-AUTHOR OF ALONE ON THE SHIELD-
QUETICO PROVINCIAL PARK
Quetico Park is one of the world's greatest canoe wildernesses. It sits on the Ontario side of the Minnesota border, 1,800 square miles of roadless, motorless wilderness. It is laced by dozens of rivers and creeks and hundreds of lakes, many of them hundreds of feet deep, with crystal clear water, game fish, waterfowl, otters and beaver. The waters are connected by rugged trails through great forests and over rocks that are among the oldest on the surface of the earth, some formed a million years ago.
The lakes were formed by the two glacier periods in earth's relatively recent history. The glaciers swept away all the soft soil and much of the surface rock, leaving behind great gashes that from an airplane, look like the work of a supernatural bear claw. Those gashes became today's lakes as they filled with glacier melt.
Quetico is the jewel of the Canadian Shield geological formation. It is among the most unique environments in North America. Its lakes arise suddenly from the flat lands of the Great Plains of Manitoba, North Dakota and westernmost Minnesota as you fly east from Winnipeg, and they fill the horizon for as far as you can see to the east and the north. The spectacle of it is all the more dramatic for how suddenly this geographic feature appears.
Today, the vast wilds of Quetico are lightly used by wilderness canoe trippers. Even at the height of the summer camping season, only a small percentage of the established campsites on the border lakes are occupied at any one time, and trippers willing to portage deeper into the interior can paddle, fish and camp for days without seeing another human being.
For information about Quetico Provincial Park, go to https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/quetico. The park is served by a half-dozen or so excellent outfitters, whose contact information will come up in a Google search. My personal favorite is Canoe Canada (http://canoecanada.com/), a family-owned and operated business that outfits and plans canoe trips and provides a full range of services. They also operate a fleet of float planes and wilderness fly-in cabins.
Quetico can also be accessed from Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area, as Gabe Pender demonstrates in Alone on the Shield. For most U.S. travelers, the BWCA is a shorter drive and it's served by more than 20 outfitters. The Boundary Waters also attracts heavier usage.
Visits to both parks have been declining for the past 15 years, especially among teens and young adults. The good news is, it's a lot easier to get a wilderness experience. The bad news, fewer people are bearing witness to this unique place.