The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a 1-million-acre wilderness area that is found within the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. As a designated wilderness area, the BWCA is void of motorized vehicles (except in the event of an emergency) and modern comforts like electricity and plumbing since the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act was passed in 1978. No one can live in the BWCA, and entry to the area requires a permit for both day use and overnight use.
You can access the BWCA from several places around Northern Minnesota. Entry Points (EP), which are numbered and marked on overnight entry permits, can be found in Cook, Lake, and Saint Louis Counties, with the most popular entry points located near Ely and on the Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais. You can visit the BWCA year-round, but the area receives the most visitors in the summer months.
Between May 1st and September 30th, is what’s considered the “quota season” in the BWCA when you are required to have a permit. You can purchase these permits through an Outfitter.
These are usually small businesses with owners and employees who really care about the BWCA and creating the best experience for all visitors. They may also be the first to realize if something has gone wrong with your journey if you do not show up on your scheduled return day.
If you are not planning on coordinating your BWCA trip through an outfitter you can find available permits via Recreation.gov.
There are a lot of rules and regulations involved, and even an experienced camper may not be aware of all of the gear you may need. If it is your first BWCA trip we recommend you plan your trip through and outfitter.
There are a few dozen outfitters located along the BWCA from Ely to Grand Marais. All outfitters offer package deals that offer all of the equipment you will need during your trip into the BWCA. From canoes to food they’ve got you covered! Prices vary so check with your specific outfitter when planning for expenses.
Besides providing equipment for your trip outfitters will also help you plan the best route for your group and help identify campsite along your route.
Check out these Outfitters:
Choosing an Entry Point
When choosing your entry point for your first BWCA trip, we recommend choosing an entry point near an outfitter or resort. Even if you don’t plan to use that outfitter. These entry points usually experience heavier travel and gives you the most opportunity for getting help, if needed.
Entering in an isolated entry point may sound like a great way to do a BWCA trip, and probably is, but for your first trip in we’d recommend not going too far off the beaten path.
If you are planning a trip into the BWCA it is best that you plan ahead. The BWCA website is a great tool to find checklists, gear rentals, and guides for planning your trip. Another great resource is the Exploring the North Shores: Beginners Guide to the BWCA
Listen to Martha and Jaye’s visit to the BWCA on the Exploring the North Shore Podcast: