Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to the questions we are asked most often. For more help in preparing for your BWCA or Quetico trip, check out our The Ultimate Canoe Trip Packing Checklist… it’s one of the most popular features we’ve posted!
1. We want to come on a canoe trip …. how do we start?
First of all, you and your paddling partners need to decide when you’d like to come and how many days you’ll have on the water. You’ll also need to tell us what type of trip it is you are looking for … base camp fishing, hard travelling, easy travelling, and minimal or maximum work levels. We will then recommend some routing options for you and call the Forest Service, or Quetico Park, reservation center to secure your travel permit. If you decide to go to the Quetico you will then need to mail in for your RABC permits as that process can take several weeks. (A credit card is required to make a permit reservation … please have it handy when you call us or the permit center.)
The next step is to determine your outfitting needs …. whether partial or complete. If you choose a food, food and canoe, or complete package you’ll need to mail in your menu selections a month in advance of your arrival day. When you arrive at our base we will cover all the details, answer your questions, and get you all squared away for your trip. You’ll want to reserve your outfitting, lodging, Quick Start Breakfast, and any motor launches well in advance. Due to the permit quota system that both the BWCAW and Quetico operate under you will want to have alternate entry dates ready for us in case your first, or even second, choice is filled. Be sure you have secured the permit before you make plans at work or book your airline flights. Bear in mind that a permit can accommodate up to 9 people, in either wilderness area, so there is room to add people later on. Get the permit locked in for the folks who are committed to going and work out the details later.
2. Can you really drink the water straight from the lakes?
Yes, you really can! Although Giardia exists in our lakes and streams we’ve never had a guest get it yet. We recommend that you paddle out, away from your campsite, and fill your water containers well away from shore. Especially avoid the stagnant bays and small streams where beaver and moose are commonly seen. Anyone with a medical condition, or a pregnancy, should boil, filter, or treat their drinking water. Boiling is the only 100% effective way to kill all microorganisms … bring it to a good rolling boil for a few minutes and you can be sure of your water quality. We also recommend water purification tablets and water purifiers and send our MSR filters with our complete packages.
3. Do you ever see any moose?
Yes, we see moose all the time. In fact, we sort of take them for granted. Our canoe, and cabin, guests also see moose frequently. You stand a good chance of seeing them on your way up the Gunflint Trail. Drive slowly and look closely in the various ponds and you might get lucky. You can see them anywhere on a canoe trip … but early mornings and late evenings, in shallow bays, are good bets. Keep your camera ready at all times … you won’t have time to dig it out. By the way, they really aren’t dangerous … unless you get between a mother, and her calf, or a bull, and his mate, during the late fall rutting season.
4. Do we have to worry about bears?
No, not really. There are black bears who live in the wilderness but they are rarely seen and rarely bother anyone. They are not interested in you …. but are not opposed to a free lunch if you leave a messy camp and your food pack where they can get to it. Realistically, you’ll have more trouble with squirrels and chipmunks than you ever will with a bear. By the way, bears are good swimmers so camping on an island requires the same precautions. If a bear does wander by you should shout, throw rocks, and bang pots to drive them away.
5. What is a Duluth pack?
Simply a large nylon, frameless pack with shoulder straps. They are waterproof but we recommend lining them with a plastic trash bag. They absorb a lot of gear and ride low in the the canoe. Generally, two people for a week will have 3 packs … one for food, one for equipment, and one for personal stuff. Frame packs do not work well in a canoe as they tend to ride very high and make your canoe less stable. They are also difficult to waterproof adequately.
6. What is an RABC permit?
It is advance permission, from Ontario Immigration, to enter the Quetico Park (and fish the Canadian side of Sag from our Sag cabins). These must be done by mail, and by you, as they require background information, a signature, and a credit card. We recommend doing this at least one month in advance of your arrival. Some folks have gotten turned down for past legal troubles … especially DUI’s which are a felony in Canada. You can access the RABC site, and download the form, on our site. Each RABC covers you, and your dependents, and costs about $30.00 in U.S. funds.
7. How soon should I reserve my permit for the BWCA or Quetico?
The best answer is as soon as you know your starting date, order your BWCA Permits and Quetico Permits. They are first come, first serve, and we get no special preference as an outfitter. Everyone calls the same number. You can now reserve a Quetico permit 5 months in advance of your trip departure date and a BWCA permit beginning January 31st. Bear in mind that you don’t need to know exactly how many days you will canoe, or exactly how many people in your party, to reserve a permit. A permit is good for up to 9 people and as many days as you choose to stay. (You may request that your BWCA permit be sent directly to us to avoid having to stop at the ranger station in Grand Marais). You will pick up your Quetico permit at the Cache Bay ranger station in Cache Bay.) The Quetico number is toll-free 888-668-7275 and you are looking for Quetico Backcountry Reservations. Be sure to mention that you are looking for a Quetico Park permit via Cache Bay … as it is a national outfit. The BWCA toll-free number is 877-550-6777.
8. What is the difference between the Quetico Park and the Boundary Waters?
The Boundary Waters campsites all have a fire grate and a latrine box. The Quetico sites do not so you are responsible for your own latrines and to bring a grate to set your pots on over the fire. The other significant difference is that the Quetico only gives out about 1/5 the amount of permits as the BWCA. If you are coming during peak season (end of July, first 2/3 of August) you should try to go to the Quetico. You’ll also use the Headstart Launch service, your RABC permit, an Ontario license, and pay Quetico Camping fees if you head to the Canadian side.
9. What do permits and licenses cost?
BWCA Permits cost $10.00 to reserve and then there is a user fee of $16.00 per adult, and $8.00 per youth, for the trip (not per day/night). Quetico Permits have a $11 (Canadian) reservation fee and charges $21.50 (Canadian) per adult and $8.50 (Canadian) per youth (under 18) per night per night for camping in their park (you’ll receive the current exchange rate). In addition, at the time of your Quetico reservation you are required to pay a nonrefundable deposit of $100.00/permit which will be applied to your overnight camping fees at the Ranger Station.
A week long fishing license in Minnesota’s BWCAW costs $39.50 and $38.00 in Ontario’s Quetico Park. If a youth has reached their 16th birthday they need their own license in Minnesota. If they have reached their 17th birthday they need their own license in Ontario.
10. How bad are the bugs?
The bugs peak in mid June and that is when the black flies join the mosquitoes to bother us. The black flies only last a week or two and then they disappear. The mosquitoes stay with us into July but are only usually troublesome at sunrise and sunset. People love to tell horror stories but they are generally no worse than in your backyard. Much of it depends on the type of spring and summer we are having. During bug season we recommend having long sleeves, a head net to fit over your cap, and plenty of repellent with DEET in it. Afterbite type products seem to offer relief for those folks who swell up after a mosquito bite.
11. Do people ever get lost?
No. But they do get confused now and then. But that’s normal and usually only takes a few minutes to get straightened out again. The maps we use are very accurate and allow you to find your way quite easily. We have never had to go looking for anybody … and we send out novices each week. We recommend having a compass to keep an eye on your general direction … so you don’t get too far off course.
12. Are Kevlar canoes the best?
Yes, if you are using the right kind of Kevlar canoe for your party. They come in many sizes and shapes. We rent a variety of Kevlar canoes designed for beginners and more advanced paddlers. We carry a variety of Kevlar canoes made by Souris River, Bell, Mad River and Wenonah. All Kevlar canoes, in particular, require a lot more attention to avoid damaging them but are worth the extra effort each time you pick them up to carry them!
13. How cold does it get at night up there?
In May and September you should plan on a stocking cap, jacket, gloves, your full rain suit, and waterproof footwear. June is generally about 65 to 70 degrees with the potential of some rain. July is usually in the 70’s without a lot of rain. August is our warmest month with highs in the 80’s and is usually very dry. You should always plan on packing some shorts and a t-shirt in your pack along with long pants, a light jacket, and a sweatshirt … as you never know what might happen in the far north woods.
