The Boundary Waters region in Minnesota is a 150-mile maze of connected lakes and rivers surrounded by thick pine and cedar forests and speckled with small, rocky islands. The area has some 1,200 miles of paddleable routes, making canoeing the most practical way to experience it all. By August, most of the visitors (and bugs) have gone – you're more likely to see black bears and moose than like-minded paddlers – but you'll still need to get a permit ahead of time. Also bring a tent and a cooler with food (and a clutch of beers). "It's just you and nature," says longtime local guide John Schiefelbein. "You own that lake at night."
Start at Lake One, about 25 miles east of Ely, Minnesota, where you can rent a canoe, if you didn't bring one yourself. Pass through Lakes Two, Three, and Four, and into the 3,000-acre Lake Insula. In this deep, clear lake (with 11-foot visibility), camp on one of the dozens of little wooded islands.
Take the Kawishiwi River, which runs into Lake Insula, to Alice Lake. Consider a side trip to nearby Fishdance Lake to view the 1,200-year-old Native American art on rock croppings that are a great vantage point for the area's osprey. Set up camp on Alice's sugar-sand beaches.
You'll need to portage your canoe about a mile north to Thomas Lake, one of the most isolated spots on the trip. Here, you're most likely to see a whole range of wildlife – deer, otters, moose, beavers, mink, loons, and ducks.
Today you'll work through a series of small, adjacent lakes, including Ima Lake, Jordan Lake, Cattyman Lake, Adventure Lake, and Disappointment Lake. Finish your trip at Snowbank Lake, and then find the trailhead for Kekekabic and Snowbank Trails and take a day hike to Moose Lake.
More information: This trip was pieced together by Bill Forstelle, the owner of Boundary Waters Outfitters. For more detail or info on rentals, go to boundarywatersoutfitters.