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?