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Shortest Overnight Ever!

Our view from our Trail’s End campsite.

7/17/24 – July 5th, Owen and I pack for our trip down the Granite River. The Granite River runs from Saganaga (big Sag) Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail to Gunflint Lake 10 miles south as the crow flies. Owen has never been up the Gunflint and I have never been to the east of big Sag. That night we had a site at Trail’s End campground. After much lollygagging and slow packing up, we finally head out towards the end of the Gunflint Trail. We drive separately so we can drop off one of our cars at our exit point at the Gunflint Lake public access. The Poplar Haus was our choice for dinner and we rolled into our site around 7 pm. Due to the bugs, we played cribbage in the tent for a while before heading to bed to get one last good nights sleep for our trip the following day.

The Saganaga Falls going over the edge behind us.
Looking out across Sag.

We woke up between 8 and 8:30 am and hit the water shortly after. What luck we had on our paddle north on Saganaga Lake! The lake was so calm which is not always the case on big lakes like that! Owen and I got to our first portage between 10:30 and 10:50 am The first portage was short but was overgrown a bit. It was still easy to follow though. After another 20 minutes of paddling, we go to our next portage. This portage was on the Canadian side of the border and ran along the Horsetail Rapids. Due to the higher water levels, getting to the portage landing was a little bit trickier than in other normal years. As we had learned before we left that morning from an outfitter that we stopped at to ask questions, we were paddling against the current. The rapids moved fairly quickly but we were able to land without trouble. This portage was a beautiful walk through some red cedars. The far side of the portage put us into Maraboeuf Lake. Maraboeuf Lake runs north to south for about 2 miles. All of the BWCA sites are in the southern third of the lake. The 2007 Ham Lake fire burned through this area, so there are a lot of bright pink granite rock faces visible on the hills surrounding Maraboeuf. Even 17 years later, the destruction of the fire is still visible. I wish I had been able to see what that area looked like beforehand and a year later. As we paddle along about to exit Maraboeuf, we come along a narrow section of the river. There are small cliffs that run into the water along both sides.

Looking south down Maraboeuf Lake.

Just north of this area is labeled Devil’s Elbow on the map we had. We couldn’t figure out why it was called that. This is a very pretty section which is not what the name “Devil’s Elbow” would imply. After a quick paddle through the edge of Gneiss, pronounced “nice”, we made our way through a couple more short portages broken up by some longer sections of paddling. The high water level added a third portage in between the two 25 rod portages. It was a bit of a struggle to land due to the moving water, but we powered through! Owen did a great job steering. The next portage we came to is known as Swamp Portage on some maps. It’s about 70 rods and the start of it walks up through a small, cold stream.

The start of Swamp Portage.

We had been paddling in the sun for around 6 hours at this point, so the cold water felt nice on my feet. After catching up to some other groups, we decided we would try to get a site on Clover Lake. We paddled over to the northernmost site and pulled up on the sandy beach. We were checking the layout of the site when we noticed that the site was already occupied! On the small hill up towards the latrine, there lay, what we assume, was a female snapping turtle prepping to lay her eggs. Upon seeing the turtle, we decided that we would move on. It was 3:30 pm by then. Our options were either portage over to Larch Lake and grab one of the three sites, or paddle on to our exit. We decided to exit. Up and over the 100 rod portage we went, which is the longest one on this route. When I planned this trip over the winter, and in the days leading up to the start, it never crossed my mind that this was going to be a day trip. I had planned for two nights! We could have packed so much lighter! So on we went. It’s amazing how quickly long distances of paddling pass. Eventually we got to Little Rock Falls and portaged around it. From then on it was just paddling through Magnetic and Gunflint Lakes respectively. Up until getting onto Magnetic Lake, the weather had been perfect, but the wind was picking up at this point. We took 45 minutes to paddle two miles. At about 5:45 pm, we finally landed at the public access parking lot on Gunflint. We decided to stop at the Gunflint Lodge for dinner. I had a BLT on cranberry and wild rice bread, and Owen elected to have walleye tacos. After picking up Owen’s car that we left at Trail’s End, we made our way back to Sawbill, pulling in the crew house driveway at 9 pm. Coolest day trip I’ve ever done.


