Boundary Waters Peace and Quiet?


Boundary WAters Canoe Area
BWCA Campsite

I sometimes wonder how silence can be so welcoming to some and not to others. I find it wonderful to be away from vehicle alarms, horns, sirens, traffic and chatter. When it’s noisy it interrupts my connection to the natural world. If I can’t hear the wings of a bird flapping overhead or the leaves rustling in the trees it is as if I can no longer hear. Natural sounds help quiet my mind.


It’s difficult to get away from noise. Even in the Boundary Waters and Quetico Park you can sometimes hear planes overhead or the distant buzz of a motorboat. When camping you encounter other paddlers and campers who may not value silence as much as you do.

The Boundary Waters and Quetico Park both have rules and regulations to ensure a quiet environment. The BWCA regulations emphasize this on their video and on the permit itself. Number 6 on the permit says, “EXPLAIN THE NINE PERSON RULE AND THE FOUR WATERCRAFT RULE No more than 9 people can be together at any place in the Wilderness-on the water, on portages or in camp. Smaller groups have less impact on the land and other visitors and are more likely to see wildlife.” Number 11 on the BWCA permit says, “A QUIET CAMPER IS A NO-TRACE CAMPER. WHY? Noise impacts other people’s solitude and scares off wildlife.” #13 involves dogs in the wilderness and the impact their barking can have on the experience of others. The rules are enforceable Forest Service regulations with a maximum penalty of $5000 and/or 6 months in jail.

BWCA from the Gunflint Trail
Beautiful Pines

While I don’t necessarily think the USFS should fine a person $5000 for playing an accordion in the middle of a canoe paddling across a Boundary Waters lake I do think it would be nice if I would never see it again.

Yes, on a recent canoe camping trip in the Boundary Waters there was a canoe with 3 people in it and one person was playing the accordion as they paddled past. They were with a group of 9 guys. Another group of 9 girls paddled past singing some Disney tune at what had to have been the top of their lungs. It was more like screaming than singing and it was very loud. When my friends and I heard and saw these things we were shocked to say the least. After our lunch break we paddled over to a portage where the shock continued. There were two groups of 9 girls at the portage at the same time!

Boundary Waters Leave No Trace
accordion player

I do know how difficult it is to travel quietly with a group of girls. I battled with it myself when I took a group of teenagers into the BWCA. The more girls there are the louder they feel they have to be in order to compete. I explained until I was literally red in the face with smoke coming out of my ears how they needed to respect the wilderness values. It wasn’t fair to the people around them who wanted peace and quiet. It was the first and last time I took a group of kids into the wilderness. A better place to take them would have been to a State Park or campground where they could be a little bit noisy.

The groups of canoes and people we encountered during our camping trip were from a college. They were out on a freshman orientation trip which I think is a great idea. What a wonderful way to start a new chapter in one’s life. I realize the guides weren’t adults and they can only exert so much control over the members. They could make it a policy to ask students to leave loud noise making instruments at home. They could also do a better job teaching them about wilderness values and perhaps they would stop singing so loudly.

Is this a case of a generational difference? Where kids these days can’t stand the sound of silence? Where they are so accustomed to radios blasting, vehicle noise and notifications of text messages buzzing that they can’t handle being in a quiet environment?

I sure hope that isn’t the case. Where would these individuals get their inner peace from if it doesn’t involve somewhere quiet? I know I will always need peace and quiet and I hope others will embrace and appreciate it as much as I do, especially when they are in the Boundary Waters.

Boundary Waters camping trip
Boundary Waters Sunset



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