Winners of 2022 Boundary Waters Photo Contest


The Boundary Waters a place to experience wilderness, water, wildlife, wonderment. And if you’re skillful (or lucky!) enough, you might come close to capturing those unparalleled moments in photos.

We can’t make it to all the BWCA entry points, so we are so grateful for all those who entered our annual photo contest! Our judges had a lot of fun seeing the BWCA’s people and places through your lenses. We didn’t always agree at first, but we eventually came to consensus on the most unique and amazing photos – the ones that drew us in and stood out from the rest. Congratulations to our winning photographers!

Winner: On the Water

A woman paddling a canoe in the Boundary Waters among lily pads, rocks and burned trees.
Winning Photograph by Aaron Black-Schmidt

Sometimes you find yourself in a place where there’s been a fire or trees have fallen – like this shot from Gottler Lake, in the Ham Lake fire area. While we might not seek them out, there are moments of quiet beauty to be on the water among the lily pads, looking at the rocks and the sky and embankments reflected in the water. Your paddles slow down, and you slowly coast, taking it all in.

Winner: Wildlife

An eagle flies above the water in the BWCA
Winning photograph by: Alan Toczydlowski

We received photos of all kinds of furry, feathered and scaly critters you’ll see in the Boundary Waters, but this majestic eagle received audible gasps from our judges. Photographer Alan Toczydlowski recalls, “We drifted around a point to be surprised by an eagle perched on a down cedar log, wings spread wide to dry after a rainy morning.” He quickly grabbed his telephoto but had to adjust the settings, and thought he’d missed the moment and the shots would be overexposed. He kept his expectations in check, just appreciating the stunning moment. “Luckily I had dialed it in just in the nick of time!” he said.

Winner: Landscape

A pine branch extends over a lake in front of a distant sunset over hills in the Boundary Waters.
Winning photograph by: Jay Harris

Landscapes are our most popular photo contest category. No surprise there, as the Boundary Waters’ iconic landscapes are plentiful, and cemented in the memories of those of us who have been there. But our judges agreed they’d never seen a shot quite like this before. And despite the seemingly soothing tranquility of the sunset’s glow over Lac La Croix, photographer Jay Harris, a co-owner of the popular site Paddle Planner, explains that the moment was the calm before a storm: “I stood awkwardly in bushes to frame the horizon with a pine branch that mimicked the hills on the right. The mirror water and perfect silence soon became a froth and roar as a narrow front slashed through. All in all, exhilarating.”

Winner: Kids

A girl standing on a portage with a large Duluth pack in the Boundary Waters.
Winning photograph by Pete Halverson

For those of us who have traveled to the Boundary Waters with kids, it’s a whole different trip. You might have to slow down, be patient and carry a few more things on portages – until one day they get the courage to step up and carry some of their own weight. And this photo shows that very moment towards the end of a trip, when Liesl (8) decided to give this heavy pack a try between Horse Laken and Mudro Entry Point. Proud dad Pete said, “Seeing the BWCA through kids eyes is a wonderful treat.” We bet he can’t wait for younger sister Hazel to try a pack too!

Winner: Friends and Family

Three people huddle near a fire shooting out sparks
Winning photograph by Kate Wright

“There is something endlessly magical about exploring the BWCAW in October,” writes Friends and Family category winner Kate Wright. “The flies and mosquitos are long gone, autumn colors dance along the shoreline, crisp air fills your lungs, and a crackling bonfire is a haven after a cool day of paddling and portaging. Circling the embers to relive the highlights of the day, laugh at the blunders, and tell tales of adventures past with your companions is where nostalgia is born.” We can relate!

Winner: Dogs

A dog in a canoe with its mouth open in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Winning Photograph by Aaron Black-Schmidt

Smile! We’re partial to dogs at Friends of the Boundary Waters – so this is one of our favorite categories to judge. And we couldn’t resist this perfect pooch who showed us the pure joy and satisfaction of being on the water in a canoe. Bonus points for the outfit. Always wear your life vest, (dog) paddlers!

Winner: Fall Colors

Clearwater Lake palisade, with golden trees is reflected in misty waters.
Winning photograph by John Keefover

This was a great year for fall colors. People swarmed to the North Shore to see the resplendent leaves turning, so we decided to add this special category this year. But while many of the shots showed off bright hillsides and closeups of wonderful leaves, this quiet scene after a sunrise at Clearwater Lake portrayed the fall trees sitting in a calm moment that we always hope will last, so the leaves can hang on for just one more day.

Winner: Winter

Two women pose behind a pack of sled dogs in front of towering snowy trees
Winning photograph by David Reimer

Many of us might choose to hunker down in the winter season, but this picture, taken at Ely’s Chilly Dogs Sled Dog Trips shows the fun and excitement one can have embracing the outdoors during the winter season. The women pictured here enjoyed not only the experience of sled dogging, but also an educational experience about sled dog culture, tips and techniques, and opportunity to meet each of the dogs outside in their element. 

A big congratulations to this year’s winners, and thank you to all of our photo contest entrants! We hope these shots have inspired you to get outside and add to your own BWCA photo collection. Want to see more great photos? Check out our 2020 winners and 2021 winners or follow us on Instagram. And start getting ready for next year’s contest – check out these tips, and a presentation on better canoe and kayak photos from professional photographer Bryan Hansel.

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