The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), or Boundary Waters, contains over 1,100 lakes and 1,500 miles of ancient canoe routes. Its waterways have been explored for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, European fur traders, and now the general public.
The Boundary Waters landscape of today was formed when three billion years of erosion and glaciers exposed the Greenstone roots of what was once a mountain range as tall as the Himalayans, leaving behind a desolate land of rocks and water. Lichen spores drifted onto the barren rock faces, breaking them down, forming cracks, and beginning the soil-building process. After thousands of years, the soil became fertile enough to support plant life and animals followed. The rugged region became teeming with red and white pine, beaver, moose, wolves, and waterfowl.
Woodland Indians inhabited the area around 10,000 years ago, followed by the Ojibwe people in birch bark canoes. French Canadian Voyageurs eventually lived and worked in the region along the Minnesota/Canadian border, trading furs and worldly goods with the native people. Today, paddlers can rest upon the campsites and walk over the same portage trails humans have used for over 500 generations. Visit recreation.gov to book your permit.
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.
Howard Zahniser (Wilderness Act of 1964)
Paddle the beautiful Kawishiwi River on this beginner-friendly loop. Kids love the swimming holes and casting into the swirling eddies along the meandering river.
Length: 19 miles (3-5 days)
Entry/Exit: Farm Lake
Maps: Fisher 3, 4 or McKenzie 17, 18
Head a day’s paddle to the U.S./Canadian Border to troll the depths for walleye and lake trout or cast along the hundreds of islands on Lac La Croix, or “Lake of Large Red Pines” to the Ojibwe people.
Length: 45 miles (4-7 days)
Entry/Exit: Little Indian Sioux River (North) to Moose/Portage River
Maps: Fisher 16, 23 or McKenzie 12, 13, 14, 31, 32
Paddle east from Camp along the iconic inland water route preferred by French Voyageurs to Lake Superior. Witness the crystal-clear Knife Lake, along with the beautiful Granite River. Rose and Mountain Lakes lead east to the Height of Land and down the rapid Pigeon River. Then comes your ultimate challenge; the 8.5-mile portage topped with a plunge into the frigid Lake Superior waters. Not for the faint of heart.
Length: 143 miles (9-12 days)
Entry/Exit: Farm Lake to Grand Portage (Lake Superior)
Maps: Fisher 3, 4, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20 and McKenzie 98 or McKenzie 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6A, 8, 18, 19, 26, 98
Are you new to canoe-camping or just want to hone a few of your tripping skills? Check out these blog posts:
As part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, Camp Voyageur is an equal opportunity National Forest Service BWCAW cooperator that issues Boundary Waters permits and promotes the Leave No Trace Wilderness Ethics.