Contact Us:
Phone: (218)663-7150
Fax: (218)663-7980
Mail: 4620 Sawbill Trail
Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter

2/26/18 - The Kelso loop was in fine form this past Saturday between the recent bouts of weekend snow. I'm happy to report minimal slush, manageable snow depths, and beautiful weather. Hoping everyone else was able to enjoy this fresh fluff a bit as well. -Jessica

Early on in the day we happened upon these river otter tracks zigzagging their way across the lake. Much like our skis this otter maximized efficiency/fun by sliding across the snow on its belly. According to the Minnesota DNR, river otters sometimes travel up to 25 miles in a weeks time, which is not so surprising after following this little guy or gals tracks for a short amount of time.

Visiting former crew member Carla is pictured in the foreground as the sun tries to break through the start of Saturday nights looming storm.

1/17/18 - We're still here, and its still wonderfully snowy outside. Below is the view from the landing yesterday afternoon. Beautiful, isn't it?

About a week ago the ice measured 24" thick. The test hole was drilled about halfway between the landing and Mouse Island (pictured above). No evidence remains after the snow and wind we've received the past few days. -Jessica

1/4/18 - Happily, the season is upon us for visiting past and present crew. Yesterday afternoon Brian, Claire, Meg, and myself embraced the -3 degrees while skiing through the snow laden trees around Sawbill. It's always nice to see friendly faces during this chilly time of year. -Jessica

Brian Henry soaking in the late afternoon sun.

Claire Mutch, Megan Price, and Jessica Hemmer post frigged ski.

12/22/17 - Sawbill's remote location presents some interesting challenges when it comes to energy. This picture lends some clues as to how we capture the energy needed to heat the buildings and keep the lights on. -Jessica

From left to right; stack of wood, generator sheds, solar panel, stacks and stacks of wood. Not pictured; more stacks of wood.

12/12/17 - As we approach the darkest days of the year its nice to step back and notice the long shadows and distinct thumping sound of ice forming on the lake. Today the sun will be above the horizon for only 8 of 24 hours. These shorter days give us a very good excuse to hunker down with a hot beverage, good book, and maybe some knitting. Happy winter everyone! - Jessica

On this 12th day of the 12th month I measured 12 inches of ice on the south end of Sawbill lake just before noon. Twilight zone stuff right there.

11/17/17 - With the arrival of snow came a deep sense of relaxation up here in the woods. While we love the long summer days, we do look forward to a little down-time come November. Cindy used to call it her "November Nap." We're not going to let it turn into full hibernation, though. We're already working steadily behind the scenes to be ready for next paddling season.

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Sawbill customer David Armstrong shared this snowy vision of Polly Lake, shortly before ice up.

Sawbill Lake officially froze over on November 9, a little earlier than usual.

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Portaging is best done with snowshoes this time of year.

We are thrilled to have Sawbill crewmember Jessica Hemmer with us through the winter season. She's been busy updating the Sawbill Store with a wide variety of used outfitting equipment, used canoes, and some select merchandise.

While we're officially closed for the season, we are still around and answering phones and emails. We don't have an answering machine though (sometimes living off the grid really is as quaint as it sounds), so if we don't answer try again later or shoot us an email.


10/29/17 - Before the last of our summer crew departed to their various winter destinations, we made sure to celebrate a busy and beautiful fall with the annual pumpkin carving party. This fall has been one to enjoy - warm days full of paddling, hunting, and outfitting BWCA visitors.

L-R: Tyler's Jack Skellington, Britta's arabic cat, Jessica's goofball, Elena's campsite, Clare's starry night sky, Jesse's traditional Jack 'o Lantern, Dan's subtle abstract, Heidi's Ursa Major, and Tess's moose.

Fall, though, seems to have abruptly left us. While much of the North Shore of Lake Superior got hit with big wind and waves, we at Sawbill experienced our first winter storm. Seven inches of snow fell overnight on Thursday, and by all appearances, it is here to stay. Typically we have a few snow falls that melt away before winter really sets in. The forecast for the next week though shows all freezing temperatures and more snow expected.

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Dan and Clare's backyard looking ready for snowmen and skiing!

