Canoe Camping in the Boundary Waters


The BWCA in Minnesota
Part of the Quetico Superior Wilderness

At over a million acres in size, the BWCA contains 1200 miles of canoe routes, 15 hiking trails and approximately 2000 designated campsites. Its 150 miles of wilderness (running adjacent to the international boundary with Canada - Quetico) endears itself to nearly 250,000 visitors annually making it the most popular wilderness area in the US.

BWCA Map - in blueThe BWCA is only a part of the Superior National Forest established in 1909. The US Forest Service began using the name "The Boundary Waters Canoe Area" in place of "The Superior Roadless Areas" in 1958. The "W" in BWCA came along in 1978 when Jimmy Carter signed P.L. 95-495 into law. Battles over that pesky "W" (wilderness status) for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area continue to this day. In practice, few actually call it the BWCA. Perhaps that's out of simplicity, but most choose to forget that "W" at the end even though that "W" is what most who visit this site are seeking. Around here its simply simply known as the BW as in BW/Q.

Abandoned Ranger's CabinFor those willing to portage their canoe, supplies and other camping gear; latrines, campfire grates and the BWCA's close proximity to life's modern conveniences can make all the difference in the world. Those looking for solitude need only consider the BWCA sees five times as many visitors as Quetico in a given year. That ratio is surprising, considering each covers a roughly similar 1 million acres of beautiful lake studded boreal forest. Then again, it might be the simple fact that using minnows is allowed when fishing in the BWCA or the fact there are thunder boxes (latrines) at every official campsite.

I've been asked not to sell the BWCA short on its wilderness qualities. There are many places where one can go and not see folks, or see very few. PMAs are left totally alone. Those willing to work a little harder than the average BWCA paddler can still find Quetico style solitude with a little extra effort.

1999 - A major windstorm, with wind speeds up to 100 miles/hour, swept across northern Minnesota on July 4, 1999, impacting approximately 370,000 acres inside the BWCA.

2006 - The Cavity Lake Fire burns 31,830 acres in the BWCA.

2007 - The Ham Lake fire burned more than 75,000 acres of forest in the BWCA. and into Canada. The May wildfire destroyed more than 130 structures and cost $11 million to contain. It's only unfortunate human casualty, the 64-year-old charged with starting it, albeit from suicide in 2008.

A Beginners guide to canoeing

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permit video (24:03 version - for les experienced canoeists.)

Past BWCA portage conditions
Boundary Waters portage descriptions from paddlers just like you.

Make BWCA Reservations
Advanced reservations and lottery application for BWCAW permits with entry dates between May 1, and Sep. 30..

BWCA Trip Planning Guide
PDFs from the US Forest Service — Superior National Forest

Boundary Waters

Paddle back Paddle Up