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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

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The United States Congress designated the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (map) in 1964 and it now has a total of 814,441 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Minnesota and is managed by the Forest Service.


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a unique natural area located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. It extends nearly 199 miles along the international boundary. The BWCAW's northern border is contiguous with Canada's Quetico Provincial Park, also managed as a wilderness area, and together they form a core wilderness area of approximately two million acres. Great glaciers carved the physical features of what is today known as the BWCAW by scraping and gouging rock. The glaciers left behind lakes and streams interspersed with islands, and surrounded by of rugged cliffs and crags, gentle hills, canyon walls, rocky shores, and sandy beaches. Approximately 1175 lakes varying in size from 10 acres to 10,000 acres and several hundred miles of streams comprise about 190,000 acres (20%) of the BWCAW surface area and provide for the opportunity for long distance travel by watercraft. This type of experience is rare within the continental United States and the BWCAW is the only large lake land wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System The BWCAW allows visitors to canoe, portage and camp in the spirit of the French Voyageurs of 200 years ago. The BWCAW has approximately 80 entry points with access to 1200 miles of canoe routes, 18 hiking trails, and nearly 2,200 campsites (designated by a latrine and steel fire grate). It offers freedom to those who wish to pursue an experience of expansive solitude, challenge and personal integration with nature. In the winter months visitors to the BWCAW enjoy opportunities for skiing, dog-sledding, camping and ice- fishing. The BWCAW has a rich human history beginning with sites from the Paleo-Indian culture from 10,000-12000 years ago. There are numerous cultural resource sites in the BWCAW resulting from Woodland period (500 BC - 1650 AD) and historic Native American settlements and activities. These include camping sites, villages, wild ricing sites, cemetery areas, pictographs, and sites of spiritual and traditional importance. The BWCAW also contains evidence of a number of historic European and early American activities ranging from the fur trade up to and including early logging and settlement of the area. The BWCAW provides important habitat to many wildlife species at all levels of the food chain including a large, stable gray wolf population, red fox, lynx, fisher, pine martin, mink, otter, weasel, black bear, moose, beaver, red-backed salamander, southern bog lemming, northern leopard frogs, bats, white tailed deer, black bear, beaver, porcupine, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, and chipmunk. Fish population includes lake trout, walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, perch, crappie, whitefish, sucker, sturgeon, burbot, and many species of minnows. As any summer visitor will tell you the BWCAW is also home to a wide array of abundant insect life. Remember that the BWCAW is heavily used, so consider traveling in smaller groups sizes, keeping your noise level to a minimum as sound travels well over water, preventing campsites from growing larger by using fewer and smaller tents, protecting green trees from vandalism and looking for your dead and down firewood well away from your campsite, practicing portage etiquette, do not burn any trash to prevent air and water pollution, and planning ahead to prevent emergency rescues putting others at risk to save you. Wilderness travel can be a challenge and a risk, so take responsibility for yourself, your group, and the health of the environment.

Planning to Visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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