Canoeing the BWCA

Tips for the Boundary Waters for Beginners in 2024

If you’re looking for a secluded outdoor adventure, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Minnesota is perfect. 

With over a million acres of pristine wilderness, this has lush forests, crystal-clear lakes, and wildlife you wont want to leave.

Planning a trip to the BWCAW can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a first-time visitor. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide to a wilderness adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. 

From permits and gear to routes and safety tips, this guide has everything you need to know to make the most of your trip to this beautiful location. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and start planning your adventure!

What is the boundary waters canoe area?

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a rugged wilderness in the heart of the Superior National Forest. Covering over one million acres and straddling the Canadian border. 

The area boasts a labyrinth of interconnected lakes and rivers, perfect for anyone looking to paddle, hike, or simply escape into the great outdoors.

Visitors can rent canoes to explore the waterways, camp along the shores, and hike through the surrounding forests. 

How big is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area?

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a large wilderness area located in northern Minnesota. It covers over 1 million acres of wilderness, with more than 1,000 lakes and thousands of miles of rivers and streams.

The park is part of the larger Superior National forest, which covers 3.9 million acres.

Because of it’s vast size, it’s a popular spot to see wildlife. 

Canida has it’s equivalent of Quetico Provincial Park.

What is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act?

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act is a federal law that was first enacted in 1978 with the goal of preserving and protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.

The act prohibits logging, mining, and other commercial activities within the wilderness area. It also limits the use of motorized vehicles, such as boats and planes, to protect the natural environment. 

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act has been instrumental in maintaining the wilderness area’s pristine beauty and allowing visitors to enjoy outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and canoeing. 

Do you need a permit to Canoe in the Boundary Waters?

Permits and fees are an essential part of planning a wilderness trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). To obtain a permit, you will need to apply through the website. 

While permit availability can be competitive during peak seasons, it is best to be flexible with your travel dates to increase the chances of securing a permit. 

Each permit is valid for one entry point and one group for a specific date range, so be sure to double-check your reservation details before your trip.
Fees associated with permits vary depending on the number of people in your group and the duration of your stay. A group of up to nine people can expect to pay $16 per adult per night and $8 per child per night.

Additional fees may be applied for amenities such as motorboat use or overnight camping in entry points that require additional fees. 

A permit for Minnesota’s Boundary Waters does not apply to the Quetico. You’ll need a secondary permit to travel there.

Can you day trip to the BWCA without a Permit?

No, a permit is still required to enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) even if you are not staying overnight. It doesn’t matter if you are paddling, hiking, or just exploring the area for the day.

The BWCA with Kids

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How to Plan a Canoe Trip in the BWCAW? 

Planning a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) requires careful preparation.

First, obtain a permit from the Forest Service in advance. Then, consider your group’s experience level and choose a route accordingly.

Determine your daily paddling distance and camping locations, making sure to follow Leave No Trace principles.

Ensure you have all necessary gear, including a waterproof map, compass, and bear-resistant food storage.

Research the weather forecast and pack accordingly. 

Finally, practice proper safety measures. Wearing a life jacket and avoiding overloading the canoe.

With thoughtful planning, a canoe trip in the BWCAW can be a memorable and rewarding experience. 

What is the average portage in the Boundary Waters?

A portage is measured in Rods. Generally speaking 1 Rod = 1 Canoe Length. 

A 5 rod portage is usually over a rock pile and doesn’t require a full portage. 

On average you’ll find most are about 80 rods long, or ¼ of a mile. 

Portaging A Canoe

How many miles can you canoe in a day on a lake? 

The number of miles you can canoe in a day on a lake can vary depending on a number of factors, including your level of experience, the size and shape of the lake, the weather conditions, and the type of canoe you’re using. 

Generally speaking, most paddlers can cover around 8 to 12 miles per day on a calm lake, although some experienced paddlers can travel further.

What to bring on a trip to the Boundary Waters?

If you’re planning a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, it’s essential to make sure you have the right gear and supplies. 

Some of the basics include a tent, sleeping bag, sturdy hiking boots, a portable stove, and plenty of food and water filter. You’ll also want to bring along a map of the area, appropriate clothing for the weather, and a first aid kit.

You can rent gear at REI for a trip. There are also plenty of outfitters around the lake that will fully hook you up. You can rent anything from just a canoe to a full package including food from them. 

Remember that whatever you take with you will need to be carried on a portage. In most cases, consider bring lighter weight stuff. 

What are some popular Routes in the Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is beautiful area with tons of great routes. These range from portage heavy, to mostly water routes. 

The Granite River Loop

This route starts at the end of the Gunflint Trail and takes you through some gorgeous lakes and rivers, including the Granite River. You’ll get to see some incredible rock formations and maybe even some moose along the way.

The Kawishiwi Triangle

This is a classic route that takes you through some of the most beautiful lakes in the BWCAW, including Lake Polly, Lake Kawishiwi, and Square Lake. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for fishing and swimming, and the scenery is truly breathtaking.

The Basswood Lake Loop

This is a longer route that takes you through some remote areas of the BWCAW. You’ll paddle through Basswood Lake, Crooked Lake, and the Basswood River. You’ll get to see some incredible waterfalls and wildlife along the way.

The Falls Chain Loop

This is a shorter route that’s perfect for beginners or families with kids. It takes you through some smaller lakes and rivers, including Pipestone Bay and the Falls Chain, and you’ll get to see some lovely waterfalls and rapids.

The Hegman Lake Loop

This is a great route for those who want to do some hiking as well as paddling. You’ll paddle through several lakes, including Lake One and Insula Lake, and you’ll have the opportunity to hike to some incredible vistas, including the Hegman Lake pictographs.

