Written and Documented by Levi Vaagenes
Canoeing 50 Miles in the BWCA Backcountry
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota holds a very special place in my heart. My dad grew up in Grand Marais, a small harbor town on Lake Superior about a half-hour from the Wilderness Area. We used to go up there as a family almost every year to get away and spend time in nature. I like to credit those trips as a kid for sparking my love for the outdoors. I’ve traveled many places in my 26 years, but I keep returning to the BWCA.
Recently, I gathered seven friends and headed to the BWCA for a 50+ mile canoe camping trip in which we paddled through a total of 19 lakes and portaged 17 times before completing our loop. Our plan was to complete the loop in five days. We were outfitted with four lightweight kevlar canoes, two people on each boat. For this trip, I decided to camp with my ENO setup. This included my DoubleNest Hammock, Atlas Straps, Vulcan UnderQuilt, Vesta TopQuilt, Guardian Bug Net, and a ProFly Tarp. Many of the sites in the BWCA are rocky and typically have pretty uneven terrain so it's nice to not have to worry about finding even ground.
On our first day of paddling, we lucked out with overcast coverage and minimal wind. We took advantage of the opportune weather and aimed to get around 10 miles of paddling out of the way just in case we were to run into inclement weather later on during the trip. Our sights were set on Cherry Lake which has only two primitive campsites, one is arguably the most coveted site in the entire BWCA. The site sits on this small rocky point in the lake with a relatively flat, grassy patch where you can comfortably fit four tents and plenty of hammocks. If you stand on the point, you have a panorama view of the whole lake. We made our final portage onto Cherry Lake in the late afternoon on the first day and were pleased to find the site we were hoping for was open. We ended up treating it as our base camp for two whole days.
We swam, fished, bathed, and explored the lake during the day, and cooked, stargazed, and told stories around the campfire late into the night. No cell service, just a bunch of friends enjoying nature. On this particular day, the sun was so bright that the rays of sunlight lit up the bottom of the lake 40ft below. I’ve never seen water so clear.
When the day came to an end, I strung up my hammock between two trees directly on the waterfront and fell asleep to the sound of the water lapping up onto the shoreline. The next morning as the sun was rising, I peered out of my hammock to see a low-hanging fog hovering over the lake. The morning air was still crisp, and the smell of the morning dew that covered the forest floor gave me a burst of joy. I laid in my hammock for another half hour and watched as the warmth from the sun slowly burnt off the fog. It was so peaceful.
The Boundary Waters is Minnesota's hidden gem. As much as I want everyone to experience the beauty of this area, I also love keeping it to myself. It’s the place I will always return to when I need to relax and reset.
Levi Vaagenes is an outdoor/adventure videographer based out of North Carolina. He has a passion for crafting meaningful stories through the art of film.