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

4/23/17 - The ice is out on Sawbill Lake! We also had our very first customers the next day! Canoe season is upon us with the Loons already singing and Grouse are drumming away.

It seems like only yesterday that the sun was setting at 4pm and there was 32 inches of ice. Come take advantage of the early thaw with a dip in the lake just like the Sawbill crew!

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Beach Club 2017

4/21/17 - It's official, the ice on Sawbill is out! We are too busy opening the beach club and paddling around to other area lakes to post a photo today, but we'll put one up soon. Kawishiwi beat Sawbill with ice out yesterday. Alton lake is still frozen, but the ice is slushy and dark and will likely be out soon. -Clare

4/18/17 - The uniquely Minnesotan season known as Sprinter has taken hold here at Sawbill. Not quite willing to relinquish its hold to Spring, Winter is having a (hopefully) last hurrah. In the last two days we've had day time temps in the low 40s, with overnight lows around 27 and a mixture of hail, freezing rain, and even a dusting of snow. Sawbill Lake is still ice covered, although it has detached from shore and floated up. A few hardy merganser ducks have found their way to the small area of open water by the Sawbill creek outflow.

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A chilly Sprinter morning at Sawbill.

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This star nosed mole fell victim to the icy water between the landing and the ice. We found him right at the canoe launch a few days ago. His interesting nose and huge feet were fun to inspect up close! -Clare

4/14/17 - The days are flying by up here as we quickly prepare ourselves for the arrival of excited paddlers. We've been hard at work scrubbing the store, pulling things out of storage, and refurbishing for-sale canoes as we prep the new ones for their first year in the rental fleet.

The days are warm, but it is still freezing overnight. The lake has about 8 inches of ice still, but it is honeycombed and no longer safe to travel on (just ask Huckleberry, he's ok but has taken several unintentional swims).

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Kit watches as Dan, Jesse and Huck walk the plank to measure the remaining ice.

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The sun sets on perhaps one of ice's last days on Sawbill.


4/6/17 - A big welcome to returning Sawbill crewmember Jessica Hemmer! This is Jessica's seventh season with us and we are SO GLAD she's back for another summer of Wilderness fun. Jessica reports that the ice is 17 inches thick on the lake as of yesterday afternoon, it's going fast!

4/3/17 - We welcome the month of April along with the arrival of our good friend and first crew member of the season. Jesse Bergeson has a vast background of hands-on Wilderness conservation work throughout Montana and Idaho. Jesse was introduced to the BWCAW by his grandfather. We are excited to have such an experienced Wilderness traveler and advocate join our crew!

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For his first day, Huckleberry trained Jesse in proper ice auger technique. Jesse and Huck report that the ice is 24 inches thick with an inch of slush on top.


3/28/17 - Let the ice measuring begin! When we encountered a lake covered in large puddles at the start of our daily cross country ski, we thought it prudent to measure the ice before venturing too far. Lest you worry about us, there are still 24 inches of solid ice with about 4 inches of hard packed slush and snow on top of that. Our ski was a sloppy one, with soaking socks to prove it. With temperatures in the high 40's and the sun shining the sky was reflected perfectly in the large pools of standing water. It felt for all the world like we were skiing on the sky.

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Who needs pushups when you can auger through 24" of ice?


3/16/17 - It's still winter up at Sawbill. The lake ice is thick, and the surface is pretty slick thanks to the warm weather and freezing nights. There is a nice ribbon of windswept snow along the eastern shore though, allowing us to squeeze in some skiing.

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Dan, Kit and Huck enjoying some much needed Vitamin D.

3/3/17 - If you got your permit through us last summer, chances are we asked you to fill out a short survey. The survey was studying the economic impact of visitors to the BWCAW, commissioned by Friends of the Boundary Waters in partnership with Conservation Economics Institute and Quetico-Superior Foundation. The results are in, and they are astounding! The study, conducted during the 2016 summer tourism season, found that out-of-region visitors spent $57 million in the three surrounding counties: Cook, Lake and St. Louis. This spending led to the creation of nearly 1,000 jobs and overall economic output of $77 million in one summer season.

