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

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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12/19/16 - A good old fashioned Minnesota winter freeze set in this week and the lake ice is measuring about 9.5" around 50 feet out from shore. The cold has helped the slush to freeze solid from what we've experienced. Unfortunately, the windchills of around -20 to -30 have mostly kept us off the lake. Tomorrow though, it is supposed to be back on the above zero side of the thermometer. There isn't much snow on the ground, still only around 7 inches. Things are shaping up for some great lake skiing in 2017! -Clare

12/15/16 - Sawbill is enduring, and even enjoying, the first real deep freeze of the winter. Yesterday the high was -6. The last ice measurement, two days ago, was five and half inches of clear ice and no slush! I expect that it will be thicker every day with these sub-zero temps. -Clare

12/10/16 - Dan braved the questionable early season ice yesterday to get a thickness measurement. He reports that there are four inches of clear ice with about three inches of slush on top of that with an inch or so of snow on top of the slush.

Slush is formed when water flows up from cracks in the ice or around the edges of the lake. Often, a blanket of heavy snow on new ice will push the ice down and cause water to rise up. This water mixes with the snow and creates the slush layer. That slush is then insulated by any snow that remains on top of it. Snow is a remarkably good insulator and thus slushy conditions can persist even in the coldest parts of winter.

Slush is a bummer for outdoor enthusiasts. Slush stuck to your skis quickly freezes when exposed to the air leaving you lugging along heavy ice chunks on your feet instead of gliding over the surface like you'd hoped.

Slush doesn't occur in predictable patterns, so we have our fingers crossed that only the landing area is so slushy. With a new baby and dog in tow we didn't dare venture out any further to test the ice conditions. As this cold snap continues, we'll sneak farther and farther out to auger holes and keep you updated. -Clare

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We were treated to this sunset at 4:30 PM while we drilled a test hole in the lake ice.

11/30/16 - Reporting on ice out status is usually a spring job, but this fall the weather keeps us guessing. Warm temps and lots of rain have caused an interesting phenomenon on the lake. The ice is still there, but there is now an inch or more of water floating on top of it. This causes a strange appearance of open water that doesn't have any waves, regardless of how windy it gets. -Clare

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Bill snapped this photo showing the strange occurrence of Sawbill lake simultaneously frozen and open.

11/25/16 - The lake has officially frozen over here at Sawbill. As of two days ago, there was a skiff of ice covering all that we could see from the landing. We've had a bit more snow though, and day time temps are hovering around 34, with nights in the high-20s. So while we are impatiently waxing our skis, conditions are not yet safe for lake travel. -Clare

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The first delicate ice on south Sawbill.

11/20/16 - Winter arrived at Sawbill, literally overnight. Similar to much of Minnesota, we experienced quite the storm this past Friday. High winds and snow accumulation of 7.5" has turned the Wilderness into a sparkling snowglobe. One large tree came down, narrowly missing one of our buildings. The lake is still open, wavy waters are hard to freeze. We have our fingers crossed for some calm nights ahead; with temperatures forecasted to be in the single digits we could end up with the elusive "wild ice" which is perfect for ice skating. -Clare

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The Sawbill store is looking snug in its first winter coat of snow.

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High winds and freezing temperatures have created many ice sculptures on the shores of Sawbill Lake.

11/10/16 - Unseasonably warm and beautiful weather continues here at Sawbill this fall. The skies are blue, the waters are sparkling and it's almost tempting to go for a swim! There are subtle signs of winter approaching, however. Snow buntings, small birds with bright white wings, are flocking across the road. The loons have flown south taking their haunting wails with them, leaving a hint of the quietness that will soon envelope the wilderness. We saw a small snowshoe hare while on a walk yesterday that has started to turn from brown to white. We are taking these hints of winter to heart and enjoying these warm sunny days while we have them, and hope you are too. -Clare

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Dan's keen eye spotted this little bunny just off the trail.

11/4/16 - We had visitors of a four-legged variety yesterday. They must've heard us talking about putting in a new fire pit in the backyard and stopped by to check it out. It's the neighborly thing to do, after all. -Clare

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A moose cow and calf cruising through our backyard. Visit Sawbill Canoe Outfitters on Facebook to see a short video of the pair.

10/31/16 - Happy Halloween from Sawbill! Halloween always signifies the end of our season, and this year is no different. The canoes are stored away, safe and snug for a long winter, the snow buntings are flocking on the roadways, and Huckleberry is already missing all his new friends. -Clare

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10/20/16 - When former crew visit us in the Fall, the ensuing celebration is always BYOP - Bring Your Own Pumpkin. This year, we were happy to see former crew members Leif Gilsvik and Nils John Anderson along with Leif's girlfriend Elina. With an abundance of inspiration and optimism we carved up 12 jack-o-lanterns to adorn our deck. -Clare

Elina Leif Nils 10_20_16.jpg Elina, Leif, and Nils are all smiles.

Pumpkins2 10_20_16.jpg Clockwise from top left: Elliot's Hamm's beer tribute, Elina's map of the North Island of New Zealand, Carl's ode to the world's most perfect food, Nils' Monarch butterfly, Leif's map of the South Island of New Zealand, and Dan's rendition of the November gales on Lake Superior.

Pumpkins 10_20_16.jpg Clockwise from top left: Cindy drew inspiration from close at hand, Jess's friendly portrait of Huckleberry, Bill's nuanced depiction of Bob Dylan, Phil's minimalist Big Dipper, Brian's twist on the traditional Jack-O-Lantern, and Clare's wilderness scene.

10/15/16 - Carl Hansen, photographer extraordinaire who grew up at Sawbill, is back for a visit and these gorgeous nighttime pictures are the proof. - Bill

View from the Sawbill Lake canoe landing last night.

A clear view of the Milky Way is a rare sight these days in most places, but not at Sawbill.

The International Space Station makes its way over Sawbill Lake.

10/2/16 - We had two out of the ordinary groups go out into the BWCA Wilderness this gorgeous autumn weekend.

The first were two 18 year old women from Germany and Austria. They are working as au pairs for the year in the Twin Cities and decided to take advantage of the nearby wilderness area. Although wilderness canoe tripping was new to them, they proved to be very capable campers.

Magdalena Dolezal from Hofkirchen im Taunkries, Austria and Celine Bucker from Iserlohn, Germany impressively single portaging on their first BWCA Wilderness canoe trip.

As young as Magdalena and Celine are, our own Kit Shirley has them beat by at least 17 years. Kit (with her parents) completed her first overnight canoe trip this weekend. The permit is going into her baby book. - Bill

Kit Shirley is fully relaxed about her first wilderness canoe trip.


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