About the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)

misty shoreThe Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or BWCAW is located in Minnesota in the northern third of the Superior National Forest. At over one million acres in size, the BWCAW extends nearly 150 miles along the international border adjacent to Canada's Quetico Provincial Park and is bordered on the west by Voyageurs National Park. The BWCAW contains 1175 lakes varying in size from 10 to 10,000 acres, more than 1200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and over 2000 designated campsites. The BWCAW contains the largest contiguous areas of uncut forest remaining in the eastern United States.

The BWCAW is the most heavily used wilderness in the country with approximately 250,000 visitors annually. Though it represents less than one percent of the acreage of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS), it receives 10% of the use in the entire NWPS. BWCAW permits are required to canoe or camp in the Boundary Waters. Click here for more information on BWCAW permits.

You don’t have to be an expert canoeist or outdoorsman to enjoy the BWCAW’s 1,500-plus miles of water trails. Canoe outfitters can help you design your wilderness canoe route, select campsites, supply you with all the food and equipment you will need and can even point out the best fishing spots.

In order to protect the wilderness character of the BWCAW, motors are allowed only in designated areas. Group sizes are limited, and glass and cans are prohibited. Permits, which are required to enter the BWCAW, help keep track of where and how many people are in each particular area. This enables a canoeist to see few if any other groups. Imagine a whole lake to yourself, give or take a few loons.

Good luck, have a great time, forget your problems, but be sure to remember your camera!

The BWCAW is a Class I air quality area as defined by the Federal Clean Air Act. It is the only wilderness in the country that has an airspace reservation that prohibits flights below 4,000 feet.

The wilderness offers freedom to those who wish to pursue an experience of expansive solitude, challenge and personal integration with nature.

Click here to learn about Boundary Waters Canoe Area History.


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BWCAW Canoeing:FAQs

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BWCAW Entry Points

A list of BWCA entry points near Ely, MN. The Boundary Waters entry points map is a great tool to find the BWCA entry point that is best for you.