BWCAW Info

USFS - state mapThe Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a collection of stunning lakes and boreal forest laced with endless possibilities for canoe routes and adventures.   Over 1 million acres in size, it is a part of the Superior National Forest which is operated by the US Forest Service.  Steeped in history, this ecologically diverse area is a paddler’s dream.  Walleye, lake trout, northern pike and bass haunt the thousands of lakes, streams and back bays.

Set aside in 1926 to preserve its natural beauty then transformed in 1964 as a designated wilderness, the BWCAW is Minnesota’s playground.  No motorized traffic is allowed (with a few exceptions) so the only sounds you will hear are the dip of your paddle and the call of a loon.

BWCA Entry Permits

In order to protect and manage the BWCA, the number of people who can enjoy the wilderness at one time is controlled by the US Forest Service’s entry point permit system.  A designated number of groups can enter the wilderness at a certain point each day.  Popular entry points can fill up fast during the peak season, so be sure to reserve your permit as soon as you can.

You can either reserve your own permit through recreation.gov or leave the reservation process to us.  If you choose to make your own reservation, be sure to list Tuscarora as your issuing station so we can issue your permit to you in our office–this will save you a stop at the ranger station.  We advise you to make the reservation for the minimum of two people which brings your total at that time to $38 ($6 reservation fee + 2 adult user fees).  When you pick up your permit, we can adjust the final group size at that time.  Permit fees include –

  • $6 reservation fee
  • $16/trip/adult user fee
  • $8/trip/youth user fee

Boundary Waters Fishing

Fishing in the BWCA requires a Minnesota fishing license issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Conservation Officers do patrol the wilderness so be sure to have a valid fishing license with you!  Licenses can be purchased in our office, on the way up at a local gas stations, or online ahead of time.  More information about fishing licenses can be found on our Fishing page.

BWCA Rules & Regulations

The BWCA is regulated by the federal government under the US Forest Service.  In addition to ethical Leave No Trace guidelines, there are a number of rules all guests must follow when in the wilderness that are enforceable by Forest Service rangers.  Each and every time a permit is issued, all group members must watch the following video and go over a short quiz discussing the regulations.  A complete list of Boundary Waters Canoe Area rules and regulations can be found here 

Watch this short video which covers the rules and regulations for the BWCAW. (And yes, you do get to watch it in our office anytime you pick up a permit with us!)

BWCA Permit Quiz

The back of all BWCA permits have the following permit quiz and guidelines printed on them.

Welcome to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness! To preserve the values that you expect to experience, some regulations have been established.  Test your knowledge of the BWCAW regulations by answering the following questions.

Q. Is it necessary to enter the BWCAW at the entry point and date shown on your permit? Why?

A. Yes! Entry points and dates regulate visitor distribution and support solitude.  Your permit must be in your possession while you are in the BWCAW.

Q. Where must you camp in the BWCAW?

A. At one of the campsites designated by a US Forest Service firegrate and a latrine, or within designated Primitive Management Areas as specifically approved on you visitor’s permit.  All members of a permit group must camp together.

Q. Is it okay to cut, peel, or deface a tree or shrub or pick flowers?

A. No! It is unlawful to damage any living plant.  Even minor damage adds up.  Remember, you are one of 250,000 annual visitors.

Q. Firewood: What should you gather and from where?

A. Paddle well away from camp.  Walk out of sight of the shoreline. Collect only dead wood that is no longer standing. Transporting wood from out of state is prohibited.

Q. Where can you have a fire?

A. Only within a US Forest Service firegrate or as specifically approved on your visitor’s permit.  Put fires out cold – at night and each time you leave your campsite.

Q. Explain the nine person rule and the four watercraft rule.

A. No more than 9 people can be together at any place in the Wilderness – on the water, on portages, or in camp. Smaller groups have less impact on the land and other visitors and are more likely to see wildlife. Four watercraft are the maximum allowed in a group.

Q. What rules apply to cans and bottles in the BWCAW?

A. Carry your food and drinks in reusable plastic containers.  Cans and glass bottles are not allowed except for fuel, insect repellent, medicines, and toilet articles.

Q. What should be done with food leftovers, live bait and fish remains?

A. Food Leftovers: Try to plan your meals so you don’t have leftovers.  If you do, pack them out.

A. Live Bait: MN state law prohibits dumping unused bait into waters of the state.  Unwanted live bait should be packed out with you and placed in the trash or compost bins.  Dumping bait on the ground is considered littering.

A. Fish Remains: Dispose of fish remains by traveling far away from the campsites, trails, portages and shorelines. Scatter remains on the ground surface.

Q. Can I burn my trash or throw it in a latrine?

A. No! Latrines are not meant for trash. Trash in a latrine can cause wildlife problems.  In Minnesota, it is illegal to burn trash of any kind, including paper.  Burning trash in a firegrate can release dangerous chemicals into the air and soil, and leaves behind a mess of partially burned items.  If you pack it in, pack it out!

Q. Is it okay to wash yourself and your dishes in the lake or stream?

A. No! To preserve water quality, wash at least 150 feet from water sources, even with biodegradable soap, and pack out food particles.  Filtering your waste water through soil allows breakdown by bacteria.

Q. A quiet camper is a no-trace camper.  Why?

A. Noise impacts other people’s solitude and scares off wildlife.

Q. Is motorized equipment allowed in the BWCAW?

A. Motorized watercraft meeting specific horsepower limitations are allowed only on designated routes. No other motorized or mechanized equipment (including pontoon boats, sailboats, ATV’s and sailboards) is allowed, except for use of portage wheels on specific routes.

Q. Should you bring your dog? If you do, what responsibilities do you have?

A. Dogs impact wildlife and barking intrudes on the experience of others.  Dogs must be under control at all times.  Dispose of fecal matter 150 feet from water sources, campsites, and portages, or deposit it in a latrine.

Q. What rules apply to firearms? Fireworks?

A. Discharging a firearm is prohibited within 150 yards of a campsite or occupied area, or in any manner or location that places people or property at risk of injury.  State firearm and game laws apply in BWCAW. Fireworks of any kind are illegal.

After you break camp and load your watercraft, do a final inspection of your camp. Pick up any remaining litter.  Your fire must be cold to the touch. Please treat the BWCAW with care. Leave No Trace on your visit to protect this special place for future generations!

The above are enforceable Forest Service Regulations (maximum penalty of $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail).

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