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The Latest Changes to the BWCAW Permit System

Dear valued Packsack Customer,

Another season has come and gone, and we would like to THANK EVERYONE for your support and business in the 2018 season, and we hope to see you all again in the years to come!

It’s never too early to begin planning next year’s adventure. Which is why we are writing to inform you of changes that have been, and are being made to the way the U.S. Forest Service is reserving and issuing permits. The Forest Service is currently in the process of updating their website ( which of course means that we (outfitters and the public) will see some changes in the reservation/ issuing process of BWCAW permits. Many of you may have already received an email from the Forest Service outlining these changes. Since that email was sent out, there have been a few “amendments” to those changes. To help you better understand the changes, and also help get you prepared for the “Go Live Date” of January 30th @ 9:00 am central time, we have listed below the changes to come for 2019.

  • “Beginning in 2019, the $10 reservation fee is changing to $6 for every quota permit. That means whether an individual or group reserve a permit ahead of time or purchase a walk-in permit, the fee will be $6. This includes Day Use Motor permits.”

  • “Group leaders (permit holders) are required to have a valid email address to reserve a permit.”

  • “Each alternate permit holder is required to have a valid email address to be listed as an intended alternate at time of reservation.”

  • “Initially, the Forest Service announced that alternates must respond to the email sent at the time of reservation and accept being an alternate within 72 hours of reservation, or the permit will not have alternates.” This does still remain in effect if you reserve your permit yourself However, if an outfitter or cooperator reserves your permit on your behalf, the cooperator can verify the alternates at the time of reservation. If you do reserve yourself, be sure your alternates log into their email and accept the request. If the permit holder is not there at the time of issuance and the alternate is not confirmed, the permit cannot be issued!

  • “If an alternate does not have a account, they will be required to create one at verification when they respond and accept being an alternate. Alternates can log on to and create their account any time prior to a reservation.” If you have had an active account in the last two years, you can recover your old account, by going to, click the “Log In” tab at the top right hand corner and sign in with your old information. You will be required to create a new password at this time.

  • “All participant names must be entered for the permit to print at issuance. Participant names may be added to a reservation any time prior to the permit pick-up.” All names are now required on the permits for the possibility of a “search and rescue” needing to happen.

  • “For Reservations made by a cooperator, permit holders will still receive a copy of the confirmation email.”

  • “The new platform has stronger security controls, better protection of Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and increased fraud protection. Recreation .gov will no longer store credit cards.” Because of the “chip reader security” that was implemented for the increased protection of credit/debit cards, your card will be required to reserve the permit. Please also have this credit card with you at the time of issuance in case changes to the permit need to be made (add/subtract members of group).

  • While the new website may be accessed via an older operating system, you will need the latest version of an officially supported browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Internet Explorer 11) to use the new

For Day Use and Overnight Motor permits it has been confirmed that the lottery used in the past to reserve permits has been terminated. The Forest Service’s reasoning for terminating the lottery is because 26% of last years reserved motor permits were not used or were not turned back into the system. To be successful with the previous lottery system, you needed to apply numerous times (3-5) to increase your chances to possibly even get just one day use or overnight motor permit. With this method, some folks did not get the permit they wanted, and some folks received way more than they needed. If those surplus permits did not make it back into the system, they were counted in the 26% “no show” stats. With the new first come first serve reservation system, the Forest Service is hoping that you will get the permit you want and that 26% will decrease. While trying to remain optimistic, we feel this may put some at a disadvantage. Especially those that are less computer savvy, and those that live in areas where internet access is sketchy at best (Ely for example…).

So, for your best shot at obtaining day use and overnight motor permits for 2019, we are recommending that you reserve these permits yourself to better your chances at obtaining your desired permits. We as a cooperator do not like having to make this recommendation, as this is a service we have been able to provide for our customers since the beginning of the permit system in 1978, and it comes with great frustration that the Forest Service has put us in this disadvantage. We will still happily attempt to make any reservations for you, just know that doing it your self will give you the best chances.

You will now be able to reserve your permits on January 30th at 9:00 am Central time zone.

We also recommend at the time that you make your reservation, to have all of the necessary information readily available before 9:00 am on that Wednesday. In the coming months the Forest Service is hopefully going to be providing us with training and additional information about the new reservation system. Please keep an eye out for future emails and all of our permit information/updates will also be on our website under the “our news” page.

We know these changes may provide frustration for some, but we at Packsack are going to remain optimistic and do all that we can to help prepare you for these changes! Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions, and whether you’re thinking about exploring the BWCA with a canoe trip or motor trip,we hope the coming months of planning your adventure are exciting ones!

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