Little Rock Falls.
The roommate we would have had if we stayed on Clover.
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First Time’s the Charm

7/17/24 – The following is a crew member’s trip report of his and a friend’s time going through the Lady Chain.

7/9/24 – 7/11/24

Day 1)

My friend Will and I set off from Kawishiwi both as first timers for the Lady Chain. I have a few trips under my belt so I knew what was ahead of us to an extent, but Will had not been out in the BWCA so he was very excited. The first day flew by fast because of how much there was to converse about. Something about nature brings so much peace and comfortability that enables us to become vulnerable with one another, so it was nice to share deeper conversations with Will not only throughout this day, but throughout the entire trip. Everything was smooth sailing until we came across a few hiccups after the 20 rod portage from Square Lake. We didn’t see the 5 rod portage on the map due to water level, so we went past and eventually ran into a beaver dam. We weren’t sure if we were going the right way because we didn’t see any portages on the map, but it looked like people had portaged around the dam anyway so we followed their footsteps and made it to Kawasachong. After two more longer portages, we were in Polly where we explored several sites before settling for one a bit tucked away but still with a clear view of the lake. We set up camp and enjoyed lunch before alternating between resting in hammocks and going for swims. It was quite an enjoyable site with minimal bugs located directly above the ‘Y’ in Polly on the map. We made it up to Polly in about two hours so it was nice to have a long rest day, but even so we enjoyed the sunset and went to bed early for the long day that awaited us.

Day 2)

Will and I had discussed the general plan for each day, but ultimately it came down to how we felt and how far we wanted to push. This day was a prime example of this. It was a quiet morning for both of us since neither of us are very social in the mornings, but it made for a peaceful start to the day. Over the course of about 4 hours, we hopped over portage after portage through the rivers and smaller lakes between Polly and Phoebe. We tried water from each lake and concluded that the water on Grace Lake was the most clear and best tasting.  It was relatively easy-going throughout, but with two people and many portages, the repetitive getting out and back into your canoe each portage eats up a ton of time. Soon enough, we made it to Phoebe where we saw two swans and ate some snacks on the calm water to fuel us for the last leg of the day. We weren’t sure of our plan at this point, so we started looking for sites in Grace but were leaning towards making it closer to Alton. Just to see for ourselves, we checked Ella before Beth and agreed that the sites on Ella weren’t what we were hoping for, so after a 5 ½ hour day, we went on and found the perfect site on Beth next to the Alton portage. It was very spacious with plenty of prime spots for hammocks and an elevated fire pit area. If you paddle out a bit from the site and look out to the West, it almost looked like a sort of stadium where the sun, moon, and stars aligned perfectly for us to watch them. We both agreed that we found one of the best sites we could’ve gotten. After unpacking, we did exactly what we did the last day: ate, swam, and rested until it got dark. 

Day 3)

This was the shortest of the days by far. We got to Alton and used that longer paddle time to reflect on the journey a bit. As sad as it was to be returning to civilization, this trip brought us both immense harmony. It showed us the importance of slowing things down for yourself in the busy world we live in. I’ll end this report with a passage from a book I’m reading, Just Passin’ Thru by Winton Porter, that sums up my thoughts nicely:

 ‘Nature silences a troubled mind because it is so envelopingly slow. Our agitations of mind don’t touch it; our worries pass through it, bounce off it, but can’t disturb it, and eventually they just go away, as though from sheer embarrassment. Without our usual means of winding ourselves into anxiety – the house, the car, the bills, the diet – we simply must find other thoughts, and I think that is why hikers on this Trail speak so often of discovering things they had forgotten and of being reminded of how precious life can be” (Porter 155).

