Understanding Proper BWCA Portage Etiquette


While many of our guests are seasoned BWCA enthusiasts, we regularly hear horror stories of poor awareness for or poor technique in proper portage etiquette. The purpose of this article is to share with you best practices in portaging so as to minimize frustration and maximize everyone’s enjoyment of this unique wilderness. A little knowledge goes a long way.

When you paddle up to the portage, it is acceptable to hit ground at the center of the portage as long as no one is already in that spot. If someone is there, you wait for them to clear the center. Your option is to attempt an entry at one of the sides, doing your best to not crowd anyone. Give them space. If you’ve entered at the center, you depart the canoe. By now, you should have an estimation of whether your group can do a single portage (one trip) or will have to do a double portage (two trips to get all across).

If you can do a single trip, get up and go. The center of a portage is not a location for dawdling or breaking for lunch. If you discover you can’t get all doing the single portage, stop and move your remaining items way off to the side. Do NOT leave them in the center of the portage. Keep the center clear for others that are entering or departing – no matter if it looks busy at that very moment.

If you know you need to do a double portage, consider entering at the side and not the center. At the minimum, move all your items off to the side (right or left, but keep your things to ONE side) so others may enter and depart efficiently from the center.

When you arrive with your items to the other side of the portage, leave them at the side and not at the center. Remember, it may be some time before you get back to properly exit the portage. Others are likely to want to enter and may not be able to do so safely if you are taking up the center for more than 15 minutes.

If you end up in the center, try to clear it within 5-10 minutes. Get rolling on your portage or move stuff off to the side.

As you’re travelling down the portage, you are likely to encounter others. Yield to anyone carrying a canoe. Move off the trail and let them go past you. These are heavy and it can be hard to see so let them have the right-of-way. The courteous portager should always be greeted and thanked. Good will and courtesy go a long way.

Also, consider yielding to children with heavy packs, as long as they are not dawdling. Also, best not to try to pass the slow portager. These are not wide trails and you’ll only create frustration. Not everyone has the physical abilities to move as fast as you do. Please know that the more we all work hard to promote courtesy, the greater the likelihood that the slow portager will recognize his/her shortcomings and yield to you so that you may efficiently pass.

Be kind and enjoy this marvelous place!

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