Boundary Waters – Ely, Minnesota
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is made up of more than 1,000 lakes scattered throughout the piney wilderness of the Superior National Forest along the Minnesota-Ontario border. This stretch of wilderness is composed of 1 million protected acres of land, with lakes ranging in size from 10 acres to 10,000 acres. It’s the largest wilderness preserve in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. Cross the border into Canada and you’ll find another 1.2 million acres in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park.
The BCWA is free of cars, and nearly free of motorboats too. It boasts more than 1,500 acres of mapped canoe routes and was first used by Ojibwa, French, Dutch and British fur traders during the 17th century. The typical user comes in and spends days or weeks, paddling and portaging canoes as they camp along the forested shores and fish for their dinner. Paddlers and anglers help to make Boundary Waters the most heavily used wilderness area in the United States.
Throughout the BWCA you’re likely to encounter loons, moose, and occasionally a wolf or two – specifically eastern timber wolves, who roam the woods after nearly facing extinction in the 1930’s, and from time to time, other humans. The permit system enforced throughout the BWCA keeps the crowds quite manageable.
Nearby Ely is home to a number of outfitters who provide everything that excursions might need – from basic gear rental to outfitting entire week-long excursions into the wilderness. There are also quaint log cabins and lodges nearby to retreat to after a number of days into the backcountry.
The BWCA isn’t just a three-season wilderness either. Wintertime is when the BWCA can be at its’ most magical as the entire area becomes a snow-blanketed glittering wonderland. The Wintergreen Lodge, operated by noted polar explorer Paul Schurke, offers lodge-to-lodge or camping dogsled trips across frozen landscapes as Ely is the Sled Dog Capital of the U.S. every winter.