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BWCA, Boundary Waters Rules and Regulations


Welcome to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness! To preserve the values of this great wilderness, certain rules must be followed. Remember, BWCA Permits are required all year.

The BWCA Reservation Web site has real-time permit availability, below is an external link to the National Recreation Reservation Service.

To order a permit for entry dates from May 1 through September 30 use an outfitter or order your own permit on the BWCA Reservations Web site. You do not need to pay for a permit for dates not within this range. You only need to complete a free self-issue permit, pick one up from any Ranger Station.

How much is a permit for the BWCA?

  • A nonrefundable reservation fee of $6.00 is charged for each permit issued. There is a maximum of 9 persons / 4 canoes allowed on a permit traveling and camping together. There is a user fee of $16.00 (adult) and $8.00 (child 17 and under) per visit. The deposit paid for all groups will be $38.00 regardless of group size. Any adjustments for more or less will be initiated at the time the permit is picked up. More about fees.

Self-Issued Permits (Entry dates from October 1 through April 30 ONLY)

  • The self-issuing permits are valid during the summer for non-motorized day use, and for any day use from Crane Lake to Lake Vermilion.
  • Self-issuing permits are available at any Forest Service office and at BWCA entry points.
  • The summer quota permit system has not changed. Reservations are still made through the BWCA Reservation System. 
  • In accepting a permit you, as party leader, agree to be responsible for any violation of the following:

Travel Permits - The following are enforceable Forest Service regulations (maximum penalty of $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail).

  • You must enter the BWCA at the entry point and on the entry date shown on your permit.
  • You may not re-enter on a different date using the same permit.
  • Permit stubs become invalid when the group leader exits the wilderness.

Group Size

  • Nine (9) people and four (4) watercraft are the maximum allowed together in the wilderness.
  • You may not exceed the limit at any time or anywhere (on water, portages, campsites) in the BWCA.
  • Smaller groups increase your wilderness experience and decrease the impacts.

Toilet Facilities & Water Quality

  • Use latrines at designated campsites.
  • Latrines are not garbage cans and should be used for the intended purpose only. Personal waste items such as cigarettes, cotton swabs, or plastic feminine products should always be packed out and should never go into the latrines.
  • If you're not near a latrine, dig a small hole 6 to 8 inches deep at least 150-200 feet or more back from the water's edge. When finished, fill hole and cover with needles and leaves.
  • Bathe and wash dishes at least 150-200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • All soaps pollute water including soaps labeled "biodegradable."
  • Use filtration or water purifiers for consuming water that is not boiled. Collect water away from streams, rivers, creeks, etc. to reduce collecting debris in your filtering system.


  • Cans and glass bottles are not allowed.
  • Containers of fuel, insect repellent, medicines, personal toilet articles, and other items that are not foods or beverages, are the only cans and bottles you may keep in their original containers.
  • Food may be packaged in plastic containers that must be packed out with you.

Food and Fish Remains

  • Try to plan your meals so you don't have leftovers. If you do, pack them out.
  • Dispose of fish remains by traveling well away from campsites, trails, portages and shorelines.


  • Fires are allowed within the steel fire grates at designated campsites or as specifically approved on your visitor’s permit.
  • Bringing a small camp stove may be a better idea because it heats food more quickly, has less impact than a fire, and comes in handy during rainy weather.
  • Due to the potential fire danger, fire restrictions may be put into effect. Check on current conditions just prior to your trip. You may be required to use a camp stove if there is a campfire restriction.
  • If you build a fire, burn only small diameter dead wood found lying on the ground. Do not burn trash.
  • Collect firewood away from campsites by paddling down the shore and walking into the woods where it is more abundant.
  • Wood easily broken by hand or cut with a small folding saw eliminates the need for an axe.
  • Drown your fire with water any time you are going to be away from your camp or at bedtime. Stir the ashes until they are cold to the touch with a bare hand.
  • Transporting wood from out of state is prohibited.


  • All members of a permit group must camp together.
  • Camp only at Forest Service designated campsites that have steel fire grates and wilderness latrines.
  • Make camp early in the day to ensure finding an available campsite.
  • It is illegal to cut live vegetation for any reason.
  • You may camp up to fourteen (14) consecutive days on a specific site.

Storing Watercraft

  • Only watercraft and equipment used in connection with your current visit may be stored and left unattended.
  • All equipment and personal property must be carried out with you at the end of each trip.
  • Watercraft must have current registration in Minnesota or your home state, province, etc.

Cultural Heritage

  • Leave archaeological, historical, and rock painting sites undisturbed.
  • Do not touch pictograghs.
  • The use of metal detectors is prohibited.

Firearms, Fireworks and Cigarette Butts

  • Firearms are not illegal if you can legally possess a firearm. Discharging a firearm is prohibited within 150 yards of a campsite, or occupied area, or in any manner or location that places people or property at risk of injury.
  • Minnesota and Federal game laws apply in the BWCA.
  • Fireworks of any kind are illegal. Please leave fireworks at home. No one wants to be blamed for a large forest fire.
  • Stay out of Canada with firearms.
  • Instead of leaving your cigarette butts lay around, please burn or pack out.
  • Hunting and trapping in the BWCA is not illegal.


  • Dogs impact wildlife and barking intrudes on the experience of others. Pets must be under control at all times.
  • Dispose of fecal matter 150 feet from water sources, campsites, and portages, or deposit it in a latrine.
  • Leaving your pets unattended or tied up unattended in the wilderness is very unwise. Predators like wolves and bears may prey on these easy targets.

Motor-Powered Watercraft Regulations

  • Motor-powered watercraft are permitted only on the following designated lakes. All other lakes or portions of lakes within the BWCA are paddle only. Motors may not be used or be in possession on any paddle-only lake. No other motorized or mechanized equipment (including pontoon boats, sailboats, sailboards) is allowed.

Lakes With 10 Horsepower Limit

  • On these lakes, the possession of one additional motor no greater than 6 horsepower is permitted, as long as motors in use do not exceed 10 horsepower. - Clearwater, North Fowl, South Fowl, Seagull (no motors generally west of Three Mile Island), sections of Island River within the BWCA.

Lakes With 25 Horsepower Limit

  • On these lakes or portions of these lakes, the possession of one additional motor no greater than 10 horsepower is permitted, as long as motors in use do not exceed 25 horsepower:
    - Basswood (except that portion north of Jackfish Bay and Washington Island), Saganaga (except that portion west of American Point), Fall, Newton, Moose, Newfound, Sucker, Snowbank, East Bearskin, South Farm, Trout.

Lakes With No Horsepower Limits

  • Little Vermilion, Loon, Lac La Croix (not beyond the south end of Snow Bay in the U.S.A.), Loon River.
  • Sea Gull lake - outside of BWCA.
  • International water systems shared by U.S and Canada, (e.g. Granite River) outside of the BWCA and Quetico Park have no motor restrictions.

Portage Wheels

  • Mechanical assistance is only permitted over the following: International Boundary, Four-Mile Portage, Fall-Newton-Pipestone and Back Bay Portages into Basswood Lake, Prairie Portage, Vermilion-Trout Lake Portage.

Non-Profit Organizations

  • A group must have an official tax-exempt status to qualify as a non-profit organization. If your permit reservation is audited, your group must be able to produce a tax-exempt number. All the people on the trip, with the exception of a guide, must be associated with the non-profit organization. Non-profit organizations may reserve as many permits as they like. However, there is a limit of no more than three (3) permits within a permit season to be reserved under the name of any one non-profit organization name as the Organization name associated with the Permit. Additional permits can only be reserved under a specific person's name as group leader with no association to the Non-profit organization.
  • The only benefit to reserving a permit having an association to a non-profit organization's name is that the permit may then be issued to anyone who can prove affiliation with the organization in the same location. For example, if a permit is reserved with an association to Non-profit organization "Girl Scouts, Troop 16, Chicago" then anyone affiliated with that particular organization may have the permit issued to her/him. When reserving a permit associated with a non-profit organization, the non-profit organization's name, address and a contact person for the organization is required. The Customer profile must be under the contact person’s name and the organization under profile must be set to the Non-profit Organization. The representative of the non-profit organization that actually picks up the permit becomes the group leader, must remain with the group for the duration of the trip, and will be responsible to see that the group follows BWCA regulations. Please contact the Forest Service office nearest your planned entry point for additional information about reserving permits planning for non-profit organizations.


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Published from the edge of the Boundary Waters
Canoe Area by Chad Jones

Updated Aug 26, 2016

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