Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness


In order to maintain a constant wilderness-quality experience in the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park, visitors should abide by the following guidelines.


The BWCAW requires that you camp at designated campsites, which contain a wilderness box latrine and a fire grate. Quetico Park offers a more primitive style of camping that allows you to camp anywhere as long as you do not cut down any trees. You carry your own fire grate and latrine shovel.

Group-size limit: Both wilderness areas have a nine-person limit on the number of people who may travel and camp together at one time. Groups exceeding the nine-person limit must break into subgroups. The subgroups may travel on the same general routes, but must remain separate at all times. Portaging, traveling, and camping together in groups larger than nine people are strictly prohibited.

Leave-No-Trace Camping
Both areas promote leave-no-trace camping. For this reason, no foods packaged in cans or bottles are allowed. Fresh and freeze-dried foods packaged in plastic or foil pouches, or carried in plastic containers, are permitted. Campers are required to bring out all garbage. Do not burn plastic or foil packaging and always leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.

Soap Products
Any activities that require the use of soap products (bathing, washing dishes, etc.) must be done at least 100 feet from the shoreline.

Water Purification
It is recommended that you boil or treat your water before drinking. If you choose to drink directly from the lakes, avoid stagnant backwaters and areas where beavers are active.

Collect firewood away from the camp. Gather branches from dead and fallen trees along the shoreline. Never cut down or remove branches or bark from live trees.

Noise Levels
Wilderness etiquette encourages minimal noise while traveling and camping. Responsible noise levels not only show your respect for fellow campers and nature but also offer you the opportunity to see various forms of wildlife. To fully experience the wilderness around you, leave your radio, tape player, and CD player at home.

What to Bring

The Boundary Waters and nearby Quetico Park offer a variety of wilderness opportunities. Selecting the proper clothing for a canoe excursion will ensure a comfortable trip no matter what Mother Nature brings.

The following items are recommended for all trips:

  • Lightweight hiking boots for portaging
  • Camp shoes (old sneakers, Tevas, moccasins)
  • Two sets of long-sleeve shirts and pants as protection from bugs and sun
  • One pair of shorts and several T-shirts
  • Rain suit
  • Fleece jacket
  • Cap with visor or hat with brim
  • Two extra pairs of socks
  • Wool cap and gloves for cold nights
  • Liner gloves
  • Swimsuit

For spring and fall trips, canoeists should also bring along the following: warm cap; long underwear; insulated jacket; and warm wool or synthetic socks (no cotton); wool shirt or fleece vest.

Today's outdoor technology offers a vast array of lightweight, waterproof, and water-resistant clothing items. Layering your clothing will provide the optimum protection and warmth against the elements. And although you do not need to go out and purchase a whole new wardrobe for your wilderness excursion, the following items may offer additional peace of mind and comfort:

Rain gear will be the most important item you take along on your trip. Rain gear will not only protect you from getting wet but also act as a wind-resistant layer and an additional layer of warmth in cold weather.

A medium weight (200-weight) fleece jacket and pants offer warmth and comfort for spring and fall trips. Choose lightweight (100-weight) fleece for June through August trips. Polypropylene and other synthetic undergarments offer a fantastic wicking system that assures dry skin and warmth. Wool socks, fingerless gloves, and sweaters also provide extra warmth even when they become damp. Cotton is not recommended, as it tends to hold moisture close to the skin, causing a chilling effect.

Water-resistant hiking boots or work shoes keep feet warm and dry when portaging. On spring and fall trips, when keeping yourself warm and dry is essential, we choose to wear knee-high rubber boots in place of hiking boots. (High water levels in the spring and low water levels in the fall can create challenges in portaging.)

Even this northern climate, don't forget sun protection: 15 or 30 SPF sunscreen, a large-billed cap, lightweight long-sleeve shirts, and lightweight pants are important. The top of your knees can get awfully red after a day of canoeing!


Traveling from lake to lake and around water hazards will require physically picking up your canoe and equipment and traveling across a portage trail. Wherever you encounter a portage trail please use it. They have been placed there for your safety. Don't run the rapids in your canoe—it's a long, difficult walk home.


BWCAW Permits
Travel permits are necessary to enter either of the wilderness areas from May 1 to September 30. Over the past several years, the BWCAW has experienced a decrease in permit availability. The permit system is designed to limit the number of visitors by day and area, to help prevent overuse of popular areas. For the optimum variety of entry points and dates, plan your trip early. BWCAW permits become available in December and January.

Quetico Permits
The number of travel permits into Quetico Park are even more limited, and thus more difficult to obtain; permit applications may be submitted in January for the coming season. Be prepared to work with three to six starting dates and numerous entry points to assure the maximum opportunity for obtaining a permit.

Both wilderness areas offer excellent opportunities for fishing. Clean fish away from camp and leave the remains on an exposed rock away from the campsite. Canadian fishing licenses may be obtained at a Canadian ranger station the morning your trip begins.

Day-Use Vehicle Tags
Quetico Park offers day-use vehicle tags that may be purchased from any Canadian ranger station. The day-use vehicle tag allows you to travel on to the Canadian side for the day as long as you return and camp on the U.S. side at night. If you plan to fish on the Canadian side you are also required to purchase a Canadian fishing license.

Canadian Off-Season Permits
Pre- and post-season Canadian trips must apply for a Remote Border Crossing Pass. Once approved, the Remote Border Crossing Pass allows you to legally enter the Quetico Park before or after the regular season. A drop box is provided at ranger stations to pay camping fees by cash only. If a fishing trip is planned during this time, fishing licenses will also need to be purchased in advance.

Thanks to Canadian Border Outfitters for sharing this information on Boundary Waters.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »