BWCA Wilderness Rules & Regulations

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

Travel Permits
• You must enter the BWCAW 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 trip 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 BWCAW.
• 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.”

• 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.

Cultural Heritage
• Leave archaeological, historical, and rock painting sites undisturbed.
• The use of metal detectors is prohibited.


Firearms & Fireworks
• 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.
• State game laws apply in the BWCAW.
• Fireworks of any kind are illegal.

• Dogs impact wildlife and barking intrudes on the experience of others. They 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.

Leave No Trace of Your Visit
• After you break camp and load your watercraft, do a final inspection of your camp. Pick up any remaining litter.
• Your fire must be cold to the touch.
• Please treat the BWCAW with care. Leave no trace of your visit to protect this special place for future generations.

Motor-Powered Watercraft Regulations

• Motor-powered watercraft are permitted only on the following designated lakes. All other lakes or portions of lakes within the BWCAW are paddleonly. 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 west of Three Mile Island), Sections of Island River within the BWCAW.

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.

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.


• While canoeing is the travel option for most visitors, the BWCAW is also host to several hiking trails with opportunities ranging from
short day hikes to multiple-day backpacking trips. No matter what length of hike you plan to take, hiking in the wilderness is not something you should attempt without proper preparation, skills and equipment. Wilderness trails vary in their level of use and maintenance. Signage is minimal so it is a good idea to talk to someone at the nearest Ranger District Office for current trail
• There are a few restrictions that are slightly different for those traveling by foot. Hikers should use developed campsites along the trail or lake. Campsites along the trails are located on short spur trails off the main trail and contain a fire grate and wilderness latrine. Most campsites are signed from the main trail with a tent symbol.If for some reason, (i.e. an approaching storm, full campsites, emergency, no developed campsite nearby) you must camp at a site other than a developed site, hikers may do so with the following restrictions:

  • Trail users are encouraged to minimize impact by limiting use to one night on non-developed sites.
  • You must camp more than 150-200 feet from a developed site or another group.
  • You must camp at least 150-200 feet from any trail, portage, lake or other water source.
  • Most importantly, be sure to use common sense and follow the safety guidelines recommended here.  Wilderness permits are required year round for hiking in the BWCAW. Happy Trails!

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