Free Boundary Waters Canoe Area GPS Data: Campsites and Portages

BWCA campsite on Kek

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a million acre wilderness area in northern Minnesota established to protect pristine boreal forests and historic and recreational canoe routes. It has over 1,000 lakes and 2,000 campsites. If you use a GPS unit, finding GPS data for BWCA campsites and portages was difficult. Now, you can get that GPS data for free. If you’ve read my Free Garmin Topo Maps article you know the basic procedure. If you don’t here it is:

bwca campsites on map
An overlay of the BWCA GPS data on the MN map. Garmin's software can't overlay two maps so I had to do it this way to show the data, but your Garmin GPS can display both.

You need to download several maps to make this work:

To install:

  1. Download both of the files.
  2. Run both of the files. They are both .exe files, so on Windows, they will automagically install and you can find them in both Garmin BaseCamp and in Garmin MapSource.
  3. Hook your GPS up to your computer and install them according to the instructions for the computer program you’re using. Essentially, select the map, highlight the area and push a button. Afterward you’re good-to-go.

This is a great resource for canoeists who use GPS units in the BWCA, but it’s not a substitute for good compass and navigation skills. If you don’t have a GPS unit and are itch’n to buy one, consider the Garmin eTrex 20 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator. It has a color screen, it’s expandable and it uses AA batteries to get 20 hours of battery life. It weighs 5 oz with the batteries.

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  • Being completely new to the GPS world and pretty much technologically bankrupt, I am wondering if I can download these to my Mac to then install in my soon-to-arrive Garmin 62s. Thanks in advance for any help!

    • It looks like the MN topo map works on the Mac, but the BWCA campsites data is PC only. Before you install them, you should install Garmin BaseCamp or Garmin MapSource first. One usually comes with your GPS, but you can also download a copy from Garmin’s website.

  • How do I get them to a magellan unit, an explorist 600? Garmin files will not load to a magellan

    • I’m not exactly sure if that’s possible as the two companies use different formats. I did a little quick research and found this: I have no experience with it, but it might work.

      • I’ll check out that site. I know that the formats are different, I’ll probably have to figure out a way to change the garmin format to that of magellan and the get it into the magellan mapsend program to upload them. A pain for sure. It doesn’t really matter because I have a garmin etrex vista and they uploaded to it just fine.

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