An outfitter—a good one, anyway—is not just a company that rents canoes and camping gear. They are, as the Ely Chamber of Commerce puts it, “biologists, historians and woods-wise guides whose knowledge and love of this area will add immensely to the pleasure you’ll have on your canoe trip.”
They can plan a route that ideally fits your abilities and desires, and their intimate knowledge of the Boundary Waters area (your map will be marked with scenic and historic highlights, good wildlife-viewing territory, prime fishing spots, the best campsites, or anything else that interests you) is often worth the price of your gear rental. And with all the portaging you’ll probably be doing, it pays to use their lightweight equipment.
Complete outfitting includes just about everything you need for your trip from toilet paper to the tent. Most companies can also arrange transportation to the entry point and pre- and post-trip accommodation. Many will even guide your trip if you are unsure of your outdoor skills.
There are dozens of outfitters and guides to choose from in the surrounding communities, and all of those listed in this travel guide are highly regarded, though they are far from the only good ones out there.
The following three, each conveniently located in Ely, are some of the most highly recommended. Ely’s very first canoe company, Wilderness Outfitters (1 Camp St. E., 218/365-3211 or 800/777-8572, www.wildernessoutfitters.com, 6 a.m.–9 p.m. daily May–Oct.) started leading travelers into the wild in 1921.
Piragis Northwoods Company (105 Central Ave. N., 218/365-6745 or 800/223-6565, www.piragis.com, 6 a.m.–8 p.m. daily summer, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily winter) also operates a large outdoors store, so you can test a canoe on your trip before purchasing it.
Voyageur North Outfitters (1829 Sheridan E., 218/365-3251 or 800/848-5530, www.vnorth.com) has their own bait shop.
Before choosing an outfitter be sure to talk with them. They should begin by asking you questions about the type of trip that you want to do and be willing to give you references. Also, remember that a higher price usually means better and lighter equipment, so ask specifically what you are getting for your money.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition