WTIP file photo

BWCA will open for 2020 paddling season starting May 5

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will be open for the 2020 paddling and hiking season starting Tuesday, May 5.

In a press release sent to WTIP this afternoon, the US Forest Service says that in order to help lessen impacts to local communities while Minnesota’s Stay-at-Home order is in place, and to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will be closed for both day and overnight use from April 15 through May 4. Reservations made through May 4 will receive a full refund including reservations fees.

The temporary closure should have a minimal impact on travel in the BWCA. Many of the lakes in the wilderness are still locked in ice, with some lakes in the Mid-Gunflint Trail area still holding more than 20 inches of ice as of April 15. A traditional start to the paddling season often coincides with the start of the fishing opener in Minnesota. This year that date lands on May 9.

When the season starts on May 5, and in alignment with current federal, state and local guidance for social distancing and to ensure health safety of its employees, partners and members of the public, the Superior National Forest will temporarily change permit pick-up requirements for all BWCA quota permits.

As part of this, visitors will have two options:

1) They can print their BWCA reservation confirmation email at home and use this as their permit.

2) They can pick up the permit in person at a cooperating business that remains physically open and that is under an agreement with the Forest Service. A list of these local cooperators on the Gunflint and Sawbill trails and in Ely and Grand Marais is expected soon. This will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by allowing for social distancing in the permitting process, according to the Forest Service.

Campsites in the BWCA will be open for those who have overnight permits starting May 5. Day use, either canoeing or hiking, will also be allowed starting that same day.

Campgrounds on Superior National Forest, including those near entry points here in Cook County, were not mentioned specifically in the press release. All campgrounds on the Superior National Forest are closed until at least May 1 out of coronavirus concerns. These include campgrounds at Baker Lake, Sawbill Lake, among others.

Quetico Provincial Park is closed at this time. There is no official word on if the park will open in May at its normal time. Learn more in this interview with the Quetico park superintendent.

Furthermore, the international border separating the United States and Canada is currently closed to non-essential travel. This means canoeists aiming to enter Quetico through Cache Bay or Prairie Portage are not allowed to cross the border to enter the park until this border restriction is lifted. Quetico Park would also have to open independent of the border reopening. The travel suspension, or access closure also applies to cabin owners on the Canadian side of Saganaga Lake, a massive and popular lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail that sits partially in both the United States and Canada.

The decision to keep the BWCA open in early May strays from the choice by the National Park Service to keep Isle Royale closed until June 15.