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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

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Area Management

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is part of the 110 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System. This System of lands provides clean air, water, and habitat critical for rare and endangered plants and animals. In wilderness, you can enjoy challenging recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, horse packing, bird watching, stargazing, and extraordinary opportunities for solitude. You play an important role in helping to "secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness" as called for by the Congress of the United States through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Please follow the requirements outlined below and use Leave No Trace techniques when visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to ensure protection of this unique area.

General Wilderness Prohibitions

Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited on all federal lands designated as wilderness. This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters, unless provided for in specific legislation.

In a few areas some exceptions allowing the use of motorized equipment or mechanical transport are described in the special regulations in effect for a specific area. Contact the Forest Service office or visit the websites listed for more specific information.

These general prohibitions have been implemented for all national forest wildernesses in order to implement the provisions of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Wilderness Act requires management of human-caused impacts and protection of the area's wilderness character to insure that it is "unimpaired for the future use and enjoyment as wilderness." Use of the equipment listed as prohibited in wilderness is inconsistent with the provision in the Wilderness Act which mandates opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation and that wilderness is a place that is in contrast with areas where people and their works are dominant.

Wilderness-Specific Regulations

Wilderness managers often need to take action to limit the impacts caused by visitor activities in order to protect the natural conditions of wilderness as required by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Managers typically implement 'indirect' types of actions such as information and education measures before selecting more restrictive measures. When regulations are necessary, they are implemented with the specific intent of balancing the need to preserve the character of the wilderness while providing for the use and enjoyment of wilderness.

The following wilderness regulations are in effect for this area. Not all regulations are in effect for every wilderness. Contact the Forest Service office or visit the websites listed for more specific information about the regulations listed.


-- Group size is limited to no more than 9 people per party with no more than 4 watercraft.

-- Stock use is prohibited.

-- You must use latrines at designated campsites. Designated campsites will have a latrine and fire grate. Do not put garbage in the latrines. If not near a latrine, deposit human waste in a 6-8 inch deep hole, 150 feet away from water.

-- Dogs must be under control at all times. Dispose of dog waste away from water, campsites, and portages or in a latrine.

-- Only have campfires in firegrates. Only use dead and down wood for burning. Do not burn trash or paper of any kind as it's also illegal in the State of Minnesota.

-- Do not put soap (including biodegradable soaps) in the water for any reason.

-- Cans and glass containers are prohibited.

-- Scatter fish remains well away from shorelines, campsites, trails, and portages.

-- Do not disturb heritage sites.

-- Do not use metal detectors.

-- Discharging a firearm is prohibited within 50 yards of a campsite or other occupied area.


-- Quota permits with user fees are required for overnight use from May 1 through September 30. Self-issue permits are required for all day use and overnight use from October 1 through April 30. Your permit is legal only for the specific date and entry location. The permit is invalid when a trip leader exits the Wilderness.

-- Camp only at designated campsites.

-- All members of a permit group must camp together at one site taking care not to enlarge sites with more tents than necessary. If 9 people must all have 9 tents, consider 2 groups and 2 permits and split up on different routes to prevent resource damage.

-- Overnight visitors cannot occupy any single location longer than 14 days.

-- Even in Wilderness you must consider noise. Be quiet in the evening, through the night and into early morning to let others enjoy the sounds of nature.


-- Motorized watercraft meeting specific horsepower limitations are allowed on designated routes and lakes only. Please confirm those locations. Quota permit required for day use motorboating. NO other motorized or mechanical equipment (including pontoon boats, sailboards, sailboats, ATV's, generators, electric downriggers, etc.) is allowed. Motors are prohibited on all paddle-only lakes.

-- Only watercraft and equipment used in connection with your current visit may be stored and left unattended until you leave the BWCAW.

-- Portage wheels or mechanical assistance are only permitted over the following areas: International Boundary, Four-mile Portage, Fall-Newton-Pipestone and Back Bay Portages into Basswood Lake, Prairie Portage and Vermillion-Trout Portage.

-- Be careful with gas and oil around water. Slow down when canoes are near.

Learn more about why regulations may be necessary in wilderness.

Wilderness Permit System

A wilderness permit system has been implemented for this wilderness. This involves a use-limiting permit system with quotas and reservations. Wilderness permit systems are implemented to collect information on use levels and patterns and as an education and information tool. Use-limiting systems are implemented after monitoring has determined that current use levels are resulting in unacceptable impacts to the resource and/or to the wilderness recreation experience. These systems help distribute visitor use throughout the season and help minimize crowded conditions at popular areas. People interested in visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness should contact the Forest Service office or visit the websites listed for more information about this permit system, which may vary by location or time of the year.


The following user fee system(s) have been implemented for this wilderness: OVERNIGHT CAMPING. Fees are most often used to offset the operating costs of a permit system or to help fund management activities such as trail maintenance. Contact the Forest Service office or visit the websites listed for more specific information on this fee system.

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