Kids in the BWCA

Seeing Kids on the trail is few and far between, but it is a family friendly destination. To get your kids prepared for the adventure, make sure to check out: Tips for an Epic trip in the BWCA with Kids

How to get a campsite in the Boundary Waters?

The campsites in the BWCA are available on a first come first serve basis. They only allow 9 people per spot and you must be in a designated campsite.

Most lakes have 1-2 campsites at a minimum. Depending on the size, there can be many more. 

Some of the most popular sites are on entry point lakes, their surroundings like lakes. Islands are another popular spot.  

Weekends you’ll find spots harder to come by in the entry points, with many people spending more than one day on the site. 

In order to prevent overcrowding in areas of the Boundary Waters, they limit the number of people that can enter the lakes at a time. Based on the number of routes available, they are confident that every paddler will be able to find a site.

So what happens when you can’t find a spot? They do allow you to have more people on a site if no other options are available. 

Are dogs allowed in the Boundary Waters?

You are welcome to bring your dog with you to the Boundary Waters. They need to be under your control at all times. 

Similar to state parks, they must be on a 6 ft leash. You must also pack out all of its waste. 

Most dog owners will get a back for their dog and have them carry their own food and waste on the trail. 

What animas live in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area?

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is home to a diverse range of wildlife including lynx, deer and more in the backcountry. One of the most iconic animals living in this area is the black bear, which can be spotted foraging for food or climbing trees. 

Another common sight is the majestic moose, with its towering height and distinctive antlers. They can often be seen feeding on aquatic plants in the lakes and wetlands.

Both of these animals are just a few examples of the many species that thrive in this vast wilderness, making it a popular destination for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. 

MN Black Bear

Can you Swim in the Boundary Waters?

Yes, Swimming is one of the most popular activities in the Boundary Waters. Most people will swim once they get to camp. Though there are a few other places known for good swimming. 

The BWCA doesn’t have any public swimming beaches with lifeguards. It’s all at your own request.

Basswood Lake is large lake on the Minnesota-Canada border has numerous sandy beaches and clear, cool water perfect for swimming. The eastern end of the lake, near the town of Ely, is particularly popular for swimming.

Moose Lake on the southern edge of the BWCAW has several beaches and is known for its crystal clear water. It is a popular starting point for many canoe trips into the wilderness.

Knife Lake is a large lake is known for its rocky cliffs and clear, deep water. It is a popular spot for cliff jumping and swimming, although the water can be chilly even in the summer months.

Saganaga Lake on the Minnesota-Canada border is popular for fishing and camping, but also has several beaches and calm bays for swimming.

Seagull Lake is a large lake on the eastern edge of the BWCAW has several sandy beaches and is popular for swimming and fishing.

Snowbank Lake on the western edge of the BWCAW has a few small beaches and clear, cold water. It is popular for swimming, fishing, and hiking to nearby waterfalls.

The BWCA with Kids

Best Time to Canoe the Boundary Waters

The best time to canoe the Boundary Waters is during the summer season, from late May through September. This is when the lakes are warm enough to swim in and the weather is more predictable.

Fishing during this time is excellent and there is plenty of room to camp and enjoy the solitude of the BWCA. However, it is important to plan ahead and book your permits early as the summer months can be crowded with other canoeist. 

Overall, the summer season offers the best opportunity to fully experience the beauty and adventure of the Boundary Waters. 

Is it true they want to mine near the pristine waters of the BWCA?

There has been growing concern over plans to mine near the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).

The proposed Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mining project could have serious environmental consequences, potentially polluting the lakes and rivers in the region. 

Preservation of this pristine wilderness is of paramount importance and the impact of the proposed mine is hotly debated. 

Cooking in the BWCA

Campfire cooking is new for many, but it doesn’t require a lot of fancy store bought meals. You can make up your own delicious lightweight meals. Here are some of my favorite’s ideas and tips: Campfire Cooking for the Family in the BWCA – Tips for a great trip

Can you fish in the BWCAW?

The Boundary Waters Wilderness in Ely, Minnesota is a paradise for fishing enthusiasts. It is home to some of the best fishing spots for walleye, pike, bass, trout and many more.

Fishing in the lake or stream is allowed with a license.

However, hunting is not allowed in the BWCAW as it is a protected area. The purpose of the wilderness is to protect the boundary waters and its natural beauty. So, while you can’t hunt, you can still enjoy the spectacular fishing that the area has to offer. 

What are the most popular boundary waters entry points?

The most popular BWCA entry points into the wilderness are located in Ely area and around Seagull Lake just off the Gunflint Trail. These entry points are well-maintained and offer easy access to the many lakes and rivers in the area.

They are popular among all skill levels. Visitors will find more campsites on these lakes. 

Portaging a Canoe

Where to get Boundary Waters Canoe Area Maps?

You can get a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Maps from a variety of different locations. First is the U.S. Forest Service. Local outfitters and online retailers are also available.  You can also get an Avenza Map bundle that relies on GPS to navigate you. 

When it comes to the wilderness, I always recommend having a physical map too. While I love Avenza Maps, worry about cell phone power, or heaven forbit your phone get’s wet or damaged. 

What is My favorite part about the BWCAW?

I absolutely love the miles of overnight trails and expansive solitude you’ll find there. I’ve been there at least 6 times already and have introduced a whole new generation to the joy of it. 

Falling asleep to the loons is something you’ll never forget. This special place is something that you need to experience once in your life, if not more. 

Planning a trip to the BWCA

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