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Let the Countdown Begin!

3/30/19 – It’s finally starting to feel a little like spring around here, which prompted me to drill the first test hole of the season yesterday evening. The lake is currently sporting 27″ of ice depth. There is hope however, as all 27″ didn’t seem to be solid ice, well most of it was, but there were two 1-2″ pockets of water separating three solid layers of ice.

To catch you up a bit; we had a substantial amount of snow and slush on the lake all winter making travel less than easy. About two weeks ago we received a warm up and a couple days of light rain, converting most of the snow into slush. Since then, we’ve had freezing temps overnight setting up the lake quite well. This followed by sunny days has made the ice quite slick in most places. All in all, we now have some quality lake walking conditions, provided you have a set of yaktrax strapped to your boots. Stay tuned for more updates! -Jessica

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BWCA Permit Reservation Information

3/3/19 – On the eve of the second attempt at launching the updated website for Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness overnight permits, we wanted to summarize the changes and let you know what information you’ll need in order to complete your permit reservation. The Forest Service has christened this event as “Go-Live”.

When: Permits will be available for reservation on Monday March 4th at 9:00 am CST for the entire 2019 quota season (May 1 – Sept 30)

Where: The BWCA subsection of Follow this link to take you directly to the spot. Otherwise, from the homepage, simply search Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Permits.

How: To make a permit reservation, you’ll need the following information:

  • Desired entry point, for example Sawbill Lake (cannot be changed after time of reservation)
  • Date of entry (cannot be changed after time of reservation)
  • Group Leader name, address, phone number and email address (if no account already exists for the leader, you will be prompted to create one)
  • Alternate Leader name(s) – up to 4 alternate leaders can be designated at the time of reservation. Alternate Leaders are entitled to possess the Permit in the event the Group Leader cannot attend the trip. Alternate Leaders may not be added after the time of reservation.
  • Group Member names (optional at time of reservation) – new this year, all members of the group are going to be listed on the permit. These names, can be added/deleted/changed up until the time of permit issuance. If not known at time of reservation, they may be added later.
  • Watercraft information (optional at time of reservation) – the type and number of watercraft must be designated. This can be changed up until time of permit issuance. For example, 2 canoes.
  • Credit Card to pay use fee and reservation fee.
    • Reservation fee: $6 – this one/permit payment is non refundable in the event of cancellation
    • User fee: $16/adult (At the time of reservation, a minimum of two adults must be paid for along with the reservation fee for a total of $38. At the time of permit issuance, the second user can be deleted, in the event of solo trip, or changed to child/senior. A corresponding refund will be issued at that time)
  • Senior/Access pass number – if you are a card holder, the number must be entered at the time of reservation and the card must be presented at the time of permit issuance.
  • Permit Issuing Station – you’ll need to select where you’d like to pick up your permit. The default will be the nearest Ranger Station to the entry point, but you may select a cooperating business, such as Sawbill Canoe Outfitters. There is no extra cost, and the permit will be at the Cooperator (Sawbill) eliminating a stop at the Ranger Station.

What: You will need a permit for all overnight camping inside the BWCA Wilderness. (Day trips that don’t include an overnight stay only require a free, self issued, day use permit available at the entry point). Each entry point has a different daily quota. The permit does not reserve camping at any given location, it simply entitles entry from a specific starting point on a specific date. Once inside the Wilderness, groups can go wherever they please and camp at any available designated campsite. A group can stay in the Wilderness for any continuous amount of time. A group is limited to a maximum of 9 people and 4 watercraft.

Most of this information is the same as the previous system and the user interface is largely the same, too. Be sure to use an email address that you actively monitor as you will be sent a series of informational videos required to be viewed prior to your arrival.

As always, let us know if you have any questions or need our assistance! Best of luck!


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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