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BWCA: Insider Tips

Before I moved up to Canoe Country, I often made one or two trips to the BWCA a year, and each time I picked up my permit, I would have to spend fifteen minutes watching the Forests Service Video. I practically had it memorized word for word, but this year I found out two tricks that will help you if you make more than one trip to the BWCA a year. These tips will help you avoid watching the video more than once a year, and save you money if you visit the BWCA often.

Seasonal Fee Cards

Each season from May 1 to September 30, the Forest Service charges an entrance fee of $10 for each adult that spends a night in the BWCA. The rest of the year, no fee is collected. If you spend several weekends in the BWCA, these fees add up quickly, but you can save some costs through the purchase of a $40 BWCAW Seasonal Fee Card. This card pays for itself after four trips, and gives you a smug feeling when standing in line to pick up a permit.

The one issue that a Seasonal Fee Card fails to resolve though is the fee collected by the private company that takes the reservations for entry points into the BWCA. They automatically collect their reservation fee and then collect, at least, the fee for one adult. This fee for the adult will be refunded to you when you pick up your permit and smugly produce your Seasonal Fee Card.

Open Entry Points

One of the biggest concerns of travelers to the BWCA is that they will fail to get a permit unless they make a reservation. This is often the case if you have a specific entry point in mind, but if you are flexible, then you can just show up and find an open entry point. It may not get you exactly where you wanted to go, but if you bought a Seasonal Fee Card, then it’s not like you’re spending any extra money, and you will be able to see a part of the BWCA that you wouldn’t have gone into before. Every time that I’ve tried this, I’ve found an open entry point somewhere along the Gunflint Trail, albeit one of them had a mile long portage before I was into the BWCA.

If you are going to try this spur of the moment type of trip, make sure that you have all of your BWCA maps with you. I have a full set of McKenzie maps, and you can usually buy a full set for a discounted price from many retailers.

BWCAW Visitor Education Card

Every time that you pick up a permit, the Forest Service makes you watch a video that prepares you to enter the BWCA. The video shows the basics of Leave No Trace camping and talks about several common problems that occur in the wilderness – some of those from wildlife and some of those that occur because people fail to pay attention to rules. If you want to avoid watching the video more than once a year, ask for the video card that shows that you’ve already seen the video. For lack of a better name, I will call this gray card the Visitor Education Card. Essentially, this card certifies that you have received the US Forest Service visitor education message, and once it is issued in your name, you won’t have to watch the video again for the current year.

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Smooth Finish

Hopefully, these tips will help you make multiple trips to the BWCAW each year and help you make those trips more smoothly. If you’re heading up this way and need a photographer to document your trip, drop me a line. Or if you’re heading through Grand Marais, let me know when and maybe we’ll be able to share a pizza at Sven and Ole’s.