The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

  A canoe landed on a bank

The glaciers left behind rugged cliffs and crags, canyons, gentle hills, towering rock formations, rocky shores, sandy beaches and several thousand lakes and streams, interspersed with islands and surrounded by forest. The BWCAW is a unique area located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. Over 1 million acres in size, it extends nearly 150 miles along the International Boundary adjacent to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park and is bordered on the west by Voyageurs National Park. The BWCAW contains over 1200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and over 2000 designated campsites. Wilderness offers freedom to those who wish to pursue an experience of expansive solitude, challenge and personal integration with nature. Because this area was set aside in 1926 to preserve its primitive character and made a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964, it allows visitors to canoe, portage and camp in the spirit of the French Voyageurs of 200 years ago.

Planning Your Trip

You must have a quota permit to enter the BWCAW for overnight trips during the quota season:  May 1 - September 30.  

Overnight users in the non-quota season, October 1 - April 30, and day users all year need a self issued permit which is available with no reservation and no charge at most entry points and at Superior National Forest offices.

The BWCAW 2017 lottery application period begins December 14, 2016 at 9:00 a.m. CST through January 11, 2017, 9:00 p.m. CST. The lottery is for the following entry points and dates:

Fall Lake entry points D (Fall Lake, Newton Lake, Pipestone and Beyond) and 24 (Fall Lake); Moose Lake entry points F (Moose Lake to Newfound and Sucker Lakes), G (Moose Lake to Prairie Portage to Basswood Lake) and 25 (Moose Lake) for dates between May 1, 2017 and September 30, 2017. Lottery results will be available on January 18, 2017.

Reservations for all entry points can be made on a first-come, first-served basis beginning January 25, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. CST.

Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness Trip Planning Guide 

Permit Basics, Fees and Cancellations

A canoe on a lake at sunset

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PLEASE NOTE THAT SEVERE WIND STORMS IMPACTED PORTIONS OF THE BWCAW DURING JUNE AND JULY 2016. SOME AREAS MAY NOT HAVE BEEN CLEARED OF DEBRIS.


In their own words, youth share why the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and all Wilderness is Totally Worth It... to visit and enjoy anytime of the year. Video of children speaking about wilderness values


Wilderness 50th logo wolf silouetteIn 2014 we celebrated 50 years of protecting and enjoying Congressionally-designated wilderness on the Superior National Forest and across America.  Learn more...


 The Forest Service publication, "Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: Examining Changes in Use, Users, and Management Challenges” was a study to determine trends in use and user characteristics at the BWCAW, based on data from 1969, 1991, and 2007.  These findings may need further investigation and future management action to provide opportunities for meaningful wilderness experiences while protecting wilderness character.  This publication was an initial step towards researching and validating our BWCAW Travel Model study.

The BWCAW: Examining Changes in Use, Users, Management Challenges

Click here for information about the effects of Pagami Creek Fire  

Your BWCAW Adventure Starts Here...

Wilderness Volunteers - Give Something Back

Travel from the US to Canada- Link to Citizenship and Immigration

Travel from Canada- Link to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Link to information on a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit (RABC)

Historical and Educational Resources:

Wilderness Education Kit

The BWCAW Act

The 10 Year Wilderness Challenge 

 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: