Sawbill Lake to Cherokee in BWCAW

Have any of you started from Sawbill, and gone north to Cherokee? Next season I will be taking a group this way. They will be mostly newbees, out on their first wilderness trip. I’m wondering how long of a day it will be to paddle and portage ( at a somewhat slower pace) to reach a campsite on Cherokee. I don’t want to have any trouble getting a site once we get there.

Also any comments or suggestions on a loop trip through Temperance Lakes, Jack, Kelly, Burnt, Smoke, and back to Sawbill Lake would be much appreciated. I need info on length of this loop trip, portages, water levels of the river sections in August, difficulties of obtaining campsites on popular lakes, anything you think I should know.



– Last Updated: Dec-04-04 12:50 PM EST –

I don't know that part of the B-dub at all, but paddling with newbies can be great, or it could be REALLY slow. Of course the distance you travel depends on their paddling skills (portaging can be learned quickly), but also their attitude towards the experience can make a big difference too.

Groups that came to the camp I worked at had a range of people who were more or less excited about being in the woods. That being said, we probably averaged about 2 miles per hour. We usually paddled from roughly 9am to dinner time or later. With a couple groups of newbies, we covered 14 to 19 miles daily.

I think the most important thing to judge a group, is their enthusiasm for going into the wilderness after having a good idea what it is actually about.

Edited to add: As far as water levels go, come August, it won't be uncommon for the water to be relatively low in my experiencs.

your questions
go to:

register if you are not amember and ask away. Lots of BWCAW regulars on that board.


Cherokee first night
Let’s see about 8 miles travel with several portages adding up to a mile on the first day with a group of newbies. Also a lot of twisty small creek travel. For a group that single portages this should take about 4 four hours. Double portaging add an hour. Cherokee gets traffic from Sawbill, Baker, and Brule entry points. It’s also about a day’s travel from these entry points so it’s likely you will find more base campers occupying the campsites on the lake than travelers. Base campers can be there day after day after day. I’d be trying to arrive at Cherokee no later than 2PM. So if you can get an honest 8AM start at Sawbill, I think you will be fine. If you can’t start that early, consider stopping on your first day in the north end of Sawbill.

Your route will be always close to entry points. Plan on getting early starts and camping early to help ensure getting a campsite on the lakes you plan to be on. My $.02 worth.

The info you gave me was exactically what I was looking for. It sounds like Cherokee would be a busy lake. Would you have any suggestions on an alternative route? I’m looking for five days of six hours a day traveling, preferably a loop, but not neccesary. Above all, remote, with little competition for campsites. I want to avoid crossing the border, and enter from east of Ely. A long portage, up to 300 rods, to remove us from the crowds may not be a bad idea.


Route Suggestion
Just a suggestion to get into some less occupied areas in this corner of the BWCA. Start your trip as planned at Sawbill and shuttle a vehicle to Brule for a take out there. The outfitter at Sawbill landing may offer shuttle service also. Consider the route Sawbill, Cherokee, Long Island, Kiskadinna, Omega, Winchell, Wanihgan, Grassy, Brule. Can easily extend if you have extra time through Omega, Hensen, Gaskin, Brule. From Cherokee until you drop down into Winchell you should find some solitude. Winchell is another lake that base campers frequent. But weigh the capabilities of your group first. The portage into Kiskadinna is tough and will be a real challenge to a group of newbies.

Sawbill outfitters
I am also looking at routes in the area. Sawbill outfitters ( ) sent me a very brochure and a map with quite a bit of info about various routes in the area. They have a little on their website. I have not used them, but I suspect I will this June.

Kiskidinna Portage
best taken from Brule to Muskeg. At least you are then decending the cliffinstead of climbing it!

I have used Sawbill Outfitters
Nice people to deal with, very helpful. We did the Lady Chain Route and had a blast.


use em many times
I’ve used them many times (at least 15+) over the years. One of my favorite areas. Great people, good service. Good selection of canoe choices which is what I usually rent (don’t want to drive mine 650 mies on the car). Gear is first rate as they turn it over quite often when they sell their used gear. They live there year round and know what they are doing. They do shuttle if you need.