7 Things You Can Do Right Now to Prepare for this Summer’s Canoe Trip

Summer Boundary Waters Quetico Canoe Trip Planning

Happy New Year!

A quick glance out the window to snow-covered, frozen Round Lake reveals that we have a ways to go until Paddling Season 2017. However, it’s never too early to start planning this year’s canoe adventure and these long winter nights are the perfect time to get your ducks in a row for summer paddling.

1) Set a date

We can be flexible about a lot of parts of your Boundary Waters trip, but the date you start your canoe trip is not one of those things. As anyone who’s taking the infamous Boundary Waters rules and regulation quiz knows, “You must enter the Boundary Waters at the entry point and date shown on your permit.” The BWCA and Quetico permit system sets a daily quota for each individual entry point that allows only so many groups to enter the wilderness/park through each entry point each day, so the first thing we need to know to get serious about your canoe trip is the exact date you plan to enter the Boundary Waters or Quetico.

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2) Choose a route

Check out our canoe routes or give us a call at 218-388-2221 to get some ideas.

If you’re a visual planner, you can order maps to start plotting out your journey. We primarily use Fisher and McKenzie maps for routing, but the Voyageur maps are also good if you’re okay with a slightly smaller scale and Voyageur has a great interactive website for trip planning. If you want a general overview of the entire BWCA area, check out National Geographic Maps or the official Superior National Forest map.

Once you’ve got your route and date picked, it’s time to move on to item #3 . . . .

3) Get your trip paperwork in order

If you’re headed to the Boundary Waters, the only piece of paperwork you need to worry about is your BWCAW permit.

One question we’ll get a lot in a couple weeks is, “I know the permit lottery is over. Is it too late to get a permit for the 2017 season?” The answer is a big, resounding, “NO!” The permit lottery is an archaic hanger-on from the early days of BWCAW permitting and is now basically obsolete. The earliest that anyone can book a permit for any BWCAW entry point that we outfit for is 9 a.m. CST on Wednesday, January 25 over at recreation.gov. If you’d rather have us do the permit reserving, give us a call at 218-388-2221 and we’ll add your trip to the stack of permits we’ll book on the morning on January 25th. In general, if you know exactly when and where you’re going, you might as well just go ahead and book your permit.

Headed to Quetico in 2017? Now is the perfect time to take care of your necessary paperwork – a valid passport and your Remote Area Border Crossing permit – since both documents can have up to an eight-week turnaround time.  You will be so happy in the summer when you don’t have to stress about your RABC or passport arriving in time for your trip!

Quetico permits can be booked five months in advance of your entry date.

4) Decide who’s going

Let the herding of cats begin! Remember, the maximum group size for a permit is 9 people. If you have a larger group than that, the group will be divided appropriately and sent on different trips. Don’t worry, your group size can be in flux until the moment when the permit is actually issued to you at the start of your trip; you don’t need to know your exact group size when you book your permit.

BWCA Camp Food Breakfast

5) Set the menu

If you’re taking care of your own food, you can get your specialized camp food (i.e. Backpacker’s Pantry) at any time since it’s designed to be shelf stable for years. It’s also a good idea to start thinking about any special dietary needs people in your group might have. If you’ve opted to have us do your food, submit your completed food menu at any time.

6) Reserve your canoe

When you have an idea of how many canoes you need, give us a call at 218-388-2221 to reserve them. We take a $50 deposit per canoe. If you’re planning to visit the Boundary Waters or Quetico during the high season (mid-July through mid-August) or over a holiday weekend and you’re counting on an ultralight kevlar canoe, it’s always a good idea to have your name on the canoes you’ll need as soon as you’re able. Learn more about our canoe fleet here. It’s not too early to book your bunkhouse and French toast breakfast either!

7) Inventory your gear

Aside from the canoes, we can accommodate just any about other camping gear you might need without advance notice when you show up to start your trip. However, it’s never a bad idea to take an inventory of your camping gear and that of other members of your party so you don’t have to spend the better part of your first day of the trip sorting through everyone’s gear in the bunkhouse until you’ve pared your packs down to the necessities. Take a couple hours to make a list of the gear you have, the gear you need, and whether you’ll rent or buy the gear you need. Now is a great time to check out gear reviews if you’re planning to make some camping gear purchases before your trip. If you’ve opted for complete outfitting, our printable packing list will help you plan what personal gear to bring.

