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Memorial Day Weekend Excitement

5/25/2018 – Summer is officially here at Sawbill! We kicked off the holiday weekend by welcoming a steady flow of customers, including a nine-person bike-packing group from Des Moines, IA. These cyclists began their 180-mile loop at Temperance River State Park and are looking forward to tomorrow’s stop at Sven and Ole’s in Grand Marais.

The bikepackers pose after re-energizing with ice cream and Adirondack chairs.

We were also joined by two new crew members this week: Nathan Strom and Andie Garza.

Nathan is from Woodbury, MN and arrived at Sawbill on Tuesday! He just finished his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where he’s majoring in physics. When he’s not calculating how many Joules it takes to carry a canoe over a 400-rod portage, he enjoys playing the cello, climbing, and cross-country skiing. 

Hailing from Pharr, TX, Andie traded the Lone Star State for the North Star State this summer. She will start her senior year of college in the fall and is studying English and psychology. She is a self-described movie buff and wants readers to know that one of her favorite movies is “The Other Woman”. She was hoping to see some snow when she arrived; that means she just has to come back next summer and hope for a cold spring! 

Andie and Nathan enjoying the beautiful weather in the canoe yard.


Ferns emerge from the Sawbill garden.

Warm temperatures and sunny skies have really brought the forest back to life. The water is rapidly warming up and we are excited for a great summer here at Sawbill!



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The new

5/24/18 – If you are reading this blog, then you’ve likely noticed there have been some changes to We have always been really proud of the content and layout of our website, but wanted to modernize the look and functionality with mobile devices.

A shot of the new

We worked for several months with Grant Olson of Woodsy, to provide a conduit for all of our friends and customers to keep track of what’s going on in the Northwoods and to help them plan a successful canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

During the update, we archived all of previous years newsletters and weather history which can be found on this new site – it dates back to 1997!

Thanks to all who participated in our survey last year – that information helped immensely to understand how you all interact with the site and what you wanted to see in an update.

Be sure to reach out anytime if you are having difficulties with the site or find a bug. We’d be glad to help you out and fix any errors!


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Canoeing with Daddy

5/23/18 – Kit and I ventured off on our first of many (hopefully) father daughter canoe trips. With Clare’s blessing and encouragement, some great weather and no signs of bugs, we headed up Sawbill Lake.

Kit and Dan pose for a photo on their way to the Lake for their first father daughter canoe trip.
Heading up Sawbill Lake with perfect weather and conditions. Kit really enjoyed sitting on the floor of the canoe. (Her yellow sunhat blends in with the canoe – she’s sitting between my legs)

We didn’t head far, just across the Wilderness boundary where we camped on one of the first sites on Sawbill. We threw rocks in the lake, ate mac n cheese, read lots of books and snuggled in the tent. We enjoyed a morning of duck watching, fish jumping and some paddling along the shores of glassy Sawbill Lake. What fun!

Kit throwing rocks from our campsite.

Even though Kit just turned 2 last week, this was her third overnight canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. We hope for many more to come!


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Welcoming Caitlin and Kate!

In true May style, we welcome a couple more new beginnings here at Sawbill Outfitters. Now that a new fishing and paddling season has begun in earnest, it’s also the time that new Crew members join us.

Caitlin, a geography student at the University of Minnesota and also daughter of acclaimed canoe builder, Ted Bell, is joining us for her first season at Sawbill. As one might imagine, Caitlin has been paddling canoes her entire life and we are thrilled to have her bring that experience here.

Caitlin getting familiar with the Sawbill area of the Wilderness. Caitlin has extensive paddling experience in other parts of the BWCA.

Next we welcome Kate who arrived just on the heels of Caitlin. Kate is a sophomore studying economics at the University of Minnesota. This is Kate’s first season at Sawbill and she is eager to spend time on the Wilderness edge. We are excited to have her warm energy as a part of our Crew.

Kate getting initiated working the store register on a busy, rainy day.


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Brule Ice Update

5/11/18 – While several early bird paddlers have already embarked into the Wilderness from the Sawbill entry point, many anxious folks have been asking about the ice status on Brule. Brule, as the largest lake entirely within the Wilderness, is slower to shed its winter covering. Dan stopped by Brule this afternoon to get a first hand view. He reports that he couldn’t see any ice from the launch, but if you’ve been there before, you know the majority of the lake is out of view from there. Satellite imagery is still showing ice on the main portion of the lake. It’s safe to say though, it’s on its way out!

