Birchbark Expeditions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Q: Is the program open to girls/women?

A: Birchbark Expeditions is a co-ed program, open to boys, girl, men and women.  The program strictly adheres to the BSA Youth Protection and Adult Leadership policies.  

Q: What's needed for transportation?

A: Crews will need to provide their own transportation to/from our basecamp and within the park.  Most crews use two personal vehicles or a single large van/bus per crew.  If you would like to use any other arrangement, please contact us to accommodate alternate logistics.

Q: What proof of citizenship is needed to travel to Canada?

A: Participants traveling to Canada will need a passport, passport card or Enhanced Drivers License. Youth will also need a permission slip, (a completed and signed Informed Consent and Health Form with parents signature(s), address and phone number)

Q: How much spending money will scouts need?

A: You will likely need to make a few stops along the way and should plan on some money for snacks and souvenirs. Most crews like to go into town for Friday evening dinner (not included in program). 

Q: Will we need Canadian currency in Canada?

A: When away from the border, businesses in Canada like to using their own money or debit/credit cards (preferred).

Q: How are special food requirements handled?

A: If a scout has special dietary requirements, please let us know at the time of registration. We'll work to accommodate any special needs.

Q: Why does Birchbark recommend three people per canoe?

A: By traveling with two scouts and one adult in each canoe, we can usually execute “one trip portages”, moving the canoe and two canoe packs over the portage in one trip.  This dramatically reduce the portage carry distances and makes for a much more enjoyable experience. An additional benefit is that we are able to use larger expedition canoes that travel faster and with less effort (especially when dealing with windy conditions)

Q: What are the portage trails like?

A: The very busy and popular portage trails are somewhat improved, but most portages are simple foot paths that have been cleared of downed trees/branches.  They vary in length from a few meters to well over 2 kilometers.  Your itinerary planning will include the portages that your crew will have to traverse and their difficulty.

Q: Can we bring our own canoes/tents/crew gear?

A: While it’s possible, it’s often not practical. Birchbark Expeditions provides a complete set of crew gear that includes expedition-grade Eureka tents that are similar to the tents used by many troops, new “Pocket Rocket” stoves and fuel, water purification system, a set of nesting pots, a tarp, utensils and much more.  Drop a note to one of the Birchbark Guides at and we’ll discuss your situation and specific needs.

Q: How extensive of a first aid kit does our crew need for the expedition?

A: It’s recommended that each crew bring a backcountry first aid kit with supplies for up to eight people for five days.  In most cases, this should be no larger than a loaf of bread.  Like all other gear taken on the water, it should be packed in a waterproof zip-lock or dry bag.

Q: Is there cellular phone coverage in Algonquin or the Adirondacks? How to you reach out in an emergency?

A: In both basecamp sites, there is usually mobile phone service, but once in the backcountry, there is no cellular service.  Your Birchbark Expedition guide will have a Garmin inReach satellite communicator that can be used to summon help in emergency situations. Note that while in Canada, your phone plan must have Canada roaming enabled to avoid some huge roaming bills.  Make an arrangement with your carrier for service in Canada.  

Q: Will we see a moose? Beaver?  Bears?

A: Moose sightings are fairly common, usually found in grassy bays and quiet parts of either park.  In Algonquin,  fairly common to see moose along the route 60 highway on the way to the Logging Museum.  Beaver sightings are not as common, but you will see plenty of beaver dams and their houses.   We rarely see bears in the backcountry, but they have become a problem in and around basecamp.  

Q: Exactly what is a 'portage'?

A: Taking a “portage” or the process of “portaging” is moving from one lake to another over land.  This usually occurs when there is a dam, white water or rapids that would otherwise prevent paddling directly from one lake to another. Portages can vary from a few feet to close to 2 miles, depending on the itinerary selected by the crew.  Most are rocky trails and can have steep ascents/descents.  The best practices for making a portage are taught during the Shakedown training session, including tips to ensure each portage is walked only once.

Q: What 'special' personal gear would a participant need?

A: Participants are provided a complete list of personal gear that is recommended for a Birchbark Expedition, which includes a few canoeing-specific items: a very compact 40 degree sleeping bag with waterproof compression sack, closed-toe sandals (Keens are an example), and a 20L dry bag.  Most of the remaining items are common with the needs for backpacking/hiking.

Q: What "facilities" are provided in the park interior?

A: Bathroom facilities in basecamp do have flush toilets.  In the the backcountry, each campsite provides a "thunder box" set back some distance in the woods. A thunder box is latrine made from a 1 meter square wooden box with a hole and a wooden lid.  The name comes from the sound of the lid slamming after each use.  For mixed gender crews, we recommend taking an additional tarp that can be hung to provide some privacy.

Q: Explain the "ideal crew" and what if we have more/fewer participants?

A: The ideal crew would be six youth and two adults, plus a guide making 9 participants (the maximum Parks Ontario will allow in one camp site).  Groups larger than this would be divided into two "sister" crews, which can shadow each other on the same trek or go their own way.  We find that making two crews based on ability levels allows each crew to choose an itinerary that better fits their abilities.   Small crews (5, 6 or 7 participants) can be accommodated, but with fewer people to carry canoes and crew gear, may require two-trip portages .  Contact us at to discuss your specific situation. 

Q: We have a lot of parents interested so is it possible if the crews have more than 3 adults?

A: Crews can technically have any number of adults, but we do recommend that the adults don’t outnumber the scouts.  Doing so, changes the dynamics of the group and often shifts the decision making away from the scouts.  The trip is supposed to be lead by the scouts with the adults acting as advisors to facilitate their expedition. 

Q: How bad are the bugs in Algonquin/Adirondacks during a Birchbark Expeditions?

A: One of benefits of going on your expedition in late July and August is that most of the bugs are done for the season. There are no Black Flies and the mosquitoes are manageable with proper clothing and bug repellant.  We'll cover this in our pre-expedition training.

Q: How about using a hammock?

A: Hammock camping is great in the backcountry, there are plenty of trees!