Feliks Vahtra

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Berry Recon

7/13/24 – About a week ago I used up the last dregs of my frozen blueberries in a bowl of frosted mini wheats (trust me they really level up cereal).  As a result, a berry reconnaissance mission was in order.  With an hour to work with I checked out a couple local berry patches and found many green blueberries, with a small percentage ripe enough to pick.  Really the star of the show were the wild strawberries which seem to be perfectly ripe at this very moment.  -Jessica

What I picked in the short time I had to work with.
Example of the average blueberry plant I came across.  A little more time is needed to ripen these bad boys up.
When trying to track down a berry patch, look for open areas with signs of recent burn, such as this.  Blueberries like lots of sun and acidic, rocky soil.
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Perent Lake Trip Report (6/16-6/18)

7/10/24- One of the best parts of being on the Sawbill crew is the access we have to the gorgeous BWCAW. Over the last month various members of the crew have gone on trips into the wilderness. Feliks has already written up a trip report of his solo adventure around the Cherokee loop last month (his trip report can be found here) and is currently on another trip where he’s doing the Lady Chain with a friend. Lauren did the Louse River route out of Kawishiwi (EP 37) and Isabelle did the Cherokee Loop after a lot of late June rain (both of them are writing up their own trip reports so look forward to those). The following report is from my first solo trip June 16th-18th. I entered at Hog Creek (EP 36) and ended up spending two nights on Perent Lake before coming back out. Unfortunately, my phone did not make it on my trip (due to an incident the day prior) so I don’t have any pictures (I know I’m sad about it too).


I put into Hog Creek at around 9:30 a.m. and discovered the entry point was slightly different than what I was used to. All previous trips I’ve been on I’ve gone out of Sawbill (EP 38), Kawishiwi (EP 37) or Brule (EP 41). All of these lakes have an area where you can pull your vehicle right up to the lake and unload your things before parking. At Hog Creek, you get to the creek via short but steep steps that you had to carry your things to. This was very very manageable but definitely different from what I’m used to.

As I started paddling I noticed that the current of the stream, though very slow and tame, was definitely helping me make good time. There was only one small, rocky 15 rod portage that was well established and easy to find. The winding nature of the creek definitely tested my solo steering abilities but I was able to make it to my campsite in time for lunch and before the lake got too busy. I secured the first island site on Perent Lake and absolutely loved the site. It was super spacious (which felt incredibly indulgent by myself) and had a nice array of large rocks to sit on as well as great hammock trees. Before the day was up my site was visited by a duck and its baby and got to watch various Bald Eagles in the trees across from the island. 

6/17/24: I didn’t do anything on my layover day on Perent besides enjoy the sun, when it decided to come out, and read in my hammock. The wilderness, in my experience, can feel intense at times but it also supports a unique kind of peace that makes for a great day off. 

6/18/24: I left my site on Perent at around 8:30 a.m. on my last day to try and beat the incoming weather and get the chance to explore some of the lake. I paddled to the upper part of the lake before turning around and heading back to Hog Creek. Perent is an absolutely gorgeous lake and looked genuinely magical with the pre-storm fog that I was paddling through. Traveling back up Hog Creek definitely took longer than the first day, and had a fun intermission of intense rain, but I made it back to the entry point in one piece and feeling accomplished. When I got back to Sawbill I enjoyed a much needed shower and late lunch before discussing my trip with the whole crew. Solo trips are incredibly empowering and grounding, but one of my favorite parts was undeniably returning to the Sawbill family (dogs included obviously).

When you get back from any trips in the BWCAW please share your experience with us. We love hearing about your time (highs and lows) and getting to discuss this beautiful place with you all. Until next time! -Luna

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Even More Turtles!

7/7/24- The Sawbill Crew has been lucky enough to spot snapping turtles around Sawbill and neighboring lakes. Whether due to their prehistoric appearance or impressive size, our crew is always excited to see these reptiles and snap a quick picture of them. 

A curious little guy just hanging out on Square Lake
A friendly resident of Sawbill Lake
A massive snapping turtle on Smoke Lake
(All photos courtesy of our awesome crew member, Evan)

Snapping turtles are native to North America and have existed alongside many other species for around 90 million years. On average, they live for around 30 years and only 1% of snapping turtle hatchlings reach reproductive age. This makes is a true gift to see these awesome animals. If you see any cool turtles (or other animals) please let us know all about it any day from 7 am-9 pm at the store! – Luna

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Watch out for Turtles!

