Researching any vacation to a new place is daunting, but planning for and understanding how a trip to the largest water based wilderness in the lower 48 works can be overwhelming. Once you have a general understanding of what the BWCA is and the wonders it has to offer and how the overnight permitting system works you will probably start asking yourself what now? There are a few preliminary questions you can ask yourself when choosing a route that will help you get the best wilderness experience possible on your first Boundary Waters Camping Trip.
What Are My Expectations?
With its online communities, endless resources and photos and videos the internet can remove any gap between expectation and reality that used to exist in vacation planning. We used the word “can” because as with any product, destination or experience that you are researching online it can be very hard to see or hear about the down sides. It can be even easier to take all of the pictures of sunsets, happy families sitting around a campfire on a lake they have all to themselves, and trophy walleyes at face value. Your trip to the wilderness will be greatly enhanced if you know from the outset that these picture perfect moments are just that. Those moments are balanced by days of rain and wind, sore muscles and blisters from paddling and portaging all day, and losing your favorite lure because it snagged on a log, but experiencing the bad makes the good seem even better.
What Are My Interests?
The opportunities that the Boundary Waters Wilderness offers are almost limitless and depend on what you make of it. You can’t possibly choose the best area to visit or route to travel if you don’t first decide why you are going there. The BWCA is over 1 million acres of woods and water and different regions offer different opportunities and knowing your interests will help you hone in on the best area and eventually the best entry point to experience them. Whether it’s fishing, hiking, waterfalls, seclusion or any number of other interests building a trip around what you are going to do while visiting the wilderness is the best way to get the most out of your trip.
What Am I Capable of?
If it’s your first Boundary Waters Camping Trip this can be one of the hardest questions to answer. For most people looking to travel and camp in the BWCA they have no idea what they are capable of and how far they can paddle and portage and one of the most common questions we get is “how far do most people travel in one day?” We can provide general information on averages like the fact that most people paddle about 3 miles per hour but in reality we have no idea how fast you are going to travel. You can get a decent idea of your speed if you keep in mind that portages slow people down the most. Other factors that slow down travel speed are larger group sizes, weather, and fishing while you travel.
Enjoying Your First Boundary Waters Camping Trip
With the knowledge that you aren’t going to know exactly how far or fast you can travel until you are our there in mind tempering your expectations will help you enjoy your trip more. Pointing to a destination on the map with the expectation of reaching it on a certain day by a certain time is a recipe for disappointment. Our best advice is to set a general route and plan on being flexible based on changing weather, attitudes and interests.
Even if it is your first Boundary Waters Camping Trip you may know exactly what you are capable of, whether that is based on age, physical condition or because your trip interests outweigh any need to worry about your capabilities. These trips might include a motorboat, water taxi, shorter portages or no portages at all to spend more time experiencing your interests.
Once you have established some baseline expectations and have decided what it is you want to see and do while visiting the BWCA you can then start to decide how long you want your trip to be and what time of year will work best for your interests. At this point you can start exploring different routes and campsites, which is when the fun really begins.