Les Voyageurs: Using Canoes to Turn Kids into Leaders

4-minute read + 2-minute video

Les Voyageurs is a Minnesota-based non-profit organization that provides the adventure of a lifetime for young people—a month-long canoe trip into remote areas of the US and Canada.

teen boy in canoe on a wilderness trip, paddling straight-on

Les Voyageurs has been developing young leaders since 1971

Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders since 1971

Those of us who’ve embraced outdoor adventure know the way intense challenge, especially in the wilderness, impacts us. It puts us in a setting where we have very little control, a decent amount of risk and no option to call it quits. There aren’t many areas of life in our culture where that’s true anymore.

Add the beauty and wonder of almost-untouched nature and we can see why this is one of Les Voyageur’s slogans: Developing tomorrow’s leaders since 1971…over 2,000 of them.

Les Voyageurs takes young people—those who’ve completed 10th-12th grades—for those 30 days of canoeing, portaging, camping, battling relentless bugs, enduring ever-changing weather and sticking together as a team.

How can these kids emerge from such an experience unchanged? They can’t!

Here are a couple testimonials from former participants:

“It’s been almost 30 years, but the lessons I learned on Les Voyageurs are still with me today.”

“What I find incredible is how much I realize even today how I have benefited from my experience in this program three decades ago!”

“Thank you to the Voyageurs program for pushing me to realize I can do a lot more than I previously thought.”

“I am extremely grateful for this experience of a lifetime. I have gained and learned so many things on trail. Through the program, I feel like I have more confidence and I know I can carry that into future endeavors.”

“I am so glad I did the Voyageurs program. I feel like everyone should do a trip like this at some point in their life.”

three teen boys in a canoe, paddling next to a granite shore on a calm lake

Part of a boys’ crew on a pristine wilderness lake in the North

Les Voyageurs’ Programming

Les Voyageurs offers two levels of trips:

Their first-year Expeditions are 30 days each, and head into northcentral Manitoba and Ontario. (During the Covid summers of 2020/21 their trips were in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness…they’re back to Canada with the 2022 season.)

These trips are open to both boys and girls, with each “crew” made up of up to seven crew members and one or two guides. Crews are either all boys or all girls. There are a couple different trip options to both the US and Canada.

They also offer a second-year program called Far North for young people who’ve completed a first-year Expedition trip. These give participants a chance to take on even more extreme conditions, learn advanced wilderness camping skills, a higher level of planning involvement and bigger challenges. The Far North crews head up to Hudson Bay, the Arctic and Sub-Arctic.

All Les Voyageur’s guides are alumni of their program. They receive additional training that includes NOLS’ 40-hour Wilderness Advanced First Aid course and a whitewater canoe safety course through the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

four loaded canoes and 9 teen girls prepare to hit the water

A girls crew prepares to leave a portage

Les Voyageurs’ Philosophy

The philosophy of Les Voyageurs has always been to bring kids into hard situations for extended periods of time so they learn important physical, emotional, mental and relational skills that’ll benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Their list of objectives includes “learn the basics of wilderness travel” and also “learn to accept personal limitations while enhancing personal strengths.” They help these kids to “learn basic camping and canoeing skills” while also teaching them “the value and responsibilities of group citizenship.”

Canoe Paddle Painting Tradition and Partnership with Bending Branches

According to Program Director, Zach Fritz, Les Voyageurs has worked with us to supply their canoe paddles almost from their beginning. Founder, Fred Rupp, was operating the organization out of his garage at that time…at the same time Bending Branches began by operating out of a garage in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The crews go out on their canoe trips with Bending Branches’ Expedition Plus paddles and Explorer Plus paddles. But you may not recognize them right away, due to a fun tradition the organization has: the kids get to paint their own paddle!

5 canoe paddles with their blades painted with various wilderness scenes

Amazing artwork on these canoe paddles!

Not only is it a way for each crew members to easily identify their paddle when out on a trip, their paddle becomes a lifelong reminder of their trip. Zach explained, “Participants get to keep their paddle after their trip. We encourage participants to paint their own paddles, or find friends, family or others they know who can paint it for them.”

(PLEASE NOTE: We do void our warranty on our paddles if you choose to paint it, just in case this gives you ideas!)

Zach continued, “We have greatly enjoyed working with Bending Branches and look forward to many more years of working with them into the future!”

We’re proud to have some part in the affect Les Voyageurs is having on young people and their families!

To learn more about Les Voyageurs you can visit their website, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

All photos courtesy of Les Voyageurs.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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