Preparing for BWCAW summer quota permit reservations

With over 150,000 visitors a year, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the most heavily-used wilderness in the country. 

“You can go any direction. Each day is a new adventure, and you might not know where you’re gonna end up,” said Duluth Gear Exchange Owner Nils Anderson. “That’s the beauty of it, discovering a new thing.” 

Every summer, quota permits are required before arrival. 

“There’s strict requirements to reduce the amount of people, so we want to make sure that we are abiding by the Wilderness Act and ensuring that there’s solitude, untrammeled opportunities,” said Superior National Forest Public Affairs Officer Joy VanDrie.

On January 25th at 9 am, this year’s quota permits will be available for reservation at It is recommended that you go to the website and have a plan ahead of time. 

“We have tips on the web site that really help you make sure that you are maximizing that time frame, to make sure that you have your three options,” VanDrie explained. “We sell the majority of the permits for the boundary waters in that first maybe 6 hours of that day. There are a handful of them that are still available thereafter, but it’s very competitive in the morning.”

Travel to the BWCAW increased by around 16% during the height of the pandemic, but issues were reported, such as garbage left behind and damage to campsites. 

“Trouble is, there’s often a learning curve, especially for newcomers visiting wilderness area who might not know ‘leave no trace principles’ or they might not have common knowledge,” said Anderson. “Unfortunately, a lot of campsites are negative effects from that lack of experience or lack of knowledge or intent.”

Group sizes are limited to nine people and four watercraft. Each permit holder is also required to review the rules and regulations beforehand and watch three leave no trace videos. 

“It’s a highly loved area, so ‘Leave No Trace’ is definitely something that we want to make sure that everyone understands as they go out there,” said VanDrie. Because if how we leave this for the next generation and seven generations in front of us is key because we want everybody to be able to enjoy it going forward.”