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Into the WILLderness - Boundary Waters

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

It's actually been quite some time since I last blogged, and to be honest, I miss it dearly! So to get back in the swing of things, I thought I'd provide some insights about our most recent outdoor exploration in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness!

Now even though it's been exactly a month since my girlfriend and I returned from our very first canoe trip to the Boundary Waters, it is still very much fresh in our minds! For those of you unfamiliar with this area, it is located in the northern-most part of Minnesota and reaches all the way across the Canadian border into Quetico Provincial Park.

A small river covered with lily pads that connects two of the many lakes in the Boundary Waters.

​There are over 1100 lakes in this wilderness area, which gave us ample opportunity to create our very own unique adventure! But having very little knowledge of the area, and with this being our first extended canoe trip, we decided to reach out to a local outfitter located in the town of Ely, by the name of North Country Canoe Outfitters.

Funny enough, we had actually met the owner and founder of the outfitter (John Schiefelbein) at a trade show in Denver the year prior. He had provided us with some reading material, which we said we would look into it, hoping that we would someday be able to partake in this incredible outdoor adventure.

Then, as fate would have it, my girlfriend's old roommate and her boyfriend, who live in Minneapolis, reached out and asked if we wanted to go to the Boundary Waters with them! To which we responded with an enthusiastic YES!!!

A female bald eagle and her young perched on a tree directly across the water from our campsite.

The drive from Minneapolis to Ely is roughly 4 hours. We left a little after 6 pm on Thursday night, after having stopped in Duluth for dinner with friends (a good midway point). We arrived at our destination close to 1:30 am. I would highly suggest making this drive in the day, for it is a beautiful drive in the daylight and once the sun goes down the wildlife come out in full force, seeming to have very little regard for cars traveling at a high rate of speed through their habitat late at night.

The following morning we got up early (around 6 am) and met with John to go over our final itinerary before heading out on the lake.

The sun setting over Crab Lake looking towards the little island across the way.

The route we chose to take for our 4-day adventure was definitely the road (or lake) less traveled. We decided to begin our journey with a two-mile paddle on Burntside Lake, followed by a mile and a half portage to Crab Lake. For those of you unfamiliar with portaging, it is the act of picking up your canoe and carrying it on your shoulders from one lake to the next. We chose this route because most people wouldn't subject themselves to a portage of that length to begin their journey.

All was going well until we got lost trying to find our first portage (probably my biggest take away from our trip to the Boundary Waters is that portages are INCREDIBLY hard to find. This is primarily due to the overgrowth of trees/shrubbery and how small the entry points for each portage can be). Luckily, I had my Garmin InReach Explorer Satellite Phone, which helped us get back on track. Once we found our portage, we "attempted" to carry the canoes with all of our gear the full 1.5 miles in one trip. This proved to be immensely challenging, as our kevlar canoes weighed ~45 lbs. and our personal bags all weighed 25 - 50 lbs. I only made it about a quarter mile in before having to drop our canoe and go the rest of the way with solely my backpacking pack. After reaching the lake with our bags, we then came back and grabbed the canoes. In total, we hiked close to three miles on that one portage alone.

A lily pad flower right after it rained.

After an exhausting start to the day we ended up camping at the very first campsite we found on Crab Lake. And truth be told, it ended up being one of, if not THE BEST, campsite we came across all weekend long.

But the highlight of that day, and really every day to follow, was hanging out on our favorite rock and drinking wine while we watched the sun disappear beyond the horizon.

Day 2 started out as a very dreary day, and we were a bit nervous that the entire day might be lost, as it rained on and off until about noon. However, the sun did finally come out and we decided to take out the canoes and make the trek up to Cummings Lake.

To get there we had to take two relative short portages and one river crossing. Cummings Lake, which is significantly larger than Crab Lake, took some time to paddle across. But we ended up finding a perfect little island to take a break and have lunch while we watched some youngsters fish on a sand bar just off shore.

On our way back across Cummings we encountered a brief downpour, but it stopped after about ten minutes. And once we arrived back at camp, the sun was shining and we were able to enjoy some afternoon swimming before making dinner and watching the sun set.

Side note: The bugs up there are NO JOKE. I came home with over 100 bites on EACH of my legs, as those bad boys are absolutely relentless. Bring as much bug spray as you can and maybe even some 100 percent DEET if you can get your hands on it.

Our canoe right before we dropped in to Little Crab Lake.

Day 3 was probably the most challenging of all. On this day we decided to take on the tall task of visiting seven different lakes while portaging eight times to get there. This may sound like a great way to get to see a variety of different lakes while getting in some good exercise, but let me tell ya, once you've seen one lake, you've pretty much seen 'em all. There really isn't much difference between lakes with the exception of their shape and difficulty in finding the next portage. If I were to do it again, I would choose far fewer and shorter portages with much more time spent on a single lake canoeing around.

On our fourth and final day we got up for sunrise, made a quick breakfast, packed up the rest of our gear and headed out to embark on our final portage of the trip.

All in all, the Boundary Waters absolutely blew me away! It was a uniquely incredible experience and I would 100 percent recommend it to any/all adventurers. But don't underestimate the challenge, as this was definitely one of the hardest outdoor adventures I have ever partaken in. Of course, you can make it as easy or difficult as you want, but there's a certain amount of satisfaction in completing an incredibly challenging task ... Especially when you're rewarded with the endless beauty of the Boundary Waters!

From right to left: My girlfriend, Kristin, myself, her former roommate, Karrie, and her boyfriend, Mike.
Bonus! Easy Camping Recipe - Pizza Bagels with Tomato Soup
  • Asiago bagel sliced in half

  • Sliced cheese (preferably mozzarella/asiago)

  • Pepperonis

  • Butter

  • Can of tomato soup

  • Add butter to griddle/pan and toast each side of bagel until brown/crisp. Add cheese and pepperoni. Cover w/ lid if possible so cheese melts more quickly. Heat tomato soup in pot until bubbling and serve. Dip pizza bagels in soup and enjoy!

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