Painted turtle on the side of The Grade

7/4/24 – It’s nesting season for the turtles! If you have been up here in the past few weeks you might have noticed some turtle friends hanging out on the gravel roads around Sawbill like the Sawbill Trail, The Grade, Perent Lake Road, and Kawishiwi Lake Road. There are lots of painted turtles, but you might also see a snapping turtle. They often nest on the sides of gravel roads as they prefer areas with soft, loose soil or gravel so that they can dig a hole to lay their eggs. They also often cluster near water sources, so be extra careful and keep an eye out around rivers and lakes, but nests can be up to half a mile from a water source. The nests themselves are around 10-12 centimeters deep and the turtles dig them with their back legs. Please be extra careful when you’re driving to keep the turtles safe!! -Anna

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Overnight Permit Options and Cancellations

7/1/24 – We are fully in the summer swing of things here at Sawbill and it is wild that it is already July!! For anyone who is still looking to plan a trip into the Boundary Waters, or who currently has a trip planned, but maybe not for the entry point that you wanted, here are some helpful tips. 

As you may know, the 11 daily overnight paddle permits for Sawbill Lake Entry Point are a hot commodity and are generally fully booked for the whole summer. However, there are lots of other great options for entry points in our area (the Tofte District) that have routes with similar feels to routes out of Sawbill. 

For those who are wanting to do the Cherokee Loop, a great option if you cannot find a Sawbill permit would be to enter at either Baker or Brule which not only allows you to see an extra lake or two not on the classic Cherokee Loop, but after only an extra portage or two, you are on the direct course of the classic Cherokee Loop itself. We have this on our website as the Temperance River Loop.

For those who enjoy setting up a base camp, whether it’s on North Sawbill or on Alton or Smoke, and doing a lot of fishing, entry at Hog Creek with a quick paddle (about 2-3 hours) to Perent, or Island River with a quick paddle to Isabella (about 2-3 hours), or Isabella directly, or entry on Homer give you a very similar experience with also incredible fishing, plus the experience of getting paddle on a river for a little bit and see some different scenery. 

Lastly, entry at Kawishiwi gives you great access to the Lady Chain route which takes you back to Sawbill, but there is also the option to do an out-and-back trip up to either Polly or a bit farther to Malberg, both of which also are great lakes to base camp and fish. 

For all entry points that aren’t Sawbill, we offer the option to tie any rented canoes down to your vehicle free of charge and we have all of the equipment necessary for that and will teach you how to do it so that you feel comfortable to tie it down to get it back to us. Tie downs are a great option if you are planning to go both in and out of the wilderness at the same place, however, if you are planning to paddle back to Sawbill from a different entry point, we also offer transportation to any entry point and prices for that can be found on our Partial Outfitting page.

Cancellations for permits happen more frequently than you might expect, so it is worth it to continue checking to see if any permits open up for the entry point you are hoping for. However, I would also recommend getting a permit if you see one that might be of interest, even if it isn’t for the exact entry point that you want, because you can always cancel and switch to your desired entry point if one opens up, but this way you know that you have a trip on the calendar. 

With that being said, if you know that you are no longer going to be using your overnight paddle permit, be sure to cancel it so that it becomes open to others who are searching! You can do this directly on yourself or if Sawbill is your pick up point for the permit, you can give us a call and we can cancel that for you as well. 

Finally, if you are really wanting to paddle on Sawbill, but can’t find a permit, day trips from our campground which is right on Sawbill Lake are a great option. Just under half of our campground is first come first serve sites and we rarely completely fill during the season so they are perfect for a last minute trip. The day use permits for the wilderness are down at the landing and they are free and unlimited, so just fill one of those out before you head into the wilderness for the day. 

Feel free to give us a call (218-663-7150) or send us an email ( if you have any questions about entry points other than Sawbill. Even if you cannot get your first choice of entry point for an overnight paddle, you are sure to have a great time in the wilderness. We hope to see you up here for a trip soon! -Anna

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Cherokee Loop Trip Report

6/24/24 – Last week, crew member Feliks did a solo trip on the Cherokee Loop and wrote up a trip report which is a great resource, along with our route guides on our website, for anyone who might be thinking of doing this loop! The report is below! – Anna

Day 1) 

