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Wilderness Permits March 4, 2019

2/21/2019 – The Forest Service has just announced the date for the re-launch of the 2019 Wilderness Permit reservation system as March 4th, 2019 at 9 am CST. See the complete press release below. And as always, let us know what questions we can answer for you as you navigate the new system.

Boundary Waters Permit Reservations Available March 4, 2019
DULUTH, Minn. (February 21, 2019) Beginning Monday, March 4, 2019 at 9 am CST,
the USDA Forest Service will reopen the process to reserve Boundary Waters Canoe
Area Wilderness quota permits on

“Between now and March 4 we will continue website testing and conducting training with cooperators to ensure the website meets Forest Service and public needs,” said Superior National Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins.

As a result of unforeseen technical issues, many people were unable to access the BWCAW reservation process when it opened on Wednesday, January 30. With only a small number of people being able to reserve a permit, the Forest Service halted the process for applying for BWCAW permits, then directed to cancel and refund any reservations that were processed.

The technical issues with the BWCAW permit sale software have been addressed and additional testing has been completed by reservation system programmers. The USDA Forest Service is confident that the reservation system will function correctly and that visitors will have equitable access to make permit reservations beginning March 4, 2019. Quota permits for the BWCAW may be reserved through the season to September 30.

The BWCAW, located on the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, is one of over 3,500 facilities across the country which utilize to manage their reservation processes. Full details on the reservation process are located at



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Latest Permit News

2/12/19 – The most recent update we’ve gotten from the Forest Service is that they tentatively plan to have permits available on February 27th at 9am, which coincidentally happens to be Clare Shirley’s birthday. With any luck, and some birthday magic, we’re hoping everything happens according to plan. In either case, we’ll keep this updated if we hear of any changes.

Also of note, winter campers have been encountering large areas of slush in recent days. After inviting himself on one such outing, Huckleberry can attest that getting stuck in the slush is not much fun. By the time Dan caught up to the unsuspecting winter campers being tailed by one very slushy pup, he had a hard time telling Huckleberry apart from the spawn of the Sawbill Slush Monster. Luckily they were both able to make it back and thaw out successfully. -Jessica

Huck pondering the error in his ways.

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2/3/19 – Over the years, many of you have enjoyed following along with our weather records on this site. In the busy life with two small kids and learning the ropes of the business, I’ve been lax in posting the weather. I’m sorry! Rest assured, I’ve been faithfully tracking and recording all the information – just like Bill, and Frank before him. The notebook of records has been sitting in the windowsill taunting me for too long. So, I’m rededicating myself to keeping the records on this site up to date. I’ve backposted all the records and will be updating them daily from here on. Thank you for your patience!

In other news, we continue to enjoy a cold and snowy winter up here at the end of the Sawbill Trail. The frequent low temps and snows have created a beautiful landscape. The cold temps have kept our adventures short and close to home, but when the Wilderness is your backyard, that’s ok!

Dan and baby Sig enjoy a brisk walk.
Kit explores the woods on the south shore of Sawbill Lake.
Sledding mukluks on the Sawbill Trail.
Frosty trees along the shoreline of Sawbill Lake.

Cheers to the real winter!


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1/30/19 – PERMIT UPDATE: We have just (10:20 am) been informed by the Forest Service that due to the extent of the technical difficulties and inconsistencies in functionality of the reservation platform, all successful permit reservations are going to be voided and the system is being closed until the issues are worked out. They will offer notification when the system will go live again. If you have already reserved a permit, we recommend holding tight to see what happens, but be prepared to re-apply for your permit. We’ll update as we learn more. In the mean time, enjoy the crisp weather!


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Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

1/25/29 – This Sunday marks the 35th start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.  The nearly 300 mile race is the longest held in the contiguous United States and is a qualifier for the Iditarod.  Racers start just north of Duluth, make their way up the north shore, head up the Gunflint Trail, back down the trail, and finish in Grand Portage.  Along the way teams must stop at designated checkpoints, one of which crosses the Sawbill Trail.  Racers usually reach this checkpoint in the dead of night, however this year the first few teams are expected to arrive around 3:30 am.  If you’re in the area and up for an early morning adventure I highly recommend spending some time at this checkpoint, or any of the others for that matter.  I can certainly vouch for cheering teams in as you stand around a campfire under the stars.  For more information and to follow the race live, visit the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon’s official website. -Jessica

