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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 2021, 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 can you tell me about Ely?

Ely, MN is a fun, small town known far and wide as the Gateway to the BWCAW. It seems at least half the cars have a canoe on top! It was voted the “Coolest Small Town” in 2010, because of its proximity to America’s favorite wilderness, and its great mix of small shops, restaurants, hotels and resorts, attractions like the International Wolf Center and Dorothy Molter Museum, and a bustling art and music scene in the summer. On any summer evening, you will see outdoor enthusiasts in town either picking up last minute supplies or sharing stories about their canoe trips. We can point you in the direction of Ely’s great restaurants, souvenir shops, or where to pick up last minute canoe trip supplies.

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