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The park is accessed through a series of 21 entry points. Permits are required and each entry point has a daily quota. Reservations can be made by calling 1-888-ONT-PARK (this number can be used to make reservations for all parks in Ontario). The two principal towns that support the majority of the entry points are Ely, MN and Atikokan, Ontario. Numerous outfitters are available, especially in the Ely area, to assist you in planning and/or outfitting your trip.
The northern entry points (Atikokan area) are generally less used and therefore easier to get permits for. Even so, it would be a good idea to plan your trip a year ahead. Permits can be reserved up to 5 months ahead of time and usually go quickly. The months of July and August are the most in demand with June not far behind. The off-season begins immediately following Labor Day and the quotas do not apply to the off-season. This makes September a great month to go for those that can take their vacation at that time of the year. It will be cooler in the evenings (you could even see some snow), but the bugs will be all but non-existent.
Wildlife is abundant within the park. The eerie cry of the loon at dusk is perhaps the sound that best typifies the canoe country. Likewise, the sight of a bald eagle soaring high overhead or a moose grazing in the shallows will quicken your pulse and remind you that you have managed to leave civilization far behind, at least for a few days. If you are lucky, you might even get to hear the mournful howls of a pack of wolves across the lake as they gather for the night's hunt. Black bears are also common to the area and make hanging your food pack at night a good idea. Many other animals live there as well and can be best viewed by staying close to the shoreline and making as little noise as possible. In case you wondered, there are no poisonous snakes in the park and very little poison.
Fishing can be outstanding and is the primary reason for my going there. The remoteness of the area and the lack of ice to keep the fish fresh means that most of the fishing is "catch and release". Most groups keep enough fish to have a few meals, but the rest are carefully returned to the water unharmed. The four main species are small-mouth bass, northern pike, walleye, and lake trout. Our group of 4-6 people will usually manage at least one pike in the 40+ inch range and several small-mouth in the 21-221/2 inch range. I consider this to be the best small-mouth trophy fishing area in the world.
The camping conditions are primitive to say the least. Camping is permitted wherever you can find room to put up your tent, but it is suggested that you use an existing site when available. The sites can best be be spotted by looking for a fire ring built on the exposed rock. You will need to bring hyour own grate if you wish to cook over an open fire or a stove if you prefer that kind of cooking (I bring both since open fires are sometimes banned due to fire danger). You will need a small shovel for your bathroom needs as latrines are not provided. Your drinking water will come right from the lake that you happen to be on. Some people bring a filter but most just drink it as is. The tent clearings are generally small, so 2-3 man tents work better that the larger ones. A good rain-fly for your tent is an absolute necessity. The last thing that you want is a wet sleeping bag.
Navigation is by map and compass. This is a designated wilderness area and there are no signs, blaze marks, or anythign else to indicate the location of portage trails, camp sites, etc. Both Mckenzie (www.mckenziemaps.com) and Fisher (WA Fisher Co, Box 1107, Virginai MN 55792)produce high quality maps of the entire Quetico/BWCAW area. The portage trails can be quite rugged with exposed tree roots, swampy areas, boulders, and fairly steep inclines/declines. Double portaging to get all of your gear and canoe(s) across are more the norm than the exception. If you want to get away from the majority of the other paddler's, pick a route with one or more long portages (portages of around a mile (320 rods) seem to make the most difference).
Day trips are possible if time will simply not allow you to do more, but the only way to really "experience" the park is to take a trip of at least 6 days. Personally, I have found that the best trips are 10-12 days in length. This will allow you the time to get into the more remote parts of the park without feeling rushed. I prefer to get an early start each morning and then choose my next camp site by early afternoon. If the site I was aiming for is already taken or is not as good a site as it looked on the map, then I still have plenty of time to find another one. This allows me to explore the area in the afternoon and then fish it "hard" in the evening. I spend no more than 2 nights on any one site, but you can also base camp and explore surrounding lakes in the daytime. By the way, if you are a fisherman, troll a lure behind the canoe anytime you are on the water (see trolling from a canoe). Some of the biggest fish of the trip are often caught trolling from one camping site to the next.
I highly recommend the use of an outfitter for at least your first trip or two. They can supply you with everything but your clothes and your fishing gear, or you can opt for partial outfitting if you already have some of the required equipment. The equipment provided by the outfitters is top notch, especially if you select their ultra-light package, and their experience is invaluable in helping you to plan the right route to best meet the interests and experience of your particular group. A number of outfitters for this area are already listed on Paddle.net under Directories/Outfitters.
If you are serious about paddling this area, I would recommend picking up a copy of the book A Paddler's Guide to Quetico Provincial Park by Robert Beymer. It gives an excellent description of a number of possible routes through Quetico with an accurate accounting of just what you can expect to encounter on each route. I would also highly recommend a subscription to the Boundary Waters Journal published by Michelle and Stuart Osthoff (Boundary Waters Journal Publishing Co, 9396 Rocky Ledge Rd, Ely MN 55731). This is an outstanding magazine.
If you have any specific questions on either Quetico Provincial Park or the BWCAW, please e-mail me at CanoeWilderness@cs.com. Most of the above applies to the BWCAW as well as Quetico, but there are some fairly significant differences in the rules and regulations.
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