familiar with them by name, either. But, they do build some high bow, low side and low stern design in the main of the models used by outfitters to the boundary waters. The high bow is sharp and slices the waves. It also maintains the straightest course from point A to point B which makes it fast, right? Well, it also does the “A & B” thing in the “up and down” line. In rough water, it becomes a submairne because it’s skinny hull refuses to rise up and go over the top of the wave. So, do the math: You are in a skinny canoe with a 20″ bow charging into a 24″ wave. What’s going to happen? You’re gonna get 4″ of water in your lap for every wave you dive into with your Wenonah. Now add in the fact that your rental Wenonah has 7 days of gear in it and you at 200 lbs. are all wedged in the front of that canoe. How high do the oncoming waves need to be to end up in you lap, now? The answer is less than 24″ . After loading up your loaded canoe with water that you really didn’t want, what happens when you get stuck in a crosswind with a canoe that fights you in turning in 24″ waves? What happens when water comes over the side? Does the canoe sit even lower at that point? When do you begin bailing? None of this is a problem with a sensible canoe like Souris River’s Quetico 17 or 18.5 three-man. They rise up and over the waves due to their non-racing hull design. High and dry is always better than fast and underwater.
Souris Rivers are significantly tougher than Wenonahs and Bells. Those two canoes are downright fragile in rugged country and the rule of thumb is that Souris Rivers rent four times more than Brand X kevlar canoes and Brand X requires 4 times more repairs after every trip out. Now, we never want to see you ram shore with ANY canoe, but if you bump something with a Souris River kevlar, oh, well. Continue paddling, no need to dig out the duct tape.
If you think I’m making this up about Souris River Canoe, as an outfitter, what do I care if the canoe handles well in 3.5 foot whitecaps or treats my customers well? I could VERY easily open up any other line of kevlar canoes for rentals and they would cost me less and get the job done well enough with less effort on my part. Every year, I get the price sheets for Brand X kevlar canoes sent to me. From a business standpoint, I would be best served to get the job of renting kevlar canoes done as cheaply as possible. Souris Rivers cost me significantly more per canoe than any Brand X models and are a pain for me to get down from Canada. Souris Rivers don’t have the marketing in the US that Brand X kevlars have. In fact, because of brand recognition, it is easier to connect with a customer over Brand X kevlar canoes than it is with Souris River Canoes. Sounds like a better business decision would be to switch brands of kevlar canoes.
And, yet…we stick with them exclusively. Go figure, eh?
We always get ask which map is best, I always that they each have there good qualities and it really depends of what you information you want. I will say that the Fisher is one our best sellers followed by the Voyageur Map. The Mckenzie map is popular with people who want to fish because of the contour depths that are on the lakes. So here is the information on each map to help you make your decision on what map you should use for you trip!
The “F” series maps are our most recent set of maps taken from U.S. Forestry and Canadian topographical base. Scale is 1-1/2″ to the mile, more than twice the scale of our 1952 (100-series) maps. This map base provides the ultimate in accuracy and detail including land contours and lake bottom contours where that information is available on the Minnesota side of the border. U.S. Forestry map base originates from U.S. Geological Survey source material. This “F” series of maps will be of interest to the hiker, backpacker, and hunter as well as those traveling the waters of the canoe country. The maps are printed in four colors on a polypropylene base paper affording maximum readability. They are completely waterproof and will hold up with the roughest handling. Campsite, portage, trail, and other relevant information on the Minnesota side is provided and reviewed annually by the U.S. Forest Service for accuracy. Size 22-1/2″ x 28-1/2″, Scale 1-1/2″ = 1 mile, Waterproof
Are high quality, rugged, waterproof guides and maps to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), Quetico Provincial Park, Isle Royale, Voyageurs National Park, Lake Superior, Apostle Islands, and the surrounding lakes region. These tough waterproof maps are designed to assist users in Canoeing, Portaging, Fishing, and Hiking in and around these natural wilderness areas.
Water depth contours where available
Full topographic details with hill shading
UTM navigation information (a must for GPS users)
Many other important details to make navigation easier and more efficient.
McKenzie Maps are printed in full color with hill shading to emphasize elevations, and are printed on high quality, rugged, waterproof plastic paper to endure rough outdoor conditions. Our highly detailed BWCA/Quetico maps are 25″ x 30″ at a scale of 1:31680, approximately 2″ = 1 mile, and cover an area approximately 144 square miles. Other maps vary in size and scale; you will find that information in the individual map descriptions. The maps are reviewed annually by Park and Forest Service officials, DNR officials, guides, outfitters and resort owners.
Are the newest map to use for the Boundary Waters Canoe trip. They have map only 10 maps to complete the whole area. Voyageur maps cover larger areas with more lakes. Ten jumbo maps cover the entire BWCA in beautiful detail. Laid out for the canoeist with crisp, clear lake outline; portage and campsite information; and detailed topographic lines. Lake contour coverage for those who love to fish, plus summaries of DNR fish surveys. An excellent overview map and full lake name index of the whole BWCA on the back of each map with historical notes as well.