Do you want to go on an enriching wilderness experience? Come and join the Girl Scouts outside of Ely, MN for the trip of a lifetime. Learn more about these amazing trips, and the guides who lead them.
Boundary Waters Canoe Trips
Located 20 miles northeast of Ely, MN, just a short paddle from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), Northern Lakes Canoe Base is a wilderness tripping camp that offers completely outfitted canoe trips. Girls ages 12-18 — and adults — come on 3, 5, 7, and 10 day canoe trips. Participants come from Minnesota and throughout the United States. Girl Scout canoe guides are certified in Lifeguarding and Wilderness First Aid (WFA), and they work hard to create a warm and caring atmosphere, where girls are allowed to let their personalities shine. Participants leave with a smile, great stories, and a renewed appreciation for their natural surroundings, their own strength, and the power of teamwork. Safety is always our top priority, and we have an excellent safety record spanning over 50 years of guiding teenage girls through the wilderness.
If you are not currently a Girl Scout, no problem. Simply register to be a Girl Scout when you register for your trip. This will not affiliate you with a troop, and is necessary for participation in our programs.
What is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness?
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is 1.1 million acres of federally-designated wilderness in northern Minnesota. With pristine water, clean air, wildlife (eagles, loons, moose, black bears), and hundreds of miles of lakes to paddle and portages to hike across, it is a paddler’s paradise. There are no roads or buildings, with the only signs of humankind being a fire grate and latrine at each of the wilderness campsites, spread far from each other on lake shores. Quetico Provincial Park is Canada’s 1.4 million acre wilderness to the north, and is an easy day’s paddle from the Girl Scout canoe base. Many Girl Scout trips follow the border, and our Destination trips often enter Canada for 7 or 10 days. The BWCAW has been described as America’s most popular wilderness, but even in 2015, only about 1 out of every 4 visitors is a female, let alone a teenage girl.
The BWCAW is a unique area of the country. You’ll see the milky way at night, cook over a campfire, navigate with a map and compass, and enjoy true quiet with no boats, cars, or even airplanes. We sometimes even see northern lights on summer nights.
What type of trips are offered through the Northern Lakes Canoe Base?
We offer three general types of trips, varying in length from 3-10 days in the woods (4-11 days total, including a pre-trip planning and training day). The in-the-woods experience is very similar for each type of trip.
Standard Trip – These trips are scheduled in advance throughout the summer and advertised through our council program guide each spring. In-council girls often sign up for these trips individually or with a friend, and they are matched with up to six other girls who signed up for the same session. They range from a “Get Your Feet Wet” session (3 days in the woods) to an “Old Pro” session (10 days in the woods). Girls are typically dropped off by a parent on arrival day and then picked up on departure day. We also offer a “Women in the Wilderness” session each year to adult women who have always wanted to go on a BWCAW trip. The per-day cost for a Standard Trip is the same as the per-day cost for a Flex Trip. All-girl standard trips always have two trained guides. Each January we publish a camp guide that lists all of our council’s regular sessions.
Flex Trip – These trips are scheduled up to 10 months in advance by Girl Scout troops or council-sponsored groups from Girl Scout councils across the country. The adults who are traveling with the troop or group typically go on the trip with the girls, and groups larger than 8 are split into smaller crews to comply with BWCAW leave-no-trace regulations. Flex Trips are typically 5 days in the woods (6 days total). The per-day cost for a Flex Trip is the same as the per-day cost for a Standard Trip. Flex trips with adults have one or two trained guides. All-girl flex trips always have two trained guides. While we know moms/dads and daughters often want to be in the same crew, we have seen that oftentimes splitting up moms and daughters leads to a surprising amount of growth. We even encourage you to consider splitting up into an all-adult crew and an all-youth crew! Contact us now to start looking at possible dates for next summer. These trips are also called Getaways on GSUSA’s website.
Destination – These trips are offered through GSUSA’s travel program for older girls, and attract individual girls from all over the country. They fly into Duluth, where they are met by our staff, who escort the girls as they rock climb and kayak in Duluth, and then drive to Ely for a 7 or 10-day canoe trip. These trips typically go into Quetico Provincial Park, the Canadian wilderness area north of the BWCAW. Destination trips are all-youth trips, so they are accompanied by two trained guides. Girls apply for Destinations in the fall, but should feel free to contact us later, as we often have openings even in springtime.
What are the 2017 Trip Dates?
We offer trips with pre-scheduled dates for individuals or small groups, or if you have a large group, contact us to set up flexible start dates around your schedules!
