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April 19 2024

Entry Point 38 - Sawbill Lake

Sawbill Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Tofte, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 25 miles. Access is a boat landing at Sawbill Lake. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Latitude: 47.8699
Longitude: -90.8858
Sawbill Lake - 38

3 Night Cherokee-Temperance Loop

by tashit
Trip Report

Entry Date: September 15, 2016
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
This is the second trip my wife and I have gone on together. We only had 3 nights but we wanted to cover some ground and go to an area with good moose potential so we chose this loop out of Sawbill.

Day 1 of 4

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The alarm went off at 4 am, and we were on the road at 4:35. I got 4 hours of sleep, that’s more than double what I got the night before our last trip. I also only got 5 hours each night the two nights before so I was not well rested. We got gas, breakfast, and a coffee in North Branch. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise on I-35 south of Duluth. We stopped at Dunn Bros. at 35/61 in Duluth for another coffee around 8 am. Claire drank her coffee fast and we had to stop at Tettegouche for a bathroom break around 9 am.

We arrived at Sawbill at 10 am, just as planned. Sawbill Outfitters was very busy. We had to wait a few minutes but they quickly got the video going for us while they helped other customers so that was nice. They had wifi so we facetime’d with Winnie while we ‘watched’ the video. By the time the video was done it wasn’t long and someone was able to help us. We got the canoe and brought it back to the car to get our gear organized. We ‘portaged’ down to the lake. Our packs were real heavy but surprisingly we were able to get to the lake in one load. I had hoped we could single portage, but as I picked up our two (mostly) loaded packs not long before we left, I knew there was no way we would be able to single. We got the canoe in the water, loaded up, and we were finally on our way at 11:30, not too shabby.

As we got a little ways onto Sawbill it felt like it was going to be a long/slow day. I had guessed 4-6 hours to get to Cherokee depending on wind, single vs double portaging, and just our speed in general. I figured it would probably be closer to 6 because everything always seems to take us longer. We got to the portage at the north end of Sawbill at 12:30, so one hour felt pretty good. I figured since we were able to get from the Sawbill parking lot down to the lake in one load, we may as well try single portaging. I could always ditch the canoe or the pack along the way if it was too much. I loaded Claire up with my new CCS Guide pack since I thought it would be more comfortable for her. I hoisted the Granite Gear #4 onto my shoulders, then picked up the canoe. It was a heavy load but we did it. We met 3 or so groups on the portages between Sawbill and Cherokee. 

At the end of the Ada Creek/Ada Lake portage we talked to a guy that said the last one was ‘the portage from hell’. I hadn’t read anything about that portage being difficult so I was a little confused. As we paddled up to the Ada/Skoop portage I saw a white head poking up from the weeds. A bald eagle was on the ground, feeding on something right by the portage. As we got closer it took off and flew right over us, only about 30 feet away. The Ada/Skoop portage was pretty annoying next to the creek. It sure would have been nice to paddle that like you used to be able to. It was very rocky and not much of a path so it was slow going. 

The ‘portage from hell’ ended up not being bad. It was very easy, just longer. We both got tired at the end. We later realized he was double portaging with pretty large loads so that’s probably why he thought it was so bad. Cherokee Creek was beautiful. We had one beaver dam liftover that, thanks to Movington’s trip report, we made sure not to step off of and sink up to our waist in mud. After checking with our paddles we saw that was definitely a possibility. 

We arrived on Cherokee at 3:30. We couldn’t see anyone at any of the southern sites as you entered Cherokee but we did hear someone. One of the guys we talked to on the portages in said they were at the nice site with the rock (site 899) and it still looked open, but we opted to go further into Cherokee. We saw one canoe out to the north. We went south between the big island (site 888) and the southern shore. It was shallow with rocks but the bottom was solid so I got out and walked the canoe through. We didn’t see the site shown on my map that was just SE of there. We aimed for site 890 knowing that it was supposed to be a nice site and within shouting distance of Friday morning’s portage to Sitka. 

