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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

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The huge Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, west of Grand Marais, is one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the country. It’s accessible from Tofte, Cook and especially from easy-going Ely, home of the intriguing International Wolf Center (hours vary; $8.50; t 218/365-4695). The wilderness is a paradise for canoeing, backpacking and fishing. Overland trails, or “portages”, link more than a thousand lakes; in winter you can ski and dogsled cross-country. The unpaved sixty-mile Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais cuts the wilderness in two; otherwise there are no roads in this outback, let alone electricity or telephones. Most lakes remain motor-free, and stringent rules limit entry to the wilderness: in summer you need a date-specific permit that local outfitters can issue. If you visit again the following year, permit applications may be submitted by website, fax or mail. Phone reservations are accepted ($12 reservation fee and a $20 deposit; t 1-877/550-6777, f 518/885-9951, w http://www.bwcaw.com). For those who don’t want to rough it, several rustic lodges lie strung out along the trail; the Gunflint Trail Association (t 218/387-3191 or t 1-800/338-6932, w http://www.gunflint-trail.com) can offer good advice.