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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN – Volunteer Vacations 2023

May 21, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - May 27, 2023 @ 10:00 am

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Get your hiking boots and canoe paddles ready for this backcountry adventure into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness! Join the North Country Trail Association and help conduct much needed maintenance on a remote 5-mile stretch of the Kekekabic / North Country Trail. The million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a stunningly beautiful designated wilderness area located in the northeastern tip of Minnesota. It is a unique landscape that is made up of equal parts water (lakes, rivers, and wetlands) and land (boreal forest). While canoeing is the dominant use of the Wilderness, there are 200 miles of hiking trails within the BWCAW including the Kekekabic and Border Route Trails – two components of the North Country National Scenic Trail. The Kekekabic Trail (Kek) was damaged by the historic 1999 windstorm but the forest has regenerated along with thick brush and young trees. The job of the crew will be to keep open a corridor through the forest and brush for hikers to follow. The crew will be working between Thomas and Strup Lakes and camping on/near Thomas Lake. This Kek section features large wetlands, small lakes, rocky knobs, and young mixed coniferous-hardwood forests. Canoeing on a BWCAW lake, fishing, or hiking may be enjoyed right from the group campsite.

Volunteers will canoe to set up a base camp on/near Thomas Pond within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, canoeing a distance of approximately 11.5 miles. There is a distance of approximately 1.1 miles of portage trails included in this total. Following that, the crew will perform basic maintenance on a remote 5-mile stretch of the Kekekabic / North Country Trail. The work will entail using hand tools (Silky saws, crosscut saw, loppers, and hedge trimmers) to maintain an open trail corridor. Volunteers should expect to hike up to 10 miles round trip per day with minimal elevation gain over rough, primitive trail tread.

There is no experience needed to join a Volunteer Vacation! Your expert hosts will provide detailed instruction, tool demonstrations, and project oversight throughout the week. All you need is a willing attitude and to be in good physical condition to participate in moderate physical activity for approximately 6-8 hours a day with plenty of breaks, at your own pace. Find out more about what it’s like to join a Volunteer Vacation and other frequently asked questions here.

AHS acknowledges with gratitude that this project takes place on the traditional lands of the Anishinabewaki and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ peoples past and present. We honor the land itself, the Indigenous communities who have stewarded this land for generations, their deep and sacred connection to these lands, and those who continue to steward these lands today. We offer this land acknowledgement as the first of many steps to stand as an ally and amplify Indigenous voices. We invite the American Hiking Society community to join us through continued efforts to support Indigenous communities and learn more about the history of the lands on which we live, work and recreate.


North Country Trail Association


Primitive Tent Sites


Day hiking up to 10 miles each work day.

Project Rating


Minimum Volunteer Age


Maximum Group Size


Area and Attractions

Established in 1964 as Federally Designated Wilderness, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is over one million acres of rugged and remote boreal forest in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. The BWCAW extends nearly 150 miles along the International Boundary, adjacent to Canada’s Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks, is bordered on the west by Voyageurs National Park, and by Grand Portage National Monument to the east. The BWCAW contains over 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and over 2,000 designated campsites. The BWCAW is composed of lakes, islands, rocky outcrops and forest. The BWCAW is the only large temperate lake-land wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System and is renowned for its water-based recreational opportunities. The sculpting of the landscape by powerful glaciers over an immense period of time has left behind a variety of landforms and rocks as well as thousands of lakes and streams, interspersed with islands. This network of connecting waterbodies provides unique opportunities for long distance travel by watercraft—a rare experience within the continental United States.

Accommodations Description

Volunteers will stay the night before going in and the night we come out of the Wilderness at a Scout Camp cabin near Ely. We will tent camp in a primitive campsite on a BWCAW lake. These sites feature tent pads, a fire ring, and a wilderness toilet. Volunteers should bring their own tent and personal camping gear, sleeping bag, towels, personal cup / bowl / mug / eating utensils. Contact volunteer@americanhiking.org for assistance with gear needs.


Range Regional Airport (KHIB) in Hibbing, MN is the closest airport. Airport pick up and drop off is available for volunteers and will be arranged upon confirmation of the trip.


Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Kawishiwi Ranger Station 1393 Hwy 169, Ely, MN 55731, MN 55731 United States + Google Map