A couple of weeks ago I went on a great adventure to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota with 2 friends of mine. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area has been a special place for me since I was in my early teens. I've been going to the BWCA since I was about 13, with Boy Scouts, and then later in life, made trips with friends. I think I've been to the BWCA 5 or 6 times now. My last trip was probably over 15 years ago, and I'm not sure why there was such a gap in trips. Sometimes life gets in the way I guess. But after this trip, I'm hoping to go every summer. After being in the wilderness for 6 days, it brought back memories of why I love this area so much. It is truly a special place and I hope it is around forever.
We started the trip on June 20th, left Madison in the early morning and made our way to Grand Marais, MN. The drive is about 8.5 hours. After a stops in Duluth and Grand Marais, we made our way up the Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais to our outfitter, Tuscarora Lodge. We arrived at Tuscarora about 15 minutes before they closed and met with the owner. We got our permit, fishing licenses, and information about the next day. Then we made our way to our bunkhouse and got settled in. After unpacking a bit, we went to the Gunflint Lodge and had our last meal and some drinks before we would hit the water the next morning.
The next morning we had a hearty breakfast of french toast and packed up our gear and met with the owner of Tuscarora. He and some employees showed us our food packs and canoe for the week, then we mapped out our route while Andy (the owner) pointed out good fishing and campsites and other areas to take day trips. After packing up the rest of our gear, we were off to our entry point. We were on the water pretty early and had a full day of paddling and portaging. We went through maybe 6 lakes and portages before arriving at our destination of Long Island Lake that afternoon. We found a campsite marked on the map and set up camp, and did some fishing in the evening. We made Long Island Lake a base camp for 3 nights and went on day trips to the Frost River and Frost Lake and explored our lake and did a lot of fishing. Long Island is a pretty big lake, but I think we only saw two other canoes in the three days we were there. It was complete solitude. The only noises we would hear were the birds calling and the wind. At night we had an owl in the trees above our tent and would hear the calls, so that was pretty amazing. Oh, the mosquito's buzzing in our ears was another sound that we would definitely hear. But if the wind picked up in the evening, they went away. Or if you put on enough insect repellent, you could get a bit of respite from them. They were kind of relentless, but, that's part of being in the wilderness and it was well worth the annoyance.
After three days on Long Island Lake, we set off to get closer to our exit point. After a few lakes and three portages, we arrived at Cross Bay Lake and found an amazing campsite available. So we stopped and made camp for 2 nights on Cross Bay. This campsite was amazing! It was one of two sites on the lake and I'm pretty sure we were the only ones camping on the lake for 2 days. We did get a bit more canoe traffic, but it was nice to see some canoes going by and say hello. We stayed on Cross Bay and explored our lake and did some fishing for a full day. This was wildlife heaven! Our first night, we saw a moose with a calf. Then the next day we saw another moose in the water eating and got really close. Also had a painted turtle hanging out in our camp and a giant snapping turtle made it's home in the water at our camp. The snapping turtle was trying to steal our walleye that I caught. It was on a stringer in the water until we had it for dinner, but that turtle tried to steal it 3 times before it finally got the fish's tail in its jaws. We got it back and filleted it up and had it as a pre dinner snack. It was delicious. That fish had a rough day.
After 2 nights on Cross Bay, we got up early and broke camp and made our way to the exit point. After a few hours of paddling and portaging, we were back at the outfitter. After we were picked up by the outfitter at our exit point, we made our way back to the lodge where hot showers waited! After cleaning up and packing the car we talked with Andy a bit about our trip and we hit the road. We got a few miles down the Gunflint Trail and stopped at Windigo Lodge for celebratory beers. So great to have an ice cold beer in celebration! After a beer we stopped in Grand Marais for some shopping and we hit the road for the long drive back to Madison. We got back about 12:30a.m.
The BWCA is truly the wilderness. It is so beautiful and peaceful. I will not wait another 15 years for a trip back. It was relaxing and sometimes physically challenging. But worth every drop of sweat shed and mosquito bite received. If you haven't been to the BWCA, you should probably go. It's amazing. It's a special place and I hope it is around forever.