The yellow ball of the sun pulls itself over Pike, Caribou, and Pine Lakes through a tangle of mist dripping with light. A pair of loons calls from somewhere off the point. The smells of camp coffee and pine needles fill the air. Once in your life, a trip should be this good, mornings this beautiful, lakes this clear, fishing this easy, and wolf tracks this fresh.
There are thousands of canoe routes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), but few of those paddles rival the Frost River-Whipped Lake-Round Lake route. This weeklong water path has narrow rapids, waterfalls, moose, beavers, some open lake paddling, and, due to a couple of tough portages, real solitude. It's best done during the high-water months in spring or fall and by those with lining or whitewater experience. Pad extra days into your plan for fishing, floating, and enjoying the solitude.
When paddling a small lake or hiking in the dense forest, it can be difficult to appreciate the vastness of the BWCAW--over a million acres, including dozens of rivers, thousands of lakes, countless islands, and moose tracks as thick as the stars on a clear night. One visit is enough to make you tip your hat to those with the foresight to preserve such a place, your gesture expressing a humility that we all should feel at least once in our lives.
Permits: A permit is needed to hike or paddle in any area of the wilderness (see Contact below). Reservations for choice entry points fill quickly and getting a permit can be complex, so begin planning your trip 6 to 8 months in advance.
Access: The Frost River route is one of many accessed from the Gunflint Trail northwest of Grand Marais, Minnesota. Park at the Round Lake Public Landing. Car shuttles, canoe rentals, and guide services can be arranged through many local outfitters. Ask Superior National Forest (see Contact below) for a list.
Season: Spring and fall have the fewest bugs and highest water levels.
Guides: For the Frost River route, get McKenzie Maps' Little Saganaga and Tuscarora Lakes #7 and Knife, Kekekabic and Thomas Lakes #8 maps (800-749-2113; $5.95 each). Boundary Waters Canoe Area: The Eastern Region and Boundary Waters Canoe Area: The Western Region, both by Robert Beymer (Wilderness Press, 800-443-7227; $14.95 each).
Contact: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Superior National Forest, (218) 626-4300; www.bwcaw.org.