BWCAW Rules and 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 on the entry date shown on your permit.
  • You may not re-enter the BWCAW on a different date using the same permit.
  • Permit stubs become invalid when the group 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 the wilderness experience and decrease negative 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 cigarette butts, cotton swabs, feminine products, diapers and plastic 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 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 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 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 200 feet from water sources, campsites, and portages, or deposit it in a latrine.

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 paddle only. 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 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), Fall, Newton, Moose, Newfound, Sucker, Snowbank, South Farm, Trout.
    • 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.

Nonprofit Organizations

A group must have an official tax-exempt status to qualify as a nonprofit organization. If your permit reservation is audited, your group must be able to produce a tax-exempt number. All the people on the trip, with the exception of a guide, must be associated with the nonprofit organization. Nonprofit organizations may reserve as many permits as they like. However, there is a limit of no more than three (3) permits within a permit season to be reserved under the name of any one nonprofit organization. Additional permits may only be reserved under a specific person's name as group leader with no association to the nonprofit organization.

The only benefit to reserving a permit having an association to a nonprofit organization's name is that the permit may then be issued to anyone who can prove affiliation with the organization in the same location. For example, if a permit is reserved with an association to nonprofit organization "Girl Scouts, Troop 16, Chicago," then anyone affiliated with that particular organization may have the permit issued to her/him. When reserving a permit associated with a nonprofit organization, the nonprofit organization's name, address and a contact person for the organization is required. The customer profile must be under the contact person's name, and the organization under profile must be set to the Nonprofit Organization. The representative of the non-profit organization that actually picks up the permit then becomes the group leader and must remain with the group for the duration of the trip, and he or she will be responsible to see that the group follows BWCAW regulations. Please contact the Forest Service office nearest your planned entry point for additional information about reserving permits and trip planning for nonprofit organizations.