Winners of 2023 Boundary Waters Photo Contest

People By David Meier

The Boundary Waters beckons with its blend of wilderness, water, wildlife, and pure wonder. If you’re skilled or lucky enough, you might just capture one of its singular moments through your lens.

We’re incredibly thankful for everyone who participated in our yearly photo contest! Our judges had a lot of fun glimpsing the BWCA’s essence through your eyes. With more than a thousand photos to review, we eventually reached a consensus on the most extraordinary and captivating photos—those that truly captivated us and distinguished themselves. Cheers to our winning photographers!

Winner: On the Water

An overhead shot of a smiling woman laying back in a canoe, on water surrounded by bright green lilypads.
Winning Photograph by Krissy Navrat

Lying in the lily pads at the end of a portage, this shot overhead shot captures the joy of a brief break from paddling. The winner, Krissy Navrat describes the scene: “I was leading a BWCA weeklong trip for Camp Birchwood for Girls…an amazing all girls camp in Northern Minnesota with a variety of programs.” she said. “It became a second home and a great place to instill confidence in young girls.”

“We were just finishing up a portage…entering Basswood Lake. The lily pads really pop around late July in that area, making for a great photo op.” Our judges agree!

Winner: Wildlife

An otter with snow covering its nose peeks its head out of a snowdrift near the Boundary Waters.
Winning photograph by: Holden Smith

Many of us have seen a loon in the Boundary Waters, and if you’re lucky, a moose. But have you ever seen an otter sliding in the snow? This shot by Holden Smith stood out for its uniqueness and whimsy, and makes being up-to-your-neck in snow look like a fun time!

Driving on the dirt roads off the Gunflint in winter, following wolf and moose tracks, Holden caught sight of this otter sliding down the road. “I followed behind a ways watching it slide on the road for maybe a quarter mile. Then it went into the woods where I took this picture. I didn’t think it looked too comfortable with my presence,” he said. “I took 30 seconds worth of photos and went back to what I was doing to leave the otter in peace.”

Winner: Landscape

A woman reads a book by the lake on a granite rock, surrounded by tall pine trees, water and mist.
Winning photograph by Alan Toczydlowski

Our ever-popular Landscape category this year boasted over 500 entries! With so many lovely sunsets, rock formations and watery wilderness scenes, it was difficult to choose a winner. However, Alan Toczydlowski’s image, capturing a woman reading by the water on Con Island of Shell Lake, stood out distinctly among other Boundary Waters vistas. Its equilibrium and sheer simplicity resonated deeply with our judges. We’ve enjoyed featuring Alan’s other submissions on our website and in publications, and we’re excited to again name him a contest winner!

Winner: Kids

A girl in a grey beanie looks back at the camera as a woman paddles in the canoe's bow against a boundary waters lake background.
Winning photograph by Tiffany Praeger

For those who’ve ventured to the Boundary Waters alongside children, the experience takes on a whole new dimension. It demands a slower pace, testing patience, and shouldering a few more items during portages. But sometimes when they’re just riding along, we get to see the Boundary Waters freshly through their eyes. Perched in the middle of a canoe, this smiling, smirking girl’s bright expression carried the day with our judges. Bonus points for the fluorescent green PFD and matching beanies — some great gear for comfort and safety on a cool day!

Winner: Friends and Family

A group of women sits with maps spread out across their legs, all caught mid-laugh.
Winning photograph by Sarah Moore

This shot from winner Sarah Moore captures the essence of the closeness we can experience being with friends and family in the BWCA. “I’ve been doing annual summer canoe trips with these women for 17 years,” said Sarah. “We started after our babies finished nursing, and most of those kids are now in college. We’ve had so many adventures during our trips, and shared laughter like this moment in July on Moose Lake.”

Sarah wanted to give a shout-out to Diane (pink shirt) who brought this group together for their first trip. “She has made us friends for life!” says Moore. “When we started our BWCA trips, we almost never saw other all-female groups, but in recent years, that has started to change, which is fun to see. It is amazing to me that most of us are 50 now. We aren’t as fast and strong as we once were, but our improved packing and technique more than compensates. And the special wonder of being in the Boundary Waters — spotting moose, watching stars, and feasting on Juneberries amidst that stunning backdrop of rock, water, aspen, and evergreen — never diminishes.” Amen, sister.

Stay in touch with the Boundary Waters!

Winner: Dogs

Two white dogs squeeze into the bow of a canoe, looking eager in the sunlight.
Winning Photograph by Ann Holtz

Winner Ann Holtz, says that these dogs OhNo! (front) and Abu (back) were seasoned campers. “We have wandered the Boundary Waters with our West Highland White Terriers for more than 30 years,” she said. “We were out for 42 days on that trip when this photo was taken.”

Unfortunately, Ann and her husband lost OhNo! to cancer last year. “OhNo! loved to be on the water,” she recalled. “The slightest ‘tick’ of a paddle in camp would send OhNo! running to the canoe. Winning this contest with his picture means much to us. What a beautiful memorial.”

Winner: Winter

A man in an orange stocking hat pulls a pulk forward through the snow, with a dog laden with supplies who is steps ahead of him on a snowy lake.
Winning photograph by Christopher Brink

The winner of our Winter category is Christopher Brink, who incorporated several of our categories with this wonderful entry, pulking across a Alton Lake with dog ahead and gear in tow. Chris told us that this shot is from one of ten trips he did this year with his dog, either pulking, paddling and hiking. “There isn’t much better than a pulk or HDPE toboggan for winter travel in the BWCA,” he says. “Long stretches of frozen lakes and limited elevation means you can pull (often bulky) winter gear with some ease. There is a real sense of freedom here; off-trail is rare in these parts, but on the vast expanse of frozen lakes, you can go where you please.” Agreed! Freedom and exhilaration on a quiet lake are what it’s all about, whatever the season.

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 2022 winners and 2021 winners or follow us on Instagram. And to 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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Hennessy racing in a snowy tree-filled scene in the boundary waters in a sled behind a team of dogs during the brief hours of winter sunlight.
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