11-Day Trips (10 days in the wilderness). Participate in route planning, navigation, and advanced camp skills while exploring some of the remotest areas of the Boundary Waters. Cost $660. Grades 9-adult
- 7/24 – 8/3/2017
8-Day Trips (7 days in the wilderness). Get off the beaten path and watch for wildlife, pictographs, and northern lights as you paddle and portage on a wilderness adventure. Cost $505. Grades 7-adult.
- 6/17 – 6/24/2017
- 6/25 – 7/2/2017
- 7/7 – 7/14/2017 (Waterfall Wonders route)
- 7/16 – 7/23/2017
- 7/24 – 7/31/2017
- 8/5 – 8/12/2017
6-Day Trips (5 days in the wilderness). A perfect blend of challenge and relaxation. A great first trip into the Boundary Waters. Paddle beautiful lakes, try out portaging, and enjoy swimming, singing, games, and nature. Cost $400. Grades 7-adult.
- 6/17 – 6/22/2017
- 6/25 – 6/30/2017 (optional – Nature Photography focus with one day at galleries in Ely, and extra time for photography in the wilderness. Digital camera recommended)
- 7/7 – 7/12/2017
- 7/16 – 7/21/2017 (optional – 4 days in the wilderness and one day at the International Wolf Center in Ely)
- 7/24 – 7/29/2017
- 8/5 – 8/10/2017
4-Day Trips (3 days in the wilderness). Paddle beautiful lakes and take it easy while swimming, singing, and exploring near-by islands and bays. Cost $270. Grades 7-adult.
- 6/25 – 6/28/2017
- 7/16 – 7/19/2017
Destinations – North Country Rock-n-Wilderness (did you miss the application deadline? Contact us anyway to see if we have spots!):
- 7/5 – 7/16/2017 – Spend 7 days in the wilderness plus time for rock climbing and kayaking in Duluth, MN. Ages 12-14.
- 7/22 – 8/5/2017 – Spend 10 days in the wilderness plus time for rock climbing and kayaking in Duluth, MN. Ages 15-18.
Leadership – Guide in Training
- For girls ages 16+ who want to learn to lead wilderness canoe trips. Plan to attend a minimum of three trips to assure adequate training. Contact our summer director, Ann McNally, at [email protected] to schedule.
- Camp Care Day. 5/27/2017. Help prepare the camp by planting gardens, cleaning cabins, raking leaves, and more. Participants will receive a $15 coupon toward registration at any summer camp.
- Touch the Wilderness. Girls in grades 4-6 can enjoy this short adventure, including two nights of camping on the canoe base property, a full-day paddling in the Boundary Waters, and time to explore Ely, MN’s International Wolf Center. Cook over a fire, sing songs, go for a swim, and spend two nights under the stars. 3-days. Grades 4-6. Cost, $200.
- 6/23 – 6/25/2017, or
- 8/4 – 8/6/2017
- Canoe Base Sampler Day. Arrange a date with our summer director to visit and explore the canoe base. Learn some paddling basics, meet the guides, and enjoy a floating lunch. Cost, $25. Contact [email protected] to schedule.
- Canoe Base Visit. Any troop is welcome for a free 2-hour visit to explore the canoe base, take a short paddle, or make a campfire. All ages, free. Contact [email protected] to schedule.
- Women in the Wilderness. 8/5 – 8/10/2017. Take an all-adult trip with other wilderness women. Let your guides know what you want – challenging portages, relation by the lake, or both! For women of all ages, 18+. Cost $450.
How much does it cost?
The trip costs below are for standard pre-scheduled trips, or for flexible start-date trips (see “What Type of Trips Are Offered” or “What are the 2017 Trip Dates” for more information). Shop around for fully- outfitted, guided trips, and you’ll see how affordable our program is.
4 day trip (3 days in the woods): $270
6 day trip (5 days in the woods): $400
8 day trip (7 days in the woods): $505
11 day trip (10 days in the woods): $660
What is included in the cost?
The cost includes almost everything you would need for a canoe trip, including:
- Canoes, lifejackets, paddles, maps, BWCAW wilderness permit.
- All camp equipment, including tents, pots, dishes, stove, soap, fuel.
- Nutritious meals, with vegetables and meat. We eat “real” food in the woods and often bake dessert on the fire!
- A first-aid kit and emergency radio.
- Trained Girl Scout canoe guides with Wilderness First Aid, Lifeguarding, and CPR certification, and specific training in safe BWCAW travel practices.
You are responsible for bringing your own clothing, rain jacket and rain pants, boots, and a sleeping bag. With some notice, we can provide some of these items for some people in your group, from our large stash of donated and lost-and-found items.
