After more than two years, Canada to resume remote border crossing program

A rainbow rises over a lake.
A rainbow rises over the South Arm of Knife Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in July 2021. A program that allows travelers to cross into certain remote parts of Canada -- including from the BWCAW into Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park -- is set to resume.
Dan Kraker | MPR News file

A program that allows travelers to cross into certain remote parts of Canada could resume as soon as Friday, giving a summertime boost to resorts and businesses in northern Minnesota that outfit canoeists for trips into Quetico Provincial Park, and allowing dozens of people to visit their cabins for the first time in more than two years.

The Canada Border Services Agency suspended the Remote Area Border Crossing program in May of 2020 during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those permits allow visitors to cross the border in certain remote areas — including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area — without reporting to Canadian border officials.

On the Quetico website, park officials said the program is set to resume on July 8, and that the Canadian border agency would begin to accept applications in the coming weeks.

The Canada Border Services Agency told MPR News the program will resume “in the coming days,” and that the agency has notified stakeholders that it will resume soon. Updates will be posted on the CBSA website once the reopening date has been confirmed.  

The suspension of the remote permits for more than two years has had “a huge impact on us and the Boundary Waters,” said Mike Prom, co-owner of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Gunflint Trail.

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Prom said about 40 percent of the trips he outfits are bound for Quetico. Canoeists either paddle across Saganaga Lake, or take a tow boat shuttle service to Hook Island, which is as far as motorboats are allowed.

Without access to remote border crossing permits, Prom said those groups have either canceled their vacations, or instead taken trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

That in turn has had an impact on the BWCA, which has seen a sharp rise in visitation during the pandemic, leading to complaints about a lack of campsites, damage to resources like the cutting of live trees, and a loss of wilderness character.

This year the Superior National Forest cut the number of overnight permits by 13 percent to try to relieve pressure on the wilderness.

“That has a financial impact on us as well,” Prom said. ”So no Quetico, and fewer groups that we can put into entry points on Saganaga and Seagull [lakes] on the Gunflint Trail. It's been a hardship for sure.”

That’s why Prom was “super excited” to hear that the Canadian government is set to resume issuing remote border crossing permits.

“We take calls every day asking about it. We have a very core group of loyal customers that do it every year. And they're always checking with us,” he said.

There are also about 40 cabin owners with property on the Canadian side of Saganaga Lake who store their boats at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters, who haven’t been able to visit their cabins in more than two years, Prom said.

It will likely be a few weeks before canoeists begin crossing the border into Quetico, Prom said, since it typically takes about three weeks to receive the permits in the mail. He said paddlers may also be able to drive to the border to obtain permits.

The remote crossing permits are valid for areas along the Minnesota border with Ontario, from the Pigeon River to Lake of the Woods, in the Northwest Angle area, and along the Canadian shore of Lake Superior.