14. What should we wear for footwear?
During the summer months we recommend the water shoes by Keen or Solomon. They are similar to a tennis shoe with a sole for walking in the water on the rocks and they have a nylon mesh upper which dries quickly. In the spring or fall it is best to stick with a Gore-Tex hiking boot. Bear in mind that portages are full of rocks and roots and can be slippery after rains.
15. Should we bring live bait?
Emphatically, yes!! We have learned from our guests over the years that live bait dramatically improves your chances of catching fish. You are not allowed to bring live bait of any sort into the Quetico Park. Leeches, which are harmless ribbon leeches and not bloodsuckers, are the best bait by far. If you have a slip-bobber rig, and some leeches, you can almost be assured of catching walleyes and smallmouth bass. All types of live bait are allowed in the BWCA, with the exception of the designated brook trout lakes.
16. Can we bring our dog?
Yes, dogs are allowed in both the BWCAW and the Quetico. You should bring a current rabies certificate in addition to the rabies tags on their collar. Ill behaved dogs will not be welcome in the wilderness. Dogs must be on good voice control or on a leash. Dogs must not be allowed to bark at, or chase, the wild animals. (Sorry, dogs are not allowed in our bunkhouse lodge, so you should be prepared for them to sleep in your vehicle.) Be prepared to clean up after your dog at our base, at the landings, on the portages, and at your campsites. We recommend some canoeing practice before you arrive to make sure that your dog will sit quietly in your canoe. Dogs should never be left unattended.
17. Do you provide raingear?
No. Raingear is an essential piece of personal equipment. You should bring a rain jacket, and pants, that will keep you completely dry through three days of rain. Buy it roomy enough to fit over all your clothing, and your life vest, and durable enough to withstand wilderness travel. It does not need to be Gore-tex but you shouldn’t buy a $5.00 gas station special either.
18. When is the best time to come?
That depends upon the goals of your party. May is a quiet time, with few bugs, but can be cooler and have more rain. June is the best fishing month but also has more bugs. July is a good all-around time with good fishing, fewer mosquitoes, and water warm enough for short swims. August is the busiest month because of the warm weather, minimal bugs, and good swimming. Once schools get close to starting, in the latter half of August, it gets quiet again, too. September is a great time as it’s quiet and the fall colors are spectacular … and the bugs are gone. Please see our informative chart, Ask About and Take Our Advice, for some great information.
19. Can we have a fire?
Yes, unless there is a fire ban due to extremely dry conditions, you may have a fire in the fire pit area. These fires should be kept small and must be put out completely whenever you are not in camp. Be sure to drown the fire, stir the ashes, drown it again, stir the ashes, and then drown it a third time. Fires can smolder for days, underground, and you don’t want to be responsible for a forest fire.
You must gather your own firewood from the surrounding forest. And you must take only dead and downed wood … and never cut anything that is live (it won’t burn anyway). We recommend having a small evening fire and doing all of your cooking on your stove to alleviate stripping the campsite areas of branches.
20. Do cell phones work in this area?
No, they do not. In case of an emergency you, and your partner(s), are responsible for getting help. You can do this by paddling out yourself or enlisting the aid of other canoeists to assist you. The Cook County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for search and rescue operations in conjunction with the Forest Service. Float planes may only land inside the BWCAW for serious medical emergencies and you may be charged for the rescue operation. Your families should understand that there is no guaranteed way to contact you when you are in the woods. We get calls all the time from family members who want us to ”give a message” to their loved ones. Obviously, when you are three days out in the wilderness that’s not possible. The number to leave with your families is 218-388-2216.
21. How do we find our way in the wilderness?
Navigation is quite simple in the canoe country. While we recommend always having a compass, to accompany your map, you probably won’t need it. You can usually figure out where you are by looking at points, islands, bays, and campsites along the way. You may get slightly confused but not lost. Modern maps are quite accurate and we will tell you of confusing spots or map printing errors. Each canoe should have a set of maps, and a compass, of their own in case you get separated. You should also have prearranged meeting places so everyone knows where to meet up in the event you do split up.