How do I get to the base?
Canoe base staff will meet you in Ely, MN at 1pm on arrival day, where we caravan 17 miles out of town and then 1.5 miles down a dirt road to our canoe base. There is no cell service at the canoe base, and devices like Google Maps and Mapquest are unreliable on the edge of the wilderness. Any passenger vehicle can easily make it down our road. Vehicles are parked on-site. It is very reasonable for a crew to leave from Minneapolis bright and early and reach Ely by 1pm on arrival day.
There are no vehicle rental places in Ely. Crews flying to Minnesota typically find that it is cheapest to fly to Minneapolis, rent a vehicle that they drive to Ely, and then drive the same vehicle back to Minneapolis after their trip. Duluth and Hibbing are usually significantly more expensive to fly to than Minneapolis, but do have vehicle rental options.
Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakes and Pines also owns the Janette Pollay cabin in Duluth, which is a large cabin with electricity and running water (and pit toilets outside). While it is used for day camp most of the summer, it is often available overnight for Girl Scout groups of up to 24 people for about $50/night. This is a great option for budget- conscious troops who don’t want to pay for lodging or haul around their own camping gear.
Do I have to know how to paddle or portage?
No! On your arrival day, after a warm welcome and introductions, the afternoon is spent preparing for the trip. All participants will learn to carry canoes, paddle, and swamp and empty a canoe. Your guide will help you sort and pack gear into our canoe packs. The afternoon is very hands-on, with safety and teamwork being constant themes.
After dinner on the fire in the campsite area, participants learn about leave no trace principles and canoe trip safety rules. Without compromising our seriousness about safety, we make the evening safety program fun and participatory for all. Crews sleep in their tents in our campsite area before departing by canoe on their adventure the following morning.
What happens at the end of the trip?
What is a typical trip like?
A typical crew might have five girls, perhaps one or two parents or troop leaders, and one or two trained Girl Scout guides (all groups will include at least two adults). The crew will paddle 3 canoes.
Feel free to use Google Earth or another map to actually see the lakes described here, as they are real lakes that Girl Scouts frequent regularly!
The crew starts on day one around 9am at Moose Lake, then paddles down Newfound, stopping for lunch on the shore around midday. After lunch, we’ll continue paddling into Sucker Lake and then taking a short portage (carrying our canoes and gear over land) into Birch Lake, where we’ll set up our tents, gather firewood for cooking dinner, and enjoy a refreshing swim. On day two, the crew might head up to Knife Lake, doing several portages and eating lunch along the way. Teamwork is key as Girl Scouts portage, with every girl having a buddy or two, and guides working with girls to make sure every girl is pitching in in a way that is challenging but achievable for her. The crew finds a site on Knife Lake, pitches tents, cooks dinner, and perhaps has a campfire or goes for a swim.
Day three is layover day, so girls may sleep in, cook pancakes on the fire, and go exploring. Dorothy Molter’s islands on Knife Lake are filled with history of her days as the “Root Beer Lady” and Thunder Point offers a short, but steep hike to a very scenic vista. Swimming, writing in journals, picking blueberries, resting, and having fun are all an important part of layover day.
On day four, the crew packs up its gear and may head toward Ensign Lake, doing two challenging portages into and out of Vera Lake on the way. Again, teamwork is key on these portages, as girls take turns carrying packs and canoes, always with a buddy, teamwork, and plenty of water and rest breaks. On this last night of the canoe trip, girls often want to cherish every last moment and the crew may stay up late to make popcorn and see the northern lights or stargaze.
Day five is the final day of the trip, so the crew packs up and heads back through the wilderness to Moose Lake, stopping for lunch on the way. You’ll arrive back at the canoe base around 2pm, shower, pack up, and wave good-bye until next time!
Who guides the trips?
How should I prepare for my canoe trip?
Don’t fret too much if you’ve only camped a few times (or never!), don’t know how to steer a canoe, or can’t even imagine what it would look like for a person to carry a canoe on her shoulders. We work with teenage and adult novices all the time, and we are ready to show you the ropes and work with you and your crew to figure out how to use “teamwork to make the dream work.” Having said that, we encourage girls to be active in their own way as they get ready for for their trip – whether by playing soccer, tap dancing, skateboarding, or climbing trees!
What if I'm too young or just not ready for a full trip?
Our typical trips are open to girls ages 12-18 and adult women. If you’re not old enough yet for those, you can check out the canoe base at one of three different shorter options:
Free Paddle: we offer a free 2-hour Canoe Base Visit to any Girl Scout and her family who may be in Ely and want to check out our program. Practice portaging a canoe, go out for a paddle in the bay, and meet our guides.
Sampler Day: For Girl Scouts who are not yet 12 and want to learn more about the BWCAW, we offer a one-day canoe trip “sampler”. Get a portaging demonstration, go for a day paddle, and swim in Moose Lake. The program runs from 10am-4pm and is usually of interest to Brownie and Junior troops within a few hours driving distance of Ely. The cost was $20 in 2015.
Touch the Wilderness: Once or twice a summer we also offer a Touch the Wilderness session for girls in 4th and 5th grade. This three-day program is open to individuals or troops, and usually attracts in-council girls. Participants will spend a full day paddling into the BWCAW, coming back to camp both nights on our property, where they practice cooking on a fire and learn about the area’s natural and cultural history. On the last day, girls have the opportunity to hike to Ely’s Kawishiwi Falls and visit the International Wolf Center.
Can I become a Guide in Training?
What should I pack?
We provide the canvas canoe packs for you to use on your trip, and will send a detailed packing list before your trip. The weather in Minnesota can change quickly so be prepared for anything from 50 to 95 degrees, knowing that you may somewhat wet during the day. Please remember the equipment you bring does not need to be expensive. You can get good quality items from thrift shops, or borrow from family and friends. We also have a good-sized stash of clean and organized lost-and found items we can let you borrow.
Fifty years of experience have taught us that to stay safe and comfortable on a canoe trip, each person needs four different outfits, as described below:
Wet clothes that you wear while canoeing—they get wet!
- Quick drying pants (nylon wind pants or light cotton, not stretchy yoga pants and NO jeans)
- Long sleeve cotton or nylon shirt to protect from sun and bugs
- 1 pair wool socks
- Rain jacket and rain pants. These are important! Stearns or the sturdier type of “Frogg Toggs” are fine. No ponchos! Rain gear that is a little bulky is better than too-tight. Bigger rain jackets can fit over life jackets and are easier to get on and off.
- Boots: Sturdy, broken in, not waterproof. These boots will be wet all the time. The “Merrel Moab mid-hiker” was a hit in 2015, but many similar and less expensive options are available.
- Some girls wear a swimsuit under their wet clothes, too.
- A hat with a brim that fits you securely, to wear in the canoe.
Dry clothes that you change into in the afternoon when you arrive at your campsite. This is totally separate from your wet clothes, and it is very important that they stay dry. Bring several small (quart or gallon) ziplock bags to pack them in!
- Long sleeve shirt to protect from sun and bugs
- Cotton or wool socks
- Tennis shoes (closed toe and closed heel)
- Many girls often also bring a pair of shorts to wear at camp at night or on layover day.
Sleeping Clothes: These will be what you sleep in and they should also stay dry! Bring several small (quart or gallon) ziplock bags to pack them in.
- Pajama bottoms and top (fleece, flannel, long underwear)
- Cotton or wool socks (optional)
Cold Weather Clothes: The weather is unpredictable, and it is important to always carry extras just in case.
- Warm wool or fleece sweater/pullover (no cotton sweatshirts)
- Lightweight stocking cap
- Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste (travel size is best!), comb/brush, soap and shampoo to use on base.
- Optional: camera, journal or small book, deck of cards
- Sleeping Bag. Sleeping bags should be packed in a stuff sack with a garbage bag liner (on the inside of the stuff sack). Any summer or three-season sleeping bag will do, with a rating of, for instance, 30 degrees or so. Mummy shape is the best (most efficient with keeping your heat in), though it’s not totally necessary. The less bulky, the better, since sleeping bags are packed with all of your other personal belongings. Adult participants should also feel free to bring a lightweight closed cell or Thermarest-style sleeping pad.
Do not bring Keen sandals, Crocs, aqua socks or Teva-type sandals. They are not allowed on trips, as a substitute for either your “wet boots” or your “dry shoes.” All shoes must have a closed toe and closed heel.
What can you tell me about Ely?
Who do I contact for more information?
Ann McNally, Northern Lakes Canoe Base Director
During the summer contact: [email protected]; 218-365-6517
During the fall, winter, or spring: [email protected]; 206-861-5730.
Melissa Garza Outdoor Program Manager
[email protected], 218.302.3183
In the meantime, please check out these short (1-3 minute) “must-see” videos for anyone considering a trip. One video was made by a participant, and the other by a guide during the summer of 2015. Both really describe the essence of our program and the beauty of the BWCAW. They are all in the Youtube channel called “Girl Scouts – Northern Lakes Canoe Base.”