Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoeing, Minnesota

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14203A, Canoe


  • Enjoy spectacular wilderness scenery and wildlife, great campsites               
  • Experience classic northwoods river and lake habitat with the highest moose population in Minnesota
  • Learn at both the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center in Ely


  • All rentals, shuttles, wilderness camping fees
  • Most meals and round-trip van transportation from Minneapolis
  • Lodging in Ely the nights before and after the trip


DatesAug 16–23, 2014
StaffTerry DeFraties

Trip Overview

The Trip

Permit and logistical considerations force us to limit the trip to just seven participants, plus the two leaders. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is a wilderness with a thousand sun-kissed lakes, hundreds of miles of rivers and streams, a million acres of boreal forest, abundant wildlife, superb fishing, more than 1,500 miles of canoe routes, and some of the best flatwater paddling in North America. National Geographic named the Boundary Waters as one of 50 destinations of a lifetime. Each year, visitors come from all over the world to sample this maze of waterways, and few go away disappointed. We will spend a week sampling the stillness, silence, and solitude of this amazing area while paddling pristine rivers and lakes. You will paddle among towering red and white pines, white birches, and beautiful bogs in the home of eagles, loons, beavers, otters, moose, lynx, black bears, and the eastern timber wolf. We could see a variety of wildlife—all in this truly spectacular setting. We will camp beside the lakes and rivers.  You will awaken to see the rising sun burn mist off of a mirror-still lake while you hear the call of the loon in the background.  Amazing sunsets will greet you as daylight dwindles away, and you may be lucky enough to hear the distant howl of wolves in the darkness. "Primordial forest" and "crazy as a loon" will probably take on concrete meanings. We will hear silence. We may be lucky enough to see the northern lights. No city lights will interfere with stargazing in the silence of the northwoods as our campfire dies down.

Before going into the wilderness, we will visit the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center, both in Ely, to see these animals and learn about them. In the BWCA, you will enjoy and experience their wilderness firsthand as our route takes us through a whole range of lake and river habitat. There will be time for photography, fishing, and swimming.


Day 1: At 7:30 a.m., we will depart from a hotel in suburban Minneapolis and get acquainted in our van as we drive to Ely, eating lunch en route (first meal of the trip). We will then visit the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. Dinner that night will be at a restaurant in Ely (not included in the trip price). At night we will stay as a group in one of our outfitter’s houses or bunkhouse. We will divide up group gear and double check all of our gear and packs that night.

Day 2: After a shuttle to our entry point on the Kawishiwi River, we will paddle into the wilderness. We will camp at an established campsite beside the river.

Days 3-6: We will continue our route through lakes connected by the Kawishiwi River, camping at established campsites next to the water.

Day 7: After breakfast, we will paddle to our pick-up location, which we will reach after lunch. Then we will be shuttled back to our outfitter’s facilities for hot showers. We will have time to sightsee and visit Ely before dinner at another Ely restaurant (not included in the trip price).

Day 8: After breakfast, we will drive back to our Minneapolis hotel, with lunch en route. The trip will end at the hotel in the early afternoon.



Getting There

We will meet at a suburban hotel near the Minneapolis airport. The trip will start when we leave the hotel at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, so you will need to arrive sometime Friday. We will return to the same hotel at the end of the trip.

Accommodations and Food

The first trip meal will be lunch on the first Saturday and the last will be lunch on the last Saturday. We will spend the nights before and after the trip in Ely in our outfitter’s facilities. Our two dinners at popular Ely restaurants are not included in the trip. 

We will be wilderness camping for five nights in the BWCA at established campsites and will otherwise strive to leave no trace. Plan to work together to make camp, prepare, and clean-up meals. The trip leaders really like to cook and to eat, so count on interesting, varied, and nutritious meals. There will be plenty of food. If participants wish, they can bring additional between-meal snacks. We will do our best to accommodate vegetarians and medical dietary restrictions. Those with challenging restrictions may be asked to bring or prepare some of their own food to supplement group food. Please contact the leader if you require accommodation.

