Five Ways to Make the Most of BWCA Permit Day

With BWCA permit day just around the corner, plenty of people are waiting in eager anticipation of how opening day will set the trajectory of their summer trips. Some people will log on the moment that permits open to try to reserve a premium entry point on the dates that they are available to go. Others scheduled their trip with outfitters as far back as last summer to have the outfitters pull a permit for them. Though outfitters do not get any advantages in the process over the rest of us, having someone else pulling permits for you is a nice way to reduce the stress. On the other hand, people with less sure dates or less pickiness of their entry points will wait for months to try pulling permits and “permit day” is just another Wednesday in their schedule. With so much buzz being made about limited permit availability these past few years, and that discussion only intensifying with permit reductions last year, many people are wondering if it’s even possible to get the permits they want. It’s easy to become discouraged and think not getting the permit you want for the day you want will simply ruin the dream trip you have planned, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five things to keep in mind this permit day as you look ahead to the summer, and whether you’re planning one trip or a dozen, maybe just maybe these five things can help put you on the dream trip you’ve always wanted.

1) Flexible Dates = EP You Want: There are so many different entry points in the BWCA it can be difficult for new people to find the part of the wilderness which most resonates with them. But for people who have taken trips for many years, perhaps there are entry points that you return to again and again. Maybe you have that “secret” fishing hole or that perfect campsite that have become mainstays in your annual trip. As the BWCA visitation has been growing again these past few years, the most popular entry permits have become really hard to come by. It’s not uncommon for entry points like Clearwater, Little Indian Sioux North, and Mudro, amongst others, to be booked out for the entire permit season, and for good reason. They are wonderful entry points that can offer an incredible trip, but trips are what you make of them. If your trip would not be complete without your favorite, popular entry point, the best strategy is to be flexible with the dates of your trip. And I get it, if you’re planning a trip around your limited off-days and trying to match up with other group members’ limited off-days, getting the entry permit can be EXTREMELY difficult. Getting everything you want, as mentioned above, requires being really on top of things. However, if you want a specific entry point, the easiest way to get it is to be flexible with the dates of your trip, moving forward or backward to days where that permit is available.

2) Your Only Days Off? Go for Quieter EPs: If you cannot move the dates of your trip, don’t let a full entry point discourage you! There are loads of entry points whose permits linger and are a little easier to come by. Now going to a different entry point that’s unfamiliar to you may be tough for people who have used the same entry point for many years, but let me reassure you. Just because your favorite fishing spot is amazing, doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of other fishing spots to discover. And there are just as many “5-star” campsites spread throughout the wilderness area. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you have always taken Gunflint Trips, try the Ely side sometime or maybe the far west near LLC. If you’ve always taken Ely trips, maybe venture over to the Gunflint or try some of the entries near Sawbill. The variety within this wilderness is incredible and, if you’re willing to branch out, there’s loads of possibilities for an amazing trip on the days you have available. And I understand that new areas can be challenging with more variables to consider. Reach out to local outfitters who can help you plan a trip at your new entry point. And if you stop by our store, the staff at Portage North has hundreds of trips between us and love talking about this stuff too! If the dates of your trip are hard fast, think about trying a new entry point this year! Just because you didn’t get the permit you wanted doesn’t mean the trip is ruined. It just means there’s a new door of possibility open to see and experience wonderful things you never would have before.

3) Plan for a Weekday Start: This goes hand in hand with with date flexibility. If you are staring at your schedule planning your off days for the trip, consider using them to start your trip in the middle of a week. The weekends and holidays tend to be busy days for permits, but if you start your trip on say a Tuesday or Wednesday, you might just have more permits to choose from.

4) Gone Doesn’t Mean Gone for Good: Say you do everything right: you open as soon as possible and the permit you dreamed of still slips away. Or maybe the outfitter you tasked to pull your permit can’t get the one you want either. Don’t be too discouraged. Many, many permits get cancelled over the course of the season. Just because it’s reserved on opening day, doesn’t mean it won’t become available later. Though it can be scary to wait on such a crucial detail, the permit you want may just become available later when someone else cancels. If you have the patience to check the website routinely, it’s surprising how often the permit you want will resurface.

5) Shoulder Season is Always an Option: Many people that only take summer trip are unaware, but October 1st starts the BWCA “off-season.” What that means is, permits do not need to be reserved in advance. Simply drive to an entry point of your choosing and fill out the “day-permit” which acts as an overnight permit from October 1-April 30. October can be a very challenging time for a trip and I wouldn’t recommend it to unseasoned canoe trippers, but it can be a wonderful way to get the permit you want on the dates which work for you without the traffic that can be encountered mid-season.


With that, I wish everyone a good permit day. It’s less than five more months or so before the lakes are fully reopen and all of our off-season planning and dreaming comes to fruition. Where are you going to travel this year?



Author Bio:

Riley Smith

Riley is the Director of Community Engagement and Public Relations for Portage North and Sundog Sport. He comes from a background in wilderness programing and environmental education with four years of BWCA outfitting and guiding before taking this role. In his free time, he can be found out canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing, capturing photography, and writing.
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