How to Make a BWCA Permit Reservation – and then what?

To take a Boundary Waters Canoe Trip, you need a BWCA permit for overnight camping.  Here’s how you do it:

Read this page and then go to this site:  Recreation.gov

This link goes right to the BWCA permit part.

Recreation.gov landing page for BWCA permits
Recreation.gov landing page for BWCA permits

Select your entry point and indicate your date ranges for your trip and hit the “search” button.  You’ll see a window appear like this:

Making a BWCA Permit Reservation
Making a BWCA Permit Reservation

The number below the A is what is remaining open and you can reserve that date.   Make the reservation for the entry point you are seeking.  If you need help with selecting an entry point and will be renting a canoe from us, email us here .   Just let us know how many are going, the level of flat water canoe paddling experience – paddling down rivers doesn’t count for much.  Anybody can be a gravity slave and steer a canoe for 20 miles.  You won’t be doing any of that in the Boundary Waters. If we’re going to help plan a route for you, we need to know your flat water experience level.  If you don’t have a lot, no worries, we do this all the time and have done so for 30+ years.

So, make your permit reservation and have your credit card ready.  They will charge a deposit.  Then call us and reserve your canoe for those dates.  Then, show up either the day prior to or the day of your permit start day and pick up  your actual permit from the government workers at the USFS building on the eastern edge of Ely.

Here is their address and a map I whipped up.

Kawishiwi Ranger District
District Ranger: Gus Smith

Address:
1393 Highway 169, Ely, MN 55731
(218) 365-7600; (218) 365-7602 TTY
Email: kawishiwi@fs.fed.us

Pick Up your BWCA canoe trip permit here.
Pick Up your BWCA canoe trip permit here.

Pick up your permit and head out to us to do the quick paperwork on your canoe rental and down the road we’ll go.  We can haul your canoe or you can haul your canoe with foam blocks that we provide for no charge use your own roof rack.  In most cases, it is cost and time effective to simply pay us to haul and pick up your rental canoe because we are experts and have the right gear laying on the floor here at all times.  No head-scratching about if your tie-job is going to blow off the car at 50 mph with you becoming the proud owner of a $3300 kevlar canoe with severe road rash.   We can talk about that when doing your trip routing when you reserve your canoe.

So, if you’ve never been to the BWCA, you’re missing out.  Reserving a permit is not very hard.  Picking it up is easy.  And renting a canoe from us is easier still.  Give us a call!  218-365-4512

NEED to KNOW:  You must enter the BWCA on the date you’ve reserved.  If you miss that entry date, your permit is void and you can’t go in without getting a whole, new permit.  Entering the BWCA with your permit means that you CANNOT come and go freely in and out of the BWCA.  If you come out of the woods, get in your car and go into Ely for shopping or to check your email as people of today do, you are done with your canoe trip.  This is considered a wilderness canoe trip not a stay at a federal campground with an RV.  The rules are simple but strict and if you get caught going back and forth, you will be made to leave and you could be fined.

Want to stay in a nice cabin and take BWCA day trips all over the place?   No permits required, come and go freely.

Come stay at our wilderness resort!  Click Here

Trip Route: N. Kawishiwi River to Bald Eagle

Entry Point:  N. Kawishiwi (29) Ojibway access

Trip Length: 3 Days

Apex: Bald Eagle area

Exit:  Ojibway Landing

Level:  Moderate

Pace:  6 – 8 miles per day (land & sea combined)

Scenery:  Beautiful – Copper Nickel country, granite and other sulfide bearing rocks all over. jackpine and swamps

Busy Times: Last week of July – First week of August

Features:  Paddle down Kawishiwi river (slow/no moving) to Bald Eagle region.  Make a loop thru Clear Lake to the north.  Can be great fishing at times.

Problems:  Couple of longer portages.  Rapids can eat your canoe.  You’ll also see more people as you approach on Bald Eagle/Gabbro lake area.

Solutions:  Don’t be an idiot.  Stay out of ALL rapids.  That’s what portages and our superlight Souris River rental canoes are for.   Shooting rapids is incredibly dumb when there’s a portage. Damaged canoes will cost you a bundle in repairs,  replacement, and extraction.  Do not leave canoes unattended and calmly floating in the water.  Either hold, tie, or bring up on shore.

Trip Route: Lake One to N. Kawishiwi to Ojibway Lake

Entry Point:   Lake One

Trip Length: 3 days

Apex: N. Kawishiwi River

Exit:  Ojibway Lake

Level:  Moderately Easy (Perspective – to get from Lake One to Ojibway Boat Landing with an empty canoe takes about 2 hours, 10 minutes)

Pace: 2 miles per day

Scenery:  Beautiful country, lots of sulfide bearing rocks all along the way, rapids

Busy Times: Last week of July – First week of August,

Features:  Moderate fishing, but easy short portages in granite, sulfidic rocks that can sparkle in sunlight, jackpine country with abundant reindeer moss and other beautiful flora.  This is copper-nickel country.

Problems:  Rapids.  Look inviting to try.  Portages can be very close to strong currents and difficult to see.  Longer, rugged portage from Kawishiwi River to Ojibway.  Campsites are a bit limited but there are some nice ones.

Solutions:  Follow your map closely.  Fishers are most accurate here.  Know where to expect portages and plan getting to them with your canoe.  Do not walk away from a floating canoe at the top or bottom of the portage.  Do not even think about running any rapids with our canoes unless you would like us to think about running your credit card to its financial limits.  We have done so in the past ans won’t hesitate to do so in the future.  Travel and set up camp early.  If need be, travel down stream and set up camp and then come back up.  There is no discernible currents when you are not near the rapids.The River is more like a long skinny lake.

Trip Route: Moose Lake to Knife to Kekekabic to Snowbank

Entry Point:  Moose Lake

Trip Length: 7 Days

Apex: Kekekabic Lake

Exit:  Snowbank Lake

Level:  Moderately Difficult

Pace:  6 – 8 miles per day (land & sea combined)

Scenery:  Awesome – Cliffs, Hills, big water, rapids

Busy Times: Last week of July – First week of August, Memorial Weekend, Labor Day Weekend

Features:  Travel along Canadian border on this route.  You’ll be portaging in Canada on occasion – big clear waters – cliffs – different route options.  Good fishing.

Problems:  You can get pinned down by waves in rough water.

Solutions:  Watch the weather.  Play by ear.  Be paddling a Souris River Canoe, particularly a Quetico 17 or 18.5 with three people.   You may find that you need to sit on shore and wait the wind out in some places on occasion.

Trip Route: Wood Lake

Entry Point:  Wood Lake

Trip Length: 3 Days

Apex: Indiana Lake

Exit:  Moose Lake

Level:  Moderate (perspective – it is possible to begin at the Wood Lake parking lot and paddle this loop in Moose lake in about 5 hours flat – I have done it.  Three days and two nights is a leisurely time schedule)

Pace:  6 – 8 miles per day (land & sea combined)

Scenery:  Beautiful – rocks, stick, water, rapids, portages

Busy Times: Last week of July – First week of August, Memorial Weekend, Labor Day Weekend

Features:  Crossed Wood Lake which is a good fishing Lake, follows into Hula and parts of the old logging routes from when the area was clear cut for shoring timber for the mines – at the turn of the century.  Hula was also a popular wild rice lake for the Ojibway Indians who came here  from Maine to kick the crap out of the Lakota Sioux who are now in South Dakota as a result.   Where were all the protesters then, eh?

Problems:  Limited campsites on Wood as many Twin Cities dwellers now believe that driving 4.5 hours from the south and  paddling 30 minutes is now a wilderness experience.  Sites at Wood can be booked with basecampers who think nothing of wearing everything out by not moving for 7 days in a stretch.  They also believe that it is legal to paddle out – during their permit stay-, drive to Ely, check their email, go shopping, and then return back to their campsite on Wood.  THIS ACTION HAS NEVER BEEN LEGAL – EVER!   You can’t camp on Hula, so it is not unusual for Twin Cities dwellers to break that law and return to Wood Lake to set up illegal campsites as well.  For some reason, those who ardently “protect” the BWCA seem to believe those laws they defend, don’t apply to themselves.  With no sites available, you may need to camp on Good Lake or Indiana lake both which only have 2 sites each and neither of these are anything special.

Solutions:  Travel early.   Travel like you mean it.   Carry field glasses.  Look at the sites from a distance.  Once you’ve captured a site for yourself, set out a big blue bathtowel on a visible tree branch to keep the late travelers from paddling right up to your nose to see if the site is full.   Now that you know the laws, file a complaint at the US Forest Service on the way out if you see “revolving door” campers on Wood Lake.  Better still, point it out to the lawbreakers on the portage, but do so from a distance.  They display great consternation and anger when you call them on their law-breaking practices.  You can tell who they are because their empty canoe will be laying at the landing with no humans around.  When you see that canoe back out on the lake after you’ve set up camp and it is late int he day, you’ll know what they are up to.  It’s supposed to be a wilderness experience.  It is not a state campground with car-campers and Hells Angels wannabes on hogs and Gold Wings.

Lake Insula Base Camp

Entry Point:  Lake One

Trip Length: 5 Days

Apex: Insula Lake

Exit:  Lake One

Level:  Moderate to more difficult

Pace:  8-12 miles per day (land & sea combined) depending on your canoeing skill

Scenery:  Beautiful – rocks, stick, water, rapids, portages

Busy Times: Last week of July – First week of August

Features:  Excellent fishing, still a lot of campsites on Insula despite USFS attempt to burn it completely away

Problems:  Serious Rapids with portages around them.  Leaving a floating canoe unattended while loading up gear could result in said canoe going down rapids by itself.  This results in paying for extensive canoe repairs and maybe extraction costs (literally $$$$).  Bottom third of Insula is burned away.   Seeing the rapids makes a small percentage of paddlers turn to complete fools and they think they can run the “un-runnable” rapids from Insula.   We’ve had some of our clients do this over the years.  It was quite expensive for them and unnecessarily so.  Insula can be windy and rough.

Solutions:  Do not leave canoe unattended at any rapids, ever.  By that I mean, someone either stands there with a rope tied to it or the canoe is pulled up completely on shore.  Do not run ANY rapids ever and particularly with our canoes.  If you do, we are going to test the financial limits of your credit cards and maybe take your first-born as well and that will be regardless of whether or not you are alive, injured mightily or even dead.   For camping, plan on paddling further north on Insula.  Lots of nice sites available.  When it is windy and rough, you need to be in a Souris River Quetico 17.  If you are in some other Brand X canoes with a load aboard, plan on hiding for hours behind the multiple islands afforded you by Mother Nature on Insula.

Trip Route: Lake Three/Four Base Camp

Entry Point:  Lake One

Trip Length: 3 Days

Apex: Lake Three

Exit:  Lake One

Level:  Moderate

Pace:  6 – 8 miles per day (land & sea combined

Scenery:  Beautiful – rocks, sticks, water, rapids, portages

Busy Times: Last week of July – First week of August

Features:  This is an easy trip but due to the insanely handled Pagami Fire (our government helping us all with a “controlled” (HA! My butt!) burn), there are less campsites available in Lake Three.  There are still sites available on the north shores of Lake Three and Four.  Unfortunately a bunch of sites to the south did get removed by Uncle Sam.  That being said, this is still a neat area to visit and easy to access with only two piddly portages.

Problems:  With only two piddly portages separating  Lake Three from Lake One, the city folk think it’s a really big deal to go to Lake Two and jam up the campsites, nowadays.  Apparently, a 30 minute paddle is now considered a “canoeing adventure” for many.  As a result, they haul a ton of silly crap along and plug up the portages as well.  My personal favorite was the travel cooler with the little wheels on it. Technically, very much illegal, but they suck so bad as camping gear the US Forest Service allows them in just for entertainment purposes.  Don’t forget that the USFS was in charge of burning down 10% of of the BWCA in the Pagami fire as well.  So, allowing the little-wheeled, illegal travel coolers makes sense to them.

Solutions:  Travel early.  Today’s “new adventurers”  usually finally get going at around 10-11 AM.   Hit the water early and go to Lake Four.  Stick your flag with the family crest in a campsite on the north shore and defend your claim against confused insurgents who will bumble by much later in the day.  Most will stay on Lake Two because getting wilderness on you is only done with an app anymore.