Campsite in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Photo by Joe Friedrichs
Joe Friedrichs

Campsite availability likely to be an issue in the BWCA this summer

Canoeists looking for that perfect campsite in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) might have to work a bit harder in 2021.

On an average year, finding a campsite close to popular entry points can prove difficult during the peak season inside the designated wilderness. It’s a fact many who visited the BWCA in 2020 are likely well aware of as increased visitor use escalated competition for designated campsites.

With permits in high demand to start the 2021 paddling season, it’s possible there sometimes won’t be campsites readily available, particularly near popular lakes such as Sawbill, Brule, Duncan and Seagull on the east side of the BWCA.

Anecdotally speaking, weary paddlers are quick to complain about racing other groups for campsites, being forced to camp illegally in the brush or making camp in the middle of a pleasant travel day just to ensure they have a site for the night.

As the 2021 paddling season picks up momentum with the fishing opener in Minnesota on Saturday, May 15, more canoeists will begin traveling through the BWCA. The United States Forest Service, anticipating another busy season in the designated wilderness, has tightened rules on mandatory wilderness education training sessions.

The new rules went into effect April 30 and require campers to attend either virtual or in-person sessions focused on ‘Leave No Trace’ principles and other rules of the wilderness before they are able to obtain a permit.

Permits can still be issued without visiting a ranger station or a cooperator, regardless of the location a group leader selects to issue the permit. In order to avoid having to visit a physical location in order to obtain a permit, group leaders must attend a virtual event.

Click here to join a virtual session on the entry date of a permit or one-day prior. The virtual sessions start at 9 a.m. Central Standard Time.

Ann Schwaller is the BWCA program manager for the Superior National Forest. She spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs about the 2021 paddling season, including specifics on campsite availability and what is expected to be another busy season in the Boundary Waters.