I had packed up and triple checked all of my gear before setting off from the landing on Sawbill Lake. It was a blue bird day with little to no wind which increased my excitement for the trip. It was a relatively smooth process up through north Sawbill and over my first few portages into Ada and Skoop. On the 180 rod portage over to Cherokee Creek however, I was attacked by a grouse which shook things up a bit. I was strolling along the portage when I heard a hissing noise coming from up ahead of the trail. I quickly looked up and saw what seemed to be a mother grouse charging towards me to protect its chicks. After fending it off with my paddle and narrowly escaping, I continued on into Cherokee Creek and soon made my way to Cherokee Lake. I decided to stop at the site slightly north east of the mouth of the creek entering into the lake as it had a nice set up and a large rock gradually descending into the lake. I shared the site with a family of black-backed woodpeckers which were interesting to observe. I set up camp, ate some lunch, and relaxed after some tiresome paddling and portaging. After dinnertime, I was laying in my hammock when I heard some splashing nearby. I didn’t think much at first, but then I heard it again which prompted me to investigate. I made my way onto the large rock where I spotted a moose and its calf swimming out from my campsite. At first, I was quite shocked and sat still until they moved a bit further away as I didn’t want to take any chances. Once they were far enough, I captured a video and a few photos of the two. Soon after, I went for a swim and enjoyed the sunset while sitting and reading on the large rock. It took a while for the stars to come out, but I was able to see some before dozing off.

Day 2)

At about 8am, I woke up and began packing. The bugs were quite brutal in the morning, so I made an effort to get to paddling as soon as possible. The sky was cloudy, but it was a bit warmer than the day before. I got over to the Sitka Lake portage and started my day off with a nice shoulder exercise carrying my pack and canoe. Going through the Temperences was calm, and I was mentally preparing myself for the longer 240 rod portage. After what seemed like forever, I made it to Weird Lake and was steadily making progress. After the 12 rod portage into Jack Lake I spotted another moose off the opposite shore bathing in the lake. Though less frightening than the previous encounter, I did have to slowly paddle past quite close to it since the lake narrowed. I made it down to Kelly and took the site right off to the left exiting the portage. It was a large site with an open area for the campfire and two tent spaces; one near the landing and then another tucked further back into the woods. There were plenty of turtles burying their eggs on shore which was a special thing to witness. I would’ve enjoyed the site more if there weren’t swarms of mosquitoes that prevented me from doing much outside my tent. Regardless, I napped, read my book, went for a swim, ate dinner, read some more, then went to bed.

Day 3)

There was some rain around 4am, but it was very calming. I slept on and waited until it stopped around 8:30am, then packed up to make the final stretch back to Sawbill. It was a foggy day with a bit more wind blowing at me which made it slightly more difficult to paddle. Regardless, the fog made for a peaceful aura. After a couple longer portages, I made it to Smoke Lake where I ran into a group looking to fish for the weekend. Although human interaction was strange after not speaking to any in a few days, I wished them luck and started the home stretch. I took the time on the portage to Sawbill and the paddle back to the landing to reflect on what I was feeling and what I took away from the trip. The solitude out there was nice, but it was a relief to arrive back with my Sawbill family.  As everyone who has taken trips in the boundary waters knows, they are incredibly special and regardless of the experience, they always leave you with fond memories to look back on. There were countless times where I took a moment to watch in awe the beautiful nature I was engulfed in. The peace and serenity I experienced on this trip makes me look forward to more later this season.

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How “Bad” are the Bugs?

6/19/24 – Every year around this time, we here at Sawbill field a number of calls and questions about the bug situation. Many people want to know how “bad” the bugs are. Today I decided to talk about what bugs we have and some preventative measures that you can employ in the wilderness. Most folks are familiar with the main biting bugs we have up here. There are mosquitos, black flies, deer and horse flies, and no-see-ums. 

Aedes vexans.

First up is the mosquito. There are over 50 species of mosquitoes in Minnesota. The most common is the Summer Flood mosquito, Aedes vexans. They appear in May and usually disappear by September. A couple other species include the Cattail mosquito and the Tree hole mosquito. Cattail mosquitoes differ from other mosquitoes during the larval stage. Cattail mosquito larvae are able to survive the winter by attaching to the roots of cattails allowing them to breath, compared to most other species that lay eggs in stagnant water and experience diapause (hibernate but for insects) within the eggs. Females of many of the species in Minnesota feed on blood as a way to create her eggs. An up close look at the proboscis, or little needle looking protrusion on the face of the mosquito, shows that what seems to be a single tube is actually six highly specialized apparatus. At the small scale mosquitoes exist at, skin is more akin to finely woven mesh rather than the solid sheet that we on our human scale see. These six pieces work together to move and pierce through the mesh of their victims. Luckily, males only feed on nectar and sap, and are major pollinators. 

