BOUNDARY WATERS CANOE AREA WILDERNESS – BWCAW
BWCA info is abundant and it’s best to begin with a brief look at the history of this iconic place. The famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area or BWCA or BWCAW, as it is often called, is the ultimate wilderness adventure experience and a canoeist’s paradise. Located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota, and bordered by Canada, the Boundary Waters of Minnesota has over a million acres of clear lakes and deep green pine forests, and is unlike any other wilderness area in the world.
With 1,200 miles of canoe routes that traverse this area it is all part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Its rugged, scenic beauty allows one to capture the spirit of this natural place — often calling it “God’s Country.”
Hundreds of lakes, dot the vast Boundary Waters, so many, that some are yet to be named. The portages, winding paths connecting lakes and rivers to land, once used by the French trappers and Voyageurs remain virtually unchanged over centuries. This magnificent area, created during the last glacial period, and abundant with numerous species of wildlife, birds, game fish, and a great variety of wildflowers challenges the senses and urges one to explore and experience as only the canoeist can.
Boundary Waters Minnesota Canoe Trips: Paddling through this same vast wilderness first inhabited by the Indians, the Voyageurs, settlers in search of new homes, and finally the mineral prospectors and loggers, one senses a bonding with the past.
There are literally hundreds of routes joined together by waterways and portages in the Boundary Waters. The paddler searching for wilderness adventure travel can canoe those same routes used by the early people that populated this rugged wilderness.
One can still view the ancient Native American pictographs, or pictures, on the sheer granite cliffs connecting the unending bodies of water in the Boundary Waters. The images depict life long ago, and let you imagine what life was like then and marvel at the wonder of it. What these ancient people used for “paint” that has endured for centuries is a bit mysterious, and has yet to be determined. Those who paddle by are in awe of their creations.
This and more awaits those who wish to experience a wilderness adventure overnight in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. To insure the beauty of this place, there are no homes or roads allowed and motorized watercraft is not allowed in the interior lakes.
There are hundreds of designated Boundary Waters campsites for overnight stays, offering you privacy and solitude during your wilderness canoe trip adventure and River Point Outfitting Co. will provide BWCAW info on the campsites in your route.
The backpacker, birdwatcher, wildlife adventurer, and photographer all can find peaceful tranquility in this wonderful wilderness travel area of the Boundary Waters. Hearing the mournful call of a loon in the evening when the lake is as calm as glass or watching a soaring bald eagle high above the tree line is a special experience.
Attentive Boundary Waters paddlers and watchful photographers may be rewarded with sighting a fleet white tail deer, the many antics of a playful beaver, the sleek movement of the otter and fox, or the protectiveness of the mother black bear with her new cubs.
With the beauty and peacefulness of the wilderness surrounding you, it becomes easy to see why, once you have tasted the sweetness of this incredible place you desire to return again and again with your camera, ever-ready to capture magical memories to share until the next visit to the Boundary Waters wilderness of Minnesota!
Boundary Waters Entry Points General Info
Anyone with a travel permit may enter the BWCA Wilderness. When staying overnight you need a permit which locks in your entry point, and date. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is protected with a permit quota system which limits the number of groups entering the wilderness. Most entry point areas are paddle-only. Most of the area is designed for canoe travel only. Some lakes near the outer borders of the Wilderness are accessible by motorboats up to 25 hp.
When entering the Boundary Waters through an area with a low number of permits offered, paddlers will disperse quickly from that entry point. Most BWCAW info indicates that heavier use entry points will have more people and it may take a day or more for the canoe groups to spread out. Historically, those entry points with higher quotas may have easier routes to travel with fewer portages, and often shorter portages. But, given the natural terrain of the BWCA, there are always exceptions.
WHAT’S A PORTAGE
Lakes and rivers are interconnected by a network of portage trails. A portage is a section of land that connects two bodies of water together that have rapids that should not to be traversed by canoe. Instead, you would walk or portage your canoe and packs across the land between the bodies of water. All Boundary Waters entry points and their routes will have portages…some may be easier, some more difficult. And, sometimes the longer portage may be easier than the shorter ones. Most portages are under ¼ mile long. More BWCAW info on the portages wil be offered by River Point during your Trip Routing and Orientation session.
