Aerial photo of the Boundary Waters by Jim Brandenburg, lakes and forests

What is the Boundary Waters?

Canoe bow in the middle of lake

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The Boundary Waters is the most visited Wilderness in the United States.

The interconnected waterways and unspoiled forests of this Wilderness offer world-class recreation, critical habitat, and support the people and economies of wilderness-edge communities.

outline of wilderness and forests
million acres of the Quetico-Superior Ecosystem

Boundary Waters, Voyageurs National Park, Quetico Provincial Park, and the Superior National Forest

water drop
of the fresh water

in National Forest system is within Superior National Forest

people in canoe outline

to paddle and portage through, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Drinking from the lake

One of the few places in the country where you can drink straight from the lake

The waters of the Boundary Waters watershed are some of the cleanest in America - the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency calls them “immaculate.” The water here is so clean, many Boundary Waters paddlers dip their cups straight into the waters of the cool deep lakes to drink. The watershed directly receives water in the form of snow and rain, and flows through the Wilderness and up to Canada. 

Wilderness Lake

A unique, federally-protected Wilderness Area

Federally designated Wilderness Areas receive the U.S. government’s highest form of public land protection. The Boundary Waters is the largest Wilderness east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades, and is one of the most accessible wilderness areas for recreation.


Map of the United States showing locations of native nations
Map of BWCA location
Map showing Boundary Waters location
Map of the Boundary Waters

Homelands of the Anishinaabe people

People have lived in the region we now call the Boundary Waters for time immemorial and have a deep relationship with these lands and waters. The Boundary Waters is within the 1854 Treaty Area where the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage Bands of Chippewa maintain hunting, fishing, and gathering rights guaranteed by the Treaty and coordinated by the Tribal-government-run 1854 Treaty Authority. As sovereign nations, tribes play a central role in protecting the Boundary Waters and have called for its protection.

A unique, federally-protected Wilderness

Wilderness Areas are supposed to have the highest level of protection of American public lands. The Boundary Waters is free of roads and structures, and motors are limited to only some lakes. The Boundary Waters is the largest Wilderness east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades, and is one of the most accessible wilderness areas for recreation.

There's no other place like it on Earth

Millions of people go to the Boundary Waters to camp, fish, paddle, dogsled, hunt, and hike. The wild and tranquil lakes, forests, and trails offer unparalleled recreation and support the local sustainable regional economy. Not to mention it features some of the world's cleanest water, a designated “Dark Sky Sanctuary,” and one of the few remaining "naturally quiet" areas on the planet where you can experience what it feels like to be an explorer.

Permanently protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is key to ensuring climate change resilience.

The Wilderness Society identified 74 places in the United States that are crucial to our ability to sustain biodiversity in the face of a changing climate. The analysis found that the Quetico-Superior region is one of the top places in the nation with this “Wildland Conservation Value,” making the Boundary Waters one of the most important natural places in the country in the fight against climate change.

Together, we can save this irreplaceable wilderness from sulfide-ore copper mining.

Be part of the movement to protect the Boundary Waters.


We all have a reason to save the boundary waters

Sally Jewell

Sally Jewell, Former Secretary of the Interior 

“By prohibiting copper mining adjacent to the Wilderness and conserving this vital ecosystem and all the species it nurtures, our leaders can protect this precious and irreplaceable natural wonder not just for now, but for generations to follow.”

Amy and Dave Freeman

Amy and Dave Freeman, Wilderness Adventurers

"In the Boundary Waters, the land and water speak. The land and water speak through the call of a loon echoing across a still lake, the muffled fall of snowflakes, the metamorphosis of dragonflies, and the scent of wild rice. Actions show if you have listened to the land and the water."

Jason Zabokrtsky, Owner, Ely Outfitting Company in Ely MN

Jason Zabokrtsky, Owner, Ely Outfitting Company 

“Protecting this national treasure from risky sulfide ore copper mining is vital to the local communities and regional economies that depend on clean water, healthy forests and a pristine Boundary Waters Wilderness.” 

Tadd Johson

Professor Tadd M. Johnson, Esq., member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, MN

“This is a place of pristine air, clear water, tall pines, wildlife, ancient cliffs and adventure. Those who came before us had the wisdom to preserve it, and we must respect their wisdom. It must be preserved.”