Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

A Bucket List Trip to Cherokee Lake
by alpine525

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/25/2014
Entry & Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
A visit to Cherokee Lake has been on my bucket list for many years. We attempted to get to Cherokee in 1996 via Ham, Cross Bay, Rib and down through Long Island. In 1996 we made it as far as Long Island and had to cut our trip short because of my husband’s bad back. Over the years I read trip reports and looked at pictures of Cherokee, and I wanted desperately to get there. I think it was Spartan 2’s trip report that did the trick. Her story was beautiful, her photography outstanding and her trip report fueled my desire to make this trip happen.

Over the winter I studied maps, I read trip reports; I tried to find out as much about the portages as possible. My husband has had four back surgeries and more often than not, I end up carrying the heavy packs while he takes the canoe. We wanted to be sure we could do it. And we did.

Our journey started at Sawbill Lake Campground with a one night stay at camp site #5. We enjoyed meeting the crew at Sawbill Outfitters and found everyone to be friendly and helpful.

We put in at 7:00 a.m. on a very foggy Monday morning, August 25th. We paddled up Sawbill and tackled the first two portages without any trouble.

The next portage was a different story. My McKenzie map indicated two short portages between Ada and Skoop Lakes with a stream in between these portages. We began paddling a marshy stretch of water which we thought was the stream. Well, we found out it was not a stream. It was mostly mud with a little water, and we inched our way through until I finally got out and lined the canoe. Fortunately we were able to exit the canoe and used the portage that was created in the tall grass on the west side of the water/stream. I wish I had known about this in advance. It would have made things a lot easier. It made the last portage (the long one) seem like a piece of cake. Interestingly, we saw no other paddlers between Sawbill Lake and Cherokee Lake – we had the portages to ourselves for which we were thankful.

Cherokee Lake greeted us with gusts of wind on a late summer afternoon. My goal was to find a five-star campsite - I knew Cherokee had a few. Our first stop was Spartan 1 and Spartan 2’s site which was beautiful but we took a pass because of the swarm of mosquitoes. Then we checked out the site on the big island. Sadly, it was occupied. So we set out in the driving wind for a camp site on the western shore. It took a great deal of effort to get there. Every stroke of the paddle inched us closer. It was quite a fight. We landed. A good landing.

At first glance the camp site seemed small. But in the end, it worked to our advantage – for sure, this was a 4-star site – but it had a 5-star view. The Forest Service placed a dedicated tent pad surrounded by timber on two sides. The tent pad was level, free of tree roots and rocks. First time I've seen anything like this in the BW.

The tent went up, Expeds next, and then the sleeping bags. Very comfortable. There were tress for hammocks and tarps.

After some lunch and a rest in the hammocks we sat in our new Helinox chairs and watched the waves blow across the water. The water sparkled like diamonds. Cherokee Lake is stunning.

We loved the Helinox chairs - very comfortable and they pack down small.

Over the course of the next week we fished and explored and relaxed. We did not have great luck fishing – but the lake was perfect for exploring.

During our trip we saw very little wildlife - we saw bald eagles, grouse, one frog and a chipmunk. The absence of wildlife on the campsite was unusual.

I will forever remember this trip to Cherokee - the area is so beautiful. I don't know if we will be back - there are so many other lakes to explore. But I'm thinking none will be as beautiful as Cherokee.