The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has grown to be one of the largest canoe wildernesses. Containing over 1000 lakes and 1200 miles of canoe routes through various waterways, the BWCA is an ideal area in which to take a day canoe trip or overnight. Scenic bluffs, majestic waterfalls, fantastic vistas, and spectacular palisades are just a few of natural beauties in the Boundary Waters and Gunflint Trail area.
After the last ice age’s glaciers created the cliffs, valleys, and ridges that now arc through the Boundary Waters, many explorers ventured into the wilderness of what is now the BWCA. Natives, fur traders, trappers, missionaries, prospectors, and loggers have all created the portages and trails that connect the lakes and rivers of the BWCA. Even with the history of exploration, the BWCA is unspoiled due to its natural defense from its rugged terrain and numerous lakes. Thus the Boundary Waters protected itself from development and remains one of the few wildernesses of the area.
Today, government protection ensures the longevity of the BWCA through its prevention of logging, mining, and commercial development within its borders. The canoe country remains what it was in the past: a wilderness for canoeing and hiking adventures among the natural wildlife of northern Minnesota.
BWCA Rules and Regulations
Group Size: Nine people and four watercraft is the maximum group size. Smaller groups make the intimacy of the wilderness more absolute.
Campsites: Adventurers may only camp at the U.S. Forest Service – developed campsites or within Primitive Management Areas specifically designated on your visitors’ permit. The developed sites are furnished with a fire grate, tent pad, and box latrine. Making sure all your garbage is picked up and packed out and leaving a pile of extra firewood is the courteous behavior of a good BWCA camper.
Campfires: Open fires are only allowed within the steel fire grates at developed campsites. A small camp stove is more suited to cooking with its quick heating and rainy – weather use. When building a fire, make sure to use only dead wood discovered on the ground collect wood away from campsites to reduce the impact. It is considered illegal to cut live vegetation for any reason. Finally make sure to drown your fires with water any time to leave the camp and stir the ashes until they are cool to the touch.
Food: Cans and glass bottles are not allowed except for fuel, insect repellent, or medicine containers, and other personal items that would not be considered food or beverages. Food should be stored in plastic containers that will be packed out with you.
Cleanup: Make sure to keep a clean campsite. Scraps of food or residue will attract investigative visitors. Do not burn trash. Make sure it is packed out.
Water Quality: Make sure to bathe and wash dishes at least 150 feet from lakes and streams as soaps pollute the water. Use toilet facilities at campsites, or if hiking, dig a pit at least 150 feet from the water’s edge. Fish entrails should be buried six inches deep as state law prohibits dumping fish remains in the water.
Day trippers have the ability to be spontaneous while overnight trips require planning. Day permits can be filled out on the day you plan your trip and can be picked up at area resorts or at drop boxes located at certain entry points. Golden Eagle Lodge has free day use permits available in the office.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is operated on a reservation system for overnight visitors to control the number of explorers, ensuring the wilderness remains as peaceful as possible. Permits are reserved for a specific lake entry point number on a specific day for all overnight camping. Permits can be reserved for a specific number of days, but the exit date remains flexible. The party limit is a maximum of 9 people and a maximum of 4 watercraft.
A fee often exists for Boundary Waters excursions; however it depends on your route and number of days. With the limited numbers of permits being issued, it is in the best interest of you and your party to make reservations early if you are planning overnight adventures. The more desirable routes fill up quickly, as well as the popular holiday weekends. Lottery reservation requests are able to be placed in mid – November and processed in mid – January for the following summer in the BWCA. Mail, fax, and online reservations (earliest date being January 20) or phone reservations (starting February 1) will be awarded on a first – come, first – serve basis.
To make a reservation on your own, call 1-877-550-6777. The fee to create a reservation is $10. The user fee is $16 per adult and $8 per child for the entire trip. You can pick up permits at an outfitter or the USFS Ranger Station.
When making a reservation, you will have to choose a trip leader and alternate trip leader. One of these trip leaders must pick up the permit themselves and stay with the group throughout the excursion.