Here in Ely, Minnesota, our backyard is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). In conjunction with Quetico Provencial Park in Canada this beautiful area is home to over 2000 lakes connected by rivers and portages that are only accessible to paddlers. It is still one of the most pristine places you can travel to and camp in, and is one of the few places on earth where you can find water pure enough for drinking in the wild.
It is home to countless ecosystems, the biodiversity of swamps, bogs, streams, watersheds, wetlands, rivers, and lakes. It is home to the Timberwolf, Moose, Common Loon, American Bald Eagle, Beaver, Muskrat, Otter, Pine Martin, Red Squirrel, Fisher, Fox, and many more of our animal brothers. These cold northern waters provide sport and food with their vast variety of fish from the legendary Lake Trout and Northern Pike to the coveted Walleye and the spirited Bass. Panfish and Sunnies are the delight of children and adults alike. The songs of birds both seen and unseen create a symphony like none other as you walk paths taken by Native Americans a centuries past.
It is a paradise away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It is a place to escape and get closer to things bigger than yourself. It is without a doubt the best medicine for stress relief and one of the most fantastic places you can introduce children too at a young age.
The Boundary Waters is protected and yet accessible. It is set apart and special, but everyone can visit this beautiful country.
It is both our sanity and the object of our affection.
With any imagination at all, you'll be sharing your trip with the Native Americans of the 17th Century, the Voyageurs of the 18th Century, the trappers and settlers of the 19th Century, and the loggers and mineral prospectors of the early 20th Century. The wilderness waterways and portage trails have been used for literally thousands of years, and visitors to Canoe Country may still see reminders of those who have travelled there in an earlier time.
Recent archaeological excavations on the perimeter of the BWCA Wilderness have uncovered artifacts from Native American cultures dating back to more than 10,000 years ago. More common in the wilderness are sites of Indian rock paintings that may be several hundred years old, although the age, the artists, and the purpose of the pictographs are yet unknown.
In a few parts of the wilderness you may also find remnants of the early logging activity. In the far northwestern part of Quetico Provincial Park, in particular, you may find the dilapidated remains of old dams and sluiceways, rusted cables and long steel spikes, abandoned machinery, and clearings where cabins once stood. You'll be amazed at how quickly the forest has regenerated itself.
If you would like to learn more about the history of this magnificent area, browse our Boundary Waters Books. A little reading now will surely enhance your upcoming wilderness expedition.
Quetico is a protected, pristine wilderness retreat of international acclaim west of Lake Superior on the Canada-U.S. border. The park’s tangled network of lakes once formed water routes travelled by Ojibway and fur traders. Now it is primarily the destination of experienced canoeists seeking solitude and rare glimpses of wildlife by cascading waterfalls, glassy lakes and endless forests. The park is accessible at five points by canoe.
The last of the glaciers receded from Quetico about 12,000 years ago, leaving a landscape dominated by exposed bedrock, rounded, smoothed or scratched, crushed into boulders or shattered to form imposing cliffs.
The visitor to Quetico will find a primeval wilderness of limitless forests, mirror-smooth lakes, and innumerable bogs, all supporting a rich variety of plants and animals. The northern forest is mainly black spruce, jack pine, trembling aspen and white birch, with sheltered pockets of more southern trees such as oak, elm, silver maple, yellow birch and basswood. The park also has magnificent stands of red and white pine. Red squirrels, chipmunks, beaver and mink are among the smaller mammals. Larger species such as wolf, bear and moose also live here, and in summer more than 90 species of birds nest in the park.
Quetico's many interconnecting waterways were the highway system upon which explorers sought the passage to the West. They were also a vital transportation route that supplied tons of fur pelts to the markets of Montreal and Europe in the mid-17th century. Today these waterways are a wilderness paradise for canoeists.
Quetico is primarily a wilderness canoeing park. There are 2,200 backcountry (interior) campsites, accessible by canoe, scattered around the park on over 600 lakes.
Even more remarkable is the diversity of plant life. Along with vast forests of pine, spruce, and fir are birch, aspen, and maple, and even oaks atop some of the dry ridges. It's a lovely sight, especially in autumn, when the red, yellow, and golden hues of the hardwoods are accentuated by the many green shades of the conifers.
Boundary Waters Wildlife
Perhaps nothing better represents the wilderness than the eerie wail of a loon echoing off the shores of a dead calm lake at night. It's a mournful cry that every visitor should hear during a summer visit to Canoe Country. Or maybe the sight of a soaring, bald eagle high above your path is even more thrilling. Or a majestic bull moose along the shore of a tranquil creek. Or the chilling howls of a pack of timber wolves across a darkened lake from your campsite. Or a black bear IN your campsite!
All of these experiences are possible in Canoe Country, where a unique blend of Northwoods wildlife includes the last substantial population of timber wolves in the contiguous 48 states. Quiet paddlers and astute observers may also see whitetailed deer, ospreys, beavers, martens, mink, otters, foxes, great blue herons, owls, boreal chickadees, peregrine falcons, pileated woodpeckers, and a variety of ducks. In all, there are over 200 types of birds, fifty species of mammals, seven kinds of reptiles and twelve amphibians living in the area during all or part of the year. But there are no poisonous snakes!
Boundary Waters Fishing
To describe Canoe Country as an angler's paradise would not be an exaggeration. Of the nearly 2,000 lakes in the wilderness, most are teeming with game fish. Lucious walleyes, feisty smallmouth bass, large northern pike, and elusive lake trout are among the most popular species. But there are more, among them largemouth bass, crappies, bluegills, perch, whitefish, and stream trout. Even if you're not an experienced or dedicated angler, you should have no trouble catching enough fish for a tasty meal or two during your visit to the wilderness.
Avid anglers, will have some records to shoot for. The largest of several species ever caught in Minnesota were taken from this neck of the woods, including a 17.8 lb walleye, a 45.12 lb northern pike, a 17.6 lb rainbow trout, a 6.2 lb brook trout, and a 9.6 lb splake. Walleyes over 10 lbs, northerns over 20 lbs, smallmouth over 5 lbs, and lake trout over 13 lbs are not uncommon catches from many of the area's lakes. Two-pound crappies have also been caught. Of the nation's top 100 walleye lakes (selected by some of the state's best walleye fishermen), twenty are found in Minnesota. Some can be driven to, but the very best are reserved for wilderness paddlers.
If fishing is "your thing," that's reason enough to spend your next vacation in the Boundary Waters.