How to Leave No Trace in the Boundary Waters

Video: Important Tips from the USDA Forest Service:

Whether you’re visiting for a day, or embarking on a multi-day hiking or canoe trip, the health of wilderness areas and wildlife depends on our responsible travel practices. Over 150,000 people visit the BWCAW every year, and more visit the surrounding areas – that’s a lot of feet, tents, backpacks, food containers, canoes, gear… There are several easy tips that you can follow to ‘Leave No Trace’ during your visit.

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace:

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Others

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Do your research and plan your Boundary Waters adventure thoroughly.

Visitors are required to have a backcountry permit, which are limited to daily quotas between May-September to help preserve the wilderness character of the BWCAW. Start with this guide, and make sure to watch the videos that accompany your permit – more Leave No Trace tips are in the video.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

The Forest Service defines “durable surfaces” as established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses and snow. Camping is only allowed in designated campsites and no sites are reservable. Help keep campsites small, pitch your tent within the existing space. Portages between lakes are marked, and visitors must stay on established portage trails. A Leave No Trace tip: travel single-file to keep paths from widening.

Dispose of Waste Properly

If we pack it in, we pack it out. All trash must be packed out of the Boundary Waters, there are no disposal receptacles, and burning waste is not allowed. Deposit human and dog waste in campsite latrines, do not dispose of garbage in latrines.

Wash yourself and dishes with biodegradable soap at least 200 feet from streams or lakes.

Leave What You Find

Clean, drain and dry your boats, camping, fishing, and hiking gear to avoid transporting invasive species. Some sites within the Boundary Waters have been used by indigenous people for centuries. Visitors may find historic and culturally significant objects and markings, do not disturb them. Do not remove rocks, antlers, or plants.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Use a lightweight stove for cooking. Campsites in the Boundary Waters have fire pits, which is the only place where fires are allowed. Know and follow fire restrictions during high fire danger times. There are best practices for wood gathering if fires are permitted. Use only dead, down, and dry wood that is no larger than your forearm and can be broken easily. Search for wood far away from the campsite help keep the site from being picked clean. Gather only the wood you need.

Never leave a fire unattended. Drown it completely before going to bed or leaving the campsite.

Respect Wildlife

Give wildlife space and avoid attracting unwanted animals. Do not feed animals. Hang food packs to keep away from bears and other creatures, and follow USDA Forest Service Guidelines. Bear-proof canisters can also be used, do not keep food in your tent. Trash, toiletries and food waste must be stored securely.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Many visitors come to the Boundary Waters for solitude, and to help preserve the wilderness experience there are limits on group numbers and the number of boats allowed per permit. Keeping noise to a minimum is another way to Leave No Trace.

By practicing Leave No Trace we can all do our part to preserve the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for future generations.

Learn More:

Leaving No Trace in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Boundary Waters Trip Planning Guide

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (photo courtesy USDA Forest Service)