The six separate mouth parts on a mosquito.
The source of the black flies nickname of white socks is pretty obvious in this photo.

Black flies are known by a few different nicknames, the Buffalo gnat, Turkey gnat, or White Socks. The nickname “buffalo gnat” comes from the shape of their thorax, which gives the humped appearance similar to the American Buffalo. There are 30 known species found in Minnesota. Common genera are Simulium, Prosimulium, Austrosimulium, and Cnephia. Black fly larvae are important aspects of a healthy environment. They process a lot of organic material in the rivers and streams they reside in and are a good source of food for other larger water dwelling creatures, from dragonfly larvae to waterfowl. As with the mosquitoes, the female black fly feeds on blood to produce the needed protein to make her eggs. 

Last but certainly not least, though least visible, is the No-see-um, aka Biting midge. The No-see-ums are a part of the Culicoid genera. This is a genera of almost exclusively biting midges. The distinction between flies and midges is that midges are a part of the non-mosquito family in the order Diptera (flies). No-see-ums typically disperse about half to one mile away from their larval development site. Following the trend with the mosquitoes and black flies, it is the female no-see-um that are the ones that bite. Males feed on nectar and sap, and do not have the necessary mouth parts to feed on blood.

It is crazy to see the actually size of no-see-ums, so tiny!

Mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums all find their blood meals by following biological signals. Most common that people know about is their ability to hone in on CO2 exhalations. Unfortunately, these bugs don’t just rely on CO2, so please don’t try to hold your breath until they leave you be. Body heat, lactic acid, uric acid, and fatty acid are all used to find dinner for these insects. There is one study that suggests that blood type may play a role in a person’s attractiveness to mosquitoes, though other scientists are skeptical. It may come down to genetics and natural body odor. 

DEET and permethrin are common ingredients in bug spray, but they are both known to be toxic to humans and pets. It is also very difficult to make sure it only kills the pest bugs and not other helpful invertebrates. I’m not going to tell you to not use DEET or permethrin, but I will give some other non-bug spray alternatives that might interest you. First line of defense is the clothes you wear. Try to avoid reds, oranges, and blacks. Wearing light/white clothes will help keep you cooler, thus producing less body heat and CO2 for the bugs to track you with. If long sleeves interest you, there are sun shirts that are very light weight that will give protection not only from the sun (very important) but also the bugs. Another option is bug netting. There is an important distinction between mosquito netting and no-see-um netting. No-see-ums are so small that they can get through the holes in the meshing on mosquito nets. Fortunately the mosquitoes cannot get through no-see-um nets! Bug jackets are another great option. The Original Bug Shirt Company has great options for bug shirts and pants. There is both a polyester model and cotton model available. 

A healthy food web is an integral part of a healthy planet. As annoying as these pests are, and as much as I sometimes wish I could snap my fingers to make them disappear, mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums are a big part of the ecosystems they inhabit. There are numerous animals that feed on all life stages of these insects. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Dragonfly adults can consume between 30 to 100 mosquitoes in one day. Dragonflies have a hunt success rate of 90-95%. Larval dragonflies are also voracious predators, eating the larvae of mosquitoes and black flies. Up here at Sawbill, we always rejoice when the dragonflies finally hatch! Bats are another great predator to have around to control the bug population. Some bats can eat up to 1,000 insects in a single hour! 

Bug population control is ready to go! PC: The Island News

Mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums are a part of the wilderness up here. There are ways to help mitigate annoyance so vacation time is enjoyable while still making sure the wilderness stays healthy. -Sawyer

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After Storm Update!

6/19/24 – Roads in and around Sawbill are all open and clear. No washouts in our area and the downed trees have been cleared away. No reports of any damage or issues in the BWCA on the Tofte District so far, we’ll keep you posed if we hear of anything.

Thanks to everyone who has been checking in on us, we got 3.76″ of rain and are grateful for some sun today! -Clare

2pm this afternoon at the canoe landing.