Ely – Selecting Your Park


Nestled in the Superior National Forest in Northern Minnesota, the BWCAW – at 1.1 million acres – is the largest federally designated wilderness area in the contiguous United States. Extending nearly 150 miles along the Ontario Border, the BWCAW is known worldwide as a premier wilderness canoeing destination with over 250,000 visitors every year. Camping is restricted to designated campsites which contain a US Forest Service fire grate and a pit toilet. Wilderness usage is strictly limited by a permitting system that allows only so many groups to enter the wilderness at any given point each day. It is likely to see other groups if a crew chooses to stay closer to the entry point; however the expeditious crew may get away from all contact with others by planning a longer route. ($16.00/adult and $8.00/youth permit fees are included in your Northern Tier fees).

If you are planning on traveling into the BWCAW you will automatically be using the Moose Lake entry point (our Ely Base is on Moose Lake). You may specify another entry point for the BWCAW if you choose so but it may result in the need to book a shuttle which will be an additional fee.


The Quetico Provincial Park is the superlative canoe-expedition wilderness. Almost all human traces have been removed, crews are allowed to camp anywhere they choose and park usage is strictly limited through a rigorous permitting system. The park’s 1.2 million acres include over 600 lakes with well over 2,000 remote campsites. The Quetico is considered the finest canoe park in the world. Paddling the Quetico requires a permit ($21.50/adult/night and $8.50/youth/night CND- in addition to your Northern Tier fees and crews are responsible for the Interpreter’s permit fees).

Particularly adventurous crews can choose to paddle across the entirety of the Quetico from the Ely Base in Minnesota to the Atikokan Base in Ontario. Ely-Atikokan (“E-to-A” for short) trips range between 80 and 150 miles (9-10 day trip length is required), include crossing the US-Canadian border remotely, and feature some of the best wilderness paddling around. If your crew is interested in an E-A, contact Northern Tier to discuss the logistics involved in a multi-base trip. On your permit application, select E-to-A as your park choice and choose Quetico entry points as a normal Quetico trip would.


Crews looking for a more rugged wilderness experience may prefer the Quetico, which has less visitors and less maintenance to trails. However, this management and resultant solitude comes at a price – Quetico fees can be cost prohibitive (an additional $21.50/adult/night and $8.50/youth/night CND – in addition to your Northern Tier fees and crews are responsible for the Interpreter’s permit fees).

Crews that choose to embark on our popular base to base trips (Ely to Atikokan) will need to apply for a Quetico permit. As for choosing an entry point, any of the five will work but some will make for a more difficult trip than others. Entry points are described below.

If your crew is interested in embarking on an historical Grand Portage trip you will want to apply for a BWCAW permit and indicate your desire on the form. This trip is among the highest of adventures and intended for returning crews. The trip is approximately 130 miles from the Ely base culminating with an 8.5 mile portage (the Grand Portage) to Lake Superior. Crews will have to be approved by Northern Tier management to embark on this expedition. This trip also requires a shuttle fee as it is not possible to complete a loop.


If your crew chooses to travel in the Quetico, an entry point must be selected. The available entry points for the Ely Base crews paddling in the Quetico are listed below with a brief description. Crews must reach their entry point within the first 48 hours of entering the Quetico.

  • Kahshahpiwi Lake (53) – This entry point is the most difficult to reach and should be chosen by experienced crews or crews that want to push miles on their trip. Once there, many route options exist provided the trip length is 8 days or longer, or the crew travels at a faster speed than average. Kahshahpiwi makes for an easier Ely to Atikokan Trip.
  • Sarah Lake (52) – Sarah is very close to Kahshahpiwi and therefore has very similar pros and cons. Great for 6 to 7 day trips. Sarah is good for a moderate Ely to Atikokan Trip.
  • Basswood River (51) – The Basswood River is fairly easy to get to within the 48 hour window. It is a beautiful paddle on a large border lake (Basswood Lake) to reach it. Once there, crews get to view two of the largest waterfalls in the Superior/Quetico area. Some crews may find it difficult to complete a loop on a shorter trip however, and may end up returning the way they came. The Basswood River is good for a moderate Ely to Atikokan Trip.
  • Agnes Lake (61) – Though Agnes is rarely reached on the first day of the trip, an entry here provides perhaps the most potential route options for the crew. There is an opportunity to visit and swim in one of the most breathtaking water falls in the Quetico (Louisa Falls). The crew has access to the central part of the Quetico as well as going west, further north, or back down to the border. Agnes makes for an easier Ely to Atikokan Trip.
  • Carp Lake (62) – Entering at Carp lake allows a crew to enter the Quetico close to home. Approximately 10 miles from the base on Moose Lake, Carp allows the crew to have access to the southeast portion of the Quetico. Possible loops range from shorter and simpler to longer and more strenuous though the number of possible loops is limited to a handful. Carp provides the most difficult Ely to Atikokan routes.

View an overview map of the Ely Canoeing Area here.