Boundary Waters & Quetico - Basic Information and FAQ

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), as we know it, was established in 1978 by Congress through BWCA Wilderness Act. This Act restricted logging, mining, and most motorized access to this 1,000,000+ acre area in northern Minnesota. The BWCAW is part of and managed by the Superior National Forest. The BWCAW is visited by more than 200,000 visitors who travel the more than 1500 miles of canoe routes and stay at the 2000+ camp sites. The Boundary Waters is a pristine, yet rugged wilderness. The lakes are cut from granite and surrounded in old pine growth.

Your trip should be planned well in advance for two reasons.

  • You want to ensure that you obtain a permit for the date you desire to enter on and for the entry point you wish to embark from.
  • Most importantly, you want to make sure you are well prepared with proper gear, know-how, and plan to enter the wilderness.

In picking an entry point and route for your trip, you need to pick a route and a schedule which is suited to your groups ability. Your group will be out there on its own so good planning and logistics are a must. Please visit the Boundary Waters group organizer to help with group planning tasks.

This site will provide you with a start to planning your trip, but we highly recommend you leverage books, maps, outfitters, and guides in planning and executing your trip. Outdoor adventure trips, such as a trip into the BWCA, are not without risk. Be Prepared!

Permits are required to enter the BWCA at anytime. From May 1st through Sept. 30th, you must reserve a quota permit to enter the BWCA if your group is planning to camp overnight or enter with a motor in the few lakes in the BWCA with allow motors. This include entry from hiking trails or by watercraft. To enter the BWCA for the day (no-camping) without a motor or between Oct. 1st and April 30th, a self-issuing permit is required. If you are planning to camp or use a motor in the BWCA, then get a permit reserved as soon as you know your plans. Some entry points can fill up months in advance!

Permits are valid for the entry date listed on the permit. Permits cannot be transferred to others. They can be picked-up the day before or the day of the permit, but not sooner. Quota permits are issued at Forest Service issuing station or by a cooperating issuing station (e.g. outfitters and guides). Self-issuing permits forms are available through the mail, at Superior National Forest Service offices, and at some entry points themselves. Note: Do not count on an entry point having available self-issuing permits.

You can obtain permits from outfitters/guides or from the US Forest Service. Outfitters provide trip planning, permits, gear rental, meal plans, and guiding services for the BWCA. Online permit availability for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area can be checked at www.recreation.gov.

Permits for most all entry points will be made available on the last Wed. of January. Permits for Fall Lake entry points D (Fall Lake & Beyond) and 24 (Fall Lake) and Moose Lake entry points F (Moose-Newfound-Sucker), G (Moose-Prairie-Basswood) and 25 (Moose Lake) are made available in a lottery beginning in December and ending on Jan 21st. All remaining entry point permits for Moose and Fall lake will be made available on the last Wed. of January with permits for the other entry points.

Obtaining a permit:

Reservations are made at: Ontario Parks here and can be made up to five months in advance of your trip. When making reservations, a minimum deposit is required. Overpayment, if any, is reimbursed upon arrival via a credit to your CC. Permits can be picked up from nearly any outfitter serving Quetico park or from a Quetico ranger station located on Beaverhouse Lake, Lac LaCroix, Prarie Portage, Cache Bay or Quetico Park Headquarters in Atikokan. Bring your reservation with you when you pick up your permit.

Quetico rules and regulations

Yes, the Minnesota DNR sets the regulations on the lakes within the BWCA, and one of the regulations is that all watercraft must be licensed. If you are from Minnesota, then you need to register your motorized or non-motorized craft in Minnesota. If you are from outside Minnesota, then you either must have your watercraft registered in your home state or you must register it in Minnesota. Even if your state does not require a licensee for canoes, you are responsible for registering it either as a motor boat in your state or in Minnesota. You can visit the Minnesota DNR site for more details: www.dnr.state.mn.us

The Forest Service, who manages the Boundary Waters, allows up to 9 people and 4 watercraft to enter the Boundary Waters as a group. The reason for these limits is to lower the impact of a large group on the environment and to maintain the wilderness experience for all groups. There is no exception to this.

Yes, dogs are allowed in the BWCA and Quetico Park. In the Quetico Park you must carry certification of a rabies vacination within the last year. Dogs must be kept on a leash when portaging in the BWCA, and in the Quetico park, they must always be on a leash. The Forest Service insists you keep your dog under control. And you must clean up after your dog around campsites and portages.

  • Glass bottles and cans are not allowed in the BWCA except when they are a non-food item such as insect repellent, medicines, fuel, and other necessary item which are not food or beverage. Food should be repackage in plastic, and garbage should be packed out, not burned or buried in the Boundary Waters.
  • Fish remains are to be buried away from shore and away from camps, trails, and portages. Previously, it was recommended that fish remains be put on rocks on the shorelines for consumption by birds and other wildlife, however, this is not longer the case.
  • Fires are only allowed in the steel metal grates at designated campsites. Fires may also be restricted entirely or during certain times of the day based on the fire danger level. You will be informed by the Forest Service when picking up your permit your ability to have fires in the Boundary Waters.
  • Fires should be put out with water before leaving your camp and or retiring for the night. The coals should be cool to the touch.
  • Downed and dry wood should be used to make fires. Please collect this wood away from camp where it is plentiful, down, and dry.
  • A latrine is available for each campsite. Do not dump any garbage in the latrines. If you are not near a latrine, then dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep at least 150 feet from shore and then cover when finished.
  • Bathe and wash dished at least 150 feet from shore.