The Complete BWCA Guide to Sawbill Lake Entry Point #38

Sawbill Lake Entry Point #38 - View of the lake from the boat landing and dock area

General Information

Sawbill Lake Entry Point #38 is in the Tofte District of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA or BWCAW) at the southernmost edge of the wilderness. It offers access to the heart of the BWCAW via a seemingly unlimited number of routes.

Trips can be designed to be almost any duration, so it is a great entry point for both beginners and experts. Sawbill Lake Entry Point is also right next to Sawbill Canoe Outfitters and the Sawbill Lake Campground.

PermitsSeven entry permits granted per calendar day (May 1st – September 30th).
AccessLakeside boat launch with no portage. Located at Sawbill Lake Campground
GPS CoordinatesLatitude 47.863383 Longitude: -90.887584
Closest Ranger StationTofte Ranger Station, 7355 MN-61 Tofte, MN 55615, 218-663-8060 
Closest OutfittersSawbill Canoe Outfitters (Sawbill Lake) and Sawtooth Outfitters (Tofte)
FacilitiesLarge parking lot (approx. 100+ cars); Vault Toilet; Maps and signage; 51 campsites at Sawbill Lake Campground; Sawbill Canoe Outfitters on site with limited gear, food, and drinks for purchase
MapsFisher F-5; McKenzie #21

Sawbill Lake BWCA Permit Issuing Stations:

Large parking lot at Sawbill Lake Entry Point #38

There are several options for BWCA permit pickup in the Tofte district. Remember, you will need to choose your permit pickup location when reserving your permit, so make sure you double-check hours, availability, etc. prior to finalizing your permits at If you do need to change your permit pickup location, you can call the Tofte Ranger Station, and often they are able to help.

Permits can only be picked up on your entry date or ONE DAY Prior. Only the permit holder or alternate permit holder specified at the time of reservation can pick up the permit, and a photo ID is required. You must pick up your permit at the issue station specified on that permit (i.e. that you chose online).

Also make sure you show up at least a half hour before our permit issuance location closes. You do not want to arrive to find them closed or unable to help!

Our Preferred BWCA Issuing Station:

Our preferred issuing station for Entry Point #38 (Sawbill Lake) is Sawbill Canoe Outfitters which is located adjacent to the entry point and campground and is open late.

Other BWCA Permit Issuing Stations:

Frost River is also a good option (and an arguably better location by Bent Paddle Brewery ?), but is only open until 6PM. Unfortunately, we can rarely make it to Duluth by 6PM.

Sawtooth Outfitters is right by the turnoff from Hwy 61 to County Road 2 and is a good option if you are outfitting your trip. Unfortunately, they close too early for us.

Duluth Pack store in downtown Duluth is a great option if you plan on stopping for a bite to eat on your way up. It is our go-to spot for other Tofte-area entry points.

Tofte Ranger Station is great if you have questions for the rangers, however the hours are limited.

Issuing StationTelephoneLocationHours (Memorial Day to Labor Day)*
Duluth Pack Store218-722-1707Duluth, MNM-Th: 10AM-8PM
F-Sa: 9AM-9PM
Sunday: 10AM-7PM
Frost River Store218-727-1472Duluth, MN10AM-6PM (Seven days per week)
Sawtooth Outfitters218-663-7643Tofte, MN8AM-6PM (Seven days per week)
Sawbill Canoe Outfitters218-663-7150Tofte, MN7AM-9PM (Seven days per week)
Tofte Ranger Station218-663-8060Tofte, MN8AM-4:30PM (Seven days per week)

* PLEASE double-check hours prior to arrival! These were up-to-date as of September 2022 but can change.

How To Get to Sawbill Lake (BWCA Entry Point #38):

Take Highway 61 northeast from Duluth to the town of Tofte (approximately 83 miles).

Cook Country Road 2 to Perent Lake Road

Take a left onto Cook County Road 2 (Sawbill Trail), which goes north and inland from Lake Superior. After a couple of miles, this paved road turns to gravel. You will pass the Temperance Lake Campground on your left 12 miles outside Tofte. Continue another five miles past the campground until you get to the intersection that says the end of Cook Country Road 2.

Sawbill Lake Entry Point Directions - veer left where Country Road 2 ends
Intersection where Country Road 2 ends.

Veer slightly left and follow the new road (Some maps still say Cty Road 2, some Sawbill Trail) for about a mile. When you come to the next intersection, veer right onto Sawbill Trail (left takes you to Entry Points #36 and #37).

