This large area of gorgeous lakes and rivers is managed by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and lies along Minnesota's northeastern border with Ontario, Canada. One reason the waters remain unspoiled is that most of the territory is off-limits not only to motorized vehicles of all kinds but also mechanized vehicles (meaning not only no motorboats or snowmobiles but also no bicycles, sailboats or paddleboats). Boats with small motors are allowed on some lakes but primarily to ferry canoes and kayaks to the more remote areas.
The majority of the wilderness has no power or telephone lines and no roads. Because the many lakes and rivers are connected or separated only by short portages, it's possible to travel great distances by water. (There are some 1,500 mi/2,415 km of canoe and kayak routes.) You can even cross the border to the adjoining Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. In addition to canoeing and kayaking, you can enter the area on foot in the summer and by snowshoe and cross-country skis in the winter.
The number, size and variety of fish (including smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, perch, lake and rainbow trout) make the area an angler's paradise. Wildlife roaming the woods includes moose, black bears, deer, beavers, eagles and the common loon, Minnesota's state bird. And then there are wolves—the largest population in the lower 48 states—though they're not easily seen. What we like best about the area, however, is the exceptional sense of solitude and quiet that comes with a place that's so far removed from civilization.
To experience it, you may have to rough it—camping, much of it in undeveloped sites, is the only accommodation within the wilderness area. If you'd rather have a roof over your head, you might want to stay in a lakeside resort. Many are found near Ely, which is the principal gateway to the wilderness area. Also in Ely is the International Wolf Center. The highlight is a pack of gray wolves that resides in a forest habitat at the center.
If you want to make an extended canoeing or kayaking excursion into the waters, we recommend you use an outfitter: They provide boats, meals, permits and valuable guidance in planning your trip. Employing a guide to accompany you may also be a good idea. The largest number of outfitters and guides are based in Ely. There are others in Crane Lake and along the Gunflint and Sawbill trails (Highways 12 and 2). Arrange your trip in advance, especially if you plan to go late July-early September, when the area is busiest.
Wilderness permits are required for all who enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For overnight trips May-September, you'll need a summer quota permit, which should be reserved in advance (write BWCAW Reservation Center, P.O. Box 462, Ballston Spa, NY 12020, phone 877-550-6777 or 518-885-9964, fax 518-884-9951). If you're making a day trip or if your overnight trip takes place October-April, you can obtain a self-issuing permit at the entry point. http://www.bwcaw.org.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is part of the larger Superior National Forest, an area of 3 million acres/1.2 million hectares. The forest areas outside Boundary Waters offer some of the same scenery and wildlife but they're generally more accessible by car and motorboat. Permits are required for backcountry travel in the national forest. Contact forest headquarters in Duluth for more information. Phone 218-626-4300. http://www.superiornationalforest.org. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is 215 mi/345 km north of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
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