We had been talking about taking a boundary water trip for several years. I think when most people think of the boundary waters they think of spending weeks paddling multiple remote no motor lakes, portaging and camping. I have never been much of a tent camper so the trip was put on hold until our friends did a boundary water trip and they did not camp nor spend multiple days in the wilderness. After researching this and talking with them. I found out it is possible to paddle the boundary waters by day and stay in a resort/hotel at night. This is a popular area (and a bit pricey) so plan ahead.
Our trip begins with a 7-hour drive from central Wisconsin to Grand Marais MN. Grand Marais is a small quaint town next to Lake Superior and approx 2 hours from Duluth MN. The nearby Gunflint Trail is a two-lane road which travels 60 miles to Big Saganaw Lake and on into Canada waters. The Gunflint Trail is the artery to the Boundary water wilderness lakes and numerous other lakes. The lakes within the boundary waters wilderness are no motor. I was surprised to find many of the lakes along the Gunflint trail allow boat motors, some with speed limits, some not. In some cases to get to parts of the boundary waters in this area, you may need to paddle through a motor lake. Once in the boundary waters, it is heaven for a canoeist.
Should you decide to camp in the boundary waters plan months ahead. A permit is required for camping and there are only so many permits available. A day permit is also required for entry on the lakes. A day pass is just a matter of filling out a form at the entry point and no big deal. We rented a lightweight canoe for our first day out as ours is quite heavy and had an outfitter help us fill out the necessary paperwork. This may be a good idea for first timers. After our first day, we did things ourselves and used our own canoe. We also had our kayaks along but kayaks are not really the choice of boats due to the portages. No pull carts are allowed on the portages, boats must be carried.
There is so much information available online it can become confusing. Once you are in the area it all makes sense. I can not express strongly enough the need for a good map. Some of these lakes are quite large and you will need a map to locate the portages to other lakes. Everything looks the same so it is easy to get lost. We had maps as well as GPS. Maps can be obtained for a fee at the ranger stations in Grand Marais. If you are paddling in Canadian waters you will need a passport. The portages are measured in rods so know how to calculate the distance. (Example 1 rod = 16.5 feet). The portages can be short or quite long.
These lakes are quite secluded with no cell service so have a good first aid kit and necessary survival knowledge. There are bear and moose in these areas so be aware. We saw several moose before we launched our canoe the first day. This pristine area is an unbelievable thing of beauty. It is hard to imagine a place this secluded and undeveloped can exist in today’s world. I’m sure I will return again. Day one of the trip. Hungry Jack Lake to Moss Lake to Duncan Lake to Rose Lake. Approx time 5 hours. Day two of trip Iron Lake to Little Iron Lake. Approx time 4 hours.