The BWCAW Permit and Visitor Use Report

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The Ten Most Challenging BWCA Lakes to Visit

By Riley Smith | May 16, 2023

The Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness encompasses over a million acres and 1100 named lakes interconnected by portages and streams, but sometimes that vast expanse can feel a little cramped, especially along entries where larger numbers of groups congregate. For the cynic who feels the BWCA is lacking some inherent quality of wilderness in this…

A Fire Perspective: 200 Years of Wildfires

By Riley Smith | November 11, 2022

Few natural processes inspire the fear and awe that wildfires do. In nature, fire is a seeming paradox of death and new life. Gigantic, swirling infernos that engulf the landscape in an unheeding wall of flame become landscape-level scars healed by green shoots and wildflowers. And here on the southern edge of the boreal forest,…

Emergency Communication in the Wilderness – 4 Things To Know Before Your Canoe Trip

By kodev | February 20, 2020

If you’ve never been on a wilderness trip before, the idea of traveling beyond cell service, seemingly out of touch with the rest of the world, can seem daunting. The questions are many: How do we let concerned family members know where we are? Will there be any cell service? What if we need to…

Three Generations of BWCAW Rules Videos – Side by Side

By Riley Smith | December 13, 2023

It’s as ubiquitous of an experience as one can find tied to a canoe trip into the Boundary Waters, and the memories of it are deeply rooted in my childhood as they are for many who make the annual pilgrimage north to paddle the border waters of canoe country. Even now, I can close my…

A History of the Humble BWCAW Fire Grate

By Riley Smith | September 29, 2023

Across the BWCAW there are campsites big and small. Some have shallow water and sandy beaches, others sit perched high upon rocky outcroppings. Some sit close to shore while others are tucked back into the forest. Some are perfectly suited for a single tent while others could easily accommodate the maximum 9-person group and then…

Map Mondays – Week 11 – Morgan to Lake One

By Riley Smith | September 13, 2023

As part of our continuing series on the “route planning game,” we are creating routes using randomly selected entry points, exit points, and number of days to create unique and fun BWCA routes. This week’s route running from one of the BWCA’s quietest entry points to one of the busiest, embraces a mentality of solitude…

In the Context of Wilderness

By Riley Smith | September 7, 2023

Earlier this week, September 3rd, was the 59th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act which established the BWCAW and 53 other areas as newly defined wilderness. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has since gone on to become one of the most well-known and widely-beloved wilderness areas in the country. In examining the BWCAW today,…

The BWCAW Permit and Visitor Use Report

By Riley Smith | August 30, 2023

At the end of July, last year’s visitor use report was published by the USFS. It notes current statistics and trends in visitor numbers and activities. It also provides a unique benchmark which, along with past visitor surveys (and more major studies from 2007, 1992, and 1969) gives a glimpse into the people utilizing the…

The Best Month To Plan A Canoe Trip? Might Be September…

By mlarson | June 2, 2019

For most of us, the best time to go on a canoe trip is any and every opportunity presented. But if you have a little flexibility in planning your trip, September is a wonderful month to visit canoe country. Here are a few reasons why September might be the best month to plan a wilderness canoe…

Let’s Break the Ice on a BWCA November Canoe Trip!

By Riley Smith | November 18, 2022

  It’s been snowing all week here in Ely which points to a winter season fast approaching. In the meantime, this is one of the more challenging seasons for wilderness travel with many big lakes still open, smaller lakes starting to freeze, and trails and forests covered in fresh, wet snow. To the majority of…

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.


  1. Tom on August 30, 2023 at 11:10 pm

    Thank you for the summary of the report – interesting! You noted “Overnight hikers, for instance, make up about 1% of permits in a given year.” I’ve wondered if there would be value in more promotion of the BWCAW trails and even adding a few long trails (which would require allocating more money). It seems to me hiking allows more people (I’m thinking dozens not thousands) to enjoy the wilderness without interfering with canoeists. Hikers tend to be minimalists so really all they need is a trail that occasionally goes past a water source and some sort of camping space even far away from a lake. The existing BRT and KEK are good examples. There are plenty of permits available but the trails are under utilized. Maybe it’s just too hot during the summer for long hikes.

    • Mark West on August 31, 2023 at 12:17 pm

      I considered hiking the Kekekabic Trail, but the part I was on was overgrown. The trail is maintained and marked. But the lack of hiking traffic allows the underbrush to grown knee high. It makes it difficult to see where your next step will land. And I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the Forrest Service to trim the trail. I don’t know if the abundance of undergrowth is why people do not hike it. I did not camp on the trail. I was on an overhight paddle on Dissapointment Lake.

    • Riley Smith on September 6, 2023 at 4:33 pm

      Hello Tom. Thank you for your insightful feedback. Hiking in the BWCA has always been a bit of a niche, and I have never really understood why. There are some really amazing trails like the BRT and the Kek (which you mentioned.) Others like the Sioux Hustler, Pow Wow, Herriman, and Angleworm are amazing also. There are also a bunch of small trails which see less support and are very underutilized. Part of the problem is, as you also inferred, summers are tough for hiking. The forests of the BWCA are dense and the bugs can be on another level. Part of it I think is the draw of the area. It is known for its canoeing; that’s what it is managed for and that’s what draws people. In the past, the USFS has been hesitant to allow new trails to open and has, at times, been hesitant to allow for existing trails to continue to be maintained (see the 1993 report article for an example.) In 1993, there was serious consideration in closing the Sioux Hustler. The Kekekabic was at one time abandoned before volunteers made it what it is today. The Pow Wow lost its eastern half and nearly lost its western half after Pagami Creek until volunteers did the nearly-unimaginable and cut thousands upon thousands of trees off of it. In other instances, the forest service has not allowed volunteer crews to reopen trails such as the old Stuart River trail which ran to Lac La Croix. So, with that, the volunteer organizations which cooperate with the forest service are world class. They make the hiking trails possible; these trails wouldn’t exist without them. That said, though hiking numbers have grown some over the years, it’s still small and likely will continue to be so. It’s just not what the BWCA is known for and nearby trails like the SHT and the state parks take higher traffic. In any case, for those in the know, the hiking trails in the BWCA are special and do provide a unique perspective on a place most people encounter from inside a canoe. For what it’s worth, I feel the BRT is the best hiking trail in the state, but it’s also wild, rugged, and challenging. With limited signage and limited trail marking, wilderness trails are not for everyone, but it’s also what makes them truly special!

  2. In the Context of Wilderness | Portage North on September 8, 2023 at 9:24 pm

    […] Explore The BWCAW Permit and Visitor Use Report […]

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