BWCA Sawbill/Alton/Kelso Week Long Trip Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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ewalls1
 
01/22/2022 02:00PM  
Hi all,

My dad and I are planning a trip to BWCA in late September/early October this year for about a week, maybe a little longer. We've been once before on a two night trip, during which we stayed on the north end of Sawbill Lake both nights. This time, we're thinking of setting up a 'base camp' on Kelso Lake and making day trips around Kelso, Sawbill, and Alton Lakes, returning to the camp at Kelso each night.

Has anyone done a similar style of camping in that area? How busy should we expect those lakes to be? We'd like to be in a low traffic area, so I'm curious if it'll be really busy since those lakes are right off of the edge of BWCA. We also considered heading to Cherokee Lake from Sawbill, but we're hesitant about portaging long distances as we've never had to before.
 
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01/22/2022 05:46PM  
We did a six-day trip in this area in 2009, which I realize is eons ago and so I cannot speak to how crowded things would be in this day and age when the whole area has been so much busier.

We didn't base camp, as we don't prefer base camping. But we did have fun in the area and we enjoyed our trip. If you would like to read about it:

The Celebration Trip

We also have been to Cherokee three times and it is, IMHO, one of the very most beautiful lakes in the BWCA. If I were you, and I had a week to spend in the BWCA, I would go to Cherokee for sure. We visited there the first time on our "Long Trip" in 1992, again in 2002 (haven't written that trip report yet), and finally in 2012. We quit canoe-tripping in 2013 due to health issues, but if there were one lake I would most like to see again, Cherokee would be either at, or very near the top.

The Long Trip

Return to Cherokee
cyclones30
distinguished member(3895)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
01/23/2022 08:45AM  
That late into the season you shouldn't have much issue finding an open campsite or seeing many people in general.

Either trip option should be good. Stay flexible and you can pick which one you're doing when you get up there and see how you're feeling and how the weather looks or forecast sounds before you go in.
ewalls1
 
01/23/2022 10:26AM  
Spartan2:

Those reports are great, it's awesome you guys were able to make the Celebration trip work. I think I'm going to try to talk my dad into portaging up to Cherokee. Everyone I've heard talk about Cherokee says it's a beautiful lake, and I'd like to see it. I also found some videos of the portages between Sawbill and Cherokee, and I don't think they look too difficult. Thank you!
ewalls1
 
01/23/2022 10:30AM  
cyclones30: "That late into the season you shouldn't have much issue finding an open campsite or seeing many people in general.


Either trip option should be good. Stay flexible and you can pick which one you're doing when you get up there and see how you're feeling and how the weather looks or forecast sounds before you go in. "


Sounds good, thank you! I think I'm going to try to talk my dad into going for Cherokee. I found videos of the portages between Sawbill and Cherokee and I don't think they'd be too difficult.
01/23/2022 10:45AM  
These are great lakes. I stilll have to write and upload my trip report, but last summer I did a day trip where I drove up to Sawbill lake (left home at 3:30am), paddled around Sawbill to Alton, to Kelso, top portion of Kelso, back to Sawbill via the Kelso River" on my Stand Up Paddleboard and drove back home to the cities that same night. (LOL)

Now I realize that's kind of an extreme version, but just to show that if you want a relaxing trip these three lakes are easily that, as you won't be pushing on the speed like I was.

I went at the end of July and saw several sites open on Sawbill Lake, and 1 was open on Kelso so I'm sure you won't have to worry about finding a campsite. I didn't really check Alton out because it was getting pretty wavy out so I was just concentrating on paddling.

If I had had more time (i.e. wasn't driving back to the cities that same night) I would have loved to explore Cherokee. I've heard from so many that its a gorgeous lake.

Like you said, stay flexible and you'll know what's right.

adittli
 
01/25/2022 12:38AM  
I was on Sawbill, Alton and Kelso lakes in mid/late October 2021. I was surprised at the number of groups we saw. I think we counted 8 groups in our 2 day trip (Friday/Saturday). I wouldn't expect to be very lonely there, even in late September.
01/25/2022 06:08AM  
If the weather is nice Sawbill will be busy. Cherokee is nice.
theshrewdloon
member (22)member
 
01/26/2022 01:59PM  
Been going to that area 2-3 times a year for the last three years. It's generally busy with the exception of shoulder seasons, which you're bordering on with late September/early October.

Cherokee is a great lake, but it's a popular lake too.

The weather forecast leading up to your entry date will be the best indicator of how busy it will be. Good weather = people.
 
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