The canoes have all been put into winter storage, and our store is buttoned up. We are here year round, and will be answering phones and email whenever we aren't out skiing. We are still refurbishing used kevlar canoes for sale, and will post them on this website, under the Sawbill Store tab, as they are ready. The lakes haven't frozen over yet, and I don't expect they will until late November. Opportunities to paddle the lakes while the forest is so snowy are limited, so now is the time if you want to see the frozen woods from a canoe!


10/12/17 - Fall color is in full swing here at Sawbill, but so is the frosty fall weather! Due to freezing temperatures at night, the Forest Service shut off water in the Sawbill and Crescent Campgrounds today. If you made a reservation for any sites on these two campgrounds and would like a refund, please go through Additionally, the Temperance Campground is now closed. The Outfitters is still open for business for those hardy souls who want to come and enjoy the season! - Britta

A recent visitor, Matt Eidenschink, caught these colors while paddling around Sawbill Lake.

10/1/17 - It's hard to believe it, but October is here! Leaves are changing all up and down the Sawbill Trail, and the temperature at night has reached 34 degrees! The key to fall camping is layers.

Aspens on the Sawbill Trail.

As of today, you no longer have to reserve a permit for overnight camping in the Boundary Waters. Simply fill out one of the paper permits at the entry point landing, keep the top copy for yourself and file the other in the designated box.

The sun sets on September.

The sun is setting pretty early these days, so be sure to get out on the water by mid-afternoon if not earlier to get your camp set up before dark.

Happy October! - Elena

9/29/17 - Dolly the English setter went missing near the Temperance River campground, midway up the Sawbill Trail, on Wednesday. If you are in the area, please keep an eye out, and let us know if you find her.

Dolly is a white 40-lb female English setter with brown ticking and ears. She was wearing a blue collar and an orange "track and train" collar.

9/22/17 - Today is the autumnal equinox, the day with equal parts sun and night, and the official beginning of fall.

Autumn is an important time to be on the lookout for moose, as it is their mating season. While you might see more moose because of this, please take care, as bull moose can be aggressive during this time of year. Viewing from a safe distance is always awe inspiring and quite the treat. Happy fall! -Britta

This bull moose was spotted a few days ago not far from Sawbill by crewmember Jessica Hemmer.

9/15/17 - Recently, the Quetico Superior Foundation ran a lovely feature story about Sawbill. The article starts:

"There is an outfitter at the end of the Sawbill Trail, to the northwest of Lutsen, Minnesota, where customers and staff return year after year and whose names are remembered. They become part of a kind of family tree, a network of people connected to the place and the family at its center. The Hansens, and now the Shirleys, have been running Sawbill Canoe Outfitters since 1957, creating more than a business. It's a place where annual traditions, lifelong friendships and marriages have been born. Their story suggests that it's still possible to combine business with the magic of introducing campers to canoe country and raising a family."

You can read the full article on their website, here.

Frank and Mary Alice Hansen, Sawbill's founders and grandparents of current co-owner Clare Shirley.


9/7/17 - The first signs of fall are appearing here on the Wilderness edge. The small maples in particular are already quite brilliant.

We are now operating on fall hours, 8am - 7pm.



9/2/17 - Every Labor Day we kick off the fall season with a group of friends who are more like family now. These musicians arrive this weekend each year to fish all day and play music in the canoe yard all night. It's a treat for us and the best way to welcome to fall!

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8/23/17 - Last week Sawbill was featured in not one, but two articles in the Duluth News Tribune. Since not all of our newsletter readers are from the Duluth area, we are re-posting an excerpt from one of the articles titled "Stories from Sawbill: Bears and other visitors make an outfitter's life interesting" by Sam Cook. The full article can be read here.

Bear comes shopping

One day, Bill Hansen was working in the outfitting office when an employee, John Schrag, popped in.

He said, 'I have a question,' " Hansen recalled. " 'Should there be a bear in the store?' "

"No. Is there one?" Hansen asked Schrag.

"Yes," Schrag replied.

So, the two of them walked down to the outfitting store. Sure enough, there was the bear.

"He was fully in the store, but he was kind of holding the door open with his back end," Hansen said. "I said, 'Nope. Out you go.' And he ran off."

We love hearing about your own Sawbill stories, so please send them and any pictures you have from your trip to! - Elena


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