Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – Ely, Minnesota, U.S.A.

Paddling Through Paradise

Bordering Canada, northern Minnesota’s BWCAW is the largest U.S. wilderness preserve east of the Rockies, and is North America’s best canoeing destination, giving the expression “lake district” new meaning. It’s a pristine labyrinth of 1 million acres and seemingly as many lakes, with more than 1,500 miles of mapped canoe routes running through it but not a single road.

Since it’s almost entirely off-limits to motorboats as well, it’s easy to imagine the area as it was in the 17th century, when the craze for fur pelts brought the “voyageurs” – French, Dutch, and British trappers and traders – to this neck of the woods. Today, it’s outdoorsmen who come, drawn by crystal-clear waters rich with North America’s greatest variety of game fish (including smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and lake trout) and deer- and moose-filled wilderness that’s guaranteed to wipe away the stresses of the modern world. If the U.S. wilderness isn’t big enough for you, combine it with its equal-sized Canadian neighbor across the border, Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park.

The small, friendly town of Ely is the gate­way for canoeists who arrive from all over the country, and homebase for outfitters ready to send them off for an afternoon or a week, equipped with everything from soup to nuts.

A final nod to civilization (and infinitely more appreciated after a few shower-free nights in the wilderness) is the Burntside Lodge, an early-20th-century lakefront resort. A series of handsome log cabins nestled in wooded privacy, solidly built of local materials by expert local craftsmen, the Burntside is especially sought out for its kitchen and wine list, whose unpretentious excellence is unmatched – and unexpected – in the area.

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