Skip to main content

BWCA Ecology

Boundary Waters Wildlife

Perhaps nothing better represents the wilderness than the eerie wail of a loon echoing off the shores of a dead calm lake at night. It's a mournful cry that every visitor should hear during a summer visit to Canoe Country. Or maybe the sight of a soaring, bald eagle high above your path is even more thrilling. Or a majestic bull moose along the shore of a tranquil creek. Or the chilling howls of a pack of timber wolves across a darkened lake from your campsite. Or a black bear IN your campsite!

All of these experiences are possible in Canoe Country, where a unique blend of Northwoods wildlife includes the last substantial population of timberwolves in the contiguous 48 states. Quiet paddlers and astute observers may also see white-tailed deer, ospreys, beavers, martens, mink, otters, foxes, great blue herons, owls, boreal chickadees, peregrine falcons, pileated woodpeckers, and a variety of ducks. In all, there are over 200 types of birds, fifty species of mammals, seven kinds of reptiles and twelve amphibians living in the area during all or part of the year. But there are no poisonous snakes!


Here is a list of twenty-four birds that you can find while paddling, portaging and camping in the BWCA. Take this list on your next trip and see how many your friends and family can identify. With a pair of binoculars and a field guide you can easily see many more.

Mallard, Common Merganser, Ruffed Grouse, Common Loon, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey
Bald Eagle, Spotted Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Blue Jay
American Crow, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle

Boundary Waters Fishing

To describe Canoe Country as an angler's paradise would not be an exaggeration. Of the nearly 2,000 lakes in the wilderness, most are teeming with game fish. Lucious walleyes, feisty smallmouth bass, large northern pike, and elusive lake trout are among the most popular species. But there are more, among them largemouth bass, crappies, bluegills, perch, whitefish, and stream trout. Even if you're not an experienced or dedicated angler, you should have no trouble catching enough fish for a tasty meal or two during your visit to the wilderness.

Avid anglers, will have some records to shoot for. The largest of several species ever caught in Minnesota were taken from this neck of the woods, including a 17.8 lb walleye, a 45.12 lb northern pike, a 17.6 lb rainbow trout, a 6.2 lb brook trout, and a 9.6 lb splake. Walleyes over 10 lbs, northerns over 20 lbs, smallmouth over 5 lbs, and lake trout over 13 lbs are not uncommon catches from many of the area's lakes. Two-pound crappies have also been caught. Of the nation's top 100 walleye lakes (selected by some of the state's best walleye fishermen), twenty are found in Minnesota. Some can be driven to, but the very best are reserved for wilderness paddlers.

If fishing is "your thing," that's reason enough to spend your next vacation in the Boundary Waters.

Plant Life

Even more remarkable is the diversity of plant life. Along with vast forests of pine, spruce, and fir are birch, aspen, and maple, and even oaks atop some of the dry ridges. It's a lovely sight, especially in autumn, when the red, yellow, and golden hues of the hardwoods are accentuated by the many green shades of the conifers.