22. What do we do with fish guts?
The best method that we have discovered is to take your filet knife with you on your fishing excursions and clean your fish on a rock before you paddle back to camp. That way you won’t attract any critters or leave a mess for the next campers. If you clean fish near your camp you will have seagulls there in a matter of minutes and you will not get rid of them. And their constant squawking can be very annoying. A folding filet knife is very handy and much safer than a long filet knife sticking out of your pack.
23. How do we know what a portage or a campsite looks like?
All we can say is that you will know them when you see them … as they are very distinct, well-worn spots where folks have portaged and camped before. Everything else is heavily forested. In the BWCAW you can often see the steel fire grate from the water. Paddlers often pile rocks around the tall grates to cut the wind. If you get yourself in the right vicinity you will spot the trails and campsites easily.
24. How do we clean up in the woods?
Providing the water is warm enough you may clean up with lake water. We recommend getting wet first and then taking your biodegradable soap, and a bucket of water, back in the woods to soap up and rinse off. Then you may re-enter the lake for your final rinse. The same procedure should be used for doing your dishes … washing and rinsing your dishes well away from the lake. We have very little soil up here, in the Canadian Shield (granite), so it’s important to allow soap, grease, and food particles a chance to filter through the soil before re-entering the water system.
25. Is it true that no cans or bottles are allowed in the wilderness?
Yes. You must repackage any food, or beverage, items into plastic containers or plastic bags. A can of mosquito repellent is OK but a can of pork and beans is not. Plastic sodas, or waters, are allowed. If it is a disposable food container it is not allowed. Even if you have every intention of bringing it out. The rangers will fine you for this … starting at $100.00!
26. What sort of fishing tackle should we bring?
We recommend a medium action spinning rod and reel with 8 pound test line. Make sure the reel is in good working order, lubricated, and has fresh line on it. A two-piece rod is most convenient for travel. We recommend having a back up rod and reel for your party. Plus, we always carry a spare rod tip, or two, and a tube of super glue in our tackle box. Rod tips are usually the first casualty on canoe trips.
Your tackle box should be small and contain lead-head jigs, jigs with twister tails, spinner baits (like Mr. Twisters or Beetle Spins), spinners (like Mepps), spoons (DareDevles), Rapalas (floaters and crank baits like ShadRaps), and topwater lures (Tiny Torpedos, Jitterbugs, Hula Poppers). You’ll also want some split shot sinkers, small hooks (#6), and slip bobber rigs. If fishing for lake trout you’ll want some Swedish Pimples (really!), Kastmasters, Doctor spoons, or Loco spoons. Steel leaders are a good idea when fishing for northern pike. Otherwise we recommend tying your lures directly on your line or using a small swivel if absolutely necessary.
We sell tackle, live bait, rods & reels, and fishing licenses (MN) in our store. Sorry, but we do not rent fishing equipment, landing nets, or depth finders.
27. What is your paddlers lodge like?
See our Paddlers lodge page for photos of this facility. Our lodge has 8 private rooms which can sleep up to 8 people in each room. Bunks are built in and have mattresses on them. You will use your sleeping bag in the lodge. There is a large common area down the middle of the lodge, with picnic tables, where folks meet, eat our Quick Start Breakfasts, and organize gear. The lodge is carpeted and has a small refrigerator in each room where we place your Quick Start Breakfast the night before you arrive (QSB must be ordered in advance). We also have a new, cedar shower house next to the lodge with sinks, toilets, and showers for your convenience before, and after, your trip. Be sure to pack your toilet kit, a clean towel, and clean clothes for your trip home. If you are using your own sleeping bag be sure to pack it on top so you don’t have to carry your entire pack up to the lodge (long flight of stairs!).
28. Do any people ever go out on solo trips?
Yes, more and more each year. While it may not be for everybody it can be a wonderful experience. It seems best to plan for some travel each day as it will give you something to focus on. Otherwise, the days can get a little long. We have solo canoes in both Royalex and Kevlar that have center seats and special carrying yokes. Many people are also using solos canoe when they have an odd number in their party. We usually send double-bladed, kayak style, paddles with our solo canoes as this allows them to travel very quickly.
