I was in Minnesota for a sporting event with friends in August - all of us are from the Pacific Northwest. We had planned for the trip for about a month prior, and we trekked to Quetico afterwards. I had been sea kayaking and river kayaking, backpacking and biking, but never canoeing. I hope this helps other interested individuals plan their trip to Quetico who may be novices to canoe trips and to this area.
Planning: Figuring out what permits and fees I needed for my group was a difficult thing to navigate, and I have had these logistics hold up trips previously. I only paid one fee for my time in Quetico, a "daily use fee" which covers the launch fee, camping fee, etc. For 3 people for 6 days it was about $200 USD. I also purchased a conservation fishing license (8 day) for ~$45 USD. Lastly, rented a 3 person canoe from Canoe Canada in Atikokan for ~$320 USD. I drove in a rental car from Minnesota, apparently the daily use fee is cheaper if you have Ontario license plates, but not so substantial as to make me regret what I did.
Gear: The only gear I would change around would have been bringing (more) bug spray and invested in better bug netting, as they were intense, otherwise I brought (essentially) what I would bring on any 6 day backpacking trip. Main staples were rice and oats, used a small cook-pot w/ propane. Cooked fish in a multitude of ways, best experience was with foil on the fire. Small collapsible rod w/ a variety of baits, fillet knife and extra line. Rain-gear, as weather is unpredictable, and you need coverage to keep the bugs off - and not just thin coverage, or the bugs will bite right through it. No bear cans, I heard that is not an issue and not required. No gps, and I would not bring one for future trips. You absolutely need a (detailed) map, I called the Quetico ranger station and they sold me one for $17 USD, with shipping.
The route: I planned the trip out prior to arrival, but one of the rangers at the ranger station helped me revise it to avoid long portages. Launched out of Nym, Batchequang, Batch bay, pickerel narrows, campsite #1, Pine portage, Dore, Twin lakes, Sturgeon, Russel, campsite #2, Mcdougall, Keats, Shelley, Montgomery, Pictographs, Campsite #3, Return the same route.
Pictographs: I like a goal to be at the end of the trip, and this goal was the Montgomery Lake Pictographs. I have heard these are some of the most remote pictographs on the continent, and they are unique as they are not on the lake, as other pictographs are along the route and in Quetico in general. We saw pictographs on other lakes, but I had heard great things about the Pictos off of Montgomery Lake. Regardless if you are a novice or an expert outdoorsman, you need to prepare and plan before going to these pictos, as they are VERY off the beaten path. It was a lot of trailblazing, a lot of guessing, and a lot of luck that we made it there. I received help from a wonderful librarian from the park, who was able to give me enough information to get me to the pictos. I did not use a GPS, and I am glad we didn't, as it was an incredible experience finding them. I did not take pictures, and will not upload the route we took, I suggest sending me an email if you wish to make this venture, and I can try to assist. email@example.com
Portages & Navigation: Both more difficult then I imagined, but I quickly was able to become proficient in both. We managed to take all of our gear in one trip every time, but make sure to pack in a way that most of your gear can go on your back. Stressing again, you absolutely need a detailed map prior to taking off in Quetico - and not just GPS, as electronics can be finicky when around water.
We saw more people on the outskirts (maybe 3-4 parties per day) and when deep inside Quetico we saw very few people and I do not believe more then a party or two make it up to see the pictos each year. I highly recommend the trip, and although it was strenuous and taxing, my party and I enjoyed it immensely.
Thanks for breaking trail. I got to the Montgomery Creek pictos near the end of September. I could see where someone had landed off the creek, and occasionally I could see where someone had gone beforee, but like you said, it was an adventure to get back there.
The vibrant green moss under the black tree trunks will be an image I will always remember. Just stunning.
"Caring in a world gone numb is an almost unfair advantage." -Jeffrey Howe