Kelso River
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Nearest Entry Point: Sawbill Lake #38 Fishing: Unknown
Maps: Fisher F-5; McKenzie #21 River Depth: Unknown
Fire History: Logging as recent as the early 1960's
River Length: About 3.7 miles.
Campsites: None Wildlife Seen on Visit: None
Last Visited: October 8, 2019 River Elevation: Starts in marsh about 0.4 miles north of Lujenida Lake at about 1845 feet. Flows through Lujenida Lake at 1801 feet and Kelso Lake at 1801 feet. Mouth at Sawbill Lake at an elevation of 1787 feet. River drops 14 feet over 3.7 miles.
Water Clarity: N/A

To Kelso Lake: Paddle In
To Lujenida Lake: Paddle In
To Sawbill Lake: Walk the 13 rod portage

Kelso River

Tofte Ranger District

The Kelso River starts in a marshy area about 0.4 miles north of Lujenida Lake. The section of the river north of Lujenida Lake is not navigable. The river flows into Lujenida Lake just to the east of the portage to Zenith Lake. After passing through Lujenida Lake, the river flows out its southern end. From Lujenida Lake downstream to Kelso Lake, the river passes through wide open areas of peat bog that provide nice views of the surrounding area. There are a few small islands scattered through the peat bog that encompasses both sides of the river for much of its length. It is along this stretch that you will likely encounter a beaver dam (or two). A very small one was present just south of Lujenida Lake in 2019.

Kelso Mountain Trail to location of old fire watch tower: About 1,000 feet downstream of Lujenida Lake, there is a large rock called The Dolmen on the east side of the Kelso River. It is called that after the monolithic rock structures found in Britain and France. It is a large rock supported by three smaller rocks. The whole structure rests on top of a larger table rock. Directly across the river from The Dolmen is the location of the trailhead that leads up Kelso Mountain to the location of the old lookout tower. You may be able to see the remains of an old dock in the river here if you peer into the water. This trail is not easy. It is about 400 rods long (roughly 1 1/4 miles) and it is overgrown. It passes by a small lake: Oriole Lake. Bring a map, compass and a GPS if you have one as it would be easy to get lost if you wandered off the trail. The hike would probably be easiest in the spring or late fall when the leaves are gone from the trees. The old lookout tower which was built around 1927 is gone, but the remains of the outhouse, some miscellaneous metallic objects and the supports of the fire tower are still visible. There is quite a bit of information about the Kelso Mountain Tower in the book "Sawbill: History and Tales" by Mary Alice Hansen published in 2007. See pages 209-211.

The Kelso River flows into the north end of Kelso Lake. The river flows out of Kelso Lake near its mid-section along the eastern shoreline. Kelso Lake has three campsites if you need to stop for the day. South of Kelso Lake the river is wider. The section of river nearest Kelso Lake is lined by fairly young forest. This area was logged as recently as the 1960's. There are three interesting boulders (glacial erratics most likely) next to each other along this early stretch of river just south of Kelso Lake. The river eventually comes to a sharp bend and turns in the direction of Sawbill Lake (east).

Through this last section, the river is again bordered by vast peat bogs. The Kelso River has its mouth at Sawbill Lake. The mouth is right next to the Sawbill Lake end of the portage.

The only portage along this river is an easy 13 rod portage into Sawbill Lake. There are no campsites along the river. Kelso River probably holds some northern pike and maybe a smallmouth bass or two as Kelso Lake contains these fish species.

Traveling the Kelso River (Downstream)

Click on the photos below to see the full resolution image - Use your browsers back button to close photo and return to this page.

To see this route in the "Upstream" direction, scroll down the page to the section titled "Traveling the Kelso River (Upstream).

The Kelso River is navigable from Lujenida Lake downstream to Sawbill Lake. North and upstream of Lujenida Lake, the river is not passable. The rivers probable origin is a wetland located on the east side of the Lujenida Lake to Zenith Lake portage about its midway point.

The Kelso River begins midway along this portage between Lujenida Lake and Zenith Lake. There used to be a dam along this creek north of Lujenida Lake that made it possible to continue along the creek, thus shortening this long portage. The dam is gone.

Paddle out from the Zenith Lake portage and track southward down Lujenida Lake. The Kelso River flows into Lujenida Lake just to the east of the Zenith Lake portage. Make a brief detour into the eastern bay of the lake. Then continue south into the Kelso River. There is occasionally a beaver dam in this area requiring a liftover. [Explore Lujenida Lake]

Kelso River 1
Small beaver dam just downstream of Lujenida Lake.

Kelso River 2
The Kelso River between Lujenida Lake and Kelso Lake.

Kelso River 3
Just upstream of the sharp bend through which the river breaks into several channels momentarily. The river goes to the left around that stand of pines you can see in the center of your view. Once south (downstream) from those trees, the river becomes a single channel again.

Paddling the Kelso River from Lujenida Lake downstream to Kelso Lake.

Kelso River 4
The Kelso River passes through a peat bog that has wide swaths of marsh grass. This is just to the north of Kelso Lake.

Kelso River 5
The mouth of the Kelso River at Kelso Lake. The view is looking to the south (downstream). You can pick up the Kelso River again where it exits Kelso Lake. [Explore Kelso Lake].

After leaving the Kelso River (for now), paddle south through Kelso Lake until arriving at the middle of the lakes three campsites.

Kelso Lake as seen from the lakes middle campsite. View is toward the west on a very windy day in October.

After a brief rest at the campsite, continue south until you reach the point where you can re-enter the Kelso River.

Kelso River 6
The Kelso River where it leaves Kelso Lake. This is looking toward the south (downstream).

Kelso River 7
West shoreline of the Kelso River. Three glacial erratics lined up along the shoreline. This is not far south of where the Kelso River flows out of Kelso Lake.

Paddling the Kelso River all the way from Kelso Lake to the Sawbill Lake portage. Late afternoon to early evening in autumn.

Kelso River 8
A view looking south along the Kelso River. In the far distance, the river makes a sharp left turn (just visible to far right of view).

Kelso River 9
Conspicuously large pine tree at the sharp bend. There are few large pine trees in this area because logging operations continued in this area until the mid-1960's.

Kelso River 10
Peat bog and marsh grasses along the south shore of the Kelso River, just upriver from the Sawbill Lake portage.

Kelso River 11
Sunset view of the Kelso River from the Sawbill Lake portage. It looks rocky, but its actually a nice landing.

A short and extremely easy portage from the river to Sawbill Lake. The Kelso River has its mouth at Sawbill Lake. The river empties into the lake just to your left (as you face the lake).

Traveling the Kelso River (Upstream)

The information on this website for the upstream direction along the Kelso River only includes the section from the north end of Kelso Lake up through Lujenida Lake.

The entire paddle from Kelso Lake upstream to Lujenida Lake. The Kelso River along this stretch passes through peat bogs, meanders by a couple small islands and may be blocked by a beaver dam or two.

After entering Lujenida Lake from the Kelso River, paddle north across the lake until reaching the Zenith Lake portage. This is a loooooooong portage.

Kelso River 15
The start of the Zenith Lake portage. A wide landing area. A few boulders to contend with. The water is shallow enough and the bottom of the lake here is mildly spongy.

Kelso River 16
A view from a little ways up the very long portage between Lujenida Lake and Zenith Lake.

Route Connections for Kelso River

From the Kelso River you can paddle into either Kelso Lake or Lujenida Lake. You can also portage into Sawbill Lake.

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