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 2023. 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.


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 get a lot in first few weeks of the year is, “I know the permit lottery is over. Is it too late to get a permit for this 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.

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 $100 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?