As you launch your canoe into the first in a series of extraordinary glacial lakes, you’re sure to notice the intense calm of the Washburn County forest land surrounding you. This little known gem is called the Birchwood Canoe Routes, located in the Sawmill Lake Primitive Area. It’s the perfect little spot to enjoy the solitude of a back-country experience, just a little closer to home. If you’re looking for a boundary waters experience without the travel time, this is it! Many refer to this area as their “mini boundary waters” as it has a similar feel, just on a much smaller scale.
The Sawmill Lake Primitive Area is made up of roughly 16,000 acres of land owned by Washburn County, much of which is designated as non-motorized. Nestled deep in the woods, just north of Birchwood, the area offers a primitive campground and two canoe portage trails. The area is well known for the high density of glacial lakes and incredible fishing opportunities. The lakes are home to abundant bass and panfish and the Sawmill Lake is also known for Green Sunfish as well. The Birchwood Area is known as the Bluegill Capital of Wisconsin so trust us when we say you should bring a fishing pole along on this adventure.
The Canoe Portage Routes:
The Birchwood Canoe Routes are made up of two different portage trails. The Sawmill Lake Route is accessible from the Sawmill Park Campground and accesses nine separate lakes with most portages less than 100 yards, making it a great spot for beginning paddlers. The lakes along this route are relatively deep, up to 40 feet.
The Loyhead Canoe Portage Route is located just one mile north of the campground and offers access to 7 separate lakes. The portages are slightly longer on this route, but most of them are still less than 200 yards; and totally worth the trek!
Both routes are stunning, especially in the fall. With the mixed hardwood trees, you’ll be in awe as they burst into stunning orange, red and yellow hues during peak fall color which is usually in late September or early October depending on weather conditions. Since both routes have shorter portages than the boundary waters, these routes are great for beginners or if you just have a couple of days to get away. As with most things, it’s quieter during the week, but it’s rare you’ll run into many people on the weekends either in this remote little area.
If you’re looking for a remote camping experience, but prefer modern luxuries like fresh water and a pit toilet...wait, can we call that modern? We’ll go with it. So, if you prefer modern luxuries, plan on camping at Sawmill Park Campground. The campground offers 25 primitive campsites and are reservable May through September, although you can camp there any time of year on a first come, first serve basis. Amenities include a hand pump for water, pit toilets, fishing pier, pavilion, and a small beach. Camping permits are also available (for a tent or lesser facility) if you would rather “rough it” somewhere along one of the lakes.
From Birchwood, take County Highway D west to County Highway T. Head north, Highway T will turn into gravel, which then becomes the Birchwood Fire Lane. The park is two miles north, on the east side of the Birchwood Fire Lane.
From Stone Lake, take State Highway 70 west to County Highway B. Follow County Highway B west for 1 ½ miles, then turn south on the Birchwood Fire Lane. The park will be six miles south on the east side of the road.