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2023 Boundary Waters Permit Information

It’s the beginning of a new year, and that can only mean One thing…Boundary Waters permits will “Go Live” (on sale) at the end of the month! For weeks now folks have been pouring over maps, looking at entry points and reading up on routes. Too early to begin sorting out gear and dehydrating food, but the planning process has begun. Over the years it has become ever more apparent that if there is a certain Boundary Waters entry point you would like to depart from, then you better reserve it on the Go Live Day. This is especially true for folks looking to reserve motor permits. Some entry points will sell out within seconds of the start time of 9:00AM (CST) so we want all of our clients to be prepared for that exciting moment. In the past, when we had a lottery, it was easy for us the outfitter to reserve that permit for you. Now, with the first come, first serve system, outfitters are at a disadvantage, especially when we have over 50 permits to attempt to reserve. We are always happy to attempt to reserve permits for you, but if you would like to take matters into your own hands, this blog is for you!

The process for reserving permits this year will be the same as the last few years. Permits will be reserved on a first come first serve basis on the Forest Service website: Permits will “Go Live” at 9:00AM (CST) on Wednesday January 25th 2023. If you prefer to reserve permits by phone, the number is: (877)-444-6777. Luckily, this year the Forest Service has not altered any of the quota numbers for any of the entry points, so the same amount of permits will be available as last year. Some still say too many, some say not enough but, that’s a discussion for another day.

Before we get into the tips, a couple of things to keep in mind as you are planning what permits to get, and how many:

*Paddle and Overnight Motor permits: A permit holder may not have more than 1 permit in their name for the same date. Does not matter if it is multiple entry points. The Forest Service will automatically cancel your permit or permits if you have multiple for the same date. This is to prevent any type of hoarding of permits. This does not apply for Day Use motor permits.

Day Use Motor permits: Last year far too many permits went unused due to “No Shows”, or folks reserving permits and not using them. It is very important to not reserve permits unless you intend to use them. Do not reserve more permits than you will actually need, and please cancel any extra permits you will not use. I understand for folks local to the Ely area, it can be hard to say if you will use a permit in July, when you are reserving them in January. Also, for out of state folks, who cannot predict the weather, it’s nice to have that permit just in case. After speaking with a Forest Service official, it should be known that if the large amount of unused Day Use Motor permits continues the way it has the last few years, the Forest Service will deem these permits as unnecessary, and will begin to reduce the number of permits to a level that is actually used…Use them or lose them. This is also fuel to the fire of those who believe motors should not exist in the Boundary Waters.

Please find below some tips that will help you become successful on Wednesday, January 25th:

1. Log on to before the “Go Live” date and set up/verify/update your account. This way on the 25th at 9:00AM (CST), you just need to be logged in and you will be ready to buy permits. Log on to the website, go to the top right of the page, and select the “Sign Up” tab. You will then be prompted to enter the information needed to create an account and reserve permits. Information needed will be: name, address, phone number, and email address.

2. Once signed up, look around and familiarize yourself on how to find BWCAW permits. Once logged in, scroll down and select the “permits” tab. This will take you to a page with many options for parks. Enter BWCAW into the search menu, and you are where you need to be. Note: Permit reservations will be closed until 9:00AM (CST) on January 25th.

3. Know what permit you are needing to buy. There are different options for BWCAW permits. If you are wanting a paddle permit, be sure to choose the correct entry point and entry date. If you are buying motor permits, then be sure it’s the correct permit. For example: Fall Lake Day Use Motor Permits are split into two categories, “Day Use Fall Lake and Beyond”, and “Day Use Fall Lake Only”. If you are wanting to portage into Basswood, then you need FALL Lake and BEYOND. Same goes for Moose Lake permits, if you are wanting to portage into Basswood, you need a Moose Lake Prairie Portage There is also a difference between Overnight Motor permits and the Day Use ones. Make sure that you have the correct permit selected before adding them to your shopping cart. If you are not sure what permit to buy, please contact us before the “Go Live” date to discuss your options.

4. Be signed in and ready at 9:00AM (CST) on that Wednesday, January 25th. Have your coffee brewed, credit/debit card in hand and all of your dates confirmed. As always, we expect permits to go fast!

5. Use your shopping cart! You may add multiple permits in your basket before checking out. This will save you time if needing multiple permits. Note: Last year, after adding a permit to your basket, the website would take you to the default screen of paddle permits. If purchasing multiple permits, make sure you are purchasing the correct permits.

6. Take your time and double check your work. Make sure the dates are correct, and that the permit is the one you want before checking out. If adding an alternate group leader, make sure to check the box that says alternate, not group member.

7. Alternates are not mandatory on a permit, but are strongly advised and you may add more than 1 alternate to a permit. If purchasing an Overnight permit paddle or motor, then you will be charged the $16.00 camping fees of each member of your party that you add. Again, be sure to check the box that indicates this person is an Alternate. *The Alternate cannot be added at a later date.

8. PLEASE Do Not buy more permits than you need! If more than 1 person in your group is buying permits, and at the end of the day you have more than your group needs…PLEASE CANCEL YOUR EXTRAS! And, if the dates that you wanted are all gone, check back often with the website ( for any canceled permits. Permits are released back into the system randomly after 12 hours from the time of cancellation.

9. You are not allowed to have more than 1 permit reserved for the same date in your name. If your larger than 9 party needs more than 1 permit, be sure another member of your party is reserving the second permit. Simply listing an alternate on both permits will not be accepted. This does not apply for Day Use motor permits.

Reserving permits can be stressful at times, but is an important part of executing a successful canoe trip. Hopefully, the above tips and tricks will alleviate some of the stress, and you will be successful in reserving the permit or permits you want. If you have questions on entry points or permits, please call or email us before January 25th at 218-365-3788/ PLEASE leave a voicemail as we only have one phone line. If you have problems reserving your permit on the website call the Forest Service at (877)-444-6777 for assistance. Once the 9:00AM hour begins, we at Packsack will be unavailable until we are finished reserving permits.

Best of luck to everyone attempting to reserve that little slice of heaven, and we look forward to serving you this coming summer!

Nick & Danielle

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