6 BWCA Entry Points that Fill Up Fast – And Their Alternates

Spring is near and with it the period for purchasing BWCA entry permits! Availability only lasts until permits run out, so there is no time like the present to get online and snag yourself one!

As excited as I am to be writing to you about this today, I will be sure not to get ahead of myself. Chances are that if you are reading this, you are at least somewhat familiar with the wondrous Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota — one of the best places for paddling in North America. Though its grandeur is well known to many, there are extremely few who were better acquainted with the region than the late great Sigurd F. Olson. In his book “Listening Point”, Sigurd eloquently described the BWCA as “a land of poetry, cleanness and beauty where men may always refresh their spirits and find release” (Olson 182).

The joy and sacredness of this land inevitably leads to many seeking time with it, and such time is secured by buying- you guessed it- a permit. This brings us back to the point of my writing today, which is getting a hold of those permits! In order to actually obtain one of these coveted BWCA permits, all you have to do is head on over to a website called recreation.gov. Recreation.gov is a simple, official, government-run website that allows users to purchase BWCA permits for whenever they desire. The process will typically proceed as follows:

  1. Open up recreation.gov
  2. Find permits for the area you are planning to camp in
  3. Select your preferred dates and go through the booking portal

It’s that simple! However, there is a question which must remain for you: Where are the best regions to book? Well, to most easily answer that question, we can turn back to recreation.gov (trust me, this site really is your friend). The problem is that some popular entry points fill up quickly, leaving many paddlers to find backup entry points. It might require some portaging (which is perhaps a reason to opt for a lighter kevlar canoe) but there are solutions.

Let’s take a look at 6 sites that have already been booked up for the summer. We’ll briefly explore why each site is so popular, and how one might go about gaining access to the area via a similar permit location.

6 of the Highest-Demand BWCA Entry Points

Clearwater Lakeclearwater lake

Featuring gorgeous palisades and crystal-clear water (makes sense, doesn’t it?), Clearwater Lake is a terrific image of the BWCA and is one of the easiest ways to jump right into the natural beauty for which the region is so gloriously famed. The lake features a comfortable seven campsites and four portages, two of which go to the same lake, Caribou Lake. What’s special about one of these portages, the one to West Pike Lake, is that it features a secluded hike that is famed for its untouched natural views! Additionally, Clearwater Lake has its own lodge and outfitter, making it doubly easy to get started on your next adventure. Clearwater is also known to have good fishing, too.

For alternate entry to this terrific area, try to snag a permit for Crocodile River, which is a few short paddles and portages away from the Clearwater area. Magnetic Lake could always be a fallback option, too!

South Kawishiwi Riverkawishiwi

Known in Ojibwe as the “river full of beavers’ houses”, this is a pretty river lush with plant and animal life alike. This river is popular with campers for two large reasons: the plentiful portages and even more plentiful campsites! Boasting 20 different campsites and 5 portages to different bodies of water (6 if you’re willing to bushwack a bit), the possibilities stemming from entry here are endless. Of course, since it’s on this list, you know that the entry point is booked up.

In order to gain alternate access to the river, try for a permit at Farm Lake! If that’s not available, you should be able to secure a permit for Fall Lake.

Pine Lakepine lake

Vigorously calm, Pine Lake gives meaning to the term “the silence was deafening”. Densely packed with cozy forest surrounding the water, you can find 11 of the most peaceful campsites in the entire BWCA on this wonderful lake. Additionally, Pine Lake contains access to 7 different portages, one of which branches off to the secluded Johnson Falls which is hard to get to but a neat discovery once you get there – definitely worth a visit anyhow!

In order to gain alternate access to this lake, I recommend looking for the more available permits located at North Fowl Lake.

Mudro Lakemudro lake

This picturesque lake is a very solid pick for any BWCA camper, and it will come as no surprise to anyone that permits for the lake are all bought up. Mudro lake has 4 portages accessible, but note that the one leading to Alruss Lake (an isolated and exceedingly cool lake) is not maintained and is 90 rods. That’s over a quarter mile of rough portaging so be warned! It’s also worth noting that Mudro Lake only has one campsite, so it would be safe to keep that strongly in mind if you happen to explore the area. If you do happen to snag the campsite, the view is phenomenal, as there are some bluffs on the south shoreline! This lake is also fairly deeper than many surrounding it, and therefore is an excellent northern pike fishing spot.

When it comes to alternate entry points, your closest bet for a permit here would be Slim Lake, but be aware that you could have a few days’ trip ahead of you until you hit Mudro depending on how fast you are able to paddle.

Little Indian Sioux – South

This is a river, and you know what that means- access points! Specifically, 9 portages and one paddle-in access point to another body of water. Little Indian Sioux is a great place to explore, whether you’re on the north or south end of the river, as it is easily accessible from the Echo Trail. By mid-summer, the river is often lush with wild rice, providing a uniquely Minnesotan experience! The river itself only has one campsite, which is occupied about half the time according to camper reports. Most people want to get past it quickly to the more open water for their overnights, as the river can be a gateway to lakes like Shell and Hustler.

An alternate way to get to Little Indian Sioux is to go try for the North entry point (the river has both a North and South entry point, they are considered separate) or try for a permit from Little Vermillion Lake. Be warned that Little Vermillion is still a bit of a trip from Little Indian Sioux, so if you go this route, plan some extra paddling time for that first day of the trip.

East Bearskin Lakeeast bearskin

East Bearskin Lake is a terrific entry point into the broad expanse of the BWCA, being accessible right off the Gunflint Trail and containing 6 portages (2 of those portages go to Alder Lake). Not only this, but the lake is well-known for housing Bearskin Lodge, one of the best north woods resorts out there. There are many destinations leading from this lake (Bearskin Lodge not included), such as Crocodile Falls (which can be hiked up to Crocodile Lake) and the beautiful bluffs at Alder Lake.

Nearby permits are tough to find simply because of the popularity of the Gunflint trail and the resort presence in this area, but you could still find your way over to the same chain of lakes by launching into Daniels Lake, which still might have spots!

That’s the end of what I have for you today. I hope that you’ve learned something interesting or useful (maybe even both?). If the entry point you were hoping to snag isn’t available, don’t worry. There are usually plenty of alternate entry points, many of which can get you to the same place, and daytrips are always an option too (they require a different type of permit that is generally available.)

Happy paddling, and enjoy this beautiful part of the world!

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