Sawbill Lake

Making Connections

  • Portage East, 100 rods, to Smoke
  • Portage North, 80 rods, to Ada Creek
  • Portage West, 13 rods, to the Kelso River
  • Portage West, 30 rods, to Alton



  • DNR Lake No. 160496
  • Lake Map No. B0130
  • Lake Table No. 9A
  • MDH Fish Consumption Advisory - N/A
  • MPCA Water Quality - N/A
Sawbill Lake
Scale 1:42840
Full image approximately 4 miles square


Sawbill is a large lake on the southern border of the BWCAW, relatively narrow but almost 4 miles long on its North/South axis. It provides immediate access to two popular canoe routes, the Phoebe River chain of lakes to the West (the "Lady Chain") and the "Fire Lakes" of Smoke, Flame, and Burnt lakes to the East. To the North it provides a more rugged route up Ada Creek and into the wild country West of Cherokee.


Sawbill supports about a dozen designated campsites, most in the far north end. Because of the lake's popularity, these can fill early in the day during the busier travel periods so plan accordingly.

Planning Considerations

Sawbill Lake, and the Sawbill entry point, are located at the end of the Sawbill Trail, which snakes up through the Superior National Forest from the Lake Superior shore at Tofte. At the head of the trail is Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, in our opinion one of the finer outfitters serving the BWCAW and a strong advocate for the wilderness.


The name Sawbill comes from the colloquial name for a familiar northwoods duck, the Common Merganser (Mergus merganser). The mergansers, unlike most ducks, have a toothed bill which aids them in the pursuit of their favorite meal - fish. Hence the local name for them of sawbill. And yes, one can see sawbills on Sawbill. We have also seen Black Backed Woodpeckers in camp on Sawbill, along with the more common Canada Jays.

As a lake relatively popular with campers, Sawbill is also a foraging ground of choice for the black bear. Hang your food bag high and keep a clean camp.

Below the surface, Sawbill supports populations of Northern Pike (Esox lucius), Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieui), Walleye (Stizostedion vitreum) stocked in 1993, White Sucker (Catostomus commersoni), and Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens).

Notes and Comments

Line of Spruce Trees

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Last updated on 11 April, 2004