Boundary Waters, MN
Moose, copyright Superior National Forest
- Know your limits. Young kids may not be ready for more than a week away from the comforts of home, but you'll need at least three or four nights of camping to really unwind and forget about the world.
- Get permission. This is the most heavily used Wilderness Area in the country, with about 200,000 visitors each year. Boundary Waters can only be entered with a U.S. Forest Service permit, which specifies the date, point of entry, length of stay and size of group. Apply for the permits via Web, fax, or mail as early as November for the following summer. Your application will be processed by lottery on January 15; starting January 20, you can reserve online with immediate confirmation. Phone reservations start February 1.
- When to go. The toughest slots to secure are from mid-July to Labor Day, and the most popular entry points fill up early for these dates. If you haven't reserved yet, don't despair. There are 73 entry points, and many openings remain available through the summer. You'll also need a fishing license to snag that rainbow trout or small-mouth bass for dinner.
- Follow the rules. The Forest Service has heaps of regulations designed to protect the environment. You'll want to know and obey them. An important one: No food is allowed in metal cans or glass bottles. Bring plenty of plastic containers. (Cans of bug spray are permitted, since the rule only applies to food and beverages.) Other rules, such as life-jacket requirements, are designed to protect you.
- Watch your weight. Remember, whatever you bring, you carry. So keep the load to a minimum. Tip: Ask your outfitter for a canoe made of Kevlar, an especially light and sturdy material.
- When you get there. Most folks enter the Boundary Waters Wilderness between the towns of Grand Marais, to the east, and Ely, to the west. Spend the first night at one of the many cabins or lodges near these towns, so you can start early the next morning. Many outfitters also offer bunkhouse accommodations the night before your big trip. Before starting out, you'll need to pick up an entry permit at the regional ranger station or an assigned pickup point.
- Now, about those local critters. You won't find grizzly bears in Minnesota, but the smaller black bears can be a bother if you're not careful with food. This means using airtight containers, hanging all food high in a tree at night, and disposing of scraps and litter. On day trips, take your food supplies along in the canoe.
- To learn about other four-legged locals, stop in at the International Wolf Center in Ely. Your pups will love visiting with its resident pack of five wolves, playing with the video game-style Wolf Survival exhibit and testing their vocal chords in a howling workshop.
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