BWCA Planning Guide

A 12-Step Guide to Planning Your Boundary Waters Trip

Have you been wanting to explore the beautiful region of the Boundary Waters, but are not sure where to start? Read on for a step-by-step guide that will help you plan a successful and stress-free trip!

Step 1: Decide Who is Going On Your Trip

No matter if you are going with one special person, or a group of friends, figuring out who is joining you on your trip is a good starting point. If you are planning to travel with a larger group, it is important to remember that the largest Boundary Water group size is nine people. 

Step 2: Determine When You Want to Go

If you are planning to fish on your trip, the best fishing is from May - June. The busiest season is from June - August, so if you are planning to travel during this time, you will want to make sure that you get your permit early, to ensure that you can go during your desired dates. 

Step 3: Decide an Entry Point and Acquire Your Permit

Once you decide where you want to enter from, you will need to apply for a permit. Reservations for permits open in January. It’s important to get your permit early to make sure you are able to get it for the dates that you want. 

Step 4: Plan How Long You Want Your Trip to Be

If you have a long weekend, you may want to plan a 2-3 day trip in the Boundary Waters. If you have more time, a 5-6 day trip will allow you to portage more lakes, as well as to have the opportunity to disconnect with nature. 

Step 5: Think About The Demographics of Your Group

What are the ages of your group members? What are your fitness levels? What are your canoeing experience levels? Backpacking experience? Have you been to the Boundary Waters before? 

The answers to these questions will help determine how much you want to travel, how many rest days you want to include, and how many portages you want to do.

Step 6: Decide What The Goals of Your Trip Are

Are you looking to relax at one campsite? Are your goals to go fishing? To do several portages? To do a lot of canoeing? 

Answering these questions will help you decide how many campsites you want to stay at, and how much you want to travel on your trip. 

Step 7: Plan Out Your Route

Once you know the specifics of your trip, you can begin to plan a route that will meet the needs of your group. Some things to ask yourself are: How many miles do you want to travel a day? How many days do you want to rest? How many portages do you want to include?

Step 8: Make Plans For Before and After Your Trip

Decide on accommodations for before and after your trip in the Boundary Waters. Do you want to stay at a hotel or campsite nearby before you enter the Boundary Waters to make sure you have an early start? Do you want to stay for a night in Ely after you leave the Boundary Waters to have a chance to rest and fill up on good food? Ely has a variety of attractions to explore if you have time at the beginning or the end of your trip. 

Step 9: Plan Out and Purchase Your Gear 

Take inventory of your current gear, and make a list of any gear that you need to purchase. When choosing gear, you want to choose lightweight and durable items.

Step 10: Determine the Gear You Want to Rent from an Outfitter

Since there is a lot of gear needed for a successful trip to the Boundary Waters, you may want to rent some gear from an outfitter. Some gear that might be helpful to rent include canoes, paddles, and life jackets. 

Step 11: Decide on a Menu

Plan out the food that you want to bring for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is a good idea to split up the meal duties by having one person responsible for breakfast, a second person responsible for lunch, and a third person responsible for dinner. 

When choosing the meal items, you will want to consider what perishable food items and non-perishable food items you will be bringing. If you want to bring refrigerated items, you want to make sure that you have a cooler and ice. Also, whatever you bring in, you need to carry out. 

Step 12: Make a Checklist and Pack Your Gear! 

Make a list of all the gear and food that you are bringing. A If you need help getting started, check out this packing this list! As you are packing, cross off the items that you packed. Once everything is packed, do a once-over to make sure that you do not forget anything. Enjoy your trip!