Preparing for Your Boundary Waters Canoe Area Adventure: The Day Before Your Trip

Preparing for Your Boundary Waters Canoe Area Adventure: The Day Before Your Trip

Jerod Arlich

Embarking on a Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) adventure is an exhilarating experience, filled with the promise of tranquil waters, breathtaking landscapes, and unforgettable memories. But before you paddle away into the wilderness, it’s crucial to consider how you’ll spend the day before your trip. As a seasoned BWCA expert, I’ve explored various options and found a few favorites that ensure a smooth and enjoyable start to your journey.


Driving Up Early on the Morning of Your Trip


For the early birds and those living relatively close to the BWCA, driving up on the morning of your trip can be a feasible option. This approach allows you to sleep in your own bed and avoid the cost of overnight accommodations. However, this method requires a very early start and a potentially long drive before hitting the water. If you choose this route, make sure to leave ample time to pick up your permit and get to your entry point. Permits must be picked up in person, either from a USFS office (Ely, Tofte, Grand Marais) or from any official ‘Cooperators’ listed on the website.


Staying at an Outfitter / Bunkhouse


One of my preferred options is staying at an outfitter near your entry point. Many outfitters offer cozy accommodations that are specifically designed for BWCA travelers. These can range from simple bunkhouses to more comfortable cabins. Staying at an outfitter is convenient because you can pick up your permit there and get any last-minute gear or advice you might need. It’s a hassle-free option that allows you to wake up close to your entry point and get on the water early. Plus, you can avoid the early morning rush and potential stress of driving.


Hotels and Motels


For those who prefer a bit more comfort, hotels and motels in nearby towns like Ely, Grand Marais, or Tofte offer a great solution. Staying in a hotel or motel allows you to have a restful night with all the amenities you might need, including a hot shower and a comfortable bed. This option also keeps your gear dry and packed, ready for the journey ahead. The next morning, you can grab your permit from a nearby USFS office or cooperator and head to your entry point refreshed and ready.




While camping might seem like a natural choice for a BWCA trip, my personal preference is to avoid camping the night before. Camping requires you to unpack and repack all your gear, and there’s always the risk of waking up to wet equipment if it rains. If you still want to camp, consider staying at a nearby campground with good facilities. Just be prepared for the extra work and potential weather challenges.


My Personal Recommendation


Personally, I like to pick up my permit the day before my trip from an outfitter near my entry point or from the Duluth Pack shop in Canal Park, Duluth. This gives me an excuse to stop at one of my favorite restaurants, Hungry Hippie Tacos, for a delicious meal. It’s a great way to start the adventure on a high note, ensuring I’m well-fed and ready for the wilderness.

In summary, the day before your BWCA trip offers several options to suit different preferences and logistical needs. Whether you choose to drive up early, stay at an outfitter or bunkhouse, or opt for the comfort of a hotel, planning ahead will help you start your adventure smoothly and stress-free. Happy paddling!

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