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Ardea and Leo can officially say their first time in a canoe was in the Boundary Waters, in a boat built by their Grandfather, at the first Great American Canoe Festival . We spent an idyllic weekend camping with Ryan’s Dad and the kids at Fall Lake Campground in Ely, MN. We were there for the Great American Canoe Festival where Alan was invited to speak and exhibit his newest book, Following Old Trails. The book tells the story of a trip he led with friends and students where they built three 20 foot strip canoes and paddled 1,000 miles through the Boundary Waters from Grand Portage on their way to York Factory on the Hudson Bay.

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It was my first trip to Ely and my first peek at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness after years of enjoying epic stories of Alan’s annual visits and research, including Ryan’s first trip into the backcountry with his Dad when he was five years old.

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Words cannot describe the specialness of this place. And, since we didn’t get into the actual wilderness during this trip, I have a keen awareness that I didn’t really see the Boundary Waters at all. I stood on the shores of Fall Lake and felt the pulse and pull of the wilderness beyond. With little ones in tow, it would have to be enough. For now.

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We all had a great time playing and exploring the campground, the Canoe Festival at Semers Beach, and the town of Ely. We spent most of our time at Semers Beach where Alan’s exhibit booth and presentations took place. There were also festival events in town at the Ely Folk School and other locations. Semers beach had exhibitor booths, presentations and workshops, and music. Vendors had free boats and assistance available for testing and playing with different equipment. Ardea and Ryan took a ride on a bicycle powered pontoon boat and we took both kids out in a canoe for the first time (age 2 and 4).

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When we needed escape from the sun, we stopped at the Front Porch Cafe for coffee, lemonades, and the most amazing homemade donuts.  Then, we headed over to the International Wolf Center to see the new wolf pups and Root River Photography‘s stunning northern lights exhibit. In the middle of the puppy presentation, the elder members of the pack gathered outside the viewing window and howled and yelped for minutes while the whole room watched in goosebumpy awe.

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Fall Lake Campground was mostly filled with campers spending one night before their launch into the wilderness the following morning. That was certainly the only way Alan had ever visited the park. It was a beautiful and developed campground with bathrooms, warm showers (that never happens!), and a small playground for kids of all ages.

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Leo still talks about when the turtle peed on Papa.

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It was a great trip in every way. Even though we weren’t ready to explore the Boundary Waters wilderness with the whole family, we saw enough to know why people love this place so much. We’ll definitely be back.

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