Leave No Trace on the North Shore – Principle #1

People canning in the BWCAW of Minnesota

Plan Ahead and Prepare

By Ann Papenfuss Wing

Since my earliest ventures into the wilderness, the Leave No Trace principles have been drilled into my brain. That’s because I have been blessed with some wonderful guides along the way. From the bluffs of the Driftless Area, to the lakes of the BWCAW, to the mountains of the Northern Cascades, my earliest wilderness mentors made a point of teaching me these minimum impact principles. And each guide took it one step further: they related the seven principles of Leave No Trace to the wilderness area I was visiting.

Google the Leave No Trace principles and you’ll find buzzword Bingo, without much practical advice. That’s because they are trying to be general enough for all circumstances. Forget the generalities–I’m getting down to specifics. Just like my early mentors gave me. Through a series of posts, I am outlining the details of Leave No Trace for Minnesota’s North Shore. Whether you are paddling on the Big Lake or the BWCAW; hiking Eagle Mountain or the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) or the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) or the Border Route Trail; or camping in our beautiful boreal forests, I want you to be prepared.

Let’s start by listing the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

In today’s post, I want to talk about Principle #1: Plan ahead and prepare. In practical terms, here’s what that means on the North Shore:

Permits are required in the BWCAW

  • Quota permits are required for visitors taking an overnight trip from May 1 – Septemer 30. It doesn’t matter if that overnight trip is for paddling, motoring or hiking.
  • Quota permits are also required for a motorized day trip into the BWCAW from May 1 – September 30.
  • Reservations are recommended for quota permits, since, as the name suggests, there is a limited number of quota permits available for each entry point.
  • Nine people and four watercraft are the maximum allowed together in the BWCAW.
  • Self-issued permits are required year-round for non-motorized day use visitors.
  • Click here to get the latest information about how to get your permits.
  • Get your detailed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Trip Planning Guide here.

Visitors to the BWCAW must watch three videos prior to entry

Last year, visitors were sent the first two videos prior to their entry and the third video was shown to them when they picked up their permit at an outfitter or National Forest ranger station. This year, with Covid-19 practices in place, visitors are expected to watch all three videos on their own. Please take the time to watch these videos. The videos are intended to minimize harm, while ensuring safety, both for the visitors and the wilderness.

You can find the videos here:

Reservations are needed for camping in state parks

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is making adjustments to its policies due to Covid-19. For the latest information on the DNR’s Covid-19 response, check out this website.

Not all campgrounds are open. Even if a campground is open, it still requires a reservation. Make your reservations here.

Respect the tribal lands of the Grand Portage Reservation

The Susie Islands are part of the Grand Portage Reservation. Camping is NOT permitted on the islands and visitors must obtain permission from the Grand Portage Reservation before setting foot on any of the islands. Other tribal lands in Cook County are clearly marked. Please obey all posted signs.

Make reservations for guided tours

Not familiar with the North Shore? A number of guiding services and outfitters in the area offer guided tours for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, fishing, and boating. Everyone is doing their best to make these guided tours as safe as possible for all of our guests. That often means fewer spots on any given tour in order to keep safe distances. Make your reservations ahead of time! You can find all of Stone Harbor’s guided tours here.

Check the weather forecast and be prepared for whatever the weather may bring

It’s not unusual to experience all four seasons in one day here on the North Shore. Check out the wind and weather conditions before you go out on the water or into the woods. Bring equipment and clothing that are appropriate for the weather. And always be prepared for weather that the forecasters didn’t predict.

Make a trip plan and leave it with someone you trust

It doesn’t matter if you are planing a “three hour cruise” on the Big Lake or a 21-day trip into the BWCAW — a trip plan is vital for your safety. Include your planned itinerary, with expected destinations for each day. If possible, plan some check-in times. Remember that cell phone service is spotty in most of the North Shore wilderness areas, so consider a satellite device. Be sure to include detailed instructions on what to do if you miss your check-in.

Plan your route before you leave

Consult maps of the area to plan your trip. And remember that maps can’t tell you everything. Check with locals and the Superior National Forest rangers for the latest news. If your adventure starts in Grand Marais, stop in at Stone Harbor and ask us for the latest news.

Bring your navigation and safety tools with you

Always pack your map, compass, first aid kit, and satellite device (if you are using one) so they are easily accessible. If you haven’t used a compass before, google “how to orienteer” and study until you are comfortable doing so on your own.

Plan your meals for strenuous activity

Cans and glass bottles are not allowed in the BWCAW. And do you really want to carry those heavy cans or glass bottles anyway? Pack your food in lightweight, water-tight, plastic containers and bags. Remember that you must pack out any remaining food and containers at the end of the trip. And keep in mind that you will likely be more active on your trip than is typical for you. That means you may be eating more food.

Pack weather-appropriate gear

When it comes to gear, make sure you have packed weather-appropriate clothes and footwear, as well as sleeping bags, tents, and any other gear needed for your chosen trip. And be sure to include the necessary Leave No Trace tools, like biffy bags or a trowel, and a camping stove with sufficient fuel.

Whew! That’s a lot of information. And while I’m normally an advocate for brevity, planning is critical for a safe and fun trip, so it’s one thing you don’t want to cut short. If you need more information about planning for your North Shore adventure, stop in our store and ask us all about this beautiful area.

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