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Northern Tier- using private outfitters and when to go?

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We at our scout troop are in the initial planning phase for a canoe trip to this BSA high adventure base. Two questions I have are:


We are considering private outfitters in addition to the BSA program. Can anyone offer advantages/disadvantages of either choice?

When is the best time to go in the summer in consideration of mosquitoes?

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Go as early as possible to minimize mosquitoes - May is best, in my view,but it looks like their earliest trip is June 5. A June trip will also give you a 10% discount according to their web site at http://www.ntier.org/


Since they're open through August, the end of the season will still be buzzing with bugs - and if you haven't experienced Minnesota mosquitoes, they will be very bad!


If this is the first time in the BWCAW for your adults and boy leaders, I'd recommend sticking to the BSA program. If you have plans to come back and have time this trip, check out a couple of the local outfitters.


Our troop goes on BWCAW trips on our own, renting canoes from local outfitters, but we have adults that have done it many times.




(This message has been edited by mn_scout)

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Hi All


You will have a great time, I really enjoy the Northern Tier.


I'm not sure I can point out advantages or disadvantages, but instead differences. With an outfitter, you won't get a guide, unless you pay a lot. If you have never been before, you may want one just to get a feel for how to portage and navigate. If someone in your Troop has this experience already, I don't think you need to worry about a guide.


Mosquitoes are a good question, but you will always have them to some degree. So I think the better focus are the mayflies. Ideally the fishing is a lot better before they hatch, which I think is mid July. Someone will have to verify that. But fishing went almost to nothing after they hatched.


Other suggestions are get the lightest canoes possible. The Kevlars are around 38lbs and well worth it. I think the BSA camp also provides them now.


Take good tested rain gear, not ponchos. It can make the difference between a great trip and a bad one.


Consolidate tents as much as possible. Many of the campsites are very small, at least on the Canadian side.


Before you go on your trip, practice canoeing, loading and unloading the canoes, entering and exiting the canoes and picking them up and carrying them. It is likely that your crew will portage three or four times on your first day. That will be a very long day if your crew is learning the techniques for the first time. Just picking up a canoe takes practice. So plan two or three trips to a local lake and have and experienced person teach everyone the proper techniques and protocols in the Northern Tier.


Protocol is important because you are likely to meet other crews on your first day as other crews are entering and exiting the lakes. So if you dont know what you are doing, it will be a very testing day on patience. On our last trip, our crew ran into a Troop of Girls Scouts wearing only bikinis on the first portage. Our crew had plenty of practice, yet for some reason that portage still didnt go very well for either crews. Those scouts still talk (brag) about that portage.




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I have not canoed much in Minnesota, but I have been in Ontario, north of Michigan, for two/three trips every summer for the last 20 years. I have been to Isle Royle twice.


The later in the summer you go, the less bugs you have. The first week of May, you usually have no bugs. The black flies come out around the second week of May, and stay for about a month. They are, in my opinion, a lot worst than the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are thick in June, and you have less of them as the summer goes on. My favorite month for taking the scouts is August. Of course, the water levels in the rivers goes down as the summer goes on.

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Our troop has canoed the BWCA many times, just this past summer included. We have gone thru Sommers and for the last 4 or 5 trips have used a private outfitter. We found the equipment, food, and service superior to the BSA, and the price just a little higher, but worth it. I'll probably be branded a traitor for that statement, but so be it. I agree with Troop 185, August is the perfect time weather wise and bug-wise. This past August the bugs were at an all time low, as I barely used any repellent at all. We go thru North Country Canoe Outfitters, owned by a Scouter, who has secellent price breaks for scout units. Whenever you do decide to go, you will enjoy it. It is truly God's country up there!

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I vote for August as well. I've been there 5 times, as early as Memorial Day and as late as the week after Labor Day. If you go in May or June, the bug problem is lessened, but not eliminated. You pay a terrible price, though - it's ---- near impossible to swim in the lakes at that time of year - they're still too cold. If you go in August, you'll find the boys spending hours swimming.

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The weather in the BWCA is a crapshoot. August has always been good for us, as Greg Nelson said, but this year we arrived in Ely on August 9th and it was 44 degrees and raining. (I swear it was gonna snow!) And of course we were all in shorts! It did get better as the week went on, and the high temps were probably in the mid 60's. Not much swimming, and some really quick baths! However, whenever you go, it will be a great experience. It is God's country up there!

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  • 3 months later...


I went both as a scout with my troop and with the OA voyage. I have also been with my family in the BWCA.


I truly believe that going through the Boy Scout High Adventure base is the way to go. The gear might not be as new as the outfitters or look as good but it all works and gear is a miner part of the trip. To understand why it is better to go with through the boy scouts you first have to under stand what the true goal of the trip is. The real goal is for the scouts to learn to have a good time out in the wilderness and for them to develop a sense of self pride in having completed a trip that has challenged them physically, mentally and possibly even spiritually. Going through the Boy Scouts helps you to better accomplish this goal.


With the Base you have an Interpreter/Guide who helps you to accomplish these goals and realize them to the greatest extent possible. This guide is normally very mature Collage aged person who has strong moral values and is a good influence. The perpous of this "Interpreter" is to help you along on your voyage as because they are an expert in the outdoors who is capable of dealing calmly with some of the most trying circumstances. The Interpreter is also some one who the scouts can look up to, some one worth looking up to. The interpreter is an approachable adult who treats the scouts as equals. I know that when I was a scout I was in awe of my interpreter he was the person who I wanted to be like. My life was positively influenced by my interpreter because he was such a good role model. It also helps that the Interpreter is someone that the scouts have not had previous contact with like a scoutmaster or assistant scoutmaster, who is a figure of authority. The relationship the scouts can have with the adults in the troop is also a very different relationship than the relationship they have with an Interpreter. The Interpreter is the biggest reason to go with the Boy Scouts, the Interpreter is an aspect of the program that is impossible to replicate on a self led troop trip.


The Boy Scout base also acquires the permits and deals with the paper work that you would normally have to do if you went through a private outfitter. The Boy Scouts pack your food as well, which I might add is very good. The boy scouts also give their crews an emergency radio, something none of the outfitters do. (I know from personal experience that no cell phones work out on the water)


For times to go I agree with the previous answers but you need to know that even when the bugs are not bad it is often much worse than other parts of the country. Also when it isnt mosquitoes it is Black Flies.


If you go through the base the best time is probably when the Interpreters are on their 3ed trip, probably mid July.


I know I am a little late in writing but understanding the role of the interpreter/guide is very important in making your decision about whether to go through a private outfitter or the Boy Scouts.




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Mooseman -


Just a followup to your post


I can see times where an interpreter would be good.


A good private outfitter will handle all paperwork and will also pack all food and equipment for the crew.


And surprisingly, we DID have cell phone signals every day in the BWCA, and contacted home during the week. It was a Verizon (Can you hear me now??)

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I've been through Sommers, too, but used NCCO in 2003 at Eagle90's recommendation and had a great experience!

Early August - got very lucky - no black flies and minimal skeeters until the last couple of evenings. Caught fish every day.


The biggest difference to me was the exhilaration of pushing away, heading into adventure, with just our crew - no professional guide, interpreter, etc. Our scout Crew Leader and his team did a great job figuring things out and came away with an incredible sense of accomplishment. Adults paddled at the rear to stay out of their way and had a great time.


In case of emergency, we did rent a satellite phone. Kinda pricey, but cheap if you really need to call in help.



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