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Boundary Waters Permits 2024, Let the Fun Begin!

Well, Holidays are over, folks are working hard on their New Years resolutions, (or working hard to forget their New Years resolutions), the lakes are covered with snow and ice, and Boundary Waters outfitters phones are ringing off the hook. It must mean it’s that time of year for permits. Yes, that’s right in just under 2 weeks from when I am writing this, on January 31st at 9:00 am, Boundary Waters enthusiasts will be staring face to face with a computer screen, hitting refresh, in heavy anticipation of when Boundary Waters permits go on sale. Many of us have been through this before (like... the last 5 years), and for some this will be their first go live! Either way, whether you are a many trips seasoned Boundary Waters Veteran, or a newbie it’s best to refresh not just the computer, but refresh our brains on all of the tips and tricks for the Boundary Waters Permit Go Live day.


This years Boundary Waters permits will go on sale at 9:00 am CST on the morning of January 31st. As in the past 5 years, permits will be sold on a first come, first serve basis. For paddlers, entry points like South Kawishiwi, Little Gabbro, Mudro, and several others will likely sell out within minutes, if not seconds of the opening. Because of this, any advantage you can gain may be the difference between a Mudro permit, and an Angleworm permit. Because of this we have compiled some tips for you to keep in mind going into this year's “Go Live”. These tips may not guarantee you’re successful, but can be helpful when the pressure is on at say, 8:59 am on January 31st. So, grab your coffee, tea, whisky or beer, and let’s get into it!

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 31st 2024. If you prefer to reserve permits by phone, the number is: (877)-444-6777.


First, I know some of you are saying and have asked, “why can’t I have you just do it?” The simple answer to that is, you can! We are happy to attempt to reserve your permit for you. Just let us know your entry point and dates. However, the complicated answer is, we are happy to attempt to reserve your permit for you, but you have the best shot at getting your permit if you can attempt to get it yourself. We as outfitters have no advantage over the general public when it comes to reserving permits. We draw permits from the same pool, at the same time on January 31st. All of us outfitters have many permits to get, and prioritizing permits and clients gets real tricky, and inevitably (unfortunately) someone misses out on their first choice.

Some other things to consider before we get into the tips:

*Paddle and Overnight Motor permits: A permit holder may not have more than 1 permit in their name for the same date or coinciding dates. 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, or coinciding dates. This is to prevent any type of hoarding of permits. This does not apply for Day Use motor permits or for Nonprofit Groups. Nonprofit groups are allowed up to 3 permits for a group leader per day.

Day Use Motor permits: Like every 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. The Forest Service does not seem concerned about this, as they have stated “It’s part of what makes up the quota”. As an outfitter and resort owner, it gets frustrating when on Monday you have a client who wants to go into Basswood with a motor and can’t because of lack of permits, but Friday when they are getting ready to go home, there are now 10 permits available.


Please find below some tips that will help you become successful on Wednesday, January 31st:

  1. Log on to before the “Go Live” date and set up/verify/update your account. Do this now! That way on the 31st 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. If we have reserved permits for you in the past, you will find you already have an account. In this case, go to the forgot password, enter your email when prompted, and you can reset your password to access your account.


  • 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 31st.


  • 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.

  • Be signed in and ready at 9:00AM (CST) on that Wednesday, January 31st. Have your coffee brewed, credit/debit card in hand and all of your dates confirmed. As always, we permits will go fast!

  • Use your shopping cart! You may add up to 7 permits in your basket before checking out. This will save you time if needing multiple permits. Note: 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.


  • 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. If you would like to have your permit sent to us, be sure to indicate Packsack Canoe Trips & Log Cabins as your permit issuing station. There will be a drop down menu to do this. If you do not indicate an issuing station, your permit will go to the Forest Service. If you forget, you can change this by calling the Forest Service at a later time.


  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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 or nonprofit groups.

This might all seem like a lot to think about just to get a permit for one of Americas most visited National Parks, but I promise you, securing a permit to the Boundary Water is more than worth it. And when you are sitting by the fire watching the stars, and listening to the loons, you will thank yourself for being prepared.


 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 31st 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, don’t call us, 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 reserving permits, we look forward to hearing from you and listening to your plans for another amazing year of Boundary Waters adventures!

Nick & Danielle

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