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US Forest Service Limits Entry, Blames ‘Degradation’

If you’re hoping to take an epic adventure into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we’ve got some bad news for you.

It looks like it might become increasingly difficult in the not-so-distant future to snag a permit to this canoeing paradise.

The Forest Service is making a few changes, and we’ve got the details for you. Let’s take a look!

Here’s the News Story

Starting in 2022, the Superior National Forest will adjust the number of permits available for those looking to enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This is in response to unprecedented numbers of guests to the area in recent years as people look for more opportunities to be outside.

As a result of the increased traffic, the wilderness is suffering from abnormal amounts of abuse. With several unfilled ranger positions, the park is taking this step to help nature heal itself. However, reducing the number of permits also affects local businesses.

Many small and local businesses rely on heavy traffic, especially during the summer months. These small businesses offer gear, food, and other services. They’ve suffered the last couple of years and are still attempting to recover. Reducing the number of permits also reduces the number of guests coming to the area. 

Park ranger
Unfortunately overcrowding has made it so that Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has had to limit entry.

What Kind of Damage Is Being Caused to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness?

The U.S. Forest Service is battling natural resource damages throughout the area. They’ve discovered littering, the improper disposal of human waste, and even destroyed vegetation. Rangers have found live trees that people have cut down for no apparent reason. This completely goes against everything the Forest Service stands for and is something it can’t ignore.

The increased traffic also limits the number of available campsites for canoers. While rules limit guests to where they can camp, there have been many instances of guests creating their own campsites.

This damages the natural vegetation and forces rangers to take action.

What Caused This Damage?

There has been a tremendous increase recently in the number of requests for permits. With increased traffic in the wilderness, it’s natural to expect increased wear and tear on the ecosystem. However, much of the damage resulted from intentional destruction and a lack of concern for the environment.

Rangers have also received multiple complaints about increased crowds and noise from some very disruptive and oversized groups. These aren’t new complaints, and the Forest Service didn’t quickly make this decision. 

Man posing in National Park
Reduced traffic in forests and parks will help the land heal.

How Does the Forest Service Plan to Lessen Human Impact in This Area?

The Forest Service is reducing the number of permits starting in 2022. It’s adjusting the quota to minimize the damage that park officials constantly see throughout the wilderness. Reducing the traffic will likely help the land heal and allow others to enjoy the ecosystem for years to come.

While the park hasn’t announced a specific number, it will spread the reduction in permits out over all of the entry points to the park. However, the primary focus will be on the most popular entry points. These areas have generated complaints and damage.

Pro Tip: Lessen your human impact and ensure a quality camping trip by avoiding these RV Rookie Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Camping Trip.

Mixed Feelings From the Local Community

While you would think the local community would support any rules or regulations to help protect their lands, some aren’t excited about the new restrictions.

The local community depends greatly on the increased traffic. By minimizing the number of permits, the area will experience a decrease in tourists. This typically doesn’t bode well for small businesses and other mom-and-pop shops that offer excursions and other services.

Locals are disappointed in the Forest Service’s attempt at educational programs and the lack of wilderness rangers. Many believe that the park would have a more significant impact by increasing these efforts.

Man walking in forest
Always make sure to leave no trace when out in nature.

How to Get a Permit for Boundary Waters Wilderness

Getting a permit going forward is going to take some effort. Permits for all entry points become available on the last Wednesday of January at 9 a.m. central time. Trips from May 1 through Sept. 30 will be in the quota season. Each entry point will receive a certain number of permits, allowing four canoes and up to nine people into the wilderness.

If you’re planning to be in the wilderness from Oct. 1 to April 30, you can get a self-issued permit at one of the many kiosks at the entry points or Forest Service offices. If you want to avoid crowds and don’t mind cooler temperatures, you can easily access the wilderness during these months.

Leave No Trace Principles Are More Important Than Ever

The boundary waters are one of the most incredible places to experience solitude and connections with nature. The park encourages guests to leave no trace, but it’s fallen on some deaf ears. Failure to follow these principles could result in even stricter rules and regulations for using these protected lands.

Leave no trace principles are some of the best ways to protect land and ensure the ecosystem remains healthy. This means not cutting down trees, not creating new campsites, taking all trash out with you, and properly disposing of human waste. The land should look no different after you leave than it did when you arrived.

Pro Tip: Want to honor mother nature while out adventuring? This is Why RVers Must Leave No Trace?

A Tough Job

The U.S. Forest Service has a tough job protecting the land. Rangers have to step in and take control when guests are repeatedly abusing the land and ecosystem. They hope to ensure future generators can enjoy and experience some of the most pristine lakes and streams in the entire country. Without their help, there’s a good chance that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness won’t look the same in the future.

Would you consider taking a canoe trip on the Boundary Waters? Drop a comment below!

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  1. TJ Foss says:

    I led our 4man, 10 day wilderness trips in the BWCAW from 1985- 2000…. I still have the many maps from numerous entry points… In the 80s, we could just walk into a ranger station or outfitter and get a permit the day we arrived!!! Then, we had to apply in Jan to get the spot we wanted in Sept… We Always travelled responsibly, cleaning our camp, picking up any garbage we may have seen on the portages, and left some firewood for the next group … But, we also started seeing more garbage strewn about, and the hacking of live trees in various camps for firewood…. People apparently got too lazy to scrounge around the woods for dead falls etc… When we went fishing, or exploring each day, we always picked up enough wood for our campfires and for cooking… The BWCAW doesn’t necessarily need more rangers, it needs more responsible people to pick up after themselves, and only leave footprints!!!

  2. Bob says:

    At 72 with severe back problems I can no longer go on canoe trips. But I was canoeing there long before it was designated the BWCA and then the BWCAW. It was just a part of the huge Superior National Forest. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that humans suck!
    Among my lifetime of outdoor activities I was a ranger in Yosemite in 1990 and 91.
    People suck! I could write a book on all the ways I’ve experienced them intentionally and unintentionally ruining the ecosystem. I’ve been retired and spending 6 months a year traveling in my camper van class b until last year when I went full time after selling my house in Duluth, MN. It’s so bad I wish they could be shot like rabid dogs!