Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: My First Trip

As you may have noticed, I’m no “spring chicken”, so when my boyfriend suggested we go on a canoe trip this summer in the Boundary Waters, I got excited and nervous at the same time. 

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area follows the border between the US and Canada in the state of Minnesota. It is a popular destination for people in search of solitude in the back-country. My boyfriend had been to the area with his son for the past 7 years and wanted me to experience the feeling associated with spending days off-the-grid.

For the first trip, he decided on an easy 5-day route with shorter portages. My responsibilities before the trip were planning our food supply and packing my own bag while he was getting all other necessities ready including maps, compass and safety gears. During the trip I was to carry the food bag as well as my backpack at each portages. He was going to carry his own backpack and the canoe. 

As the date approached quickly, I became more nervous. What if my body did not work the way I wanted. I am in good shape physically, but it was an experience I had never had before. I was to carry 35 lbs twice at each portages and canoe 6 to 10 miles each day. What if something happened to him? Would I be able to call for help? Would I know how to call for help? He was aware of the risks and took all preliminary precautions to make this trip as safe as possible. 

On our first day we woke up early and got to our entry point by 7:30 AM. We wanted to get an early start to try to get to our planned campsite early in the afternoon. We paddled, hiked, paddled, hiked for about 5 hours. When we got to the lake we were planning to stay for the night, all campsites were full. We arrived at the next portage when we saw a scout troop pulling of the shore. We paddled into that direction and found out they were leaving the campsite. Lucky strike #1! We got our camp for the night.

The second day, we got up at dawn. The fog on the lake was starting to lift and the loons were making their presence known. It was magic! 

We left camp after a hearty breakfast of oat meal and dried fruits. We hiked, paddled, hiked, paddled. Around noon we arrived at our second planned stop. We got lucky again and found a beautiful campsite on a cliff overseeing the lake. The weather was perfect. We spent the afternoon getting the site ready, cutting woods, reading and watching canoeists go by.

On the third day, we decided to stay put. We took a day trip to the lakes further east. 

On the fourth day, we packed up camp, and started our way back to the exit point. It was going to be our longest day as we wanted to find a site closer to the last portage of our trip. When we arrived on “Disappointment Lake” we started looking for a campsite. To our disappointment all of them were full. It was two in the afternoon and we had not stopped yet for lunch. We got to the portage and recharged our battery with a small snack. We’ve heard storms were coming for the night. We could try to find someone willing to share a site, or continue and get out. We chose the later. 

Before you go, find below a few of my recommendations:

1- On your first trip, go with someone that has been there before or hire a guide, you’ll be thankful you did. 

2- Keep in mind you will need to get a permit to entry the boundary waters. Certain routes our more popular than others, so plan ahead. It can be purchased online at

3- Every ounces packed are ounces you will have to carry. REI has a great list to help with the packing.

4- Plan your route in advance, there are great books to help you with the preparation

5- Think safety and give your planned route to someone that can call for help if you don’t come back as schedule. Even if you don’t stick to the exact route, at least rescuer will have a place to start. Do not count on your phone, you will be out of range.

6- Think simple when planning meals. You may not find wood by your camp site later in the season and have to rely on your camp stove only. 

7- Use an outfitter that offers showers. You will need it when you come back to civilization. 

8- Get familiar with the rules before you go and respect the wilderness 

Sunrise Fog

My first trip to the boundary waters was a success. We got lucky with the weather, no-one got hurt and had an amazing time. We paddled 13 different lakes and hiked 11 portages. The longest was 240 rodes (about 3/4 mile) and the shortest was 5 rodes.   

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