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Lake of Woods wilderness wows for less

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Published : 2014-08-01 20:56
Updated : 2014-08-01 20:56

With the exorbitant prices often associated with a north woods adventure outside of the continental United States, those interested in exploring a truly remote wilderness might feel it’s out of their financial reach. Private bush plane charters, expedition level supply stocking and monthlong excursions just aren’t in most travel budgets.

An affordable and awe-inspiring alternative exists in Lake of the Woods, a massive body of water bordering the state of Minnesota as well as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba. After witnessing the wildlife, waves and windswept rock of the Canadian Shield, I thought that if ever a place was worthy of being deemed God’s country, surely this destination had earned the designation. When I gazed down through the high water covering the normally exposed set of ancient petroglyphs the local Ojibwe are still known to use as a sacred offering site, I knew for certain I was exploring hallowed ground.

Accessible from a number of locations, this wilderness getaway offers everything a north woods adventurer could want. However, making the most of your time there requires careful planning.

Arrival: Those heading to Lake of the Woods from the United States can make their way by car to the town of Baudette at the mouth of the Rainy River, which feeds into the massive body of water otherwise known as Lac du Bois. It’s the sixth-largest freshwater lake in America and home to a plethora of pelicans, boatloads of bald eagles and a wide variety of fish.

An affordable place to stay at this end of the lake is the Border View Lodge. With a starting three-night-two-day package rate of $407 including guided fishing expeditions by a licensed captain on a charter boat with gear and bait included, it’s pretty tough to beat. They’ll even clean and filet your catch for you at no extra cost. All rooms include kitchen amenities such as cook tops, refrigerators, microwaves and toasters for those who don’t want to pay extra for the meal plan. For an extra $131, however, you can have all three meals included in your daily adventures.

Typical menu items include such things as homemade caramel cinnamon buns, jumbo shrimp dinners, daily homemade ice cream flavors and mushroom Swiss burgers. If daily frugal meal prep is your preference but you’d like the afternoon off, a traditional Minnesota shore lunch of fried freshly caught fish, potato hash and baked beans is available as an add-on for $10.
A charter boat full of fishermen on vacation searches for the perfect spot to catch lunch. (Myscha Theriault/MCT)

Activities: This end of the lake is known more for fishing adventures designed for those who are new or infrequent fishermen. Having nothing to worry about but when to put your line in the water and what you want to eat is appealing to those who aren’t able to spend a great deal of time on the water. You haven’t witnessed pure joy until you’ve seen an 80-year-old Iowa grandfather chortling with glee during a bouncing boat ride across big water on his way to an afternoon of guided fishing.

When you’re ready to take it up a notch, head further north on Lake of the Woods to Minnesota’s Northwest Angle. This remote stretch of country borders Manitoba and overlooks a portion of the more than 14,000 islands strewn across this giant lake that stretches all the way to the Ontario. While fishing is popular here as well, only the most serious make their way this far north.

To get a real sense of the Angle’s atmosphere, be sure to leave the mainland and spend your time on one of the islands. With grocery drop-offs, gas delivery and neighborly visits occurring by boat, you’ll begin to see very quickly just how unique a place Lake of the Woods really is. Flag Island Resort is an easy boat ride from Young’s Bay, where you can leave your vehicle parked for $2 per night.

The venue offers per-person cabin rates of $75 with access to a full kitchen including range, fridge, microwave and fiber-optic Internet. This allows a great deal of flexibility for those who arrive with their own food in tow and need to check in with business interests during their vacation. All cabins are a short stroll away from the on-property bar with card and pool tables, soft fireplace seating and cribbage boards. Meal plan upgrades are also available.

The resort provides a half day of guiding services for free to first-time visitors, along with a complimentary digital chip to put in your on-board GPS with all of the experience and knowledge of general manager Dan Schmidt, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years. Also serving as the Angle’s unofficial adventure concierge, Schmidt routinely arranges custom experiences to suit virtually any request. While guided remote fly-fishing trips by canoe are a common request along with bald eagle viewing and snow mobile excursions, no request is considered too niche. Says Schmidt, “I’ve even taken people to pick morel mushrooms and pointed them towards the best blueberry patches.”
A visitor enjoys fishing on Lake of the Woods. (Myscha Theriault/MCT)

While exploring in international waters from both sides of the lake will require checking in by boat at one of the area’s remote border crossing call stations, it’s worth it to access all that the lake has to offer. A fun day trip from Minnesota’s Northwest Angle is to take your boat up to Kenora, Ontario. A fun little city on the north side of Lac du Bois, it offers visitors a chance to grocery shop by watercraft, grab lunch with dockside parking and take advantage of walking access to a number of venues.

One interesting option is the Lake of the Woods Museum. The $4 adult entry ticket provides visitors with a peek into the lake’s past, including authentic tribal costume exhibits, historic photographs, vintage fishing artifacts and more. If you have a little time to linger, make your way to the Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, which boasts a number of handcrafted beers starting at $5.50.

Flavors such as hopwork orange and firehouse brown are on the list, along with a variety of canning jar cocktails such as the brewmaster’s man-mosa and beergarita. Vegetarians will find lots to love on their menu with entrees such as chickpea curry, roasted veggie wraps and garlic beer bread with cheese. A majority of the items ring in at $15 or less.

A leisurely ride back to the Angle will let you enjoy the wildlife, scenery and creative home designs of the lake’s residents, including a stunning log home being built by actress Goldie Hawn. After one look at the massive expanse of sparkling water, stunning small islands and picture-perfect pelicans, you’ll know one truth to be self-evident. Ms. Hawn has excellent taste in real estate.

If you’re traveling with a designated driver and want to bar hop by boat, you can stop at any of the various resorts on the lake as you make your way back. One fun stop is Wiley Point Lodge, which features domestic Canadian beers for $6 and coolers for $5.25. They also make a mean spicy Caesar.

Authenticity: The rugged living conditions, remote wilderness and unique water-based transportation system in Lake of the Woods offer an austere authenticity that’s unlikely to dissipate any time soon. A certain breed of individuals chooses to live here full time, and they tend to raise offspring of the same mindset. This is in large part why the atmosphere of the original homesteaders still reverberates through the local communities, as generations of the early settlers and First Nation tribes have continued to call this wilderness home.

By Myscha Theriault

(McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

(MCT Information Services)

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