The 10 Most Instagrammable Places on the Gunflint Trail in Winter

We’re hopping on the “photo or it didn’t happen” bandwagon today and rounding up our top 10 absolute favorite places to take winter photos on the Gunflint Trail. While you could absolutely take stunning photos at any of these locations year-round, we think these public spots in the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness really are at their photogenic finest under a beautiful blanket of snow.

These aren’t only the Gunflint Trail’s most scenic spots, they can also all be accessed via existing roads or hiking trails, so you can visit and photograph without worrying about creating a loved to death Instagram hotspot. Together, we can keep your followers happy by taking them along on your Gunflint Trail winter vacation while preserving the wilderness experience for future visitors. Your Instagram account will never have looked so good! 

View from Top of the Seagull Lake Palisades in the Boundary Waters

Top 10 Gunflint Trail for Instagram Photos

1) Snowy Gunflint Trail

The snow-covered Gunflint Trail Road in northern Minnesota outside of Grand Marais, MN

Let’s start with some low hanging fruit here. If you’re going to be on the Gunflint Trail in the winter, you’re going to have to drive on the Gunflint Trail in all its scenic snowy glory. If you’re looking for a spot to pull off to get a pretty shot of snow-flocked pines during your drive, consider the parking lot on the left-hand side just north of the South Brule River Bridge (approximately 19 miles up the Gunflint Trail) or the Swamper Lake pull-off (approximately 24 miles up the Trail) on the right. Remember, the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway is a remote wilderness road, so drive carefully and watch for moose!

2) Caribou Rock Hiking Trail West Bearskin Lake Overlook

Caribou Rock Overlook on West Bearskin Lake along the Caribou Rock hiking trail on the Gunflint Trail in Cook County, MN
The Caribou Rock Hiking Trail is a seven-mile roundtrip hike in the Mid-Trail region of the Gunflint Trail, but you only need to hike the trail about a quarter mile to reach the Caribou Rock Overlook where you’ll find a spectacular eastern view of the entire length of West Bearskin Lake. Can you imagine how stunning your photos would be if you came here for sunrise? If you continue hiking, you’ll reach great vistas of Moss and Rose Lakes, eventually cross into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and reach the waterfall along the Stairway Portage between Duncan and Rose Lakes. To access the trail, drive two miles down the Hungry Jack Road (Cook County Rd 65) to the public parking area. 

3) Bridal Falls on Gunflint Lake 

Frozen Bridal Falls on Gunflint Lake in winter

Located seven miles down Gunflint Lake, it’s definitely an adventure to reach Bridal Falls. Although you can access Bridal Falls from a spur trail off the Border Route Hiking Trail, the easiest way to reach this photogenic waterfall in the winter is heading down Gunflint Lake on either snowmobile or skis to the most eastern bay on the lake’s southern shore. From there, follow the (signed) path along the western side of the flowage about a 1/3 mile to the waterfall. This is a great subzero destination since the extra cold temps cause the waterfall to freeze in beautiful icy formations and the cold also knocks down any slush that could slow down your travels on Gunflint Lake. 

4) Any Boundary Waters Sign

BWCAW Entrypoint #52 Brant Lake Boundary Waters sign

Anyone can say they went to the Boundary Waters this winter, but how are we suppose to believe you if you don’t pose in front of a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness sign to mark your official entrance in the federally designated wilderness area? You’ll bump into one of these signs whenever you enter the Boundary Waters from a public access point. From Tuscarora’s location on Round Lake, the fastest sign to reach is the one along the portage from Round Lake to Missing Link Lake. You’ll run into the sign about 1/3 of the way up the 142-rod portage.

Bonus points if you can find a sign that doesn’t have the word “wilderness,” which likely means the sign was placed before the 1978 BWCAW Act. We know where two pre-1978 signs are on the Gunflint Trail. Do you?

5) Cross River along the Round Lake Road

Gunflint Trail's Cross River along the Round Lake Road near Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters

Sure, we’re biased, but we think the most beautiful spot on the Gunflint Trail that you can reach by car is the Round Lake Road (Cook County Rd 47) when you drive along the Cross River rapids about half a mile up the road from the Gunflint Trail. We love watching how the river changes with the seasons: from rushing rapids in the spring to being almost completely ice-covered during especially chilly winters. In the early winter, moisture from the river often settles on neighboring tree branches to create exquisite hoar frost or rime. If you’re especially lucky, you might spot an otter eating its catch near the top of the rapids and even if you don’t spot the otter himself, be sure to look for otter slide tracks that almost always line the river banks in winter. After you take your photos, turn around safely by continuing up the road to the turn-off to the Round Lake Public Access or turn around at Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters. 

6) Centennial Hiking Trail Overlook

Overlook of Gunflint Trail beaver ponds, Gunflint Trail road, and Gunflint Lake from the Centennial Hiking Trail
Besides the Magnetic Rock Trail, the Centennial Hiking Trail is a great Gunflint Trail snowshoe trail option. If you don’t want to hike the entire 3.3 mile loop, we think you get your best photo-op just a little ways up the trail from the Round Lake Rd when you come to a sweeping vista of the beaver ponds below and a glimpse of both the Gunflint Trail and Gunflint Lake in the distance. To reach the overlook, park at the Centennial Trail pull-off about 3/10ths of a mile up the road after you turn off the Gunflint Trail. To hike the entire trail, park at the trailhead’s parking lot located approximately 48 miles up the Gunflint Trail on the left-hand side.    

