Canoe Country Wilderness Canoeing
by © Lee Hegstrand


Route Planning

Good route planning is one complement of a successful canoe voyage. Robert Beymer’s books (listed below) are useful for trip planning and you should also consult an outfitter. The elements to consider are:

1.) Scenery: waterfalls, pictographs, lakes with high cliffs, and vegetation (some areas have been burnt-over or wind-blown in the recent past). Good scenery can help make a trip memorable.

2.) Fishing prospects: Some lakes contain trout and others produce only shallow-water fisheries. Despite high use of the Canoe Country and the low productivity of its waters, fishing success is still good because many canoeists do not fish and those that do keep only what they can eat at one meal. If you fish for recreation only, it is recommended that you use hooks without barbs . A word of warning: never depend on catching fish to provide for your meals - weather and luck may foil those plans.

3.) Solitude: The easier routes will be more popular. Popular routes will have more congestion on the portages and there will be more competition for campsites and, besides, are you not seeking the wilderness? Some trailheads are much more popular to start from than others are and all are quieter on weekdays. Suggestion: travel in the Canoe Country right after Labor Day, the fishing is better, there are far fewer people, the weather often permits swimming, the bugs are relatively absent and there is a hint of fall colors. Try to pick the least popular trailheads (indicated by entry permit numbers) whenever you travel.

4.) Route difficulty: Consider the number of portages, their condition and length and match those routes with your ambition and ability. Routes with long, steep or swampy portages will be less popular and, of course, more difficult to do. Therefore, consult a topographic map to evaluate how hilly the portages are and, sometimes more important, how swampy they are. Routes with many small lakes will have more portages and will take much longer to travel, so allow more time for these routes. Conversely, you will travel faster on routes with large lakes. As a rule about one-fourth of the distance traveled on an average trip will be on land. Note that routes with large lakes could cause you to become wind-bound. The solutions to this problem: a) try to finish paddling large lakes near their ends so if the next day is stormy you may make a quick exit, or b) early morning paddles are usually less windy than midday travels so paddle large lakes early in the day, or c) paddle large lakes during moonlit nights being mindful that navigation is difficult in this low light.

5.) Time allowed for the trip: Do not attempt being too ambitious with the number of miles you can cover given the time allotted for your trip. In general (depending on the canoeists' strengths and the prevailing wind direction [trips going west to east often are faster]) you can travel roughly three miles per hour on the water and from less than one to as much as three miles per hour on land, depending on: a) whether you take the portages in one trip at a trot or two trips leisurely and b) the length, steepness and water on the portages. You will travel slower on long portages because of the greater need for rests. Thus calculate water miles and land miles on a prospective route to decide if sufficient time is available for that route selection. In general you may roughly calculate a rate of two miles per hour including portages and lunch stop on routes with large lakes with few portages or a little over a mile an hour for routes with many portages. Check with the US Forest Service or an outfitter before leaving for the trailhead to learn of any potential problems you may encounter on your route. Plan for a layover day on any trip to allow for a welcomed rest or for catch-up time for any wind-bound or other problem-plagued days. It is a good idea that the first days be easier to condition the muscles. Another hint: try to fit the longest portages of the trip towards the end of the journey when the food pack is lighter and muscles are better conditioned.

6.) Cost: Of course the cost of a canoe trip into the Canoe Country depends on many variables such as how deluxe you outfit, the length of your trip, whether you go to Canada or paddle in the Boundary Waters, where it is cheaper, or whether you outfit yourself or go through an outfitter. For beginners it is highly recommended that they seek the services of an outfitter. For a list of Canoe Country outfitters go to www.canoe-country.com. As a rough calculator, a five-day trip through an outfitter will be about $325 per adult at the cheapest rate. Note that outfitters will offer discounts up to 50% for non-profit groups. It is recommended that trip leaders get non-refundable deposits from participants to help lock-in your group list.

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