A trip into the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for a long weekend is a must. So, too, are gaining some skills and taking on a longer adventure. We talked with several experts — outfitters Up North who guide and prepare visitors of all calibers — and they came up with ideas.

The experts

What things make for a great trip?


  • We always have to bring our hammocks. I love a good nap while in the wilderness on a canoe trip.
  • I really like warm, dry feet! I love to pack some quality socks.
  • Sometimes people overlook the small things. I make sure we always have lip balm, sunscreen and hand lotion. These things don’t take up too much space, but sure make you more comfortable in the long run.
  • A rod, reel and fishing tackle. My family loves to fish. Sometimes we only spend a short time actually fishing and other times it’s an all-day adventure.
  • A good set of rain gear, with jacket and pants. They also work as great layering pieces.


  • Reasonable expectations and plans.
  • The right paddling partners.
  • Good food (doesn’t need to be fancy, but food is fuel for the body and soul).
  • The right amount of things that have purpose and utility.
  • Put your phone on airplane mode or, better yet, leave it behind.


  • A few of our favorite things to do in the BWCA include swimming, paddling under the stars at night, and observing the seasonal changes during trips in the early spring and late fall.


  • A good attitude, both within yourself and your traveling companions.
  • Good planning.
  • Fine food and excellent, strong coffee.
  • Opportunity to explore places I haven’t seen before.
  • A nice tailwind doesn’t hurt, either.

What are hurdles that canoe campers need to get past to take longer trips?

Nelson: Plan it out. You want to make sure you have enough food for each meal and each day of your trip, even if you plan on fishing. Make sure to have the maps of your entire route, enough fuel, enough matches, and toilet paper. Know your route, and have backup plans if it’s windy and/or rainy. It’s better to be late and stay safe than rush through bad weather. Ask an outfitter to verify your route thoughts before you head in. Sometime the major hurdle is just your mindset. Getting disconnected from technology and the world can be hard for some.
Seaton: Bringing too many gadgets of limited use; getting hung up on being super-light (Leaving your Thermarest behind to save a couple pounds but you can’t sleep? What good was that?); believing that something will happen or someone (work) needs you so much that you can’t be away. The world will survive just fine without you for a couple of weeks.
Shirleys: The reality is, you need about the same amount of stuff for a two-day trip or a 12-day trip. The amount of effort to get your camping gear together, organized, and packed up is about the same no matter the length of your trip. The only difference is a little extra food. Also, we see people struggle with is the desire to avoid portaging. To have an enriching long trip, you need to move camp more often than not. Long portages can be the key to unlocking some really unique terrain. It may sound crazy, but basecamping in one spot for a whole week does get boring!
Zabokrtsky: A lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown. A good first step is to ramp up one’s trail experience and wilderness skills on a shorter route. After just one BWCA trip, you’ll have much more confidence in your navigation and canoieng and campcraft skills, which you can later leverage on a longer, deeper adventure.

A seven-day paddle possibility

Nelson of Spirit of the Wilderness, an outfitter in Ely, suggested this route for people who want to try a longer trip. It can be modified and tailored to different skill levels.

Day 1: Have your outfitter drop off your vehicle at Snowbank Lake and then drop you and your canoes and gear at the Lake One entry point. You will paddle back to your vehicle or pick up a shuttle. There are a number of nice campsites on Lake One, but I recommend taking the two short portages to Lake Two and finding a campsite on Lake Three or Lake Four. As your first day, it may take you a bit longer to travel your route as everyone is getting the paddling and portaging figured out.

Day 2: Get up and pack up your campsite. After having a hearty breakfast, paddle through Lake Four and take the short portages into Hudson Lake. You have a 90-rod portage into Insula Lake (80 rods equals about a quarter-mile). Pick from one of many great campsites and possibly stay two nights. Insula is known for many islands and great fishing. Keep an eye on where you are on the map. It’s easy to get turned around amid the islands. Follow the southern shoreline to make it a bit easier to navigate.

Day 3: Stay at the same campsite and explore. When taking a day trip always bring your rain gear, matches, a tarp, and food. You will be much more comfortable and safe if you get wind-bound or turned around. This is a great fishing lake, so spending an extra day here will give you time to find where the fish are and hopefully have fish for lunch or dinner.

Day 4: Pack up your campsite in the morning and paddle across the rest of Insula Lake toward Alice Lake. It has some beautiful, sandy campsites on the northeastern shoreline. On the southeastern edge, you can paddle on Fishdance Lake and try finding the pictographs. Alice Lake also is known for good fishing. If you didn’t have a layover rest day on Insula, plan for one on Alice Lake. It’s a bit more remote and you will feel like you have most of the lake to yourself.

Day 5: Pack up your site and paddle and portage north into Thomas Lake. You will have a two-thirds mile portage along the way. Make sure your group is hydrated and has enough energy as you start this longer portage. Remember, you don’t want to block portages as you take breaks or have lunch. Others may be passing through. You will want to plan on sharing the space. Make this day for travel, maybe trolling a lure while paddling through Thomas and ending in Ima or Jordan lakes for the night.

Day 6: Pack up and make your way into Disappointment Lake. Plan on picking a campsite earlier in the day — this can be the first lake to camp when people start on Snowbank Lake. Plan on a bit of time to relax and enjoy the day with not as much paddling. There are some great campsites in central part of the lake.

Day 7: Your last day. After you pack up, set off to the southern end of Disappointment. Take the 95-rod portage into Parent Lake and then the 95-rod portage into Snowbank Lake. This puts you closer to the take-out location. Snowbank is notoriously windy. The less you have to cross in the afternoon when the winds can be high, the better. When you come off the portage you are at your exit location. You will possibly see other groups passing you in the direction.