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

Save the Boundary Waters – By Using It!

It’s no secret that in just the last two years,  BWCA canoe trips and use are in rapid decline.  I could see it in the parking lots of the entry points.  Twenty-five  cars average in a lot designed to hold 150 for pretty much the entire summer except for a few busier times, is a pretty good indicator that things are amiss.  It also helps to talk to Forest Service field personnel who report that there are hardly any people out there anymore along with MN DNR fisheries guys noting that but for Boy Scout base paddlers, there are hardly any canoes on the Moose Lake Chain.  Add to that my own observations at the Moose Laek Canoe landing that at 8 AM on any given morning there are no boats heading up the chain.  I used to stand at that landing about 4 times a week, hauling canoes down for my rental customers and there were always 5-8 motor boats heading up to Prairie Portage to go day-fishing in Basswood.  Now, seeing a boat go by is a rarity.  Seeing a canoe paddling by is also up-to-chance with long odds.  One of our store customers came back from spending two weeks in Quetico Park on lakes Sarah and Darky and Conmee of the Canadian side.  He admitted that none of those lakes are “un-popular” lakes as they offer excellent fishing and are spectacular waters on which to paddle.  He was there in the middle of July and went 7 full days without seeing another canoe or human – and these lakes aren’t even hard to access.  Having traveled there for many years, he said it was “really weird” and while he “like it but, it indicates bad things for wilderness in general”.  Our canoe rental customers coming back from Insula or Thomas on the US side, reported the same.  There is nobody out there.  And, we STILL are unable to acquire permits.  Why is that?  The government seems unable to tell us why with nobody there and declining usage, permits remain unavailable.

In Canada, Quetico Park, use is down 35% from the travelers on the US side. With all the restrictions to enter Canada with a canoe, not to mention the restrictions on fishing, and their virtually no-maintenance policy along with expensive fees to sleep on a rock , I would venture to say that the Canadians in charge as are completely clueless as are our members of the US Forest Service regarding attracting visitors.  In 2013, supposedly 114,000 visitors went to the BWCA.  In 2013 it plummeted to 97,000.  That’s the total usage for a year for the entire Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.   Those may sound like big numbers, but compared to other pristine parks that one can drive a car through while surrounded by herds of animals and visual wonders and it still remains pristine (Yellowstone-take a look at these stats), you wonder just what kind of fools are in charge of promoting the most beautiful canoe area in the world?

I read that in order to entice todays’s school children – who are only interested in gadgets and blinky BS – the US Forest Service is sending minions in uniform to teach the children about “Leave No Trace” and “Wilderness Ethics”.  These are kids, you government buffoons!

Can you imagine sitting through an hour of watching different ways to pick up twist ties, bottle caps while working on ways to improve one’s “stewardship of the land”?  They could call it “A Private Journey” and make a nauseating movie about a do-gooder kid who saved a frog in the Boundary Waters only to grow as a human being even more.  Yeah – that would be great. Maybe have Sean Penn in it.

As a 6th grader, (which is WAY TOO LATE to introduce kids to wilderness ) can you imagine yourself learning about the real bird & bees outside and how much fun it is (again, outside – get your mind out of the gutter) to experience fishing and camping and padding and waterfalls and rugged terrain and challenges (that you CAN do) instead of learning about the government fines you’ll face if you don’t keep “towing the environmentalist-religious-experience, line?

  • As a kid, can you imagine catching a fish so big that not only did it pull your canoe around the bay, it almost pulled you in as well?   Or would you rather learn about being some “steward”?
  • How about sitting by the campfire in the dark listening to crackling embers, choking on smoke, making fun on those who choke on smoke, roasting marshmallows and laughing and wondering what that noise was behind you!?  Or would you rather hear about the fine for having too many canoes in your group?
  • How about smelling bacon frying on a cool crisp morning as you silently paddle canoe down the lake along the shoreline?  And then, there’s the fried fish on the campfire for lunch that you just caught.  Or would you rather listen to a 15 minute speech about  “actively seeking twist ties to bring home with you and dispose of properly”?
  • What about feeling so hot in that Minnesota sun on the water and paddling back to camp to float in the lake with your life jacket on (or your thermarest pad), only to warm up and dry off in the sun again?  Or, would you rather hear how illegal fires kill the soil and leave a blight upon our Mother Earth and how you should only use a campstove in the BWCA?
  • Can you imaging laying in your tent in the dark of night with a thunderstorm overhead and lightning that illuminates your tent so bright that you can see the terror in the whites of your buddy’s eyes?  Or would you rather hear about wearing moccasins or other soft-soled footwear around camp to be gentle on the Earth?
  • What about feeling so ALIVE in the bright, warm, morning sun after that storm passed and sitting on a rock looking out over that lake while while smelling that lightning-cleansed, fresh air punctuated by whiffs of wood smoke and breakfast?  Or would you rather hear from a “green suit” that if you accidentally bring an illegal can or bottle to the Church of the Boundary Waters that you’ll be fined and shunned for all eternity EVEN if you had every intention of bring it back out?

