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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)

Rules & Regulations

Following the rules and regulations of the Boundary Waters helps insure a wilderness experience, keeps campsites available, and reduces the impact man has on the wilderness.

Regardless of time of year, day-use or overnight permits are required within the Boundary Waters.  You must also comply with your permit and only enter the BWCA at the entry point and on the entry date shown on your permit. 

With the exception of a few lakes, motors are not allowed in the Boundary Waters.  This applies to all motorized equipment:  boat motors, electric trolling motors, chainsaws, power augers, generators, pumps, snowmobiles, ATV's, remote control boats and planes, etc.  You cannot have them in your possession, whether in use or not.

In addition to the BWCA being motor-free, mechanized transportation is not allowed.  This includes sail boats, sail boards, paddleboats, pontoon boats, bicycles, wheeled carts, and portage dollies. 
Mechanical assistance is only permitted over the following: International Boundary, Four-Mile Portage, Vermilion-Trout Lake Portage, Fall-Newton-Pipestone Bay Portages into Basswood Lake, and Prairie Portage.

The maximum group size in the BWCA is nine people and four watercraft.  You may not exceed either limit at any time or at any place in the BWCA, including portages, campsites, or waterways.

Help keep the pristine water quality of the lakes.  Bathe, shave, brush teeth, and wash dishes at least 150 feet from lakes and streams.  All soaps and cleaner pollute, including those labeled as "green" or "biodegradable".  

Do not throw fish remains or litter in the lakes.  Bury fish remains 150 feet or more from waters edge.  Litter should be taken back to the city with you and disposed of properly.

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 feet or more back from the water's edge. When finished, fill hole and cover with needles and leaves.

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.


Due to potential fire danger, fire restrictions may be in effect.  Always check current conditions before your trip.  Restrictions may ban campfires and may add further restrictions.

Camp stoves are recommend over campfires as they do not require fire wood, heat food faster, work better in wet weather, and are generally safer.

Fires are only allowed within the steel fire grates at designated campsites or as specifically approved on your visitor's permit.

If you build a campfire, use only dead wood found lying on the ground.  Do not cut or break branches, or peel bark off standing trees.  Paddle further down the lake from your campsite to gather dead and down wood.  It is recommended to bring a small folding saw to cut wood from fallen trees.  

Always keep water near your campfire and drown the fire if you are going to leave it.  Do not leave it burning when you go to bed.  Ashes should be cold to the touch with a bare hand before leaving unattended.


Camp only at Forest Service designated campsites that have steel fire grates and wilderness latrines.  You may camp up to 14 consecutive days at one site.  Be sure to make camp early enough in the day to be able to find an available campsite.  Keep the campsite clean and free from litter.  Do not build structures, cut live wood, carve names in trees, or write on the rocks.


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

Useful Links for the Boundary Waters
Permit Issuing Stations Permits
Restrictions Entry Points
Remote Border Crossing Permits Quetico Permits

BWCA Map Links

BWCA Lake Finder Online Maps Maps for Sale
Cross Country Ski  Trail Maps Minnesota Travel Direction Map
Hiking Trail Maps Ely Area BWCA Map