Canoe Trip Length: 4-6 Days

Permit Required: Saganaga Lake (BWCAW) entry permit (#55)

Within the BWCAW there are specific areas designated to be more remote and primitive than some of the more traveled routes. If you’re the type that enjoys a challenge and a complete wilderness environment without designated campsites and well worn portage trails, the Primitive Management Areas (PMA) may be a perfect destination for your next trip. So what’s the draw? The solitude you’ll obtain, the wildlife sighting opportunities, photography, the challenge and the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that you’ll feel afterwards.

The PMAs take even the Quetico Wilderness a step further. The campsites in the Quetico are not designated, but at least they can be spotted and can be easily camped in. The PMAs are not as luxurious. Campers are urged to camp away from shore and leave as little trace as possible. Portage trails are not well worn and navigation from lake to lake will most definitely challenge the most rugged of canoe campers.

So do you think you’re an expert in the canoe country? Give your skills the ultimate challenge that the canoe country can offer, and let Seagull Outfitters help you.

How do you go about camping in the PMAs? Just like a normal BWCA trip, we’ll help you obtain your entry permit. But we’ll also reserve a permit for the local PMA. You will be required to stop at the Gunflint Ranger Station to get your permit and get instructed on the rules that are specific to PMAs by one of the rangers.

Well where is it? On the end of the Gunflint Trail, there is one PMA to the east of Ester and Hanson Lakes. We would launch you by boat to American Point on Saganaga Lake where you would paddle to Hanson Lake to enter the Pitfall Lake PMA.

The names of the lakes in the Pitfall Lake PMA are: Link, Gift, Bullfrog, Midas, Fish, Faith, Nawakwa, Cup and Pitfall Lakes. All of these lakes make up the Pitfall PMA and can be accessed via Hanson Lake. The lakes are smaller and most hold good populations of Northern Pike. The fishing is not the main draw in the PMAs, but rather the adventure and the complete solitude. Your outdoor skills will be tested. But you’ll also be rewarded with some of the best moose viewing in the area as well as other wildlife opportunities such as beaver, eagles and being able to hear timber wolves howling.

IMAGE: Canoe docked ashore amidst the morning mist

The same BWCAW rules apply in the PMAs, but you must be committed to leave no trace and you must be aware that none of the campsites or portages are maintained by the USFS. There is only one permit allowed per day within each specific PMA, and they must be obtained from the local Ranger Station, not the reservation center.

The beauty of the PMAs is that regardless of the season, you can have complete solitude without paddling far at all. The camping is not quite as convenient as the main routes, but for those of you who enjoy the solitude and the challenge and the adventure, the PMAs are a wonderful opportunity to try something you’ve not yet done.

The PMA portion of your trip does not have to take up your entire vacation. The great thing is that you can reserve your entry permit and then designate one or two nights in the PMA with an additional permit (which does not cost you any additional fees), and then complete your trip back to American Point for a return boat ride, or loop around through South Arm Knife, Ogishkemuncie and back to Seagull.

This trip is not for beginners or complainers. But for you that are feeling like you’ve done all there is to do and are looking for something new. You should keep the Pitfall PMA trip in mind.

Learn about BWCA Permits.