In Canada, when you go to pick up your permit, they now request that you take your used toilet paper and burn it instead of burying it properly.  I can think of nothing more enjoyable to talk about than burning a pile of TP.  “Can you remember that morning we had that big toilet paper bonfire in the Quetico Park.  Highlight of my trip!”

If you believe that “Saving the BWCA” is more important than “Using the BWCA”,  you have become a de facto member of the Church of the Boundary Waters.  You are also highly misguided.  If we, as a country miss one generation of kids who visits the Boundary Waters wilderness by canoe at a young age to imprint the fabulousness of self-sufficiency and a true appreciation for the great outdoors, then we will lose the BWCA all together and completely.  The 65 year-old hippies & fools are presently focused on “saving” that which is now experiencing a rapid decline in use – AKA the Boundary Waters.  They vehemently do this while they themselves are showing the signs of age, are heading to the nursing homes, or choosing easier road trips through Yellowstone.  This is clearly evidenced by the the 3.5 MILLION Yellowstone visitors last season and Yellowstone STILL remains relatively pristine.   How is THAT possible, I ask?  Supposedly, the 97,000 and less visitors of 1,000,000 acres of undeveloped land & water of the Boundary Waters are destroying it, according to aging, declining hippies.   Meanwhile, the true defenders of the Boundary Waters fade into oblivion within the halls of Congress by attrition.  The new kids coming up in Washington DC only understand government programs, free hand-outs, and smartphone silliness.   Nonetheless, these are the legislators – the ones who will shape and change the laws of the future.  None of them knows what canoe-camping even is, let alone where it is done.   Thirty  years from now and when the old hippies of the “Save the BW” crowd and the rest of us are either dead or on the way out, because we missed an entire generation of canoe campers in Congress, the freshwater of the BWCA will be removed for California’s wasting-at-will and the minerals of the hallowed Boundary Waters will be mined by and for the artificial intelligence robots for whom wilderness will provide no meaning.  Think that’s crazy talk?  Did you ever think you’d have a computer in your pocket upon which you can watch videos about the Boundary Waters in 2015?  Case in point.

Don’t view this post as a downer.  You can save the Boundary Waters by taking a kid paddling into the Boundary Waters and showing said kid a pleasant time.  Don’t kill him out there and you have to start young.  Once they hit 12, that’s all she wrote.   Also, start calling your legislator to make Boundary Waters use and travel more accessible to people who want to go by motor and canoe – Public Law 95-495.   If we lose public interest by conservationists, not environmental zealots, it’s going to go for good, and it’s never coming back.  Don’t send money to a some wackadoo cause and then forget about it because you’d “done” something.   Make a phone call or send and email to your legislator and save your money.  It’ll have more effect and the enviro-executive director won’t get as fat a paycheck after whipping up some stupid, unwarranted, panic in the completely wrong direction.

And screw Canada – they’ll never get it because they have eco-religious zealots like we do in the U.S. sitting on their boards.

When you see “SAVE the Boundary Waters” consider it to be insanity.   There are few people going.  How does less use and less interest wear something out?  It’ll allow them to forget about it and then, that will be the end of it.  That’s the real threat!

Wilderness Ethics for the Boundary Waters.

  1. Get a BWCA permit. 
  2. Know the rules.
  3. Follow the rules.
  4. Set up camp early in the day.
  5. Don’t be a pig – in camp – in water – in canoe- at car parking lot.
  6. If you feel compelled to clean up some idiot’s mess – fine, do so.
  7. Don’t be obnoxious or a yahoo.
  8. Keep your gear together and off the portage so others can get by with no difficulty caused by you.
  9. Don’t eat your lunch on the portage – ever!
  10. It’s simple – Pack it in, pack it out.
  11. Don’t peel the birch trees.
  12. Don’t pretend you are Jeremiah Johnson trying to build a log cabin in the wild.
  13. Unless you are an actual expert, leave your ax at home.  It’s nothing but trouble.
  14. Look both directions before cutting a wiener stick. (guilty law-breaking pleasure).

That about sums up the “training” for wilderness ethics.  All the rest is baloney.

Don’t forget – We’ll rent you a canoe for your next BWCA trip, too!  Call us to reserve your Quetico 17 or 18.5 today!