29. Does anyone fly fish in the Canoe Country?
Yes, fly fishing is becoming more and more popular. We recommend an 8 weight rod with a bass taper line. Hard body, cork style poppers and woolly buggers are generally enough for good smallmouth action. If you have a heavier rod, or are a good caster, you can also throw the larger foam body poppers in search of the larger bass. With streamers, and a heavy tippett, you can also take the aggressive northern pike. We’ve found it best to take turns paddling with your canoe partner to position yourself for accurate casts.
30. How does your Quick Start Breakfast work?
Our Quick Start, which should be reserved in advance, is placed in your bunkhouse lodge room the day before (there is a small refrigerator in each room). It consists of cereal, fruit, granola bars, yogurt, milk, and juice. We will also bring up coffee to your bunkhouse room before we open the business the next morning. The cost of the Quick Start Breakfast is $9 per person.
31. What time should we arrive the night before our trip?
Check-in time, for the paddler’s lodge, is between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm. The earlier you intend to leave in the morning the earlier you should arrive the day before. We open promptly at 7:00 am and close promptly at 7:00 pm. If you need equipment, or routing help, you should arrive no later than 6:00 pm. If you are on a complete package, for the first time, you should arrive by 4:00 – 5:00 pm in order to have time to do the routing session. If you arrive at 6 pm or later we will gladly do the routing the next morning. If you arrive, for the lodge, past 7 pm please check the dry erase board next to our office door for your room assignment. If you are on a complete package your packs will be left in your room so you can use your sleeping bag and pack up your personal pack.
32. Is there any place to eat up on the end of the Gunflint Trail?
We recommend Trail Center (Black Bear Bar and Grill), halfway up the Trail, which does not take reservations, and Gunflint Lodge (Gunflint requires reservations …. call them at 218-388-2294). For a quick meal close to our base, try Trails’ End Cafe, which is two miles north of us on the end of the Gunflint Trail for burgers and pizza. Sea Island Lodge Restaurant, which was on Seagull Lake in the next bay from our base, has closed.
33. Why are we higher, in price, than some other outfitters?
We believe that is evident in everything that we do. Starting with this website, our beautiful paddler’s lodge, our deluxe cedar shower house, our fleet of nice Suburbans and canoe trailers to transport you, our delicious menu with lots of fresh foods, and our new and modern equipment including new canoes from Souris River, Old Town, Wenonah, Bell and Alumacraft. We guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by our service, facilities, equipment, and food. And we think you’ll agree with our guests, who are nearly all repeat or referred, that our commitment to quality is evident in our outfitting. We feel that the middle of the wilderness is not the place to find out that someone cut corners on your outfitting.
34. What is the proper way to go to the bathroom in the woods?
This is a good, and important, question! If you are in the BWCA, and near a campsite, you should always use the latrine box provided. (Just remember that the latrine box is not a garbage disposal.) If you are in the Quetico where there are no latrine boxes, or anywhere else, you must make sure you are well away from the water …. 50 paces is a good guideline …. and that is quite a ways! Secondly, you should always dig a shallow hole with your trowel, or the heel of your shoe, and bury your waste AND your toilet paper!! This is not being done properly by many campers and the visual effect near campsites, and portages, is rather disgusting. It is also going to have a long term effect on the quality of your drinking water. So be sure to do your part.
35. How does a slip bobber set-up work?
Well, if you fish with a regular bobber, and want to fish at 12′, that is all the closer you can reel to your bait. A slip bobber is a hollow bobber that slides up and down your line that, with the use of the stop knot, can be set to whatever depth you like. The small dacron stop knot goes right through the eyes on your rod and right into your reel without bothering anything. Then you simply cast out and the bobber stops at the pre-set depth. All of the trophy walleyes are caught this way and it is the single most effective way to catch walleyes and bass. You, and your kids, won’t get snagged on everything and you can catch many fish right from your campsite. Leeches seem to be the best on a slip bobber as they are very active on the end of your line. There are two other items we consider essential to productive slip bobber fishing. One is a portable anchor … essentially a mesh bag, which you fill with rocks, and 50′ of parachute cord. The other is a marker buoy … so you can mark the spot where you find fish and return to it easily.
