Dreaming of the calls of loons, and the gentle, rhythmic splash of your canoe paddle dipping into open water? Finally going to take the family on that Boundary Waters canoe trip you’ve been talking about for years this summer? Getting the gang together for a BWCAW reunion trip?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, it’s time put some serious thought into the details of this summer’s canoe trip and book that trip!
The Boundary Waters is a big place – over 1.1 million acres of wilderness lakes and forest – and it’s okay if the thought of planning a canoe trip feels daunting. Check out this page of Boundary Waters trip planning FAQs to put your mind at ease.
The BWCAW trip planning guide, published by the U.S. Forest Service, provides invaluable information about how the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness works and how to book a permit. This information is particularly helpful for Boundary Waters first-timers, but is also a good refresher for those planning a return trip after a few years away.
BWCAW permit reservations
If you have a specific route and dates in mind and/or you’re planning to travel sometime between mid-July through August, it behooves you to make a reservation. You enter the Boundary Waters through an entry point (there are about 80 different BWCAW entry points throughout the entire wilderness, each taking you into a different part of the federally designated wilderness) and there’s a quota for how many parties (a party can be no larger than nine people and/or four watercraft) can begin their canoe trip at each entry point on any day. The quota system spreads out human traffic and helps enhance your wilderness experience and permits are reserved on a first come, first served basis. You can book the permit directly, by calling 1-877-550-6777, or online at recreation.gov. Or you can opt to have your outfitter book it for you.
Things to think about when booking your permit:
Who is absolutely going on this canoe trip? Only people designated on the permit as the group leader or an alternative leader can pick up the permit, either at a U.S. Forest Service office or designated business.
What is the first night I plan to spend in the Boundary Waters on this trip? You can only enter the Boundary Waters on the day specified on your permit. If you enter a day later or a day earlier, you need a brand new permit. Likewise, as soon as you leave the Boundary Waters, you need a new permit to reenter the wilderness.
Where and when will I pick up my permit? When you reserve the permit, you’ll be asked which issuing station you want to use, that is, what business or Forest Service office you want to pick up the permit at. You can change your issuing station at a later date, but it’s a good idea to check out the hours of operation for the issuing station you plan to use to make sure they jive with your travel plans. Remember, picking up your permit will take about 20 minutes, since you’ll be required to watch a user education video about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. You may pick your permit up either the day of or the day before you enter the Boundary Waters.
Quetico permit reservations
Quetico Provincial Park, the Canadian equivalent of the Boundary Waters, can be accessed off the Gunflint Trail via Saganaga Lake. Because you cross an international border to access the park, you need several documents in addition to your Quetico permit (which you can reserve at 1-888-668-7275):
Because all of the documents you need to visit Canada have 4-8 weeks of processing time, February is a great time to get going on those applications!
If any part of planning a canoe trip feels overwhelming, the Gunflint Trail outfitters can help with planning route, choosing an entry point, making the reservation, and getting you equipped for the trip. You’ll find additional information about permits on the permit portion of this website.