Think warm thoughts of wilderness camping

Time to plan that 2011 canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The annual entry permit lottery is already underway through Jan.15. According to the Superior National Forest, the lottery was established to fairly distribute available entry permit quotas for those dates and entry points where demand exceeds availability. You put in your request now; the computer picks the winners after Jan.15, and then -- should your choice get picked -- you're billed $12 for a non-refundable reservation fee and applicable overnight user fees.

The lottery is all online. There's no longer an opportunity to fax or mail in applications. Payments are online as well, with no checks or money orders taken for the lottery.

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But, if you don't make it into the lottery, or don't win the entry you hoped for, there are several second chances to get into the Boundary Waters.

First-come first-served permit reservations can be made online beginning Jan. 20. Phone reservations (877-444-6777) can be made beginning Feb. 1. Of course, ideal entry places might already be filled from the lottery, and there are some limits on the hours for the toll free phone number.

You can also take your chances, and your canoe, by going to a permit-issuing station the day you hope to enter the wilderness.

The Forest Service issues permits from ranger stations in places like Tofte, Grand Marais, Ely, Isabella and Cook, while dozens of private businesses - mostly wilderness outfitters - also issue the permits. There's almost always something available, but it might not be the trip you were planning.

It always makes winter a little more tolerable to spend time planning a warm weather canoe trip.