36. What are the differences between canoe types?
I liken an Alumacraft canoe to a Chevy, or Dodge, automobile. Good solid, dependable transportation …. but nothing fancy. They are our heaviest canoes but only weigh #62. The next step up are Royalex, or heavy duty plastic, canoes like Penobscots and Eclipses. They weigh a few pounds less than aluminum and are faster and quieter in the water. From there you go to the top of the line canoes made out of Kevlar cloth. They weigh as little as #39 and are also fast and quiet. They require more care, when loading and unloading, but are worth it if you are going to do any portaging. We now carry a large variety of Kevlar models to suit the needs of every paddler.
37. How can we be sure not to damage a canoe we’ve rented?
Any canoe, no matter what it’s made of, should be loaded ‘wet’ … in other words, you put it in the water and THEN load your gear. And reverse the process on the other end … unload the canoe IN the water and then lift the canoe out of the water and set it gently on land. None of our canoes should be pulled up on shore, dragged over rocks, or have gear in them when on shore. If you have waterproof footwear, or footwear you can get wet, you can stand in shallow water and load, or unload, your canoe. This will prevent damages and prevent you from having to pay for a damaged canoe.
38. Is your equipment insured against damage or loss?
No, any equipment which you rent from us is your responsibility. Immediately following your trip one of our staff will check your party in and look for any missing, or damaged, items of equipment. As a general rule of thumb, you will be charged an amount equal to that which it costs us to replace the item (at the wholesale price which we pay for it). This holds true even if the damage is caused by a storm or other circumstance that is not in your direct control. In the case of severe damage your homeowners insurance policy may cover some of the expenses.
39. Is it OK to feed the wild animals?
No, we generally don’t recommend feeding the squirrels, chipmunks, and jays as this causes them to become dependent upon human food and creates very annoying habits of them causing damage to your equipment while trying to get at your food. We only had a bear damage a pack once, or twice, over the years but we’ve had many packs chewed through by red squirrels. And since they won’t be stockpiling food as they should they could run short during the long, cold winter … with fatal results.
40. Why are you called Seagull Outfitters?
We are called that because we are located on Seagull Lake … one of the most beautiful lakes in the Boundary Waters. We are located on the very NE bay of the lake on 20 acres of private land. We also own 5 acres of private land on Saganaga Lake where our two Sag lake cabin rentals sit.
41. Do you only outfit through Seagull Lake?
Definitely not! We use all the BWCA entry points on the Gunflint Trail and several into Quetico Provincial Park out of Cache Bay. Below are the entry points that we commonly use on the Gunflint Trail into the Boundary Waters as well as the Quetico.
Seagull Lake #54
Saganaga Lake #55
Magnetic Lake #57
Larch Creek #80
Brandt Lake #52
Missing Link #51
Cross Bay #50
Poplar (Lizz) #47
Knife Lake #71
Man Chain #72
Falls Chain #73
Boundary Point #74
Mack Lake (fly-ins) #23
42. Do you rent kayaks? We do have a few single kayaks to rent out, but they are typically left alone for day-trips. We find them cumbersome to portage because they do not have a canoe yoke, so we would strongly advise against taking one with you in the woods. We do rent the Wenonah Canak which is a solo canoe/kayak combination with a carrying yoke that you may take with you on your canoe trip. If you wish to just paddle on Seagull Lake for a few hours, then the single kayaks may be viewed as an option.
43. Is there a place where we can buy our Canadian fishing licenses in advance? Yes, this site has an on-line application to buy a Canadian fishing license. We sell MN fishing licenses at our base on Seagull Lake. Any trip into the Boundary Waters requires a MN fishing license. We have the electronic licensing system and it is necessary to bring your social security number in order to get your license. Don’t leave home without it!
44. Do I need to carry a Satellite Phone while on my trip? No, you certainly don’t. But for those of you who would feel more comfortable if you did, follow this link to rental information online.