It was open! We made it to the site by 4:00 and it was awesome. We had some fois gras that a friend gave us that we decided to bring with to have as a snack with crackers. The little opening tool broke and it took a good 15-20 minutes to get it open. There was a lot of oil and it got real messy, but it was also really good. Earlier at the outfitter, someone asked if we thought we would make it to our site before the rain. That led me to believe rain was coming soon. It actually became quite sunny on our way in and it was beautiful when we got to the site. Clouds rolled in shortly after arriving and we thought it might rain. All of the firewood around the site was wet. We found some dry stuff but still had a hard time keeping it lit due to all of the recent rain. It had been a real rainy summer. It started to lightly rain off and on around 9pm. We were in bed by 10 and Claire was out immediately. The day really couldn’t have gone any better. Claire was able to keep her feet dry all day despite the mud. I was shocked/impressed/proud that we were able to single portage all day. It ended up only taking us 4 and a half hours to reach our site on Cherokee.

~Sawbill Lake, Ada Lake, Skoop Lake, Cherokee Lake


Lakes Traveled:   Sawbill Lake, Ada Lake, Skoop Lake, Cherokee Lake,

Day 2 of 4

Friday, September 16, 2016

I woke up sometime around 7:30. I let Claire sleep a bit because she only had 4 hours of sleep the night before. A red squirrel was throwing pine cones at me from the top of a nearby pine. I could see the pine cones thrown up right at the top of the tree and then land with a thud near me. He did not want us there. We weren’t in any sort of a hurry and finally left Cherokee at 11. The Sitka portage was harder than we thought. There was a very steep incline immediately that got the heart pumping and it felt like we were recovering from it the rest of the portage. It would definitely be easier coming from Sitka. 

Sitka was beautiful. We wished there was a site there. The next portage to North Temperance wasn’t bad. It was also a beautiful lake. We checked the middle site and it was only ok. There wasn’t much of a view. We wanted to try for the north island site. There was a canoe fishing just south of the island and we figured they were probably staying there. I thought we should go find out if they were actually staying there because it wasn’t far away, but Claire wanted to try for the 5 star site on South Temperance. 

The portage to South Temperance was easy but the landing was rocky and deep. Right as we came out of the bay we saw the middle north site was taken. It looked like they had just gotten there because they were setting up. After a little confusion with the islands we found the prime southern site. It only looked ok from the water and as we got closer we saw it was occupied. At some point the wind picked up a bit and a drizzle turned to a light rain for 10-15 minutes. We headed towards the NW site that I was pretty interested in. It looked open until we were right on top of it. As we were making our way east a canoe passed us. We asked if they knew if they far eastern site was open and they said it was when they got there two days ago. We should have asked but we thought they might have been the ones fishing on North Temperance. We made our way to the east site and it was also taken. The last 3 sites all looked open until we were right on top of them. I briefly thought about checking out Brule since it was a short 10 rod portage, with 3 sites near the portage, but I thought it was a little risky not knowing if they were any good or if they were taken, plus we knew that at least 2 of the 3 on North Temperance should be open. 

We decided to head back to North Temperance. Just as we were getting to the portage a father and daughter in an aluminum canoe were not far behind. I was surprised how big of a pack the girl carried (maybe age 10ish?). They were very friendly. We decided to head back to the middle site and had a hard time deciding if we should try for the north island site and risk it being taken. Claire looked at the middle site again. There was a large-ish downed tree almost over the fire grate and we decided if we lost the middle site while looking at the northern site, we could just take the southern site since the middle wasn’t so great. The father/daughter saw us leave the middle site as they came around the corner and it looked like they were headed for that site. 

We circled around the west side of the island where our maps showed the site. We found it on the NE side, it was open! It didn’t look great from the water but it turned out to be fantastic. By now it was almost 4pm. If we would have gone straight there instead of going to South Temperance, we could have been there by 1:30. 

We walked around the NE side of the island a bit. We had an even harder time finding firewood here. I started a fire but failed. Claire of course got a nice one going. She is a master fire builder. We didn’t have an expansive view of the lake but the moonrise was right in the middle of our view and it was amazing. It was a beautiful night so we enjoyed it and finally got to bed well after midnight.

~Cherokee Lake, Sitka Lake, North Temperance Lake, South Temperance Lake, North Temperance Lake


Lakes Traveled:   Cherokee Lake, Sitka Lake, North Temperance Lake, South Temperance Lake, North Temperance Lake,

Day 3 of 4

Saturday, September 17, 2016

I woke up to rain around 6. It was raining hard so I decided to keep sleeping. I woke up at least one more time and then again around 9 and it was a consistent steady rain. I finally decided to get up even though it was raining and started to pack. The rain stopped shortly after. 

