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

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

8/21/17 - The Forest Service has received a handful of reports of bear activity in the Boundary Waters this summer and has asked us to pass that information along to our customers.

Bears have been spotted in campsites on Ogishkemunchi, Gneiss, Knife, Duncan, and Seagull. There was no aggressive behavior in any of these cases, although some of the bears did make a mess.

Water bottles that the bears had chewed on. If you put drink mixes into your water bottles, it is a good idea to store them in your food pack at night. Bears love sweet scents!

Keeping a clean camp is key to preventing bear activity. Hang your food packs well above the ground, and not in the most obvious tree if possible

If you do see a bear, shoo it away by making yourself bigger than the bear (e.g. standing on your toes, arms above your head) and make a lot of noise.

Zoomed-in photo of one of this summer's visitors. - Elena

8/20/17 - Sawbill has been in the news quite a bit lately. A few weeks ago, a team of reporters from NBC came up to interview Clare Shirley about her experience with the loss of OB/GYN services in rural communities.

After the birth center in Grand Marais was closed, Clare had planned to deliver her daughter Kit, who was born last May, in Duluth, a 2.5 hour drive from Sawbill. But life doesn't always go according to plan.

When it became clear that Clare wasn't going to make it to Duluth before Kit was born, the ambulance that met the Shirleys on Highway 61 took them to Sawtooth Clinic in Grand Marais where Kit was born 25 minutes later.

You can listen to Clare tell her story in the video below, and read the full story here. - Elena

8/14/17 - Blueberry picking is a traditional summer activity, but the North Woods offers another delectable treat that requires a little more hunting: Mushrooms.

Yesterday, several of the Sawbill crew went searching for lobster mushrooms, and to great success.

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Clare and Jesse hard at work

Lobster mushrooms (hypomyces lactifluorum) are named after their distinctive color, which is similar to cooked lobster meat. When cooking lobster mushrooms, it is important not to over-do it, as the flavor can be easily lost. They are delicious when paired with a white wine.

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A beautiful bounty

Mushroom hunting should always be done with caution and with an experienced hunter. Happy gathering ~ Elena

8/13/17 - After a day of rain followed by a stretch of warm sunny weather, the blueberries are at their peak right now. The patch is full of perfectly plump, ripe berries. Cindy and I took Kit on her first berry picking excursion yesterday. She is a big fan of tromping around in the woods. She quickly learned how to pick berries off the bush, but not many of them made it all the way to her bucket.

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Kit shows Cindy the way.

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Cindy teaches Kit how to pick berries without picking leaves.



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