DULUTH — It’s time to make plans for a summer trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), with permits for the summer 2023 season now available.
Permit sales began Wednesday, and the number of permits available for 2023 is the same as 2022.
That stability comes after permits were cut by 5,600 last year as the Forest Service sought to reduce problems with overcrowding near some of the most popular destinations in the million-acre wilderness.
Last year’s cuts amounted to 13% of the total permits and cut the number of groups entering the wilderness each day by 37 after many visitors had complained of too many people, heated competition for campsites and unruly behavior in previous years.
“There are no changes from last year to this year,” said Joy VanDrie, public information officer for the Duluth-based Superior National Forest, which manages the BWCAW.
The number of BWCAW permits issued jumped from 25,279 in 2019 to 31,548 during 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and would have increased by another 3,500 in 2021 except that 4,493 permits were canceled and refunded when the BWCAW was essentially shut down for several weeks due to late-summer wildfires. Data from 2022 has not yet been made public.
Addressing no-shows, camping ethic
While they so far aren’t bending to complaints from local businesses that more permits should be issued, U.S. Forest Service officials continue to work with outfitters and others to maximize use of the permits that are available.
This year the Forest Service is working harder to encourage any BWCAW permit holders who can’t make their trip to formally go through the process of giving their permits back to the system so someone else can have a chance.
While some people return their permits early and get most of their money back, some people simply do nothing and don’t show up, and the permits never get used.
“You’d be surprised how many people just don’t go on the trip and never cancel, and so those permit openings are wasted,” VanDrie said.
According to Forest Service data, more than 3,000 groups were no-shows in 2021 alone, the most recent year data is available for.
Meanwhile, officials from the Superior National Forest have been working with outfitters, lodges and other businesses that work with BWCAW visitors in hopes of developing a better system to get more information to visitors, well before they venture into the wilderness.
Some of those new efforts, aimed at encouraging a better wilderness ethic among BWCAW visitors, will be unveiled just before the open water camping season starts this spring, VanDrie noted. It’s aimed at emphasizing the strict federal wilderness rules and the “leave no trace” camping ethic in the wilderness expected of all visitors, VanDrie said.
Permits for the most popular dates — such as long weekends and peak summer months — will go fast, as will the most popular entry points.
Reservations can be made at recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
BWCAW permit tips
Plan ahead by having at least three travel options (dates and entry points) in mind before making a reservation.
Select an issue station near your entry point before reserving a permit to eliminate the necessity for extra driving. Click the “Issue Stations” tab to view hours and locations at: recreation.gov/permits/233396.
Abide by the “one permit per day, per permit holder” rule, as stockpiling permits is illegal. When a permit holder makes multiple reservations on the same entry date or has overlapping reservations, all but one permit will automatically be canceled by the Forest Service.
Remember to include the names of alternate group leaders who can pick up a permit if the permit holder cannot go.
The BWCAW is a federally regulated area with rules and regulations that you must know prior to your arrival. Permit holders are responsible for sharing the Leave No Trace Video series with their group prior to arrival.
For more information on planning a BWCAW trip, contact a local outfitter or go to fs.usda.gov/main/superior/passes-permits/recreation.
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