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Paddle and Howl: Canoe and Watch Wolves in Northern Minnesota


Paddle and howl this summer on a canoe trip through Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Sharing a similar topography of cliffs, glacier carved lakes, and rocky shores dotted with tall pine trees, both areas are best explored by boat.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park

Paddle and howl this summer on a canoe trip through Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Sharing a similar topography of cliffs, glacier carved lakes, and rocky shores dotted with tall pine trees, the best way to navigate both regions is following water trails. While Voyageurs National Park and BWCAW allow motorized boats, paddling canoes and kayaks is the best way to experience both regions. Watery adventures in both areas give you with classic North Country scenery and a chance to see wolves in the wild. To learn more about wolves, visit the International Wolf Center in Ely, MN, one of the BWCAW gateways.

Voyageurs National Park, 11 miles east of International Falls (an entry point to Canada), stretches for 55 miles along the US border with Canada. One of the US's premier water‑based parks, Voyageurs contains 84,000 acres of water, 655 miles of undeveloped shoreline, and some 500 islands. The park takes its name from the 18th and 19th century French Canadian fur traders who once paddled these routes transporting goods, soldiers, and explorers through the scenic waters. Along with canoers and kayakers, the park draws lots of motorboats. Quiet isn't exactly the norm but the woodland and lake views are soothing.

Voyageurs is one of the best mainland parks for spotting bald eagles and active wolf packs. Some popular programs are the naturalist‑guided boat trips on Kabetogama Lake and Rainy Lake, some of which are in a 26‑foot replica of a North Canoe with a ranger (reserve ahead). On these trips you may spot eagles’ nests, beaver dams, and possibly moose along the shore or in the lake.

To stretch your legs, go hiking. Landlubbers with little kids should try the 1.7‑mile, spruce-lined Oberholtzer Trail, the only trail accessible by car from the Rainy Lake visitor center. The heartier can tackle the four‑mile Locator Lake Trail reached by a six‑mile boat trip.

Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters

The BWCAW contains 1,200 miles of canoe routes and stretches for 150 miles along the border with Canada. On this back-to-basics trip you paddle along chains of lakes portaging when necessary and camping if staying overnight. If you want a guided trip or prefer to start your paddle trip in the BWCAW, then head to Ely, MN. Near the Superior National Forest, Ely’s nickname is "the Canoe Capital of the World.” Boundary Waters Outfitters, among several in town, rents canoes, provides complete and partial packages of gear, and offers canoe trips with a guide. The guide will wake you with coffee, teach you how to improve your strokes, and find you the best places to fish.

To learn more about wolves and see the resident pack, visit Ely’s International Wolf Center, an educational facility devoted to informing visitors about these misunderstood creatures. Kids love observing the resident pack and discovering how to track the critters. The latest additions to the center are two Arctic wolf pups. Check the Wolf Center’s events for seminars—learn why wolves howl—and at select times go out in the woods to distant pack and find out if they howl back at you.

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