With thousands of lakes, ponds, marshes, islands, bays, and points, the Boundary Waters is a complicated place to navigate a canoe. Early Voyageurs chopped off the lower branches of prominent trees, creating "lob trees" that guided their trips. You won't make a lot of friends if you create your own set of lob trees, so be prepared with a good set of maps. The maps shown throughout Exploring the Boundary Waters are not sufficient to navigate in the Boundary Waters, and are provided only for trip planning purposes. It is essential that you purchase a set of high-resolution maps for the areas you plan to visit.
W.A. Fisher Company, McKenzie Maps, and Voyageur Maps are three companies that produce Boundary Waters maps showing locations of campsites and portages, in addition to all navigable lakes and streams, plus surrounding topography. Bring at least two copies of each map for the route you will be covering, that way you will still be able to navigate in the event that you lose one set of maps. Better yet, bring one complete set of maps for each canoe, which maximizes safety in the event your canoes are separated from one another and also increases the pleasure of traveling through the wilderness.
The choice between Fisher, McKenzie, and Voyageur Maps is often an issue of personal preference. All three companie's maps are printed on waterproof paper, an essential improvement over traditional paper maps printed by the United States Geological Survey, which are not recommended for canoe travel. Maps from all three companies contain the same topographic information. In addition, all three companies have worked with the Forest Service to confirm the accuracy of their maps, although each set of maps has its own unique errors.
You will find that the portage distances are not the same on all portages on all of these maps, because each company independently measured the portage, and also because portage distances sometimes change over time as trails are moved or water levels shift. Voyageur maps were produced concurrently with the production of this guide, and therefore all portage distances in this book are the same as will be found on Voyageur maps. If you are using maps other than Voyageur maps, you will notice differences in portage distances from those described in this guide. In most cases the distance measurements are similar enough that that you will be able to correctly identify routes.
If you plan on fishing you may prefer either the McKenzie or Voyageur MSSaps, which show lake depths on significantly more lakes than the Fisher Maps. Voyageur Maps also show the results of fish surveys from the Minnesota DNR, and indicate which fish inhabit each lake, useful data if you intend to fish on your trip. McKenzie maps are laid out at 2 inches per mile, while Fisher and Voyageur maps are laid out at 1.5 inches per mile. Although the scale is different, topographic resolution is identical.
Voyageur Maps also indicate the locations of various "historic" portages that are no longer maintained, the location of additional historic points of interest, including old railroads and logging camps, boundaries of Primitive Management Areas. Naturalists will enjoy all three sets of maps, although Voyageur maps also give basic information about geology, forest fire history, and prescribed burn locations from the 1999 windstorm (useful for gauging forest regeneration).
As is always the case, these maps are occasionally revised and reissued, and it may serve you well to visit their web sites to determine which maps best suit your interests and trips you will be taking: FisherMapsMN.com; McKenzieMaps.com; and VoyageurMaps.com.
In addition to good maps, you should always bring along a compass, which can be helpful for navigation through islands and on days when the sun is not shining. You may be tempted to bring along a GPS unit, and new models with built in maps are useful. However, even if you have a GPS unit you must bring along maps. GPS units can get lost, break, or run out of batteries. Also, existing GPS units fail to show the level of detail in quality paper maps, and also don't show the specific information about campsites and portages of traditional maps.
©2005 Exploring the Boundary Waters and Daniel Pauly. All rights reserved.