Boundary Water 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.   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.

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

A. Yes. Entry points and dates regulate visitor distribution and support solitude. Your permit must be in your possession while in the BWCAW.

Q. Where must you camp in the BWCAW?

A. At one of the campsites designated by a Forest Service fire grate and latrine, or within designated Pristine Management Areas as specifically approved on your visitor’s permit. All members of a permit group must camp together.

Q. Is it okay to cut, peel or deface a tree or shrub or pick flowers?

A. No! It is unlawful to damage any living plant. Even minor damage adds up. Remember, you are only one of 150,000 annual visitors!

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

A. Paddle well away from camp. Walk out of sight of the shoreline. Collect only dead wood that is no longer standing. Also, transporting wood from out of state is prohibited.

Q. Where can you have a fire?

A. Only within a U.S. Forest Service fire grate or as specifically approved on your visitor’s permit. Put fires out cold to the touch at night and each time you leave your campsite.

Q. Explain the nine person and four watercraft rule.

A. No more than nine people may be together at any place in the Wilderness—on the water, on portages, or in camp. Smaller groups have less impact on the land and other visitors and are more likely to see wildlife. Four watercraft are the maximum allowed with a group.

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

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

Q. What should be done with food leftovers, live bait and fish remains?

A. Try to plan your meals so you don’t have leftovers to pack out. Dispose of fish remains at least 200 feet from campsites, trails, portages, and shorelines. MN state law prohibits dumping unused bait into waters of the state. Unwanted live bait should be packed out with you and placed in the trash or compost bins. Dumping bait on the ground is still considered littering.

Q. Can I burn my trash or throw it in a latrine?

A. No! Latrines are not meant for trash. Trash in a latrine can cause wildlife problems. It is illegal to burn trash of any kind, including paper, in Minnesota. Burning trash in a fire grate can release dangerous chemicals into the air and soil and leaves behind a mess of partially burned items. If you pack it in, you must pack it out!

Q. Is it okay to wash yourself and your dishes in the lake or stream?

A. No! To preserve water quality, wash at least 200 feet from water sources even with biodegradable soap. Filtering your wastewater through soil allows breakdown of bacteria.

Q. A quiet camper is a no trace camper. Why?

A. Noise impacts the solitude of other campers and scares off wildlife.

Q. Is motorized equipment allowed in the BWCAW?

A. Motorized watercraft meeting specific horsepower limitations are allowed only on designated routes. No other motorized or mechanized equipment (including pontoon boats, sailboats, ATV’s and sailboards) is allowed, except for the use of portage wheels on specific routes. Drones are prohibited.

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

A. Dogs impact wildlife and barking intrudes on the experiences of others. Dogs must be under human control at all times. Dog waste should be disposed of 200 feet from water sources, campsites, and portages, or deposited in a latrine.

Q. What rules apply to Firearms? Fireworks?

A. 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. Fireworks of any kind are illegal.