Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Regulations and Rules

Read on to find commonly asked questions and answers regarding your trip to the BWCAW. To preserve the values you are travelling to experience, some regulations have been established. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service regulations are enforceable with a maximum penalty of $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

Please remember to check out the BWCAW Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know when planning your visit.

Always follow the principles of Leave No Trace on your visit to protect the natural integrity of this special place for wildlife and future generations.

Reserve a Permit


Q: Why is it necessary to enter the BWCAW at the entry point and date shown on your permit?

A: Your permit is valid to enter only on the entry date and at the entry point specified, because entry points and dates regulate visitor distribution and campsite availability and support solitude. Carry your permit with you at all times.

Q: Why is it so important to be quiet to preserve the wilderness experience?

A: Human noise has a significant effect on solitude and scares off wildlife. Sound carries long distances over water. Avoid playing music, yelling, banging pots, dragging canoes over rocks, and singing loudly!

Q: Explain the 9 person and 4 watercraft rule.

A: Group size is limited to 9 people and 4 watercraft at any time or anywhere in the Wilderness—on the water, on portages, or in camp. Smaller groups have less natural resource impact.

Q: Where must you camp in the BWCAW?

A: At a USFS designated campsite. How do you know it's a designated campsite? A campsite has a USFS fire grate and latrine. All group members listed on the permit must camp together.

Q: What does it mean to camp and travel on durable surfaces?

A: Damaging any living plant is illegal. Peeling birch bark, carving, or chopping roots kills the trees and promotes erosion. Never cut live vegetation!

Q: Tell me about portage etiquette.

A: Wait on the water until the group in front of you has proceeded down the trail.

Q: Why is it NOT okay to cut, peel or deface a tree or shrub or pick flowers?

A: Damaging any living plant is illegal. Peeling birch bark, carving, or chopping roots kills the trees. Never cut live vegetation!

Q: Firewood: What should you gather and from where?

A: Paddle well away from camp to collect firewood. Use only dead and downed wood easily broken by hand and smaller than your wrist. Never cut a live tree!

Q: Where can you have a fire?

A: Fires are allowed only within a USFS fire grate. Don’t build a fire on a windy day and keep fires small. Consider using a camp stove, they have less impact and work well during rainy weather.

Q: How do you put out a fire?

A: DROWN your fire with water and STIR the ashes until they are COLD to the touch. Never leave a campfire unattended! 9 out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans.

Q: How far away from water should you be to wash yourself and your dishes?

A: Preserve water quality, wash at least 200 feet from shore. Filtering dirty water through soil allows the breakdown of bacteria. Use soap and other products sparingly AWAY from water, they are not biodegradable.

Q: What rules apply to cans and bottles in the BWCAW?

A: Possessing any cans or glass bottles is illegal, except for containers of fuel, insect repellent, or medicines.

Q: What do you do with live bait and fish remains?

A: Dump bait bucket water before every portage and refill on the other side. Dispose of fish remains at least 200 feet from shorelines, campsites, trails, and portages. MN state law prohibits dumping unused bait into water, pack it out.

Q: What do you do with leftovers and trash?

A: Latrines are not garbage cans! Trash in the latrine harms wildlife. Burning trash is illegal and it pollutes the air and soil. Pack it in, pack it out! When breaking camp, make sure your campsite and fire grate are free of trash.

Q: Is motorized equipment allowed in the BWCAW?

A: Motorized watercraft are allowed only on designated lakes with horsepower restrictions. No other motorized or mechanized equipment is allowed, except for portage wheels on specific routes. Drones are strictly prohibited.

Q: What responsibilities do you have if you bring your dog?

A: Dogs must be under human control at all times on a 6-foot or shorter leash. Dogs endanger wildlife and barking intrudes on the experience. Dispose of dog waste 200 feet from water, campsites, portages, or put it in a latrine. Annually, visitors lose dogs within the BWCAW due to a run-away or wildlife encounter, please follow the law to protect your dog and wildlife.

Q: What rules apply to fireworks and firearms?

A: Fireworks are illegal. 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. Firearm and game laws apply in the BWCAW. Hunting is allowed within the BWCAW, make sure you to keep your hunting license on you at all times.

Q: What rules apply to food storage?

A: Never leave food unattended on portage trails or in camp, or other scented items in your tent at any time. Doing so attracts bears and encourages unnatural populations of some species. Use a bear-resistant container or ropes to hang food packs. Containers listed on the IGBC list are product-tested and found to be resistant to bears. Tip – watch your food packs at all times at portages.

Q: What do we do if we have an emergency while on our visit to the BWCAW?

Every emergency situation is different, but prevention is key. Always bring current maps that cover an area larger than you intend to travel in the event you need to exit the wilderness at a different location than planned. It may be faster to get out of the BWCAW under your own power than waiting for a rescue. If external help is critical, stay in place and send someone from your or another group to seek help.

Can a visitor dig, remove, or clear a location by their tent?

No, only use existing tent pads to place tents or hammocks. Clearing vegetation or digging is illegal and causes unnecessary campsite expansion, erosion, and disturbs cultural resources.