BWCA Information

BWCA Information

See the U.S. Forest Service website for the most complete BWCA Information, but here is a summary of the most relevant information.

General Information

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the largest canoe wildernesses in the world. Visitors will find over 1000 lakes and 1200 miles of canoe routes through various waterways, making it the ideal area in which to take a canoe day trip or overnight adventure. The wilderness is filled with scenic bluffs, majestic waterfalls, fantastic vistas, and spectacular palisades that are accessible by canoe or hiking. The Gunflint Trail is the gateway to the eastern portions of the wilderness and has numerous campgrounds and resorts.


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. Historically, natives, fur traders, trappers, missionaries, prospectors, and loggers all created the portages and trails that connect the lakes and rivers of the BWCA. The rugged terrain and numerous lakes of the Boundary Waters has protected the area from development resulting in the only wilderness of its kind in the United States.


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

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is the most heavily used Wilderness area within the United States. As with any federal wilderness area, there are rules and regulations designed to protect the wilderness and to enhance everyone’s experience. Here is a summary of the most pertinent rules.

Group Size

The maximum group size is nine people and up to four watercraft. Smaller groups make the intimacy of the wilderness more absolute.


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. Make sure all your garbage is picked up and packed out. Leaving a pile of extra firewood is the sign of a good BWCA camper.


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. If you want to enjoy a small fire collect only dead wood found on the ground well away from the campsite. 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.


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. Practice “Leave no trace” camping and pack out what you bring in. Hang food in trees away from the campsite to discourage the bears.


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

Soaps pollute the water so bathe and wash dishes at least 150 feet from lakes and streams. Use the back country latrines 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.

BWCA Permits

Access to the Wilderness is controlled through the use of permits. This is to control the number of people accessing the Wilderness to sustainable levels.

Day Permits

Day trippers can be spontaneous while overnight trips require planning.  Permits can be obtained on the day of 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.

There are several canoe day trips right in the area with access to waterfalls, overlooks and pristine wilderness. In addition to canoe day trips, you may also take hiking day trips into the BWCA with access to waterfalls, overlooks and areas of geologic interest.

Overnight Permits

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness utilizes a reservation system for overnight visitor permits. Permits are reserved for a specific lake entry point number, on a specific day for all overnight camping. In addition, permits can be reserved for a specific number of days, but the exit date remains flexible. The permit system prevents overcrowding and over utilization of the wilderness.

Depending on your route and the number of days, a fee may be required. If you are planning an overnight trip it is best to make your reservations early due to the limited number of permits. 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. You can pick up permits at an outfitter or the USFS Ranger Station.

To make a reservation, 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.


If you have questions or need more BWCA information please feel free to Contact Us.