Reference the maps below to view the various Boundary Waters entry points and River Point’s location. River Point Outfitting Co. services all Ely area entry points with safe, clean van transport service. Plus, being able to paddle directly back to RPO from 15 of the BWCA entry points at the end of your canoe trip via the gentle downstream current of the South Kawishiwi River is a definite bonus…no need for a van transport if you wish to do this.
River Point Outfitting Co. is a Cooperator with the USDA Forest Service under the Superior National Forest of Minnesota. We issue permits into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), which is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
As a Forest Service Cooperator, River Point Outfitting Co. is an equal opportunity service provider, dedicated to the policy of non-discrimination in our service of customers on any basis, including sex, race, color, age, religion, disability, marital status, or national origin.
Permit entry fees are per trip. Season passes are available and discounts for children and Senior Citizens apply to all fees. The fee is due when the permit is reserved by River Point Outfitting Co. and you will sign for your permit at Registration upon arrival at RPO.
The following USFS Permit Reservation and User Fees apply:
USFS Travel Permit Fee: $10 for up to a group of 9 persons.
USFS User Fees:
- Apply to all BWCAW overnight visitors
- Adult: $16
- Youth 0-17: $8
- Interagency Senior/Access Pass Holders: $8.00
In addition to the USFS Permit and User Fees, River Point Outfitting Co. charges a permit handling fee of $8 for completely outfitted groups; $11 for partially outfitted groups.
BWCA Seasonal Fee Card
The purchase of a BWCAW Seasonal Fee Card fulfills the User Fee requirements for the season, but does not eliminate the need for obtaining a BWCAW permit. For reserved permits, it does not eliminate the need to pay the $10 Reservation Fee and User Fee deposit. Seasonal Fee Cards may be purchased in person after May 1 from any Forest Service Office.
Seasonal Fee Card Costs per Person:
- Adult: $64.00
- Child/Youth 0-17: $32.00
- Interagency Senior/Access Pass Holders: $32.00
- Interagency Youth/Access Pass Holders: $16.00
To increase the chance of securing a permit, please be flexible by selecting more than one starting date and entry point for your BWCA canoe trip. However, you need not know what entry point to choose, as we can select an entry point for your group.
USFS Travel Permit Fee is neither refundable nor applicable to a future trip. The entire USFS User Fee will be refunded if a reservation is cancelled more than 48 hours in advance of the use date on the permit.
No-Shows are not refunded any amount of money.
TRAVEL PERMIT RESERVATIONS
All permit reservations are made on a first come, first serve basis. The online USFS Permit Reservation System opens each year during the last week of January. Reservations made with River Point Outfitting Co. prior to January for the next canoeing season, will allow us to purchase your travel permit the day that the online system opens.
Of course, permits can be secured at any time, and we are here to help with all the pre-planning and to reserve the permit for you. But, for best choices of entry dates and entry points, try to plan early so that the permit can be purchased earlier, rather than later. No worries…we are here get the permit for you when you are ready!
In addition, if you will fish, Minnesota requires a license:
FISHING LICENSES & LIMITS
Anyone 16 years of age or older who chooses to fish in the BWCAW is required to have a license. Fish eaten as part of shore lunch count towards daily fish possession limits. For much more information on fishing in Minnesota refer to the MN Department of Natural Resources website and to purchase your Minnesota fishing license.
WEATHER IN ELY
To preserve the wilderness, visitors to the BWCAW must follow certain United States Forest Service regulations:
- You must enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at the entry point and on the date shown on your permit.
- You may not enter/re-enter at a different point or date using this permit.
- Permit and stubs become invalid when the trip leader exits the wilderness.
A quota system that allows only a specific number of people into the canoe country each day at each entry point is in effect, and weekend permits are more popular.
- Nine (9) people and four (4) watercraft are the maximum allowed together in the wilderness.
- You may not exceed the limit at any time or anywhere (on water, portages, campsites) in the BWCAW.
- Smaller groups increase your wilderness experience and decrease your impact. Larger groups will need additional permits and must camp at more than one campsite.
- Cans and glass bottles are not allowed.
- Containers of fuel, insect repellent, medicines, personal toilet articles, and other items that are not foods or beverages are the only items allowed in their original containers.
- Food may be packaged in plastic containers that must be packed out at the end of the trip.
- Camp only at Forest Service designated campsites that have steel fire grates and wilderness latrines.
- Make camp early in the day to ensure finding an available campsite.
