Forest Service reducing BWCA entry permits by 13% for upcoming season

Outdoor enthusiasts travel by canoe through several of the hundreds of fresh water lakes that make up the Boundary Waters in September of 2019 in the northern woods of Minnesota. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images) (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The U.S. Forest Service is reducing the number of entry permits for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness this year by around 13% in response to overcrowding, congestion and damage to natural resources.

The Forest Service said they are eliminating about 37 permits per day for May through September, which equates to about 5,700 fewer permits available for the season. The average group size per permit is 4 people, according to officials, which means about 22,800 fewer people will be allowed to enter the BWCA this summer.

There are still more than 37,500 overnight paddle and hiking permits available or reservation during that time period.

Officials said the chance was made in response to visitor comments about overcrowding, congestion in travel routes and damage to natural resources.

The BWCA and the Superior National Forest as a whole has seen an uptick in visitors amid the COVID-19 pandemic as people have looked for a safe way to get outside. But as use of the area increased, so have instances of people not practicing Leave No Trace ethics.

In 2020, the Forest Service shared photos of trash left behind at campsites and trees being cut down for firewood. The violations prompted officials to impose food storage restrictions on several lakes in the BWCA to reduce potential conflicts with bears.

The Forest Service said they have since enhanced their Leave No Trace Education Program and hired more permanent Wilderness Rangers to help mitigate concerns and ensure visitors continue to return to the BWCA year after year. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.