About Us

North Country Canoe LOutfitters staff, ready to serve you
John, Kathy and the Staff of NCCO, ready to serve you!

When John  & Kathy Schiefelbein started North Country Canoe Outfitters in 1984, their ultimate goal was to provide the finest customer service and the most detailed trip planning and mapping available anywhere in the Ely border lakes region. This aim, coupled with the finest equipment, healthy portions of top quality foods and fair pricing, is the hallmark of NCCO's operation today.

Tired of corporate life with IBM and relying on his proven outdoor experience and 1 on 1 people skills, John made an entrepreneurial leap.  He and Kathy located NCCO in the center of the world's most unique canoeing area. The two of them have expanded their business from one employee and 20 canoes, to a staff of 16 and over 150 watercraft. And, John still personally maps every group's canoe route ... one-on-one ... just like they wanted to in the beginning.

John is an avid outdoorsman: guiding his first canoe trip in 1965 as a Boy Scout staff member in northern Wisconsin. Since then, he has not only paddled the northern waters of Canada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, but the rivers and streams of the Ozarks, and the backwaters of southern Florida. He climbed the 14,500' summit of Mount Rainier, and scuba dived the islands & reefs of the Caribbean.

US Forest Service Logo

Serving in Vietnam as an electronic intelligence pilot, John taught Survival, Escape, & Evasion skills as the unit training officer. After his military service, before moving to Ely, he actively instructed adult Scout leaders on working with youth, and in the skills needed to successfully take boys on wilderness canoe trips. Read more about John's Scouting background

John has been elected several times President of the Ely Chamber of Commerce, as well as VP of the Ely Outfitter Association. He has served in several advisory positions to the United States Forest Service concerning wilderness use and ethics, and has been honored by them for his professionally superior efforts. Information about North Country and its owners have appeared on multiple TV programs as well as in many books, newspapers, and magazines.

Our Staff

Our staff at North Country has been hired purposefully: Will this employee make our customer's canoe trip a better experience? We look for high school and college students, and young adults, who have created excellence. We hire people who have excelled in the classroom, the athletic arena, on the stage, and in music.

Among our North Country Staff members:

  • Most excelled in music, speech, debate, and/or drama on the regional and state level,
  • Several have been high school state athletic finalists and on Minnesota all-star teams,
  • Yearly, several graduate as National Merit Finalists and National Honor Society members,
  • Several have received college academic scholarships,
  • One was named as a university departmental student of the year, 
  • One received an Athletic Letter and competed in the Big 10 Conference Championships,
  • One received a post graduate medical fellowship,
  • One graduated first in his graduate school Master's program,

Our staff is continuously monitored by the owners, as well as each other, to ensure accuracy and a warm, welcoming, service-oriented attitude. Normally about seventy to eighty percent of our staff have worked for us in previous summers. Our section lead employees usually have three to five years of North Country staff experience.