 

 

Take Time for BWCA Camping – don’t just talk about wilderness

The “familied ” world targets the last week in July and first week in August every single year for last minute trips up north, particularly in Minnesota.   It appears that many metro-families have kids who belong to every activity under the sun, be it soccer, underwater basket weaving for 8th graders,  dog psychology for kids, and a whole slew of other activities.  I refer to these activities as distractions for kids and “fill-ins” for keeping the kids otherwise occupied and theoretically out harm’s way while both parents work.   At least that is what said activities used to be for some.  For others, joining every activity under the sun for summer is simply what they do.  These people are highly organized and live life to the schedule and the schedule is tight.  They squeeze in a major-carbon-footprint Disney trips, Euro-adventures or head off to the islands somewhere for a brief bit of running around.   When not scheduling around activities while attending group activities, they run around town like trained seals picking up a fish reward along the way.  They leave no time to do anything else but follow that intense schedule.  To me, it sounds exhausting.  In  conversations with schedulers , some seem to wear it like a badge of honor.  “We’re SO busy…”  Errr….OK….I guess if that is what you like to do….

Finally, when all the programmed kid activities come to an end, they suddenly realize they have only one week left before School Shopping Season and need to go north to the Boundary Waters.  I’ve actually heard metro-dwellers refer to it as the “obligatory trip north”.    Now, for many, it seems that the term “going to the Boundary Waters” no longer means taking an actual canoe trip anymore.  It means going to Ely for a week during the Blueberry Arts Festival to eat something fried on a stick.  There, they wander around and marvel at how busy it now is  (for about 10 days) in Ely and go home in time for two full weeks of “school shopping season”.   How that activity could possibly take two weeks  (instead of a day or two at the most) is beyond me, but school shopping season is now an event akin to Black Friday and it goes on for two whole weeks!   Usually before the second week in August the city folk have completed their summer bucket list with “make it to the Boundary Waters”.    I hope it was all very satisfying.

In what are becoming rarer occurrences, some of these people actually DO make it to the Boundary Waters for a real canoe trip during the BB fest time and it is normally busy then.  However, as of the last three years, we’ve noted a major falling-off in Boundary Waters reservations and canoe trips in general.  Until three years ago, there were people all over the streets of Ely, all summer long for my whole life.  You had to look both ways before crossing the street during non-Blueberry Arts Festival time.  Every other passing car had a canoe rack on it with a canoe tied on for as far as the eye could see and the grocery store parking lots were full of canoes on cars.  You couldn’t be driving on any road for 10 minutes and not have an upside down canoe go past.   It was not unusual for our 6 spaces in front of Red Rock to have 6 cars with canoes on top, almost every day all summer long.

Now, we barely see a canoe a car particularly when away from the roughly 10 days time period surrounding the Blueberry Festival.

If you take a drive to any of the major landings such as Lake One,  Moose Lake,  and Snowbank you should now notice a complete selection of prime places to park.  That never was the case before.   Now, a 150 car lot at Moose Lake has 25 cars in it and two of them are US Forest Service.  You stand at the Moose lake beach off the portage from the parking lot at 8 AM and where there used to be 6 boats heading up the Moose Lake Chain to go fishing for the day, there is silence.  Nothing going by.  And, while you are standing on that beach, there is no one coming down the portage from the parking lot with a canoe on their shoulders.  It used to be that you had to pass three for four canoes heading to or from the water.  Now, many times, you can close your eyes and run with a canoe on your shoulders fearing to hit no one.  There are no kids running back & forth all excited, no middle-aged paddlers huffing and puffing under a pack with way-too-much-junk.  Nobody.  No outfitter trucks lining up to pick up stacked canoes.  Except for the big boy scout base and their participants on the water, the Moose Chain is pretty quiet.

“Quiet” always sounds great I suppose, especially in regards to wilderness, but anybody in business on the edge of said wilderness knows that “quiet” means a slow, dwindling, struggling death.  It becomes very difficult to pay the rising taxes and massive operating costs while enjoying the “quiet”.    From a consumer’s perspective, “quiet” means “businesses of value”, are going away and the wilderness experience becomes a little more wild.  Sounds great until someone needs something and can’t find it anywhere.   Perhaps if we could bathe the wilderness in free WIFI then business would improve.

If you drive through town at anytime not during the Blueberry Arts Festival, the “bar graphs” of the current state of business in Ely are the outfitter canoe racks.  You can do a quick count while driving by.  30 canoes on the racks with 4 open spaces.  That means they’ve rented 4 canoes at a time that they usually rent 30.  Ely’s newest outfitter sat all summer long with one or two canoes off of his racks.   I’m  guessing  he’s a trust-fund baby so perhaps it doesn’t really matter if he rents canoes or not.   Maybe he needs the write off.   For Summer 2014, he succeeded in a big write-off.  You can’t pay the light bill with no canoe rentals except for during the Blueberry Arts Festival  – that is how I conclude he is a trust-fund baby.   Three years of full rental canoe racks does not a sound business make without some alternate money stream coming in.  And he does all this with no discernible, other job.    How do I get some of that, eh?   But, my speculation could be wrong, too.