Dan snapped this photo looking out into Brule from the canoe launch.


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Paddling Season Is Here!

5/7/18 – It’s tradition at Sawbill to bet on what day the ice will go out. Bill always bets his birthday, May 5th. Following in her Pop Pop’s footsteps, the littlest outfitter Kit Shirley bet her birthday May 7th. Sure enough, not only did we celebrate Kit’s second birthday yesterday, we also celebrated official ice out on Sawbill Lake! Bill claims that he’s only won the bet twice in his life, so he was very impressed it only took Kit two years.

The littlest outfitter contemplates a summer full of swimming.

Another ice out tradition is opening the “Beach Club”. Lucky early season crew members Jessica Hemmer, Luke Opel and Hannah Kennedy along with Dan and Huckleberry thoroughly enjoyed the 70 degree sunshine after the first swim of the season!

The melting ice separated the two dock pieces, the Forest Service is on their way to repair it!

See you soon!


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Imminent Ice Out

5/6/18 – By this time tomorrow I predict we’ll be declaring the ice officially out on Sawbill Lake. Today, the southern portion of the lake was clear, but the portage to Alton and the narrows marking the Wilderness boundary were still unpassable. A stiff southern wind had pushed all the remaining ice north.

Looking north from the canoe landing.

Former crewmember Jesse Bergeson and his friend Mary stopped by this weekend for a visit on their way from Maryland to Montana. Along with Dan and Huckleberry the intrepid travelers hiked/bushwacked from the Sawbill Trail in to Wonder Lake (just south of Alton). They reported that there were some ice remnants floating around the southern portion of Wonder but that the northern side of the lake looked open.

Jesse and Mary proud to have made it to Wonder.

We’ll report back tomorrow, hopefully with good news!


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First Customers of the Season

5/4/18 – Today we welcomed our first customers of the season! Despite Sawbill Lake still holding onto 9 inches of rotten ice, Lake Superior College’s Boundary Waters class made the trip up for some time in the north woods. In anticipation of their arrival, the Sawbill Crew has been scouting area entry points for signs of open water and determined that Baker Lake would offer at least the opportunity to get on the water.

The two eager groups of mostly novice paddlers, launched onto the mostly open Baker Lake in hopes of finding more open water on Peterson and Kelly Lakes. The Temperance River drains down from the Temperance Lakes through Kelly, Peterson and Baker, so hopes were high that the moving water would provide some paddling lanes leading to Wilderness campsites.

Members of Lake Superior College’s Boundary Waters Class listen in on equipment orientations on the screen porch at Sawbill.

To add to the bustling day, we were visited by our friends at Souris River Canoes with 8 new Quetico 16’s to deliver. We are really excited to have the 16 back in our fleet after a few years hiatus. The 16′ canoe is a great option for two smaller people with minimal gear who want to travel light and fast. The 16′ is a breeze to portage and handle while on and off the water.  Without a thwart behind the front seat, it can be paddled “backwards” as large solo or with a small child.

New Souris River Quetico 16’s in the canoe yard, fresh off the truck.


Luke measuring the ice on Sawbill Lake, May 4, 2018. He reports 9 inches of rotten ice and that he will not be walking out on the ice again this year.


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Canoe Yard is Open

5/2/18 – It was a busy day up here at the Wilderness edge. The snow has finally melted sufficiently for us to access our old canoe storage building and set up the canoes on their summer racks in the yard. Long time Sawbill customers will recognize our storage building as our former rental building, aka The Dome.

Kevlars in the Dome for winter storage.

Melting snow also means melting ice. Today’s measurement revealed 11 inches of hard ice with 3 inches of honeycombed ice on top of that. We also heard the season’s first loon call yesterday, they must be watching the ice conditions as anxiously as we are!

Huckleberry wonders if there’s enough open water to swim in yet.


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A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

4/30/18 – We woke up this morning to the welcome sound of a steady rain.  It only lasted a few minutes, but combined with the ingredients of a humid morning, warm wind, and a sunny afternoon we are set with the perfect recipe for some serious ice melting.  As of yesterday evening we measured 14.5″ porous and slushy ice with 8″ solid ice underneath.  -Jessica

Yesterday we welcomed new crew member Hannah Kennedy.  Hannah hails from St. Paul and recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire with a degree in Violin Performance. She’ll be living the good life at Sawbill this summer before heading to the University of Colorado Boulder for graduate school.
This mornings view from the canoe landing.