Be sure to check out our trip planning page for more help preparing for your trip. To paraphrase Eisenhower, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” The more time you can spend carefully preparing for your trip, the more you’ll get out of the actual trip and the better you’ll be able to handle the unexpected.

When do you start planning for your summer paddling adventures? Are you a super planner or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants?

Boundary Waters Winter Weather Report

No surprise, it’s been COLD in Minnesota this last week. Today we woke up to a temperature reading of -22 F and last week, we never got above zero on the Gunflint Trail.

We’ve been shooting a weekly winter weather report video this season each Sunday. You can view the rest of the videos on our Facebook page.

Here’s this week’s edition, with stops at Round Lake, Cross River, Gunflint Lake, and Seagull Lake.

We hope you’re staying warm, wherever you are!

Welcome to the Winter Wonderland

Things have changed a little since we last spoke. After a seemingly endless string of days in mid-40s, a week ago Thursday, just before midnight, it started to snow.

Cattails in the snow off the Gunflint Trail

And snow.

And snow.

By the time the weather system had passed us by on Saturday morning, we had almost 11″ of fluffy snow. By the time Monday morning rolled around there was a thin layer, about 1″, of ice completely covering Round Lake. Talk about Insta-winter!

Frozen Round Lake near the BWCAW on the Gunflint Trail

The thing is, the winter weather hasn’t let up since. On Tuesday and Wednesday, another 5″ of snow accumulated and all day today, fluffy (and un-forecasted) snowflakes drifted down lazily to earth to freshen up the already very wintery scene. As much as winter clobbered us with its arrival this year, after such a long fall, the change in season was very welcome.

Chickadee songbird at the bird feeders

We’re steadily marching towards the shortest day of the year, but there are plenty of sights in this new winter wonderland to keep us distracted from the fading daylight. The songbirds (and squirrels) are back at the feeders, each morning we find a new set of wolf tracks zigzagging through the resort, and the otters have been busy slipping and sliding across the beaver pond near the Gunflint Trail.

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Now that it actually looks like winter, it’s a little easier to thinking about things like winter camping and ice fishing. Dare we say, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . . ?

If you’re hoping to spend some of your holiday season at Tuscarora, you can check out cabin availability and give us a call at 218-388-2221 to book.  Because the Lodge will be closed for renovations over Christmas and New Year’s, we have limited availability over the holidays this year and the cabins we do have available are booking up fast. Consider yourself warned!

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As the snow accumulates outside we’re hunkering down, knuckling down on the Lodge bathroom renovation, and preparing for the busy holiday season ahead.

Not to add to the commercialism over this retail-centric weekend, but if you’re looking for Boundary Waters/Tuscarora presents for some of the paddlers on your gift list, look no further than the Gift Shop Mini-Mart we just launched on our website. You’ll find BWCA stocking stuffers like stickers and patches, as well as slightly larger items like coffee mugs for under the tree. Happy shopping and thanks for supporting small businesses!

The Frost is Not on the Punkin

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
-James Whitcomb Riley

Everything Riley writes in “When the Frost is on the Punkin” is true these days at Tuscarora, except for the fact that there is no frost and there also aren’t any pumpkins. Also, I was stung by a wasp while planting tulip bulbs on Saturday and the begonias beside the outfitting steps are still going gangbusters, so I guess we’re in a strange, not quite summer, not quite autumn season at the moment.

That’s right, it’s October 3rd and we’ve yet to freeze on the Gunflint Trail. And what we’re lacking in pumpkins, we’re making up for in butternut squash. The squash plant must have received the perfect amount of rain and neglect this summer, because there are two beautiful large squashes hanging from the vines sprawled out on the lawn. (Mother Nature with her plentiful rainfall this summer sure helped out these inattentive gardeners.) We’ll wait until there’s a real threat of frost forming on their surfaces before we pick those squash and any of the other garden treasures.

Butternut Squash northern Minnesota gardening

In general, we usually figure the tomatoes have until September 20th to ripen. By the time we’re in the final third of September, we know a heavy frost will descend on the Gunflint Trail. On the evening of that frost, just as the sun is sinking on the western horizon, Andy and I will fill grocery bags with green tomatoes to ripen inside – our breath coming in misty clouds, our fingers growing increasingly numb as we pick.

