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Trip Planning

Guide Or No Guide On Your Wilderness Trip?

April 12, 2011

What entry point are we going to use? Where is the portage? Which campsite is going to be the best for wind and sunsets?

Plotting and planning a Boundary Waters or Quetico canoe trip can be an overwhelming process the first time. The map briefing alone can leave first time adventurers rethinking their decision to head into the woods. Don’t fear there are lots of people out there to help you.

Let me suggest that you might want to consider the option of hiring an experienced and professional guide to head up your trip. Guides can be an invaluable resource to canoe trippers, especially those who might be a little bit green on the trail.

Guides provide expertise and knowledge that they have gathered over all their years of paddling, fishing, and camping. A good guide will show you how to load the boat, the most efficient paddling stroke, and choreograph the portaging process. I have told canoe clients that it takes even experienced trippers three or four portages to get into a rhythm after the bow touches the beach.

And the fishing, for the majority of groups this is most important question once they are on the water. Where are the fish? You might spend days hunting the sunken islands and rock structures of a given lake and come back empty-handed. A guide who fishes the water regularly can put you on fish, and a lot of them.

Maybe you are an experienced traveler and have been taking trips for years. Well no, a guide is not going to be advantageous for you. All that hard fought knowledge and expertise resides somewhere in the dark recesses of your grey matter already. But, if a friend came to you and inquired about a guide, shouldn’t you remember how enjoyable it was to huddle around the fire in the rain? If someone in the group would have known to bring a lightweight tarp, right? It was a learning experience. It was fun!

Before you get too convinced, let me share a couple of things a guide is not. This is the Boundary Waters, not an African safari, Bwana. Don’t expect your guide to do all the paddling, all the portaging, set up the entire camp, and do all the cooking. You will be expected to help out on the trip, grab your pack and away you go. Your guide is happy to teach you and show you the way. But by day two or three you should be up to speed helping out and doing dishes.

Finally, when your trip is over, and your group owes the guide some gratitude, please show them your appreciation. This is their job

See you on the water.

If you have more questions or would like a guide recommendation, please contact me at the email address included below.

“Captain” Brad Putney considers himself an inland waters guru after spending 40 years on the lakes of Minnesota. The Captain likes to say he has been at the helm of everything from a ten-foot inflatable to an America’s Cup yacht. Mr. Putney spends time in Ely, MN working as an outfitter to the BWCA. He has degrees from Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Minnesota. Please contact at: