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BWCA Regulations

A large part of the trail lies within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and hikers must follow special rules within this wilderness area:

Campsites and Fires

While on the Border Route Trail, when possible stay at developed campsites, which should have a steel fire grate and a box-type latrine. Most of those camp-sites are located next to lakes and are shared with canoeists. Remember to follow Leave No Trace ethics. Canoeists are restricted to camping at official campsites, but hikers may camp anywhere as long as it is at least 150 ft from the trail or a body of water.

Should you decide to have a fire, use only downed wood, and please don't try to burn aluminum foil or other non-burnable items. Even after more than five years since the big storm in 1999, there is still a lot of downfall along the trail which poses a significant wildfire hazard. Check with local Rangers in Grand Marais about fire restrictions, trail closings and planned prescribed burns. Never leave your fire unattended and douse it before leaving camp or hopping in your sleeping bag. Make sure the fire is out!

You can get an overview of current fire restrictions from


Permits are required year-round for all users within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which for the Border Route Trail means any overnight trip between Crab Lake and McFarland Lake requires a permit. Reservations can be made beginning January of every year for the entire year and currently cost $16 per adult and $8 for youth plus an additional reservation fee of $6 for the permit. The party size in the Boundary Waters is limited to 9 people. Call the BWCA Reservation Service at 1-877-444-6777 or reserve your permit online (The pertinent entry-points for the Border Route Trail are #81 (west), #82 (center) and #83 (east)).

If you don't wish to make a reservation, permits can be obtained within 24 hours of your proposed trip start at the Ranger Station in Grand Marais or a cooperating lodge/ outfitter.

There are some temporary changes to the permitting process due to Covid-19. On the Permit Site click on Show Notification at the top of the page on the right-hand side to see the latest updates. Check which ranger stations are issuing permits in-person and whic are operating virually on the Cooperators tab

Food containers

Disposable, non-burnable glass or metal food and beverage containers are prohibited in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Repack your food to reusable palstic bottles or Zip-Loc® bags, which need to be packed out. Pack out everything you pack in. The next hiker will thank you for not ruining his/ her experience.


Pets are allowed, if under control. Clean up after them on the trail or campsite. Please remember that a barking dog disturbs wildlife and other campers.

The US Forest Service offers a one-page summary of BWCA Rules & Regulations on their website.

Leave No Trace

The Border Route Trail passes through pristine wilderness areas, far away from all the urban stress and pressures of the civilized world. Hiking it offers the opportunity to reconnect with nature and explore a universe vastly different from our everyday experience. But the number and extent of these unique areas is decreasing due to pressures in part from developers and loggers and the impact of recreationist. Therefore, we ask you to reduce your impact on the environment while on your hike to preserve precious resources.

We strongly encourage you to become familiar with the Leave No Trace ethics for minimum impact outdoor recreation. More than just a set of rules, Leave No Trace is the recognition that a backpacker in a wilderness is merely a visitor and should do his/ her best not to disturb the natural circle of life and preserve the environment for future generations.

The Forest Service devised the following seven "Leave No Trace" guidelines:

  1. Keep noise to a minimum and strive to be inconspicuous.
  2. Pack it in, pack it out.
  3. Properly dispose of anything that can't be packed out.
  4. Leave the land as you found it.
  5. In popular places, concentrate use.
  6. In pristine places, disperse use.
  7. Avoid places that are lightly worn or just beginning to show signs of use.

Keeping noise down and building an unconspicuous camp not only increases the sense of solitude for other people near your camp but also increases your chances to see wildlife, in particular Moose, which are common along the Border Route Trail. And remember that sound travels a long way over open water such as lakes and rivers.

Trash and human remains are probably among the most important issues to be addressed. In general, don't leave anything in the woods that you brought in: Pack out all your plastic bags, canisters, broken zippers, cigarette butts and uneaten food. Wild animals might try to eat your cigarette filter and choke, and bears are able to smell inadequately buried food and will dig it up. Use the latrines provided at campsites whenever possible, but if you have to go on the trail, go away from the trail at least 100 ft., dig a cat-hole at least six inches deep and conduct your business. Cover your cathole and pack out the toilet paper in a resealable plastic bag. Toilet paper degrades very slowly and burning it has started wild fires. You can always burn it in camp if you have a campfire later in the day.

If you have a campfire, use only downed wood and keep the fire small. Wood cut off from live trees damages the trees and does not burn as well, consequently leaving those half charred logs in a fire-pit that we all so dearly love.

To keep wildlife from becoming dependent on humans, and to save your own food supply, bring a bear-proof canister or hang your food when when not on the trail and keep a clean camp. Especially bears can be a problem if they get to your food and start to associate people with a food source. Incidents where people are attacked by bears are extremely rare (only one recorded death in Minnesota, despite hundreds of thousands of people visiting the BWCA every year), but a bear will love an easy meal out of your food supply. Black bears can climb trees and stretch, so hang your food bag at least 10 ft. high and at least six feet away from any tree trunks. Consider repackaging your food in two plastic bags to reduce food scent, which not only makes it harder for bears, but also for rodents to smell your food and examine the nutrient content of your food.

In general, use your common sense to protect yourself and the environment. If you would like to get more information, check out the Leave No Trace web-site or look in your local library for information on Leave No Trace. A handy companion is published by Falcon Guides in cooperation with the American Hiking Society:

W. Harmon
"Leave No Trace: minimum impact outdoor recreation"
Falcon Publishing (1997)
ISBN: 1-56044-581-5