BWCA Permits Information

Overnight Camping Trip Permit Questions The Answers
Q. I just want to spend one night on a BWCA island. Do I need an overnight permit? A. Yes. An Boundary Waters overnight paddle-only permit is required for staying overnight on the Minnesota side. A Quetico Park Permit and an RABC is required on the Canadian side.
Q. How do I get a BWCA Permit: A. You can contact Reserve America and apply online yourself. You must arrange for your BWCA Permit to be picked up by you at the Kawishiwi Ranger Station – at the eastern edge of Ely proper. Red Rock no longer writes or issues permits. To select this pick up point simply select it from the Drop Down Box in the Reserve America Permit online application form. Click Here to reserve your permit online.
Q. If I have a permit reservation confirmation that I printed from online when I made the reservation, is that the actual permit? A. No. The actual BWCA permit is located wherever you assigned it to go from the drop-down box online the Reserve America website. Your permit will have been sent to the outfitter you selected. Red Rock Customer will need to have their permit sent to the US Forest Service’s Kawishiwi Ranger Station for pick up before they go on their canoe trip. The Kawishiwi Ranger Station is located at the eastern edge of Ely, directly across from the International Wolf Center. This is brand new building where your tax dollars have been hard at work for the last 3 years. Have a great experience in the new building!
Q. What if we can’t get a permit for our specific date? A. Then you won’t be taking a canoe trip this time around. You’ll need to find available dates or stay outside of the BWCA and take day-trips.
Q. Are permits required to take day trips in the BWCA? A. You can enter any entry point for a day canoe trip just by filling out the free, self-serve permit located at the entry point. No charge- just fill out at the entry point itself and go.
Q. What are the costs that I’ll have to pay for the actual BWCA Permit and Permit Reservation. A. The costs have changed and are listed online at the BWCA permit center. 
Q. Do outfitters get more permits than the regular public? A. No – we all have the same access as everyone else on the planet. This is the case no matter who is blabbing their thoughts on various online canoeing forums and bulletin boards.
Q. How many people can go on one permit? 9 people maximum and 4 canoes maximum.
Q. If we have a larger than 9 person group, can we travel side by side with 2 permits? A. No. You will not be allowed to travel side by side, period. Related Groups doing so and even crossing the portages together are not allowed and may be subject to fines and or expulsion from the BWCA. Think I’m making this up? Go ahead and give it a go – you may not like the results. You are also not allowed to stop by and visit your related group on another campsite regardless of the fact that you are a group of Scouts, people of God, aliens from another world, period. No more than 9 people together in any given spot of land in the BWCA.
Q. Does the US Forest Service issue fines for too many people together in one spot & camping without a valid permit? A. Yes.
Q. Can you negotiate the US Forest Service on these infractions? A. No.
BWCA Entry Points Your BWCA permit will have the entry point indicated on it. That is where you’ll start your trip.
Q. When is my BWCA permit valid? A. Only for the day that you reserve the permit to enter the BWCA. Not a day later, not a day earlier, and the weather has nothing to do with it. It’s a wilderness trip and you are supposed to be able to travel in the wilderness come hell or high water.
Q. If I start my trip at the right BWCA entry point but start a day late can I still go on my trip? A. No. Starting late invalidates your BWCA permit.
Q. Can I stay in the BWCA on a canoe trip and then leave temporarily during my permit to go and watch a movie or go shopping, or whatever, and then return back to my campsite for the evening to continue my trip? A. No. Once you exit the BWCA, your current permit is invalid. If part of your party exits the BWCA to do whatever, they are not allowed to return. If you sneak out and don’t get caught by the US Forest Service, it is STILL illegal to do this. If I see you do this, I will “rat” on you. If you are coming to the “wilderness”, act like it. Either go camping or go shopping.
Q. Do we have to start at a specific entry point? A. Yes – no exceptions are allowed. You have to start where you signed up to start. If entry point is Lake One (30) that is where you must start.
Q. Do we have to camp at a designated campsite? A. Yes. You may only camp at a campsite which has BOTH a firegrate and a toilet on the site. If the site has the grate, but no toilet, it is an illegal site. Feigning ignorance to the US Forest Service will result in a hefty fine for you and Red Rock will have no sympathy. Rules exist for a reason and broken rules have consquences.
Q. Are BWCA campsites reserved for us specifically? A. No. All campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you want a specific site on a specific day, you’ll have to beat-out or beat-up the competition or bribe/beg them to leave. Make sure they are either smaller than you, or you have a black belt before you begin this process.
Q. What can I do to improve my privacy in the BWCA? A. Let passersby know you are there. Pick a campsite way back in a bay and hang a blue or red beach towel over a branch so there is no doubt that you are on the site from a really far way off. Otherwise, you could find a steady parade of canoes coming up to your site, staring right at you and saying, “Nope – I think someone has this one.”
Q. When should we be setting up camp? A. Plan on setting up camp by 2 PM daily. Avoid high traffic areas (campsites right next to main portages) or get there early. By beginning to look for a campsite at 2 PM, you will allow yourself extra time to paddle on to find a site in the event that everything in your area is already taken. Either plan your day well or end up sleeping in your canoe. If I had a nickle for all the crybabies who couldn’t find a site after beginning to search for one at 7 PM in the evening. Then they all have the gall to say the BWCA is used too hard and more laws and restrictions are needed.
Q. If someone who hasn’t found a campsite wants to camp with us on our site, what do we do? A. This is an awkward situation. You most likely didn’t choose to go to the BWCA to live with neighbors you don’t know. Also taking care of the “clueless” does nothing good for you except wreck one of your vacation days. Unless they have a valid, extenuating circumstance, such as “they are pressing on for a medical emergency but just could go no further”, I would tell them firmly and politely, “No!”. Odds are extremely good that these people paid absolutely no attention to falling daylight and the fact that they are nearing an entry point where the sites all tend to load up with campers during the busy season. You are not obligated to allow them to stay on your site. Unless they are bleeding badly, practise “tough love”. It’s the only way they are ever going to learn.
Q. If I need to cross a portage and am well-organized, yet a large group before me splayed their canoes willy-nilly across the portage as they “decided to break for lunch” making it difficult for me to pass, what should I do? A. You might make a comment, but do so after sizing them up. Obviously, they are rude, oblivious idiots, but you probably don’t want to get into a “rumble” on the landing of the portage. I would make sure my gear and my people are organized to move quickly. Then I would sqeeze in to the landing, and walk right down their canoes and gear (whether on land or in water) making sure that I don’t set any of my gear down to get it lost in all of their crap. If they want to get ornery, pick up a paddle and take out the biggest one. Hopefully, you’ll never experience this situation but there are an inordinate number of bumbling, inconsiderate, offensive jerks out there who think they are the only ones on vacation in the BWCA. If possible, avoid paddle-rage by following the advice of the next question.
Q. What’s the best way to travel in the BWCA? A. Early and far. Travel hard during the first days of your trip when you are fresh and raring to go. Get up early and if you hit the portages at 8 AM, you’ll not only enjoy very few people on them, you’ll also get in further and end up with a better use of your day. Take the longer portage (180 rods +) and you’ll automatically wipe out about 70 % of the “competition” campers. Most people just barely get going by 9:30 AM. Of these people, most find long portages even with lightweight canoes a daunting prospect. If you have Souris River Quetico 17, you can camp further away from the entry point on your last day. Most people jam up the entry point campsites on Friday because they are planning on coming out on Saturday and think they need to be right next to the entry point. A fast, light canoe like a Souris River Quetico 17 will reduce the need for this type of crowded planning.
Q. Is talking loudly, being drunk, having water fights, and acting like you are in a water park in Orlando, FL the way to act on a wilderness canoe trip in the BWCA? A. Perhaps some people would find this entertaining, but the moose, deer, wolves and other wild life generally tend to shy away from “wild” humans even moreso than from subdued humans. If you feel that during your vacation, you need to come all the way to God’s country to be drunk out of your gourd and obnoxious, please change your plans and go to a Holiday Inn at Orlando, or Miami, or Key West, or Atlanta, etc. Heck, save the travel money and get blitzed at home. You don’t need to be in the BWCA to be drunk and barfing all over the place and clean-up (assuming you do clean-up) is much easier, too.
BWCA Permit Restrictions This is what you can and cannot take into the BWCA for your canoe trip.
Q. Are cans and bottles allowed? A. No food carrying cans or bottles are allowed. Your food must be in BWCA approved, re-usable, plastic packable containers. All trash must be hauled out. It is illegal to burn garbage in MN.
Q. Are pop, beer, or liquor cans & glass bottles allowed? How about 2 liter plastic bottles? A. Pop, beer, & liquor metal cans or glass bottles are NOT allowed. Cans of Spam, Pork & Beans, Dinty Moore beef stew, sardines, fruit cocktail cans, pie filling cans, and any other food in a metal or glass packages is NOT allowed, period. You may bring the contents of the illegal containers when re-packed in tupperware or even baggies if you really want to look at those re-packed sardines let alone eat them later. Plastic bottles or plastic food container packaging, such as 2-liter pop bottles ARE allowed but need to be packed out when empty.
Q. How about other metal or glass containers? A. As long as they are not the primary packaging for food, you can bring them. Insect repellant in a spray can, deodorant sprays, gasoline in a one gallon metal can, propane bottles, etc. are all allowed but must be packed out.
Q. What foods are allowed? A. Any trail or otherfoods in plastic or foil pouches are approved. Pack out all refuse. Order it here.
Q. Should you take a BWCA canoe trip without a map? A. Only if you are insane. Otherwise, don’t leave shore without an actual Fisher, McKenzie, or Voyageur map that is designed for the BWCA. Take your Minnesota road map, fold it up and put it in the glove box of your car and leave it there unless you need a mediocre firestarter. Take that free outfitter map and put it in recycling as well. Don’t be so frickin’ cheap. Splurge on a real map and a compass. Lakemaps are nice and great to have along for fishing, but they don’t cover as much ground as the Fisher, McKenzie, or Voyageur maps which are tear-proof and water-proof. Bring along the GPS only if backed up by a real compass. Order BWCA maps here.
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