Tips for First-time Visitors
- Reserve your permit early. Unless you like crowds, avoid Moose,
Lake One, and the other most popular entry points.
- A good outfitter is invaluable. If you don't have one, ask
for referrals from other canoeists. A good outfitter will generally
make referrals to outfitters serving other areas of the BWCA if your
travel plans take you into those areas.
- Rent the lightest canoe you can afford. You'll be glad you
did. If you own an older, heavier canoe consider leaving it at
- The number of other travelers which you will encounter is directly
related to the number of rods of portaging between you and the nearest
entry point. For most times of the year, you will have to walk
- Get current maps (both Fisher and McKenzie include revision dates).
Campsites are added and dropped; portages can change.
- Go in with specific route plans but be prepared to change them en
- Don't leave the landing without maps and compass, and a basic ability
to use them. (Try finding a portage landing in the fog without
- Read Beymer and other books on the area. Check out websites
like this one. Benefit from the shared experience of others.
- Beware the temptation to bring too much.
- Beware the temptation to bring too much. (It bears repeating).
- Everything you bring should be stowable, should have its place, whether
in pack or pocket. Loose gear is troublesome, especially at portages,
and will really slow you down.
- Exercise caution in lashing gear to the canoe for portaging.
A well built canoe is finely balanced at the portage yoke. Anything
you do to throw off this balance can result in an ongoing struggle with
the boat over the length of the portage.
- Line your pack with a plastic garbage bag and close it up tightly
before you venture onto the water each day. You may not think
it likely that you will ever swamp your boat, but you cannot stop the
rain from falling, or from puddling in the bottom of the canoe.
Wet gear makes for a miserable trip.
- Keep essentials readily accessible when packing. At a minimum,
raingear should be in an outside pocket where it can be easily reached,
when on the water, without moving or turning your pack. You might
also want to know where your insect repellent is stashed.
- Bears are an avoidable problem. Keep a clean camp and hang
'em high. (The bear bags, that is).
- Strongly consider cooking with gas. It is far easier, and more
dependable, than a wood fire, especially in inclement weather.
The BWCAW has far too many visitors for all of us to be building wood
- Practice a Leave-No-Trace camping ethic. Clean up after yourself
and after those who preceeded you. (There's always one more twist
tie to fish out of the fire grate, one more lure snagged in the brush
at water's edge).
- Start your day early. End it early. Early morning generally
brings calm water, cooler temperatures, and good wildlife watching.
Afternoons are more likely to bring strong winds, heat, and other people.
It is a far better thing to paddle past an occupied campsite in the
morning, with its occupants still abed, than to paddle past an occupied
site late in the day, in a frantic search to find an open site before
- Unless you are accustomed to manual labor in its literal sense (labor
with one's hands) expect blisters. Be sure to bring along your
treatment of choice.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration, especially in summer, is
an ever present risk. Pay especial attention to any children in
your party. (Lemonade and other powdered drink mixes are often
of benefit in encouraging sufficient water consumption, in children
and adults alike).
- Sunburn is also a risk and one which is magnified on the water.
Wear a hat. Bring sunscreen and use it, especially if wearing
shorts. Make sure any kids do, too.
- Expect to get your feet wet.
- Rocks at or near the surface of the water can rock and roll.
(See #1 above).
- Wet rocks are slippery. A layer of algae makes them more so.
(See #1 above).
- The more heroic the effort to keep one's feet dry at a portage, the
more likely they are to get wet, and the more heightened the probability
of sprained ankles and similar unpleasantness. (See #1 above).
- Your footware should be appropriate for carrying heavy loads over
broken terrain. Save the beachware for camp. This is not
- A single carry over a portage is almost invariably to be preferred
over multiple trips.
- Portage landings are only place in the BWCAW where different parties
gather. Use common courtesy; be patient. It's not the freeway
at rush hour.