Boundary Waters portage up the Gunflint Trail. Photo by Amber Kramer
Amber Kramer

Most of BWCA to reopen in time for Labor Day weekend

Let the paddling commence.

After many anxious canoe campers, anglers, outfitters, business owners and those hoping to paddle in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness over Labor Day weekend waited to hear what the choice would be, the U.S. Forest Service announced Wednesday night it will be reopening the most visited wilderness area in the nation.

Most of the BWCA will reopen Saturday, Sept. 4. Overnight and day use will be allowed once it reopens.

The entire wilderness area has been closed since Aug. 21 due to active wildfires burning in and around the BWCA.

However, some sections of the BWCA near the Gunflint Trail will remain closed at this time due to the still burning John Ek and Whelp wildfires. Among the entry points remaining closed at this time are on Seagull Lake, Saganaga, Cross Bay, Skipper and Kawishiwi (see full list below).

Those with BWCA permits on or after Sept. 4 outside of the ongoing closure areas will have permits honored and do not need to re-register. Permits for the rest of the month after Sept. 4 will be available on starting at noon on Thursday. There is no fee and pre-registration required for overnight camping in the BWCA starting Oct. 1.

In announcing that the BWCA will largely reopen Saturday, the Forest Service said forest lands and roads along the upper Gunflint Trail will remain closed. However, the Gunflint Trail and private land and resorts are open. Trails End and Iron Lake campgrounds remain closed.

Earlier in the evening, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department notified WTIP the pre-evacuation order for the upper Gunflint Trail will end. The change will take effect at 8 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 2.

Residents along the upper Gunflint Trail from just north and west of Poplar Lake to Seagull Lake have been under a pre-evacuation for over a week.

In an email sent to WTIP, Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen noted that fire conditions could change very quickly and residents may move back into a pre-evacuation phase.

The John Ek Fire, which continues to burn just south of the Gunflint Trail, has shown minimal growth for about a week. Weekend rains also helped control the fire’s spread. That being the case, the Forest Service lists the fire at approximately 1,350 acres with no containment.

Certain BWCA entry points impacted by the 26,000 acre Greenwood Fire near Isabella will also remain closed during this initial reopening of the wilderness, the Forest Service said. (see below)

A campfire ban that has been in effect since early July remains in effect when the BWCA reopens Saturday. Of the 65 fires reported across Superior National Forest in 2021, nearly half, or 29, have been caused by humans. To minimize risk of human-caused fires, fire restrictions remain in place across all of Superior National Forest. Open flames are not allowed, including campfires and charcoal grills. However, visitors may use propane or gas-powered devices with on/off switches, according to the Forest Service.

The following entry points are closed due to Greenwood Fire: Island River EP #34, Isabella Lake EP #35, Bog Lake EP #67, Little Isabella River #75, Snake River EP #84, and Pow Wow Trail EP #86.

The BWCA entry points remaining closed due to the John Ek Fire are: Seagull Lake EP #54/#54A/L, Saganaga Lake EP #55/#55A/J, Missing Link Lake EP #51, Brant Lake EP #52, Cross Bay Lake EP #50, Kekakbic Trail EP #56, Skipper and Portage Lakes EP #49, Kawishiwi Lake EP #37, Hog Creek EP #36.