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Loop Through Cherokee Lake

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Portage Rods
Longest Portage

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This 23-mile loop circles northeast from Sawbill into Cherokee Lake, and then down along the Temperance River to Kelly Lake and over back to Sawbill. This journey is a great trip that will produce memories for a lifetime. It is probably a bit aggressive for people without wilderness canoeing experience, but well-outfitted visitors with a trip or two under their belts will enjoy this little expedition.

Detailed Route Info

The first leg of this journey is along a popular route up to Cherokee Lake. The first portage, 78 rods from Sawbill Lake to Ada Creek, is relatively flat, free of obstructions. The 76-rod portage from Ada Creek to Ada Lake is also not too difficult.

Next you will take a 96-rod portage between Ada Lake and Skoop Lake. Finally, a 180-rod portage leads from Skoop Lake to Cherokee Creek. You will find few Boundary Waters portages as clear as this path. Small footbridges have been constructed across the few low areas along the trail, making this a great all-weather crossing even though it has frequent short hills along the way. Paddle down Cherokee Creek until you arrive at the heart of Cherokee Lake.

Cherokee Lake holds a special place in the hearts of many visitors to the BWCAW. Its large, island-studded surface includes 19 designated campsites, and easy extended route connections can be made to four neighboring lakes.

The hilly, 140-rod portage from Cherokee to Sitka will get your blood flowing and require a bit of fancy footwork over what is a fairly rocky path. Next, the portage over to North Temperance Lake will come as a pleasant surprise after you’ve carried into Sitka from Cherokee. Not only is it almost a third shorter, but the trail is relatively flat, free of rocks, and is likely to be dry most of the year. Finally, the trail from North Temperance to South Temperance is a relatively easy 53-rod trail that poses few obstacles.

The 240-rod portage from South Temperance Lake is the longest on this route, and follows one of the flattest and smoothest paths. Thankfully, the final three portages are all relatively short. The 57-rod portage is relatively easy and follows a nice trail, but it has a few low spots that are likely to be muddy in spring. The 12-rod portage from Weird Lake to Jack Lake is not particularly difficult, and provides plenty of opportunities to relax along the shore of the stream between them. The 72-rod portage from Jack Lake over to Kelly Lake is flat and well traveled. However, expect a bit of mud during the spring and after heavy rains, significantly increasing its difficulty during such times.

All portages are not created equal, and the 230-rod portage from Kelly into Burnt Lake was made tough. The trail rises over 100 feet above Kelly Lake along a series of ups and downs. Be ready for a workout! Once you are on Burnt you should be able to stop and spend the night at one of the six Forest Service designated campsites. From here, back to Sawbill, the trails are relatively easy.

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