Woods and Waters-Boundary Waters Canoe Area, MN

In 7th grade my best friend introduced me to camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) on the border of Minnesota and Ontario.  We signed up for a 10-day session at YMCA Camp Menogyn and spent 7-days with a small group of like minded adolescent girls learning how to camp and canoe.  I was hooked and went back every year on progressively longer and more remote trips.  The summer before my senior year in high school, three other girls and our guide completed a 35-day, 500 mile river trip (yes we carried all our food and supplies) on the Fawn and Severn rivers in Northern Ontario.  A couple years after that I spent two summers guiding canoe trips in the Boundary Waters for both Menogyn and another camp based out of Ely.

Besides spending time at the cabin and cross country skiing, canoeing and spending time at Camp Menogyn was one of the best parts of my adolescence and undoubtedly one of the most potent influences in my teenage development.  Together with the friends and guides I met each summer, the wilderness was my mentor, teacher, church, therapist, advocate, challenger, and coach.  What I learned in the woods and on the water is some of the most invaluable education I’ve had.  The summer syllabus included wilderness basics and more importantly perseverance, gratitude, conservation, play, confidence, strength, risk, simplicity, adventure, laughter, and teamwork.  Our trip this summer was no different, except that I got to share it with the love of my life!

Being such a huge part of my life I wanted Ravi to get a sample of what I experienced growing up and selfishly wanted to do another trip up in the BWCA as it had been years since I’d been in a canoe up North.  I found an outfitter off the Gunflint, Hungry Jack Outfitters, got an entry permit, and we were off.  We had about a week of relaxing at the cabin before we headed up so we were ready to go.

Relaxing at Hungry Jack Outfitters before our trip.
Relaxing at Hungry Jack Outfitters before our trip.

We started our trip with a mile long portage into the first lake.  Most people try to avoid long portages, but this was the best entry point available and we were up for the challenge.  I like challenging portages.  Like a good run, weight session, hike, or bike, carrying the packs and the canoe is a moving meditation for me.  I love the feeling of navigating over muddy trails and rock beds with a hefty canoe on my shoulders or or a pack on my back.  The reward of stepping into the cool lake at the end of the portage is worth the work on the trail. So… with a slightly overgrown trail and thunder clouds brewing in the background we hit the first portage.  Duke was loving it already and Ravi was a trooper for trekking a mile on his first ever portage.  I felt like I had come home.

Morgan Lakes Entry.
Morgan Lakes Entry.

For the next five days we paddled and portaged our way through beautiful lakes and forests, cooked over the campfire, watched moose, loons, and beavers, ate handfuls of wild raspberries, slept under brilliant stars, dried out after drenching thunderstorms, and relaxed with a good book by the campfire.  Ravi and Duke loved it, learned the ropes, and decided we would be back.

-Alison

Typical view of the shore. Luckily we had calm waters for most of the trip.
Typical view of the shore. Luckily we had calm waters for most of the trip.
Ravi on a well used portage.
Ravi on a well used portage.
Making Dal at our first campsite.  We underestimated the amount of fuel we needed to cook and start the day with a hot cup of coffee, so we were hoping for good weather to make campfires.
Making Dal at our first campsite. We underestimated the amount of fuel we needed to cook and start the day with a hot cup of coffee, so we were hoping for good weather to make campfires.
View from our first campsite on Lake Vista. You can see the thunderstorms brewing in the background.
View from our first campsite on Lake Vista. You can see the thunderstorms brewing in the background.

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Ravi and Duke hanging out after our first day.  Duke has a keen eye for Ravi's snacks.
Ravi and Duke hanging out after our first day. Duke has a keen eye for Ravi’s snacks.
Lichen. Nature makes the best color combinations.
Lichen. Nature makes the best color combinations.
Just before we got drenched.
Just before we got drenched.
Torrential downpour and thunderstorm.  Because of the echo due to the lakes, thunderstorms are super loud.  We had storms on and off for a couple days but they moved fast and we dried out rather quickly.
Torrential downpour and thunderstorm. Because of the echo due to the lakes, thunderstorms are super loud. We had storms on and off for a couple days but they moved fast and we dried out rather quickly.
Evening.
Evening.
After running out of fuel I was trying to get the fire started.  It had downpoured the past couple days so I had a tough time starting the fire until Ravi brought be some birch bark.  Birch bark is the best fire starter and the flames started right up.
After running out of fuel I was trying to get the fire started. It had downpoured the past couple days so I had a tough time starting the fire until Ravi brought be some birch bark. Birch bark is the best fire starter and the flames started right up.

