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

Kelso Loop Day Trip
The sun departs from Sawbill Lake, the gateway the paddle-only heart of the wilderness.
Crystal clear Alton Lake (above), sits atop the Atlantic watershed.
Fishing possibilities abound.
The rare Pitcher Plants grow by the million on Kelso Lake.
The Kelso loop provides all the natural beauty, fishing and wildlife possibilities, solitude and adventure of a week-long canoeing trek--all in an afternoon.

Looking for the perfect day trip? Grab the necessities (kids, lunch, camera, bathing suit, etc.) and come on up! Sawbill Canoe Outfitters will outfit you with canoes, paddles, lifevests, and anything else you need--no reservation necessary.

Completing the Kelso Loop takes about 4 hours of leisurely paddling; most groups take 6 hours, allowing time for snacking and sightseeing.

Almost anyone can do the Kelso Loop. We regularly send out folks with small children, physical disabilities, or the desire to "just relax."

Route Description

The three lakes which make up the Kelso Loop--Sawbill, Alton and Kelso--are quite different from one another, and give you a good variety of terrain, flora and fauna. Starting from the Sawbill Lake landing, it takes about 45 minutes to get to the Alton Lake portage. Alton is large, deep and entirely spring fed. No streams flow into Alton. As a result, the water is crystal clear and cold. Alton supports an amazing variety and population of fish. Small mouth bass, northern pike, walleye, rainbow trout, cisco, and lake trout can all be caught. Anyone can catch a smallie on Alton, so bring your beginners and no-luck fisherpersons here!

Kelso is an old lake, geologically speaking. It is shallow, with a mud bottom (get your swimming done on Alton or Sawbill). Many bays have gradually filled in with floating bog. These bogs are treasures of unusual plants, insects and animals. The insect-eating Pitcher Plant (pictured, right) is quite rare in northern latitudes, but not on Kelso! In June, there are several patches of the rare and beautiful Moccasin Flower orchids to be found. Moose, beaver, otter, pine martin, snapping turtles, eagles, and a osprey are often spotted on Kelso.

In some ways, Sawbill Lake is one of the least-used lakes in the area. Lots of people pass through, but few stop to enjoy the beauty. You could easily spend entire days just exploring the intricate bays and islands of Sawbill Lake. Sawbill Lake has one of the better walleye populations in Minnesota. Light fishing pressure keeps them ignorant and gullible. Loons are nearly always visible on Sawbill, taking advantage of the good fishing for themselves.

A day use permit is required to enter the BWCAW. They are free, unlimited, and located right next to the boat launch on Sawbill Lake. Simply fill one out and take it with you. That's it!

If you're interested in a personalized, guided day trip, check out Sawbill's guided day trips for more information. For rental prices on a full range of equipment, please consult our Partial Outfitting price list. Here are some common packages for a half-day (six hours or fewer):
* Kevlar canoe with paddles and two life jackets - $31 + tax
* Plastic canoe with paddles and two life jackets - $23 + tax

Click here for directions to Sawbill Lake.

Click here for a printable map of the Kelso Loop.


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