Recommended maps for this route: Sawbill Area East, Fisher F-5, F-6, F-12 and F-13 or McKenzie Map 3, 4, 7 and 21.
The trip described here begins and ends at Sawbill Lake, but with a little modification it can begin and/or end at Baker, Homer or Brule Lake.
Your paddle flashes and the canoe surges forward through the waves as you head due north up Sawbill Lake. It is exciting to know that you could keep paddling north through virtually unbroken Wilderness all the way to Hudson Bay. As you portage and paddle through Ada Creek, Ada Lake and Scoop Lake, you can reflect on the ancient footsteps that fell on these very trails. The 180 rod (16.5ft = 1 rod; 320 rods = 1 mile) portage into Cherokee Creek takes you over the Laurentian Divide. These hills which are causing you to grunt and sweat under your pack are also dividing the watershed between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Cherokee Creek is narrow, but easily navigable and is a favorite feeding spot for moose.
Cherokee north to Long Island Lake is an easy day with short, flat portages. Watch for beautiful white pines on the north end of Gordon Lake. Also notice the dead trees due to the spruce budworm. This natural phenomenon occurs every 50 years or so. Until modern times, it was a major precursor to wild fire. If the weather is warm, consider a side trip to Frost for beach bumming. Long Island has many, many good campsites.
A couple of short hops to Muskeg Lake lead to the long pull up the hill to Kiskadinna (kiss´ – kah – dee´ – nah) Lake. While paddling down Kiskadinna, watch for a small cave on the south shore right at the water line. The cave is used as a temporary den by wolves in the winter. Portage 35 rods into Ogema (oh – gee´ – mah) Lake. On many maps, this lake is incorrectly labeled as Omega. Head south from Ogema to magnificent Winchell Lake. Pick one of the rock point campsites along the north shore of Winchell. This is a particularly good lake for watching sunsets. If the weather is calm (and it often is in the evening), it is sheer heaven to drift in your canoe and gaze down the mirror-like lake at a fiery sunset.
Head south out of Winchell into Wanihigan Lake, then turn sharply west and portage into Cliff Lake. From Cliff, it’s 160 rods into Cone Lake, where you turn south again and proceed through Cone Lake to Brule. Use your good judgment on Brule Lake. Its size, shape, and orientation all contribute to making Brule hazardous on windy days. If in doubt, wait for the wind to abate before making your crossing. Camp on Brule or South Temperance. Admire the spectacular hills on the northwest end of Brule and watch for the soaring eagles that live here.
Head down the Temperance River through Weird, Jack, and Kelly Lakes. There is no discernible current in these lakes and you portage streamside around the fast water. Camp for the night on Kelly, Burnt, or Smoke Lake. It is not unusual to hear wolves howling, especially at dusk and dawn.
Burnt and Smoke are both fine walleye lakes. Both also have small mouth bass, some of which run to the five pound class. The portages will seem shorter by this point in the trip, thanks to lighter food packs and hardened muscles. You’ll be back to Sawbill in plenty of time to make the transition back to civilized society.