2018-2019 preview: Northern Tier National High Adventure Program

It’s the fourth-annual High-Adventure Week here on Bryan on Scouting. This week is all about the once-in-a-lifetime experiences awaiting Scouts and Venturers at the BSA’s four national high-adventure eses. Plus, we share tips for securing your spot in 2018, 2019 and beyond.


Paddle your way to an experience of a lifetime in Minnesota and Canada at the Northern Tier National High Adventure Program.

During their 6- to 11-night journey of 50 to 150 miles, Northern Tier crews follow in the footsteps and paddle tracks of 1800s French-Canadian voyagers.

After loading their canoes with gear for the entire journey, Scouts and Venturers explore millions of acres of pristine lakes, meandering rivers, dense forests and fascinating wetlands in Northern Minnesota, Northwest Ontario and Northeast Manitoba.

In the winter, Northern Tier emerges from a blanket of snow to offer the BSA’s premier winter high-adventure program. It’s called Okpik, and it challenges Scouts and Venturers to learn how to thrive in subzero temperatures, travel across frozen wilderness lakes and construct their own sleeping structures out of snow.

Because Northern Tier’s demand often exceeds available space, spots are allocated using an online lottery system. The lottery for 2019 Northern Tier Wilderness Canoe Trips and Okpik Programs opens Jan. 2, 2018.

Northern Tier registration and lottery info

2018: The lottery for 2018 spots occurred in January 2017. However, some spaces are still available — especially in August 2018. Go here to see details; look for the link marked “Click Here for Trip Availability.”

2019: The 2019 Northern Tier registration lottery opens at 9 a.m. Central Time on Jan. 2, 2018. It closes a week later: 11:59 p.m. Central Time on Jan. 9, 2018. Click here to enter or click here to learn more about the lottery process.

Northern Tier lottery tips

  • Entry in the lottery is online only. You can register at www.ntier.org/reservations.
  • Only one person per unit should enter the lottery; duplicate reservations from units will not be considered.
  • Crews selected for their first or second choice of treks will be notified via email by Feb. 1, 2018.
  • All reservations are considered tentative until the crew’s deposit is received.
  • The $800-per-crew deposit will be due Feb. 15, 2018, for all crews selected in the lottery.
  • Deposits are nonrefundable and nontransferable.
  • Any crew not selected will be notified by Feb. 6, 2018, and given first chance at remaining treks on alternate dates of availability. Their deposit will be due three weeks from date alternate trip is booked.
  • Remaining available trips will open on a first-come, first-served basis beginning March 1.

Classic high-adventure, new logo

Northern Tier debuted a new logo this year, and it is awesome.

The logo, designed by Walsh Branding, was created after input from staff, alumni and past participants. Each Northern Tier base will retain its individual image that comprised the tri-base “shield,” but the combination of all three will no longer be used to represent Northern Tier.

The “Ascending Loon” is designed to represent the overall accomplishments each Northern Tier crew achieves.

As a reminder, here’s the previous logo:

Northern Tier Outreach Initiative welcomes underserved youth

On a Northern Tier canoe trip, participants learn physical fortitude and mental strength. Through the isolated interactions within their crew, Scouts and Venturers learn lessons in leadership, in the importance of doing their share of the work and in the necessity of teamwork to accomplish difficult tasks.

This is all done with minimal input from adults. Youth-led is the mantra at Northern Tier.

In 2016, Northern Tier introduced a program called the Northern Tier Outreach Initiative. The goal was to ensure that all Scouts and Venturers — even those from underserved areas — can experience the life-changing benefits of Northern Tier.

This is done through a partnership with local councils. Northern Tier picks up the majority of the costs; it’s their way of giving back to Scouting. The council provides transportation to and from Northern Tier, qualified supervision for travel and the trip, and a location for a pre-trip shakedown campout.

Other Northern Tier news you need

  • Fall is a beautiful time to visit Northern Tier, and the bases offer custom fall programming. This includes wilderness canoe trips, retreats in the conference center and more.
  • Participants must be 14 or have completed eighth grade at the time of attendance.
  • Northern Tier is located at three separate bases, in three distinct locations. You must arrive at the location you registered for. All winter programs happen out of the primary base in Ely, Minn.
  • All participants are required to wear boots that have full ankle coverage, a rugged stitched or vulcanized sole, and drainage at the instep. Boots should not be waterproof. Crews arriving with inadequate footwear will be asked to purchase boots in the trading post prior to departure on the water.
  • Staff positions are available. Learn more here.
  • Northern Tier makes special accommodations for Scouts with special needs. The bases have specialized equipment to serve Scouts with physical disabilities. Contact Northern Tier for more info.
  • Noise pollution? Not here. No motorized machinery is allowed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park.
  • There are no set itineraries at Northern Tier. Participants work with a staff member to plan a route through the wilderness that works for their abilities and interests.
  • Each year, Northern Tier staff and participants create what they call the Biggest Snowman Ever Built!


Thanks to Leslie Thibodeaux for the info. Photos by Don Dillon, Harry Oakes

4 Comments

  1. Can anyone tell me why the price for this trip is 3 times more expensive to go through BSA and Northern Tier, than to just call a guide in Ely and go without the BSA’s involvement? Planning on going next summer and the price they charge is just not making any sense to leaders and parents in our troop.

    • Hey George, I have been leading Boundary Waters Canoe Trips out of Northern Tier for a while now. Northern Tier provides numerous complimentary services for all troops that go through their base. Food, non-personal equipment, (like canoes, paddles, pfds and packs), and lodging before and after your trip, each troop also receives a handheld radio that can be used to communicate with the base 24/7 in case of emergencies. The base will help plan a route that is suitable to your troop and the on site personnel are professional, courteous, and above all, knowledgeable. And of course every troop gets their personal canoe guide that will be with them from the moment they arrive on base until they begin their drive back home. The guides are trained by BSA standards and have all the necessary certifications, youth protection, wilderness first aid, etc. The canoe guides love their job and are always reliable and have a constant positive personality and can do attitude. I highly recommend using Northern Tier if you want to have the best possible experience with the least amount of headache.
      Hope that answers some of your questions.

  2. I go on many trips through outfitters on my own with family. The first difference is that Northern Tier includes everything instead of charging for each item. It includes all services and equipment such as stoves, fuel, kettle kit, tents (you can take your own, but the rocks are sharp!), three canoes, lodging, food, showers, and staff member. If you go though an outfitter, you’ll be charged per day for each piece of equipment used and each service (including to take a shower), etc. That being said, I would love to hear about a high quality outfitter that costs three times less than Northern Tier! In reality the cost difference is not that big.

    The other difference is that Northern Tier is a program! The program occurs before, during (with your staff member), and after. An outfitter is not delivering a program, so it will be a significantly different program. You can backpack the same area as Philmont such as Carson National Forest / Sangre de Cristo, but it would not be the same without the program.

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