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Snow Conditions

1/17/19 – As we head into the second half of January, Huckleberry and I decided to do a little snow reconnaissance around Sawbill.  Huck dawned his snow booties, I threw on my snowshoes, we grabbed a measuring stick and we were off.  Upon reaching the lake the first thing we realized was that sticking to one of the preexisting packed trails was a must.  Huckleberry took a few slight detours and found that stepping into the great unknown meant wading through 16″ of snow and a good chance of slush.  Keeping to the highway that was a winter campers trail, we made it up to Boundary Island without any trouble at all.  On our way back from the lake we added an exploratory mission into the woods to measure a whole two feet of snow.  -Jessica

Sun setting over Sawbill Lake.

Huck leading the charge back toward the landing.
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Happy New Year!

1/4/19 – Since our last post we received a delivery of  23 brand new Wenonah canoes, welcomed a solid foot of snow in one dumping, and rang in the new year with some of our favorite people on one of our favorite lakes. 

The delivery driver and I contemplate how the heck we’re going to lower the Spirit IIs from the top of the trailer.

In accordance with New Years tradition, we headed down to the lake to ring in 2019.  Just before midnight, temperatures dropped to a relatively balmy (compared to years past) -15 degrees, accompanied by a -30 degree wind chill.

From left to right. Front row; Brian and Jessica.  Back row; Dan, Owen, Katie, Kevin, Hannah, Nick, Luke.  Not pictured; Claire, Clare, Kit, and Sig (all fast asleep).

In other exciting news, while visiting over the holiday weekend, Hannah Kennedy (crew member) and Nick Hansberry became engaged!  Welcome to the family Nick!  -Jessica

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First Ski of the Season

12/9/18 – Thanks to calm, sunny, 20 degree weather I was able to hit the lake yesterday for my first ski of the season.  There was just enough snow (2 to 4 inches) to make skiing fun without feeling like I was slogging through it.  I’m also happy to report the slush was overall minimal.  Luckily, with the high sun, I was able to see the darker slush pockets from a distance and meander my way around them.  I wonder if the wolves who passed through a day or two ahead of me had used this technique as well?  Their tracks seemed, for the most part, to zig and zag around the slush too.  -Jessica

This cedar caught my eye when I stopped at a campsite to soak in the sun. Clearly it too had the same idea, although it was accomplishing the goal more efficiently than I.

This picture was taken at a campsite in Kelso bay.  I call it; Tracks, Tracks, Tracks.  From left to right; rodent tracks, my tracks, wolf tracks.

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Christmas Cookie Extravaganza!

12/4/18 – This past Sunday Carl Hansen, Crista Clark, Cindy Hansen, and myself assembled to assist Clare and Kit in their Christmas cookie baking extravaganza.  Dan provided vital support by cooking us up some freshly smoked salmon, and Bill lent his ski trail grooming expertise for the first groom of the season (key ingredient to keeping off those cookie pounds later on).  -Jessica

And we’re off! Carl and Crista start rolling out the, affectionately named, SOB cookies (they’re a lot of work), while Cindy and Kit get to work on the classic sugar cookies.

While the cookie team is at it, Clare cranks out mass quantities of lefse.

Few! We made it!

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Thanksgiving Weekend

11/28/18 – I was lucky enough this past holiday weekend to have my family gather together right here at Sawbill.  It was a ton of fun to have the group together in a setting only the snow covered northwoods can provide.  Thanksgiving included the obligatory tonnage of food, card games, a million piece puzzle, lots of bird watching, and great company.

My amazing family in front of the Sawbill sign.  Photo credit to my mom.  As you can see she’s become quite the expert in self-timers.

Black Friday was celebrated by hitting the great outdoors in search of those coveted door buster bargains.  Some of our scores included; fresh snow the perfect temperature for snowman assembly, short lines at the sledding hill, and a solid 5-6″ of ice on the lake perfect for a stroll along the shore.  -Jessica

My grandma Barb pictured with three generations of snowman sculpture apprentices in tow. As you can see by this masterpiece, she is a true artist in this medium.

Shortly before we departed the lake a few snow angels made an appearance, but otherwise crowds were minimal.

The final cap to the weekend included Christmas tree hunting.  We were pleasantly surprised to find the isles remained fully stocked following a busy start to the holiday shopping season.