But not this year. Our low temperatures this September were in the 40s and we didn’t even worry about a frost. Instead, Andy dutifully picked the tomatoes just as they started to turn red to keep the chipmunks from taking their customary single bite out of each reddish tomato and we made loads of BLTs and pico de gallo. When I was making supper, I’d say, “Hey Andy, can you get me a green pepper,” and instead of going to the fridge, he’d just go out the porch door and pick a green pepper from the large plant growing beside the tomatoes.

It’s weird.

It feels like we’ve won something. Or like we’re getting away with something. We’ve been slowly shutting down the seasonal buildings without even once worrying about pipes freezing. Everyone’s a little giddy about it all. To top things off, the fall colors are brilliant this year and they’re lingering.

Round Lake fall colors

How lucky are we? I mean, 70 degrees on October 1st? Yes please!

Round Lake Boundary Waters entry point October

To quote Laura Ingalls Wilder, there’s a deep sense that “now is now.”
Tuscarora Lodge flowers

Now is the time to take long rambles through the woods after work each day. Now is the time to eat garden produce fresh from the vine. Now is the time to just stop for a moment and soak in autumn sights and smells. After all, we might be just days, if not hours, from the first killing frost and the leaves tumbling to the forest floor.

Tuscarora Lodge in the autumn season

There’s no time for delayed gratification. Now. The time to revel in autumn is now! Now, before the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

Ode to Autumn (Canoe Trips)

“So, how often do you get out for trips yourself?”

We’ve spent all summer answering that question and now the answer that we usually give is upon us: September.

September is when we go on canoe trips.

Of course, that’s not a hard fast rule. Like most folks, we go when we can. Sometimes that means June, sometimes we manage to sneak away at the peak of the season in late July or early August, but if we have our druthers, September is the month we choose for paddling trips.

Last autumn, Andy managed to get out for a trip with his buddy Andrew during the second full week of September. They did a six day/five night Quetico canoe trip via the Falls Chains, Kawnipi, Agnes, and McEwen Lakes.

Quetico Provincial Park Ontario Canada Paddle Trip It’s not the best photo documented canoe trip that ever was. Andrew’s camera broke on the second night they were out there.

(Here’s the last photo that camera ever took – Andrew with a walleye on the shores of Heronshaw.)

Quetico Provincial Park blue walleye catch

But the photos that they did get show just how beautiful an autumn canoe trip can be.

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There are lots of reasons to opt for a late season canoe trip. With school back in session, the woods of the Boundary Waters and Quetico get pretty quiet. While there’s a little influx of visitors over each weekend in September, after Labor Day it’s not unheard of to go for days without seeing another soul, especially in Quetico. Traffic-free portages and the lack of campsite competition allow late season visitors to travel at their own pace. The days are noticeably shorter, which forces you to set up camp earlier and cool nights are infamous for good “sleeping weather.” The lakes start turning over, which means better lake trout fishing, if not poorer swimming conditions as the water temperature drops.

Of course, fewer people in the woods and colder temperatures mean late season campers need to be a little more vigilant about their personal safety. It’s especially important to have a good pair of rain gear along to keep you warm and dry during the inevitable September storms. Also, use a heavy duty pack liner to keep all your gear bone dry while you travel and embrace the lifejacket as your most important canoe trip fashion accessory.

If you’re hoping to get some fall colors in your late season canoe trip photos, be sure to check out the fall color updates that the Superior National Forest naturalist posts weekly. Although we’re starting to see some of the brushy undergrowth turn on the Centennial Trail hillside along the Round Lake Road, we’re still a ways out from true fall colors on the Gunflint Trail. A wet summer like the one we’ve just experienced usually coincides with lingering fall colors, but we’re not going to make any color predictions just yet.

While we can’t tell you when to time your trip for peak fall colors, here are a few things we can tell you definitely about planning an autumn Boundary Waters canoe trip:

  • If you want more daylight than nighttime on your trip: go before the autumnal equinox on September 22nd.
  • If you want to catch lake trout: go before the lake trout season closes on September 30th.
  • If you’d like to enjoy French toast the morning you start your trip: go before we close the kitchen on September 30th.
  • If you don’t want to pay for a Boundary Waters permit: go on or after October 1st, when all you need is a free, self-issuing Boundary Waters permit to camp overnight in the BWCAW.

A couple other autumn notes: our office hours are now 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. for the remainder of the 2016 season. We continue to serve breakfast at 7 a.m., so bunkhouse guests can still get an early start on the morning of their trip.

We hope to see you for an autumn canoe trip this fall.

What’s your favorite part of a late or early season canoe trip?