Skiing Minnesota's Gunflint Trail

Minnesotans were the first to offer outfitted dogsled adventures to travelers.
Northwoods transportation

Planning Your Trip
The Gunflint Trail Association is an excellent place to start when planning a trip to the Gunflint area; this umbrella organization can connect you with the lodge, B&B, or wilderness outfitter you're looking for. In addition to cross-country skiing, the Gunflint Trail Association's "Guest of All" program allows you to stay overnight in one lodge while partaking in activities, including snowshoeing, dogsledding, ice-fishing, and sleigh riding, at every other member lodge along the trail. The association can also hook you up with one of the more rugged and unusual winter vacations you'll find anywhere, a yurt-to-yurt ski trip along the Banadad Trail. They can also arrange lodge-to-lodge ski trips.

For wide-ranging information about the Land of Lakes and its lure to visitors, contact the Minnesota Office of Tourism.

Getting There

By Car: The Gunflint Trail is a five-hour drive north of Minneapolis. Take I-35 through Duluth to U.S. 61. At Grand Marais, turn left on the Gunflint Trail (Cook County 12) and drive 2, 24, or 45 miles to the well-signed entrances for Pincushion Mountain, Bearskin, and Gunflint Lodge, respectively.

By Plane: The closest airport is Duluth International; Northwest Airlines offers daily flights.

Ski Trail Passes
Minnesota's annual pass for state ski trail systems such as Pincushion Mountain and the Banadad Trail can be purchased at Buck's Ace Hardware in Grand Marais, or at any Minnesota State Park office. The Central and Upper Gunflint systems are maintained by the resorts along those portions of the Gunflint Trail; ski-trail passes can be purchased for one, three, or seven days at any Gunflint Trail Association member lodge.

Nearby Places
The Gunflint Trail is only part of the tapestry of recreation-focused communities and wild lands that characterizes Minnesota's Arrowhead country. This is one of last great places, a huge expanse of forested, hillocky land fractured by many hundreds of lakes and streams. Most of Boundary Country now enjoys some form of state or federal protection; below are a few other places in the region you might consider for your next northwoods vacation, be it a wilderness canoe trip, a stint as a dog-team musher, a backcountry fishing expedition, or any of many other possibilities.

The umbrella protection for the bulk of Arrowhead land is Superior National Forest. Canoe-camping routes and wildlife-watching opportunities every bit the equal of those in the Boundary Waters area are available in quantity; the looser restrictions of national-forest protection also allow for mountain biking, scenic driving and car-camping, and motorized sports such as motor-boat fishing and snowmobiling. The forest also has the steep, narrow Superior Hiking Trail, which runs along the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior; it's one of the best backpacking opportunities in the Midwest.

If you want to get as far away as possible from any sign of modernity, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the place for you. Easily ranking among the world's top wilderness destinations, the roadless BWCAW is accessed from the Gunflint Trail to the north and from Ely and MN 1 to the south; a score of local outfitters run canoe, fishing, snowshoe, and dogsled trips into the wilderness.

The best place on the Arrowhead to breathe in a deep breath of frontier history is Grand Portage National Monument. Grand Portage was the chief outpost of the North West Company, the fur-trading concern that dominated the northwoods economy in the 18th century. You can sift through exhibits about the fur trade and the men who worked it in those pioneer days, or walk the 8.5-mile Grand Portage Trail from Lake Superior to the Pigeon River, which the voyaguers used to walk carrying not one but two 90-pound packs. Move over, Paul Bunyan.

Anyone driving up toward the Gunflint Trail will be traveling MN 61, the North Shore Drive. This scenic byway runs up the coast of Lake Superior from Duluth, frequently rewarding drivers with stunning views of the lake; it's especially gorgeous in autumn when the area's sugar maples and other hardwoods are flashing fall colors.

Although it's at the extreme northwest end of Arrowhead country, it wouldn't do to neglect Voyageurs National Park. Like Boundary Waters, Voyageurs looms large in the imagination of flatwater paddlers all over the world; a circumnavigation of the 75,000-acre Kabetogama Peninsula will take you past countless islands, coves, and bays, and adds up to an unforgettable outdoor experience. Voyageurs is also a worthy destination for everything from walleye fishing to wildlife watching, a deep-winter ski trip to a mid-summer family houseboating vacation.

About the author: Freelance writer Stephanie Gregory recently moved back to Minnesota from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tired of brilliant sunshine and the mesmerizing Sangre de Cristo Mountains, she wanted to be closer to the Mall of America. When not shopping for Minnesota Vikings curios, Stephanie ice fishes, snowmobiles, and watches Fargo reruns. She is a regular contributor to Outside Magazine.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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