Joe Friedrichs, of our local radio station WTIP, recently did a great feature on the study, which you can listen to here.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out and return the survey! We are happy to know that the data supports what we've always known to be true; visitors to the BWCA are a major economic driver in our region.

2/20/17 - With temps in the 40s these past few days it's been feeling more and more like spring. With about three feet of snow on the ground before the thaw, we still have quite a bit of the white stuff even with the warm days. Here's hoping that we get a few more days of good cross country skiing before the summer season. Dan measured lake ice yesterday and there was about 25 inches, with a big layer of slush on top of the ice. Sawbill Creek and Alton pond both have open water, so if you're out recreating on the lakes, be mindful of any moving water.

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This backyard snowshoe hare is pretty happy there is still snow covering the ground. He blends in pretty well, I'd say! You can see a video of his quick getaway on our Facebook page.

2/9/17 - Shoveling roofs...
One common winter chore is shoveling the roofs on buildings that can't bear a full snow load. Jessica is working on the roof of our crew housing. The peak of the roof is to her right and the solar panels are overhead. There is 32" of snow on the ground here at Sawbill. - Bill

1/31/17 - This January, the hearty Bear Paulsen and his wife Claire spent a little over two weeks winter camping up on Cherokee Lake. Cherokee is a popular lake in the summer, and Bear and Claire had no shortage of visitors skiing up to stay with them this winter. One such intrepid visitor was Irmeli, who is 85 years old!

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These happy campers had Cherokee all to themselves.

Longtime Sawbill campers John and Pam Chapman sent along this great photo of their grandson, Elliot, sporting his new Sawbill hoody. Pam and John bought this for him before he was born and have been anxiously awaiting him to grow into it.

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Elliot breaks in his new sweatshirt on a hike with mom and dad.

Entry permits for the BWCAW are now available to be reserved. Get yours at, or by giving us a call. It's a good idea to reserve one sooner rather than later, especially if you are hoping to enter on a holiday weekend.

1/12/16 - Sawbill is hiring!

For the past 60 years, Sawbill Canoe Outfitters has provided its customers with high quality outfitting services. Our success, in large part, is due to the wonderful crew members we have had over the years.

We are looking to round out our crew for the 2017 season, which runs from May 1 - October 31. We will work around your school schedule, but we are busiest during July and August and we need some people who can work the early and late season, so your availability is a strong consideration for us.

You are not hired for a particular job. We reschedule all the jobs on a weekly basis and you are generally able to choose the actual work you do. Inherent to our unique "work credit" system is a strong commitment to trust and cooperation.

Sound like something you are interested in? Fill out this form online, or request an application by emailing

As always, feel free to give us a call if you have any questions,

Clare & Dan Shirley

1/2/17 - We rang in 2017 with a whole host of visitors this year. Sawbill crew members Alissa, Owen, Britta, Claire, Kevin, Megan, Brian, Betsy and crew by association Amy, all came up to visit Dan, Clare, Jessica and Kit! Huckleberry was arguably the most delighted to see everyone.

With splendid blue skies and temperatures in the 20's we spent the daylight hours skiing and snowshoeing, saving the feasting and saunaing for the evenings. The lake ice is measuring at a very solid 15 inches of clear strong ice. There is about a foot of snow on top of that, and some large pockets of slush on Sawbill. A good set of snowshoes will keep you on top of it, though. -Clare

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Welcome to Wilderness, in the winter!

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Brian Henry captured the glorious last day of 2016.

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Kit loves to nap while snowshoeing (she has warm water bottles to snuggle in there).

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Claire, Megan, and Kevin winter camping on Sawbill.

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Happy New Year from (l-r) Clare, Kevin, Owen, Dan, Jessica, Britta, Claire, Alissa, Megan, and baby Kit. Thanks Brian for the photo!

12/29/16 - Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous New Year from us all at Sawbill!

Dan, Clare, and baby Kit flew the coop to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the holiday but are back in the frozen north now. Bill and Cindy along with crew member Jessica Hemmer graciously watched after Sawbill and Huckleberry while we were away. There is a lot of snow on the ground up here and winter campers have been making their way out onto the lakes. We'll update you on the conditions after we dig out from the underneath the pile of mail and snow awaiting us. -Clare

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