Try a night or two in Quetico on your next BWCAW trip

Today’s post comes from Jill Legault, Information Specialist at Quetico Provincial Park.

Have you been paddling for years in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and are looking to change up your route?

Here are some reasons why you should try paddling over the Canada–USA border to Quetico Provincial Park.

Therapeutic solitude 

If you give Quetico a try for a night or two, you could very well end up having a lake to yourself. This is a distinct and palpable feeling that need only be experienced once before it becomes a necessary part of your life.

The solitude transforms from something for the hardy to endure and becomes therapeutic.  

Truly wild

Quetico’s rugged beauty, towering rock cliffs, majestic waterfalls, pine forests, quiet campsites, and picturesque rivers and lakes remain truly wild.

Northern lights.

To maintain a setting with little human disturbance, you’ll note a few differences between Quetico and the BWCAW instantly. The absence of marked campsites, no campfire grates, and no thunder boxes at campsites. Premium campsites still exist with well-used tent pads and established campfire rings.


We also allow ecological processes to occur whenever possible, such as letting fires burn for forest habitat renewal, or leaving beavers in control of water levels.

Wildlife sightings are a significant part of both a BWCAW and Quetico experience.

Wolf pups found in Quetico Provincial Park.
Wolf pups!

The relatively large landscape and lack of disturbance allow species that require large home ranges to thrive, such as Gray Wolves, moose, lynx and Lake Sturgeon.

Catch the BIG one

With far fewer anglers than the BWCAW, there’s a lot less fishing pressure.

Photos of visitors fishing.

This — in combination with no live bait, barbless hooks, and a strong catch and release ethic — makes Quetico a dream for sport-fishing.  

Welcome witness to the past

Full disclosure: I’m the information specialist at Quetico, which means I’m in charge of maps, and our archive and library. So if there’s anyone that’s going to nerd out about the threads of lingering wilderness lore or snapshots into the region’s 10,000 years of human history, it’s me!

Paddling through Quetico is the closest you’ll come to seeing the same landscape as someone more than 300 years ago, without taking a floatplane. When you journey through Quetico, you journey through the past.

sunset over lake

You see the same cliffs others have seen, you walk the same portages others have walked. You fish the same shoals others have fished, and you camp on the same sites others have camped. The cycle of your journey is the cycle of history.  

Quetico is also the land upon which much of Lac La Croix First Nations’ rich history played out, long before the creation of the park. When you paddle through western sections of the park, it is likely a member of Lac La Croix First Nation cleared those portages.

canoe on lake

Beaverhouse and Lac La Croix Ranger Stations are also run in partnership by Lac La Croix First Nation. Rich Anishinaabek cultural heritage can be easily enjoyed in Quetico, and you are a welcome witness to the past. 

Don’t forget your map

Map to navigate Quetico.Please consider buying the Chrismar Quetico map when you visit our ranger station.

At the park, we work tirelessly year after year to keep the map as accurate as possible and re-print it regularly. We are constantly re-GPSing portages, noting how rivers have changed, updating where we’ve had to add or re-route portages due to beaver activity, etc.

With a few exceptions, our backcountry rangers clear a minimum of every portage on our map every year.

Our portage maintenance map is now available online on the Ontario Parks online store. Although we do not recommend navigating by this map, we update a version of it bi-weekly with the latest cleared portages and a PDF of our portage maintenance map is free to download.

This is valuable information for all our early summer paddlers who want to avoid blowdown-riddled portaging.

A felt difference

The differences between the BWCAW and Quetico can be seen in the varying rules and regulations. Yet the differences are also something that I believe must be felt first-hand and not just read.

Two visitors enjoying the sunset.

Sometimes we think that a landscape is “out there,” but the difference between the BWCAW and Quetico is not. It is in your eyes and ears. It is up your nose and down your throat. The difference is felt. 

Please visit the Ontario Parks website for more information on how to cross the border remotely and make reservations.