This all briefly changes during the Blueberry Festival at the end of July.   But that’s it.  The car lots at the canoe landing will be 75% full then.  It used to be that they’d have to stack the Subarus and Priuses on top of larger vehicles just to fit in the lot.   Even during the Festival, there are now ample places to park at the busiest canoe entry points.  And this is not only true for Ely as the same holds true for the Gunflint trail.  I don’t get my information from visitors to the area because, they see their week in time and extrapolate the entire summer’s business activity from that.  I get my data from US Forest Service field personnel, MN conservation officers, DNR Fisheries workers, the county deputy sheriffs,  highway workers, and my own physical observations.  In relative terms, there is nobody here anymore.

Standing at the Lake One landing on a Monday morning is like standing in a Steven King novel.   No vans arriving, no logos going by, and in downtown Ely, no canoe outfitting customers schlepping packs & canoes back and forth to vehicles on the sidewalks.  Heck, there are hardly any cars in the middle of July.   We also no longer see small teams of Boyscouts in uniform walking up and down the streets of Ely and you can pretty much park your car anywhere.  Ely used to have a parking problem.   We bonafide locals notice things like this, visitors and newbies do not.  It may look busy to visitors going to Disappointment Lake for their 7 day “wilderness” base camp next to the parking lot at Snowbank, but if they took two portages in, they’d see no one for days.  It is also the same way in the Quetico Provincial Park of Canada across the border.  The Canadians are alarmed by the 35% reduction in visitors.  On the US side, it appears to me that our federal government in charge doesn’t even care.  A sign of ample tax dollars and printed money, perhaps?  They have an inordinate number of new white vehicles, it seems, with only one person driving each one.  Car-pooling and all that carbon-footprint silliness doesn’t seem to apply in the federal US Forest Service.

Early Season

So, when is a good time to take a Boundary Waters canoe trip these days?  Well, if you want to see absolutely nobody, the last week in May and the first two week of June are great times if you like to fish. Kids are still in school.   Historically, there is nobody here during those times, and depending on the water levels, the bugs may not be bad at all.   The thought of bugs scares so many people these days it is absolutely ridiculous.  Years ago, bugs never stopped anybody.  They were in God’s Country and a few bugs wasn’t going to detract from that.  In observing shoppers and the quantities of bug dope that they now buy for a few days, I wonder if they are planning on adding it to their mixed drinks?  And that’s in July when blackflies are completely gone and mosquitoes are on their way out.

Black flies can be out in pockets and areas in June which is unpredictable, but we usually don’t see them until the third week (if at all, some summers), right when the big bass are spawning.  They come and go.  They also don’t bite inside of rooms, cars, or tents.  When they discover that they can’t get out, they head to the window screens and beg for their lives.  (A fitting end, I say, hopefully with a slow death.)   Plus, blackflies generally don’t follow you out on the water and we have some great bug dope just for them.  But that’s the third week.  Come before that for nice days, cool nights and the smell of a wood fire crackling in the evenings next to a wilderness lake with the loons singing across the bay.   Will you hit 7 days of rain?   You could.  It sucks but that is why you also pack an 8 x 10 tarp and several packets of hot chocolate.  That is also why you go get a lot of wood after setting up camp and BEFORE everybody goes fishing.

Upon reading this, instead of reminiscing, call us up and reserve your canoes, today.  1-800-280-1078  If that doesn’t do it for you anymore, come stay at our resort, Northwind Lodge where we now have free WIFI in the cabins (you’ll probably need that to lure them out of the house before you can tie them to the car seats and head to Northwind).    Take day canoe trips and come back to the cabin to sleep in a bed.  Baby steps –  Get those kids out of team activities and drag them kicking and screaming if you must.   Let them learn the introspection that balances one’s sanity later as an adult by going in the real woods – and not some a state campground with drunks and fruitcakes running amok.   People need to know that it’s OK to feel all alone and what it’s like to be really close to the water, ground and sky.  It’s OK to be away from the digital master who now controls those kids and most of today’s adults.  It’s OK to be cold and wet and then feel that fire and smell that smoke.   You can’t learn this by attending a summer camp with 50 other kids.  You also can’t learn this on Youtube.  You can watch a bunch of narcissists filming their BWCA trip, but it isn’t remotely the same as doing it yourself.  Be your own narcissist.  Make your own videos with selfies of your actually being there.

Going to the Boundary Waters means via canoe, not just the Blueberry Arts Festival where you buy something fried on a stick.  You can buy that crap anywhere.  There is only one real Boundary Waters  and only one place that you can visit it as far as I’m concerned.   Get your vacation life in order and give us a call.  You’ve been missing out on a lot!