- All members of a permit group must camp together at one site.
- You may camp up to fourteen (14) consecutive days on a specific site.
- After you break camp check to make sure everything is packed up and your campsite is clear of litter.
- Fires are allowed within the steel fire grates at designated campsites unless campfire restrictions are in place.
- If there are restrictions you may be required to use a camp stove. (Bringing a small camp stove may be a better idea because it heats food more quickly, has less impact than a fire, and comes in handy during rainy weather.)
- When building a fire, use only dead wood found lying on the ground. Collect firewood away from campsites, portages, and shorelines to prevent enlarging and defacing these area. Wood easily broken by hand or cut with a small folding saw eliminates the need for an axe.
- Do not bring wood from home or out of state.
- It is illegal to cut live vegetation for any reason.
- It is illegal to burn trash. Make sure it is packed out with you.
- Drown your fire with water anytime you are going to be away from your camp or at bedtime. Stir the ashes until they are cold to the touch with a bare hand.
- Leave archaeological, historical, and rock painting sites undisturbed.
- The use of metal detectors is prohibited.
TOILET FACILITIES AND WATER QUALITY
- Use latrines at designated campsites.
- Latrines are not garbage cans and should be used for the intended purpose only.
- If you’re not near a latrine, dig a small hole 6 to 8 inches deep at least 150 feet or more back from the water’s edge; when finished, fill hole and cover with needles and leaves.
- Bathe and wash dishes at least 150 feet from water sources (lakes, streams, rivers, marshes).
- All soaps pollute water including soaps labeled “biodegradable.”
FISH REMAINS AND FOOD
- Dispose of fish remains by traveling well away from shorelines, campsites, trails and portages.
- Pack out live bait and other food leftovers at the end of the trip.
DOGS IN THE BWCAW
- Dogs impact wildlife and barking intrudes on the experience of others. Dogs must be in control at all times.
- Dispose of fecal matter 150 feet away from water sources, campsites, portages, or deposit in a latrine.
FIREARMS AND FIREWORKS
- Discharging a firearm is prohibited within 150 yards of a campsite, occupied area, and in a manner or location that places people and their property at risk or danger.
- State game laws apply in the BWCAW.
- Fireworks of any kind are illegal.
Only watercraft and equipment used in connection with your current visit may be stored and left unattended until you leave the BWCAW. All equipment and personal property must be carried out with you at the end of each trip.
- Motorized watercraft meeting specific horsepower limitations are allowed on designated routes and lakes only. No other motorized or mechanized equipment (including pontoon boats, sailboats, sailboards, ATVS, etc.) is allowed.
- Motors may not be used or be in possession on any paddle-only lake.
- Portage wheels or mechanical assistance is only permitted over the following: International Boundary, Four-Mile Portage, Fall-Newton-Pipestone and Back Bay Portages into Basswood Lake, Prairie Portage, Vermilion-Trout Lake Portage.
Motor-powered watercraft are permitted only on the following designated lakes:
LAKES WITH A 10 HORSEPOWER LIMIT
On these lakes, the possession of one additional motor no greater than 6 horsepower is permitted, as long as motors in use do not exceed 10 horsepower: Clearwater, North Fowl, South Fowl, Seagull (no motors generally west of Three Mile Island), Sections of Island River within the BWCAW
LAKES WITH A 25 HORSEPOWER LIMIT
On these lakes or portions of these lakes, the possession of one additional motor no greater than 10 horsepower is permitted, as long as motors in use do not exceed 25 horsepower: Basswood (except that portion north of Jackfish Bay and Washington Island), Saganaga (except that portion west of American Point), Fall, Newton, Moose, Newfound, Sucker, Snowbank, East Bearskin, South Farm, Trout
LAKES WITH NO HORSEPOWER LIMITS
Little Vermilion, Loon, Lac La Croix (not beyond the south end of Snow Bay in the U.S.A.), Loon River.
All of the above are enforceable United States Forest Service regulations.
LEAVING THE AREA
When leaving your campsite, leave no trace that you were there: eat it, burn it or carry it out. Sift through the ashes in your fire pit for twist ties, foil and other debris not completely burned. Pack them in your litter bag, along with cigarette butts and other trash, and carry it out. If you happen to see trash along your way please pick it up and carry it out also. Always try to leave an area cleaner than when you got there.
Protect this special place for future generations.