Trip Difficulty

Physically this will be a moderately difficult trip. We will be on flat water in the BWCA, including river portions of the trip. The current is generally minimal, and we will portage around any rapids or waterfalls. Participants should have some experience with canoeing and camping. Other than the regulation forest service fire grate and the famous wilderness latrines, there will be no facilities at the places where we camp in the BWCA. Participants must be able to manage a canoe in at least light wind and small waves. We will need to portage our lightweight (about 40 pounds) Kevlar canoes, but portages will not be excessive for a BWCA trip. Canoe partners need to be able to move their gear and canoe across a portage -- it could be a few yards, a quarter mile, or more. All of your gear and your share of group gear must fit in a single waterproof pack, plus a small day pack for items needed while in transit (e.g. raingear, water, etc.) in order to make portaging manageable. Plan to work cooperatively as a group in completing portages and all aspects of the trip. We will spend about six hours most days in transit, i.e. paddling and portaging. This may vary depending on wind, weather, and other factors. The leaders will finalize the trip details based on the capabilities and experience of the group.

Equipment and Clothing

Lightweight Kevlar canoes, paddles, and PFDs are included in the trip cost.

When we are camping, our cooking and water purification equipment and camp tarps will be provided. We will have a group first-aid kit for emergencies. However, you will need a personal first-aid kit, prescription medications, and OTC items like Band-Aids, aspirin, ibuprofen, etc. In the BWCA, we plan to provide one bear canister per participant for group food, individual snacks, etc. Participants must bring their own water bottle/bladder, mug, bowl, spoon, tent, sleeping bag, and camping gear. Temperatures can range from the 40s F at night to 70s F in the daytime. A good two-piece waterproof rain suit is required. You will want quick-drying synthetic clothing that can be layered. Participants must have a 70- to 115-liter dry bag with shoulder straps to carry personal gear and with enough space left to hold some group gear and a bear canister (9" diameter x 13"). It is unlikely but possible that we will need to remove some deadfall or other portage trail obstacles. Packable leather work gloves may be useful for this task and for making camp.

Detailed equipment and gear lists will be provided to participants after they are accepted for the trip. With some advance planning, most gear, including packs, can be rented on an individual basis; and a few items may be loaned by the leader. Please contact the trip leader if you have any questions.


  • Beymer, Robert, Boundary Waters Canoe Area: The Eastern Region. Wilderness Press, 2009.
  • Jacobson, Cliff, Boundary Waters: Canoe Camping With Style. Globe Pequot Press; 2001.
  • Furtman, Michael, Canoe Country Camping: Skills for the Boundary Waters and Quetico. University of Minnesota Press; 2002.
  • Stensaas, Mark, Canoe Country Flora: Plants and Trees of the Boundary Waters. University of Minnesota Press; 2004.
  • Stensaas, Mark, Canoe Country Wildlife: A Guide to the Boundary Waters and Quetico. University of Minnesota Press; 2001.


Unsafe sulfide mining is one of the biggest threats to the pristine BWCA Wilderness. Sulfide mining is new to Minnesota, but elsewhere in the country (particularly in the Western U.S.) it has polluted water with acid mine drainage and left taxpayers responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs when mining companies have filed for bankruptcy and abandoned their polluted mines. With sulfide mining companies seeking permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural resources and exploration for more sulfide mines occurring throughout the Arrowhead region, laws are needed to protect Minnesotans from problems experienced in other states. While other states have passed similar legislation only after experiencing the devastating effects of sulfide mining disasters, Minnesota has a chance to lead on the issue, preventing problems before they occur.

This issue has been alive for the last several years, when a Canadian company, Poly Met, decided that mining for sulfide would be profitable, just outside of the BWCA. A side effect of sulfide mining is the leftover product sulfuric acid. It doesn't just rust like iron ore. Sulfuric acid destroys watersheds and habitat for fish and mammals and affects drinking water. The remains last for over 30 years, with most companies refusing to clean up the leftovers.  Read more at the link:

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Superior National Forest.



Terry DeFraties leads local outings for the Thomas Hart Benton Group (Kansas City) of the Sierra Club Missouri Chapter and lives in the Kansas City area. He owns a small construction company and backpacks, canoes, kayaks and caves whenever he can. He has participated in, organized and led wilderness trips for over thirty years. With Sierra Club national outings, he has led or assisted on service, backpack, kayak and canoe trips. He is a certified Wilderness First Responder.


Holly Johnson is an outings leader for her local Eagle View Group and lives in the Illinois Quad Cities. She is massage therapist and paramedic who devotes her free time to environmental issues. Holly enjoys all outdoor activities including kayaking, biking, camping and backpacking. She lives with two cats and is the environmental pied piper to all of the children in her neighborhood. Holly has led several national trips and brings great energy and expertise to the outing.

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