BWCA Winter Camping Rules Boundary Waters Winter Camping and Activities
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Guest Paddler
02/10/2022 10:14AM  
Hi everybody, I’m curious about a couple of rules when it comes to winter camping. I know they highly encourage hot tents to be pitched on the ice to reduce impact, but many lakes this year have lots of slush below the snow. Is it against the rules to pitch a hot tent on land? And for campfires, are you allowed to have a campfire in a designated fire pit at a campsite? I know they want campfires on the ice as well, but I have seen several photos and videos this year of tents on land and fires in the designated fire pits at campsites. Was just wondering what the actual rules are. Thanks for your time!
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distinguished member(2108)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
02/10/2022 11:20AM  

You are correct in what you have found out about the encouragement of certain rules for winter camping in the BWCA. The US Forest Service encourages people not to camp in designated campsites and to make fires on the snow. This is to provide a rest period for the campsites to have a chance to recover for the next season, for what it's worth. They do not restrict camping in a campsite though, as that campsite might be the only opening in the forest big enough to set up a shelter. Check out Page 7 of this PDF:
US Forest Service Boundary Waters Travel

Personally, I avoid camping in designated campsites during the winter. There is usually enough snow on the lakes that setting up in a nice protected cove is ideal. Also, wood gathering is much easier the further away from a summer designated campsites you can get.
02/12/2022 09:33AM  
Like Minnesotan, I always avoid camping in established sites in winter. Slush comes and goes, but is rarely uniform across the whole lake. I’ve almost always found good slush free areas by looking for smaller bays or notches in the shoreline and setting up closer to the shore in known shallow waters. I also drill my water hole at least 75 yards out toward deeper water as this will contribute to slush over days.

I also camp on land away from sites. I really like tucking my tent onto black spruce swamps. There is good wind protection and usually lots of good firewood. Since I hot tent I never make a fire outside of my stove so don’t worry about that, but it would be easy enough to lay a base and do it on the ice if you wanted.

Even if the SNF a did not discourage using established sites in winter, I would avoid them anyway.
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