Sawbill Lake - Veer right to stay Sawbill Trail which will take you to Entry Point #38
Veer right to stay on Sawbill Trail/Cook County Road 2

You will continue on Sawbill Trail for another 5 miles. This road is a bit rougher but does not require a 4×4. It will bring you right into Sawbill Lake Campground and Sawbill Canoe Outfitters.

Sawbill Lake Road Conditions and Google Maps

In our experience, the roads are in decent shape and do not require a 4×4. They can become potholed after heavy rains, and you can run into downed trees if you are coming after a storm.

More importantly, watch for turtles! Each year we go in June and feel like we’re playing frogger trying to avoid them as they nest in the gravel! Another positive is that the road signage has improved significantly over the years. Follow these instructions and I promise you will not get lost, unlike us on our first trip!

We also recommend downloading the section of map on Google Maps directly to your phone. This way, you can continue to use Google Maps once you leave the cellphone coverage area (which occurs shortly after you leave Tofte!

Last Stops for Food, Drinks, & Supplies:

Tofte is a small town with a limited yet sufficient options for food, drink, and lodging. Sawbill Canoe Outfitters also has a small selection of food, drink, and gear in case you are like us and always forget something.

Holiday Gas Station  – We always fill up with gas before we head onto the forest roads. We also pick up donuts (Sign says world’s best ?) and iced coffee for the next morning so we can wake up, fill up, and hit the water with as little unpacking as possible!

Tofte General Store – Right at the corner of Hwy 61 and County Road 2 is a small grocery store with almost anything you could need. It is great for people like me that are prone to forgetting things.

Coho Café & Bakery – Great option for real food before or after your trip! Did someone say mimosas?

AmericInn – Great place to stay if you need to end your trip early (i.e. you have young kids and the weather is predicted to be severe).

Parking at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters:

There is a large parking lot for at least 100 cars at Sawbill Lake Entry Point (#38). Parking is not an issue.

Sawbill Lake Campground:

Signage at Sawbill Lake Campground at the entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA)

Sawbill Lake Entry Point (#38) sits adjacent to the Sawbill Lake Campground (51 in total). 27 sites can be reserved in advance and the remainder are first come, first served. The campground is equipped with picnic tables and campfire rings with grills, as well as vault toilets, a dump station, drinking water and trash and recycling bins.

Formal campsites are also available at Temperance River Campground (first come, first served), Toohey Lake Rustic Campground, Fourmile Lake Rustic Campground, and Windy Lake Rustic Campground. Of the five mentioned above, only Temperance River Campground is directly on your way to the entry point. The rest involved turn-offs on other forest roads.

Sawbill Lake Entry Point #38 Trip/Route Options:

Route Options from Sawbill Lake Entry Point are seemingly limitless. We’ve detailed couple of options below to get your planning gears spinning!

Option 1: Lady Chains Route

Another good options is the Lady Chain Route. The only downside is this rout starts and ends at different entry points. While they are not far away, you will start at Kawishiwi Lake Entry Point #37 and end at Sawbill Lake Entry Point #38, or vice versa. This is usually a 4-5 day trip, however you can extend it if you wanted time to relax or fish. It follows the same routes above, but instead of going north out of Lake Polly to Koma, you exit out of the southeast arm.

Sawbill Canoe Outfitters has a great writeup on this route that you can find here.

Option 2: Cherokee Loop

This is a great four-day trip that takes you through Burnt and Smoke lakes, which are great walleye and Small mouth lakes. It can even be done over a weekend if you are short on time. The loop takes you to Cherokee Lake too, which is beautiful and known for pike and lake trout.

Sawbill Canoe Outfitters has a great write-up on this route that you can find here.

Option 3: Little Saganaga

There are two great loops that take you up to Little Saganaga, the east loop and the west loop. Both are six-day trips and both are awesome as they take you deep into the wilderness.

Again, Sawbill Canoe Outfitters has great write-ups on these routes that you can find here (east) and here (west).


Lake NameKnown Sport Fish Species
Sawbill LakeWalleye, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass
Alton LakeWalleye, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass
Ada LakeNorthern Pike
Burnt LakeWalleye, Northern Pike
Kelly LakeWalleye, Northern Pike, Sunfish
Cherokee LakeNorthern Pike, Lake Trout

Many lakes now have small Smallmouth Bass populations and Perch are also found in most lakes, but rarely targeted. Above is a small selection of the major lakes in the area. There are a ton more that are included in the book below.

If you are looking for a more detailed guide to fishing in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, purchase a copy of Michael Furtman’s The New Boundary Waters and Quetico Fishing Guide. It is a must-have for anyone fishing or attempting to fish in the BWCA.

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