We finally got out of there at noon. It was overcast but otherwise beautiful. The 240 rod was a little tough and we were both VERY sore afterward. The length made the heavy packs hurt. There were a couple heavy bursts of rain and everything was soaked. Claire finally had to get her feet wet at some point. 

A couple having lunch on an island on Jack said they had a standoff and were 10 ft from 2 moose at the Kelly portage. The gal almost seemed a little shaken up. It made Claire a little uneasy too, but I was really hoping to see the moose. Unfortunately we didn’t see them. We also didn’t see either of the sites on Jack, although we didn’t plan to stay there so we didn’t look hard. Jack was a fairly long paddle, but also very pretty. The grass and lily pads made it slow. We took a quick detour to check out the mine at the Kelly portage. We were a bit tired and kind of hoping for the north site on Kelly near the rapids but it wasn’t very nice. We hoped the other Kelly sites were open. The last thing we wanted to do was have to take the long portage to Burnt. Luckily the first site was open (site 824) and we arrived around 4. It was a very nice site and I think we got lucky. 

Two people paddled by around 5. They had packs but they looked on the small side and they didn’t look like they were eagerly looking for a site. We hoped they were just day tripping since it seemed like all of the sites on Kelly were full. It kept raining off and on, but was also very sunny at times. Claire wanted the pesky red squirrel to come over so she could rub its belly. That gave me a good laugh. It started raining as I picked up for bed. Hopefully this was the last time it was going to rain. Claire was in the tent at 9 and I climbed in at 9:30. I had some catching up to do on my journal and didn’t finish writing until almost 10:30. 

A lot of the portages this day were along the river and were very pretty. There were 2 or 3 waterfalls. The father/daughter duo looked like they were staying on the middle North Temperance site again. We talked to an older couple at the southern South Temperance portage. They were ‘inspired’ that we were single portaging. They were very nice. I hope that’s us in 30ish years. 

~North Temperance Lake, South Temperance Lake, Weird Lake, Jack Lake, Kelly Lake


Lakes Traveled:   North Temperance Lake, South Temperance Lake, Weird Lake, Jack Lake, Kelly Lake,

Day 4 of 4

Sunday, September 18, 2016

It was a beautiful morning and also very foggy. I could barely see across the lake. The fog slowly burned off and it was absolutely perfect weather by the time we left. The lake was glass all morning until minutes after we left around 9:30. We saw about where the other campsites were and realized ours was the best location of the sites around us because we were outside of that bay. We were sort of dreading the first portage because it was another longer one and our friend (who had given us the fois gras) had told us how much it sucked when he did it a few months earlier. It really didn’t seem all that bad other than the length. Our shoulders (especially mine) were sore from the previous days and that was really the only issue. 

Burnt was a nice lake but the water was very murky/green. We got to the Burnt/Smoke portage and there was a group there we had to wait for. We made it to the dock at the Smoke/Sawbill portage and had a bit of a tough time getting close enough to get out without sinking up to our necks in mud. We stayed clean and were soon headed off across Sawbill for our last several minutes in the b-dub. Claire actually shed a few tears because she was so sad we were leaving. 

Sawbill Lake was packed. I counted around 10 canoes in sight at one time. It looked like a lot of people were day tripping and/or out fishing. We pulled up around the far side of the dock to the rocks. I had the canoe up on the gravel on shore and as I was picking it up to head to the car, it was wet and slipped out of my hand and came crashing down. Of course the only time this has happened to me is right in front of a bunch of people. Returning our equipment was very easy and we were quickly on the road. We got to Sawbill right about noon and were on the road between 12:30 and 1. 

We pulled up to Castle Danger at 3:15. We ordered pizza from North Shore Cafe and it was really good. We had two beers each and were finally on our way at 4:30. A little longer stop than we wanted but it was nice outside and nice to relax on the deck. My parents watched our 20 month old and the dogs for the second two nights of our trip and were nice enough to bring them to our house for us, saving us an extra 2 hours of driving. 

~Kelly Lake, Burnt Lake, Smoke Lake, Sawbill Lake


Lakes Traveled:   Kelly Lake, Burnt Lake, Smoke Lake, Sawbill Lake,

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