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BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

December 07 2022

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

Cherokee Loop-First solo

by Moosetrax
Trip Report

Entry Date: September 15, 2020
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (38)
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
First time back to the BWCA in 34 years. I was 13 when I first visited and wanted to experience it again. Now with additional free time in my life I decided it was time to head back. It did not disappoint!

Day 1 of 6

Monday, September 14, 2020 The drive from the Twin Cities to the North Shore is always an enjoyable scenic drive. I had been planning this trip for a few months. Thanks to messageboards for all the information that made my trip a success! Reading others trip reports was valueable AND entertaining! After the beautiful drive and a short stop at Gooseberry Falls on Highway 61 I turned north when I reached the town of Tofte, MN. First wildlife encounter on county road 2 heading toward Sawbill. A bear cub alongside the road. Pretty cool. No traffic behind me so I slowed down to snap a shot of him before he spooked and darted off into the woods. About a 30 min drive from Tofte to Sawbill Campground and I was there. I stayed at Sawbill campground the first night so I could get an early start the next day as I was wanting to get to Cherokee Lake by early afternoon. Sawbill has a wonderful campground and was a perfect launching place for my expedition. I settled in to campsite #12 which had nice access to the lake. The next day the adventure would begin.


Day 2 of 6

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 I packed up my camp and headed to Sawbill Outfitters by about 8:30am. The friendly people at Sawbill had my canoe ready. I rented a Wenonah Vagabond solo canoe and tried out a bent paddle for the first time. I launched around 0900 and headed north on Sawbill Lake. I was very lucky on this trip as it seemed like the wind was helping me most of the time. It's a gorgeous lake and I thought that sometime I'd like to stay a night on it. But today my goal was to reach Cherokee Lake. The portages were pretty straightforward. I planned to double portage and decided to carry the canoe and the CCS Rucksack on the first trip and CCS Explorer pack with oar, fishing rod and life vest on the second. This worked well the entire journey. I reached Cherokee creek at about 1400 and off I went to find a campsite on Cherokee. I got the vibe throughout the day that it was very busy up there so I wanted to find a campsite ASAP. I found the campsite #903 was available so I took it and by about 1430 I had my place to stay. It has a gorgeous view to the north and is well protected. It isn't listed on as a campsite but it right where a fishing spot locater is. Might not be the best site on the lake but it was fantastic for me as a solo. My plan was to stay one night on Cherokee but if I had to do it again I would have done two. ~Sawbill Lake, Ada Lake, Skoop Lake, Cherokee Lake


Day 3 of 6

Wednesday, September 16, 2020 My plan today was to have an easier day and just make it to South Temperance Lake. I could almost throw a rock from my Cherokee campsite and hit the portage to Sitka Lake so I was there in no time. I stayed on top of the weather forecast with my Garmin InReach and knew that today was supposed to be windy but again it was a tail wind. By the time I got to South Temperance Lake I already was thinking that I might not find a site which would mean I'd just continue south until I did. I put in on the north side of South Temperance and the water was calm. But it wouldn't stay that way. As I headed south on the lake I checked out 2 of the 4 campsites on the lake and both were taken. I decided to continue south. As I got about halfway down the lake I could feel the tailwind kicking in. The water became really choppy. I didn't see a problem until I was approaching the landing for the portage. At the last second the wind blew me to the left of the landing and as luck would have it a fellow solo tripper was there to help. He grabbed the bow and stabilized the canoe and had he not done so I think I would have dumped it. Thanks Barkley for your help! My new friend had been standing at the edge of the lake for about an hour waiting for the wind to die down. We came to the conclusion that it was not going to be any time soon and so Barkley made the tough but wise decision to turn around and head back south resulting in 2 230rd portages back to back! Barkley took the campsite on Weird and I continued south to Jack. I had intel that the north site on Jack was open so that's where I was headed. The site was oriented a little different than it was on the map so it took me about 30 minutes to find it. If it weren't for Kimberly (the solo tripper in the south campsite) I wouldn't have found it and continued on to Kelly Lake. Thanks Kim! I settled in to my new camp at about 1430. That night at about 2000 sitting by my camp fire I heard A LOT of water moving close to my camp. I went to the water's edge and looked to my right. It was twilight and getting dark. At first I saw nothing. Then there it was, emerging from behind the point was the perfect silhouette of a cow moose. Fantastic! She got out of the water, shook, then headed into the brush. That night I woke at about midnight to the sound of Ms. Moose wading in the shallow. Fell asleep again and then woke up about 0300 to the sounds of two sets of wolves howling. So cool because it really sounded like a conversation. ~Cherokee Lake, Sitka Lake, North Temperance Lake, South Temperance Lake, Weird Lake, Jack Lake


Day 4 of 6

Thursday, September 17, 2020 A cold morning. I woke up to some frost covering the canoe, tent and items around camp. I had my coffee and rehydrated bacon and eggs and off I went. Met up with Barkley on the next portage as we were both planning on snagging sites on Burnt Lake. A beautiful, crisp, cool and calm morning! Very enjoyable paddling as we headed south and eventually accomplished the 210rd portage into Burnt. This day I was fortunate to find the the first site I investigated was open. I believe it was the only island site on Burnt. The only disappointment about this lake and Smoke are that they were very stained with algae. Not the typical BWCA generally clear lake. Very nice spacious site with trail going around the entire island. 3 to 4 tent pads around the island. This site would be great for a group but since it was so busy I snagged it. Tried a little fishing from the eastern shore but no luck. ~Jack Lake, Kelly Lake, Burnt Lake


Day 5 of 6

Friday, September 18, 2020 Today was my "rest" day. I planned on generally taking it easy. Gathering enough wood for a nice "last night" campfire. BTW, lots of firewood options on this site with easy access. I harvested most of it from the north end of the island. Very good quality. I decided to take the canoe out and give fishing an honest try. I trolled with spinners and crank baits. Tried jigging with plastics. After a couple hours without a bite I decided to hang it up and just enjoy being out in the wilderness. Pretty cool to have an eagle flying over you while fishing! That night I enjoyed a nice fire and a little bourbon. My nightly ritual. I was able to message with my family with the Garmin InReach. This was a valuable tool and glad that I had purchased it. ~Burnt Lake


Day 6 of 6

Saturday, September 19, 2020 I woke up early and got a good start. Just two portages to get back to Sawbill Lake. On the Burnt to Smoke portage I ran across a couple grouse on the trail. Sweet! The trip back to Sawbill seemed to fly by. There was a very near miss though on the way out of Smoke. The portage from Smoke to Sawbill has a wood dock-like structure that you unload onto and it's got an irregular shape to it. I guess I was pretty tired because I put my rucksack on and pulled the canoe out of the water and hoisted it up onto my shoulders. I then damn near stepped right of the dock! Holy crap that was close and right at the end of the trip! Thankfully I caught my mistake and stayed dry. I got back to Sawbill Outfitters at about 1130 and man was that place buzzing! Very busy place mostly with people heading out. Ultimately this was the perfect getaway and left me wanting more. I will be back!~Burnt Lake, Smoke Lake, Sawbill Lake


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