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View from our campsite the 2nd night.
View from our campsite the 2nd night.
Tiny landscape along the portage.
Tiny landscape along the portage.
A muddy portage in a burn area.
A muddy portage in a burn area.
Portages are measured in rods, or about the length of a canoe depending how long your canoe is.  This one was super muddy but only 4 rods.
Portages are measured in rods, or about the length of a canoe depending how long your canoe is. This one was super muddy but only 4 rods.

The following is a progression of Duke finding his place in the canoe…

Balancing like a cat.
Balancing like a cat.
Duke figuring out what place is most comfortable in the canoe.  It was hilarious watching him try out different set ups.
Duke figuring out what place is most comfortable in the canoe. It was hilarious watching him try out different set ups.
Keeping watch.
Keeping watch.
The perfect spot.  Duke could keep his eyes on what was happening up ahead and be comfy on top of the soft packs.
The perfect spot. Duke could keep his eyes on what was happening up ahead and be comfy on top of the soft packs.
Keeping watch and napping at the same time.
Keeping watch and napping at the same time.
Finding shade
Finding shade
Feeling at home.
Feeling at home.
I thought this was Duke's most hilarious position in the canoe.
I thought this was Duke’s most hilarious position in the canoe.

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Yellow lilies
Yellow lilies
Turtle sunbathing.
Turtle sunbathing.

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Ravi portaging the canoe and pack.
Ravi portaging the canoe and pack.

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Typical view while portaging the canoe.
Typical view while portaging the canoe.
Ravi double packing it. That's my husband! Wading through a wet portage that was more like a stream than a trail.
Ravi double packing it. That’s my husband! Wading through a wet portage that was more like a stream than a trail.
We had a couple days of super muddy and wet portages.
We had a couple days of super muddy and wet portages.
Luxurious morning on the water. Drinking coffee while floating! Thank you Starbucks Via.
Luxurious morning on the water. Drinking coffee while floating! Thank you Starbucks Via.
One of our favorite activities, book+campfire+dog=bliss.
One of our favorite activities, book+campfire+dog=bliss.
We loved this little island campsite on aptly named Long Island Lake.  We stayed here two nights and on the second morning two huge moose swam by.
We loved this little island campsite on aptly named Long Island Lake. We stayed here two nights and on the second morning two huge moose swam by.
View from our island getaway.
View from our island getaway.
Crayfish.
Crayfish.
Duke's favorite past time.
Duke’s favorite past time.
We picked up a canoe load of fire wood from an island and found a ton of wild raspberries.  I ate raspberries while ravi sawed some nice logs for the fire.
We picked up a canoe load of fire wood from an island and found a ton of wild raspberries. I ate raspberries while ravi sawed some nice logs for the fire.
Perfect landing at our campsite.
Perfect landing at our campsite.
Campsites with big granite slabs are the best.  You can spend hours just watching the wildlife, water, and relaxing.  Just before we headed in for the night we watched a family of beavers making their home across the bay.  They chirped at each other, slapped the water with their tails, and made quite a raucous.
Campsites with big granite slabs are the best. You can spend hours just watching the wildlife, water, and relaxing. Just before we headed in for the night we watched a family of beavers making their home across the bay. They chirped at each other, slapped the water with their tails, and made quite a raucous.
Happy to have good weather and a nice campsite.
Happy to have good weather and a nice campsite.
Water lilies were in full bloom.
Water lilies were in full bloom.
Flowers
Flowers
Moose!  These guys move fast.  I heard them plop in the water just across our campsite and by the time I got Ravi they were speeding their way across the bay.
Moose! These guys move fast. I heard them plop in the water just across our campsite and by the time I got Ravi they were speeding their way across the bay.
Happy Trails!
Happy Trails!
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5 thoughts on “Woods and Waters-Boundary Waters Canoe Area, MN

  1. Wow, what a trip, reminiscent of northern Scotland but on a lot larger scale. Camping out under the stars and away from ‘civilisation’ – magic. Wendy & Peter

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