The late-afternoon sun singes the back of my neck as we plunge our paddles into the tea-colored water lapping against the canoe. My friend Peter sits at the bow, his 12-year-old son Aidan is in the center, attempting to mimic each of his father’s compact paddle strokes. To our right, a rocky shoreline juts out from an encroaching wilderness. Above us, two crows ride a warm breeze blowing forest aromas across Snowbank Lake. Behind us is our car, our emails, Zoom calls, and a pandemic.
Northeastern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is just as beautiful as it is remote. Extending 150 miles along the U.S.-Canada border, the area is home to more than 1,100 lakes and 1,200 miles of canoe routes. Here, you create your own adventure: multi-day paddle and portaging loops, day trip expeditions from basecamps, hikes along tranquil wooded trails, fishing excursions for northern pike and walleye on pristine, secluded lakes.
Nearly 200,000 people visit the Boundary Waters annually; stay for just a few days and it’ll feel as if civilization has disappeared. Ours is an impromptu trip—from Snowbank Lake to Jordan Lake and back—and a much-needed getaway.
It would be easy to get turned around or paddle past a necessary portage when not paying attention. But that’s part of the fun—using only a map and our sense of direction to find our way.
More than 2,000 designated campsites are available on a first-come basis and scattered throughout the BWCAW. Each site is often at least a quarter mile from the next one and includes a fire grate, latrine, and plenty of room for tents. The farther you go, the more secluded the sites become.
Safe drinking water is important when camping, and collecting it is a daily chore. We often choose to drift offshore where the water is deeper, so our filter won’t plug with algae.
Mother Nature illuminates the sky with magnificent fiery pigments over Disappoint Lake’s tree-silhouetted landscape. “They might have gotten this lake’s name wrong,” Peter jokes.
Fishing is part of many great experiences here. After a short portage on day two from Jitterbug to Adventure Lake, Aidan reels in dinner: a 20-inch northern pike.
No matter how many times I visit the Boundary Waters, one thing never changes: the peaceful solitude.
Four billion tons of precious copper and nickel is buried in an ancient underground rock formation along Lake Superior and extends into northeast Minnesota. Changes to the Clean Water Act and a controversial new mine threaten to disturb the BWCAW’s pristine ecosystem.
Jordan Lake is our basecamp for three days. Here, time slows and small things become noticeable again: the bending groan of an old pine, bald eagles perched upon wind-battered trees, the yodeling of a common loon echoing across mirror-like water, and a hauntingly wonderful sense of isolation from the outside world.
Each day offers us the opportunity to teach Aidan lessons on how to set up and strike camp, leave no trace, gather wood, filter water, and start a fire without matches.
Whether we paddle for adventure, peace of mind, or even as a much-needed escape from an uncertain world, we come here for a reason. And no matter that reason, it is important that we share our passion for protecting outdoor spaces, and create a new generation of curious minds.