Crane Lake: Camping in the Wilderness

Published On: January 13, 20238.7 min read
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Where to Go and What to Bring

At the end of the road in northeastern Minnesota lies the small town of Crane Lake. As some might refer to it as the end of civilization, others call it the start of solitude. The areas surrounding the Crane Lake Region provide access to millions of acres of land and water-based wilderness. If seclusion, adventure, and decompression are part of your quest, this area should be at the top of your ‘must-visit’ list.

Crane Lake is the entryway to areas of untapped opportunity like Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park. Outdoor related activities in this region are in abundance. Fishing, hunting, and hiking – to name a few – but a fan favorite for many visitors is the camping, paddling and backpacking experiences.

The Areas

Voyageurs National Park

When many people think of camping and paddling in and around Crane Lake, they often think of Voyageurs National Park and all it has to offer – and that’s for good reason. Voyageurs is a water-based national park that comprises more than 200,000 acres of wilderness. It offers a unique experience for any visitor with more than 150 campsites located throughout that park. All but two campsites are only accessible from the water, so a boat, kayak, or canoe is required to call most of these sites home for a few days.

Visitors have their choice of Frontcounty, Backcountry, and Primitive campsites. The Frontcountry campsites make up the majority of the sites in the Park. These sites are typically located within close proximity to the water’s edge. The Backcountry campsites require a little additional work as hiking and/or canoeing to your destination is added to the list. The Backcountry sites are limited specifically to the Kabetogama Peninsula. There are two Primitive campsites located within the Voyageurs boundary and are the only sites accessible by land. Both of these sites require a several mile hike to reach your destination.  If you plan to use Crane Lake as your starting point, the Frontcountry sites are more easily accessible in terms of distance traveled.

There are campsites located all throughout Voyageurs National Park, so depending on where you want to stay, there’s a place that’s right for you and your needs. Campsites are located as far as 27 miles away from the nearest access, so distance traveled should be taken into consideration when choosing a site. The National Park Service has detailed maps to help an individual make their camping decisions. Campsites can be reserved through the website.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is comprised of more than one million acres of wilderness experience and known primarily for its water-based opportunities. The area sees more than 150,000 visitors on an annual basis, making it one of the most visited wilderness areas in the United States. However, with more than 2,000 campsites and more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes, there’s still plenty of opportunity to find yourself a little slice of paradise. Portions of the BWCAW are open to motorized travel, but the large majority is only accessible via non-motorized traffic.

The Boundary Waters is most often associated with communities like Ely and Grand Marais, which is understandable due to the number of entry points and outfitters that serve these areas. However, these communities provide access to the more eastern portions of the BWCAW. The Crane Lake region is far less utilized and provides the best access to the western portions of the wilderness area. As entry points and campsites become increasingly busier on the eastern edge, accessing from the western edge minimizes the chances of running into someone else and offers campers and paddlers the opportunity for a more secluded experience. Outfitters based in the Crane Lake area can give visitors a big head start on their expedition via a shuttle service that can shave off about two days of paddling.

No matter where you access the BWCAW, a permit is required. These can be obtained at and are assigned by entry point. To minimize impacts and overall use, the number of permits per entry point are limited.

Maps for the BWCAW are available here.

Quetico Provincial Park

Adjacent to the Boundary Waters is Ontario, Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park, which includes an additional more than one million acres of wilderness. Overall, it provides a very similar experience to the BWCAW, but on a more remote scale. If more seclusion and adventure are your style, then Quetico should be at the top of your list. It should be noted that there are a few more rules and restrictions within this area than others.

The area has a variety of camping and paddling trip options for visitors of all skill levels. With more than 2,200 campsites, the options for exploration are seemingly endless.  The Park prides itself on its low impact uses and minimal human interference – unlike other wilderness areas, Quetico does not have signs for designated campsites or portages and no services or facilities are available.

If you want to visit Quetico, reservations can be made online or via phone, which can be made up to five months in advance. Similar to the BWCAW, you must choose your entry point when making a reservation. Permits must be picked up at the appropriate ranger station. For visitors from the United States, Canadian Customs must be cleared prior to entering. For those coming from Crane Lake, the closest customs station is located on Sand Point Lake.

Maps for Quetico Provincial Park are available here.

The Planning

No matter where you want to camp, keep in mind that camping in the wilderness requires a special level of planning. Having the right tools and equipment can ensure you have a successful and enjoyable trip in the backcountry. When planning your trip, keep in mind that the further you get off the beaten path and the longer you plan to stay, the more gear you will likely need. With a lot of backcountry style paddling and camping trips, particularly those in the BWCAW and Quetico, visitors are forced to carry everything they need on their person. Ultimately, the goal for these types of trips is to pack as light as possible, but still have everything you need.

The list below offers visitors a great starting point for what to pack on their excursion.

The Big Items

  • Vessel – Motorized boats are allowed in some portions of the areas highlighted above. However, to experience the full potential of these areas a canoe and paddles are required.
  • Life Jacket – One per person is required.
  • Pack – The size and type needed varies based on the trip type and length. Opt for something that can comfortably carry everything you need for your trip.

The Clothing

  • Shirts, including short and long sleeve options. Plan to pack a couple options depending on how long the trip.
  • Sweatshirt, flannel, or some other warm layer. Pack an extra if you have a long trip.
  • Pants and/or Shorts. If quick drying options are available, opt for those.
  • Socks – Plan a few backups depending on the trip length.
  • Underwear– Plan a few backups depending on the trip length.
  • Swimsuit
  • Shoes or Footwear – Plan for two pairs, one that can get wet and one that can stay dry. Regardless of what you bring, make sure they are sturdy and provide support as a lot of these backcountry sites are rather rugged.
  • Rain Jacket and Rain Paints
  • Hat or Head Covering

The Tools

  • First Aid Kit
  • Knife and/or Saw
  • Navigation Tools including a compass, map and/or GPS unit.
  • Sunglasses
  • Flashlight or Headlamp – Don’t forget to pack some extra batteries.
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellant and/or Thermacell
  • Lighter and/or Matches – Store these in a waterproof container.
  • Duct Tape – This stuff can make a lot of necessary repairs in a hurry.
  • Rope or Utility Cord – This can be used for hanging food out of reach of bears, for making a clothesline, or for securing items.

The Eating and Drinking Items

  • Water Bottle
  • Water Filter
  • Utensils for cooking including ladles, spatulas, and serving spoons.
  • Utensils for eating including forks, knives, and spoons.
  • Bowls and Plates
  • Pots and Pans
  • Biodegradable soap for washing dishes and utensils.
  • Coffee Press or Percolator
  • Camp Stove or Burner
  • Food – Non-perishable items are preferred, especially if the trip is more than a few days. If you plan to have perishable items, use them first.
  • Check restrictions on what types of containers are allowed. For example, glass, cans, etc.

The Sleeping Items

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Pillow
  • Sleeping Pad
  • In all of these areas, opt for something that is lightweight and compact.

The Toiletries

  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Camp Soap
  • Medications
  • Towel
  • Toilet Paper

The Extras

These should be considered the bonus items. If you don’t have the capacity to carry them, these should be the first to go:

  • Book
  • Camera
  • Fishing gear – Rods, reels, tackle, license
  • Deck of Cards
  • Notebook
  • Solar Shower
  • Camp Chair

This might feel like an extensive list but having the proper equipment will make sure your trip goes off without a hitch. Just remember that if you travel with a group, you can split up some of the items, especially when it comes to the items needed for eating, drinking, and cooking.

Leave No Trace

The old adage of ‘Leave No Trace’ is extremely important to the longevity of wilderness areas such as Voyageurs, the Boundary Waters, and Quetico. Being able to share these areas with others for the long term is part of what so many outdoor enthusiasts enjoy. When it comes to leaving no trace, there are Seven Principles that visitors should follow.

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

With access to millions of acres of land and water, there’s plenty to explore in the Northwoods surrounding Crane Lake, Minnesota. If camping, backpacking, or paddling are among activities you enjoy, then this area is well worth a visit. The region serves as a great entry point to wilderness areas like Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and Quetico Provincial Park. Take the time to properly plan out your trip, bring the right equipment, and experience a little slice of secluded paradise.

Plan your Crane Lake camping trip today! Contact us for more information about this beautiful area.