The Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Canada

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Camping & portage gear- Boundary Waters, Minnesota

1,200 miles of liquid routes.  90 pounds of yellow Kevlar canoes.  Three days without access to civilization.  15 years since my mother first decided that her ideal family vacation would involve prehistoric-sized mosquitoes, dehydrated hashbrowns, and the world’s most unstable form of water transportation.  Welcome to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Canada.


Rule #1:  Whatever you carry in, you carry out.  Our gear includes a small gas stove (we cannot cut live vegetation for firewood); two rolls of toilet paper (that must be buried in a hole 6-8 inches deep); and biodegradable dish soap (to rinse off cooking utensils, at least 150 feet from all lakes and streams).

Moose Tracks Outfitters- Boundary Waters, MN

Entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is heavily controlled by a system of permits, monitored by the U.S. Forest Service.  Guests can either apply individually, or through one of the 80+ licensed outfitters operating from both the US and Canadian shores.

Farm Lake, Boundary Waters, MN

The Mutchler Clan suffers from the Curse of Disastrous Family Vacations. Hearing my parents argue about our location – “Have we passed these trees before?” “I don’t know, aren’t you reading the map?” – is foreshadowing of what’s to come…

Boundary Waters, MN

Rule #2:  Never attempt to take rapids going upstream.  I was about to capture the hilarity of their massive spill, when I realized my father was stuck under the canoe and unable to breath…

Portaging- Boundary Waters, MN

The Boundary Waters “…allows visitors to canoe, portage and camp in the spirit of the French Voyageurs of 200 years ago.”

Camp toilet- Boundary Waters, MN

Covering over 1  million acres, the Boundary Waters has some 2,000 designated camp sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis.  When we discover a spot overlooking Clear Lake, we are pleased to find this “outhouse”; however, we’ll still have to pack our feces-stained t.p. back to Ely when the trip is done.

Raising the bear bag- Boundary Waters, MN

Every night, any dinner remains and items that smelled of food must be hoisted into a tree away from our tents.  Because Black Bears, (those sneaky late-night thieves), have been known to jump from branches onto the food bags, ours needs to hang at least 12 feet off the ground and 10 feet away from the trunk.  This also keeps it away from the moose, deer, beaver, bobcats, wolves and lynx native to the region.

Sunset on Clear Lake, Boundary Waters, MN

The sun’s drowsy goodbye is always more beautiful without the distraction of electricity or artificial lighting.  Unfortunately, this also means we can’t see the vampirical hordes of Minnesota mosquitoes, which attack with such strength that a trip to “Ol’ Number Four” inevitably results in 15 bites on inappropriate areas of your bum.

Farm Lake, Boundary Waters, MN

Rule #3: Don’t get possessive.  “What are those people doing out there?” I demand to know one morning, irritated that someone else has dared to venture into eyesight.  Though there are six other designated camp spots around Farm Lake, we rarely see another human.  Isolated from man-made sounds or other people, we feel a special sense of belonging; and, perhaps, even temporary ownership…

Fly fishing on Farm Lake- Boundary Waters, MN

Though our Moose Track hostess could not confirm, legally, that the water out here is safe to drink, we do anyway.  It also teems with fish life- Walleye, Lake Trout, Pike, Crayfish, and my favorite, the Fiesty Smallmouth.

At the start of our trip – prior to the tipping canoe; the bug bites and dehydrated meals; days without showers and shoulder burns from portaging – my parents said “72 hours is not long enough!  Next time we do this, we’ll stay a week.”  Now, within a mile of Moose Tracks base camp, the theme has changed.  “We’re too old for this!”  “Raise your hand if you need a beer?”  “I would, but I can’t feel my muscles anymore…”


A smelly, but proud, end to the 2012 Mutchler Family Vacation.

Visit the US Forest Service for more information on fishing, camping and canoeing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Kelli Mutchler
Kelli Mutchler left a small, Midwest American town to prove that Yanks can, and do, chose alternative lifestyles. On the road for five years now, Kelli has tried news reporting and waitressing, bungy jumping and English teaching. Currently working with Burmese women refugees in Thailand, she hopes to pursue a MA in Global Development. Opportunities and scenes for international travel are encouraged on her blog,
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One Response to The Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Canada

  1. hikingmike April 29, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Very cool write-up. Amazing place and I’ll have to go there sometime for sure.

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