No permit required: Camping, canoeing options just outside the Boundary Waters

15 July 2023

If you weren’t able to secure that Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permit you wanted this summer, there are still backcountry options out there for adventures across the Superior National Forest.

Forest officials recently highlighted 15 “under the radar” canoe routes, hiking trails and rustic camping options outside the BWCAW and which don’t require permits, don’t take reservations and — get this — are free. Of course, that’s a good news/bad news scenario because you won’t know until you get there if the site is open.

These backcountry options are listed by the national forest ranger district where they are located, with the nearest town listed.

Crescent Lake is inside Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, but outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It offers a boat landing, camping sites and access to other lakes via canoe portages. No special permits are required.(Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

Gunflint Ranger District, Grand Marais area

Twin Lakes Canoe Route: Six lakes linked by four portages make up the Twin Lakes Canoe Route. There are five backcountry campsites along the way, and lots of opportunities for fishing and wildlife viewing.

Elbow Lake: Two backcountry sites are available on this lake to canoe or motorboat in. There is a concrete boat ramp with gravel parking. Each campsite has a fire grate, latrine and may have a picnic table. There is no public restroom available at the boat launch.

Cascade River Rustic Campground: This small campground is particularly suited to people who are planning to fish for trout in the Cascade River or are looking for a remote place to camp. There are tables at the campsites and a new outhouse constructed with funds from the Great American Outdoors Act.

Tofte Ranger District, Tofte area

Crescent Lake: Great canoe route from Crescent Lake down to Rice Lake. Fishing Crescent Lake for walleye, muskie and northern is easy with a boat ramp and trailer storage area, a barrier-free fishing pier, and several boat storage areas for canoes. From Crescent Lake, it is possible to portage into several other lakes and it can make a nice canoe route to paddle down to Rice Lake, where there are three campsites and a portage to a small parking area.

Hogback Recreation Area: This recreation area has a rustic campground with three sites, a 5-mile trail system passing six lakes with several loops, and five backcountry campsites along the trail. There is also a boat launch and an accessible fishing pier.

The fishing pier at Hogback Lake in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. (Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

Section 29 Rustic Campground: Section 29 Rustic Campground has four small sites on the shore of Section 29 Lake.

Wilson Lake Rustic Campground: Four sites accessible by car on the lakeshore with a drive down boat ramp and dock. Nearby Little Wilson Lake also has a boat ramp, and there is a portage trail from Wilson to Sister Lake.

Laurentian Ranger District, Aurora-Hoyt Lakes area

Otto/Harris Trail: This is a 3-mile hiking trail around Otto and Harris Lakes.

St. Louis River-Seven Beavers Lake-Round Lake Canoe Route: The St. Louis River site offers one canoe-in campsite. From the river you can portage into Seven Beaver and Round lakes that have three canoe-in sites on remote, quiet lakes with a good chance of seeing wildlife.

Pine Lake: This recreation area offers two boat-in and two drive-in sites. ATVs are allowed on the 500-foot portage. Camping is allowed in parking area.

LaCroix Ranger District, Cook area

Astrid Lake Area: This area has 7 miles of hiking trails, six backcountry campsites and a canoe route with four interconnected lakes, including Astrid Lake, Maude Lake, Pauline Lake and Nigh Lake. The area provides an opportunity to experience wilderness-style camping without wilderness permits and regulations.

Picket Lake: A remote, quiet lake with three backcountry campsites.

Maude Lake Area: Has two backcountry campsites that are accessible by a 120-rod portage off Forest Road 200, 2 miles south of the Echo Trail. Roadside parking is available. Additionally, the area offers opportunities to do the whole hunting shack canoe route. Great wilderness-style camping without wilderness permits and regulations.

Kawishiwi Ranger District, Ely area

Circle Route – Twin Lakes-Fenske Lake-Grassy Lake-Bass Lake Canoe Route: This route offers 10 lakes and two rivers with backcountry campsites similar to those in the wilderness.

Nels Lake: This lake has two backcountry sites that resemble near-wilderness single party sites. They are accessible by foot or boat.

Secret-Blackstone Lake Trail: This trail system has two loops; one is 2 miles and the other is 3 miles. The trail is ideal for taking a short hike with small children or a longer, more rugged overnight trip. There are numerous locations that overlook Secret, Blackstone and Ennis lakes and one of several small ponds.

Outdoor safety and ethics

Use the provided facilities for your campfires, tents and human waste and follow “Leave No Trace” ethics. If you pack it in, pack it out as garbage. Leave nothing behind.

Camping is limited to 14 days within any continuous 30-day period at any location within the same 20-mile radius.

For more information

For more details on dispersed and rustic camping in the national forest, go to and go to “dispersed camping.” Or, you can call specific ranger districts.

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