7) George Washington Pines

Misty George Washington Pines ten minutes outside of Grand Marais, MN offers 3.3 km hiking or cross country ski trail

Just ten minutes outside of Grand Marais, the George Washington Pines is a favorite local destination in winter for its easy 3.3 km loop groomed cross-country ski trail through a 1932 Boy Scouts red pine plantation. There’s something magical about standing in an old growth forest where every tree you see is older than you and you might just think you’re catching glances of Narnia’s Mr. Tumnus in your peripheral vision as you ski through the Pines. This is also a great place to stop if you want a photo of one those quintessential “Superior National Forest” Forest Service signs. 

8) Gunflint Lake from North Gunflint Lake Rd

Frozen Gunflint Lake looking at the U.S. and Canada in northern Minnesota's Boundary Waters

One of the easiest spots to getting a sweeping panoramic shot of a Gunflint Trail border lake is from the snow plow turnaround spot just before the Cross River Bridge on the North Gunflint Lake Road (Cook County Rd 46). From this spot, you’ll capture Canada on the left hand side and the U.S. on the right side of your photo and you’ll spy cliffs on North Lake a good ten miles off in the distance. In you swing by this spot for a photo-op, don’t forget to look behind you. The cattail marsh next to the Cross River as well as views from the bridge are absolutely beautiful in the winter! 

9) Seagull Palisades

Ice fisherman walk past the Seagull Lake Palisade Cliffs in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Perhaps the most photographed spot on Seagull Lake, the Seagull Palisades located about halfway down the lake’s north shore are on of the Gunflint Trail’s most rewarding photography destinations. They look beautiful photographed from the ice below, photographed up close, or from following a trail on the west side of the cliffs to reach the top for a birds-eye view of the BWCA. You’ll have to venture into the Boundary Waters to get these photo, so don’t forget to grab a day-use permit at the Seagull Lake Public Access before you and your iPhone head out.

If you head out to the Palisades this winter, we definitely recommend approaching them from the south, since the ice is notoriously sketchy in the narrow channel  directly east of the Palisades between the lake’s north shore and an island. For this same reason, in winter, we favor using the main Seagull Lake Public Access on the southeast shore of the lake (also referred to as Blankenburg Public Landing) rather than tangling with the thin ice you can run into from the public access at Trail’s End Campground.  

10) You With A Fish

Crappie fishing in the eastern Boundary Waters off the Gunflint Trail

We’re guilty as charged: our Instagram account is mostly fish pics from about mid-December until the end of March. (Sorry, not sorry. We know what we like . . . .) One of the Gunflint Trail’s biggest winter draws is its access to world-class ice fishing and whether you’re going for lake trout, walleye, crappies, or smallmouth (hey, it’s happened!) through the ice, be sure to snap a photo of you and your fish on ice before you pop it back in the drink. #catchandrelease! 

What are your favorite places to take photos on the Gunflint Trail in the winter?

We know we skipped a few crowd favorites: Honeymoon Bluff, Magnetic Rock, and the Clearwater Palisades to name a few. Let us know in the comments below!

How Not To Hit A Moose on the Gunflint Trail

Pretty much everyone who drives up the Gunflint Trail would consider it a pretty good day if they spied a moose along the way. But sometimes vehicle/moose encounters are exciting for all the wrong reasons: locked brakes, floundering moose, muttered curse words . . . . As you might imagine, vehicle collisions with 1000+ lb moose don’t end well for either of the involved parties. While hopefully you’ll just walk away with a damaged (if not totaled) vehicle, sadly, it often the moose is injured to the point of needing to be dispatched moose. 

Just last night, Andy and I encountered a total of five moose within a two-mile stretch when driving home, so we figured it was high time we pass on some tips to make sure your next “up close and personal” with a moose isn’t too up close and personal.

Exercise special caution driving the Trail in the winter and at night 

While you could run into a moose on the Trail any time of day or season, moose are crepuscular meaning they feed at dawn and dusk and are thus most active when it’s the absolute hardest to see. It seems like moose/vehicle collisions always ratchet up in the winter and while you might point to slippery roads as the leading factor in those crashes, we actually had the most moose accidents in recent memory on the Gunflint Trail a couple years back during a stretch in late November and early December when the road was completely snow and ice free. So if moose/vehicle collision occur even on dry pavement, what was the one common denominator in those crashes? Darkness. While you’d think you’d never miss a massive animal like a moose if it was hanging out right in front of you, moose’s dark coats allow them to hide in the shadows of your high beams with surprising ease. 


Slow down on curves and the crest of hills 

I’m not sure what moose mommies and daddies are teaching their kids, but they certainly aren’t spending those precious childhood moments teaching moose babies not to play in the road. Moose have an uncanny penchant for hanging out like massive specters at the very worst places on the road. In an effort to deter moose from their middle of the road antics, the highway department doesn’t salt the Gunflint Trail except in extreme circumstances, but there’s still something about low visibility spots on the road that moose seem to find irresistible. Although 99% of the time there won’t be a moose lurking in the middle of the road when you come around a corner, you’ll be so happy you slowed down that one time your headlights are reflected back at you in two glittering moose eyeballs. 

Know your high-traffic moose areas 

Sure, the entire Gunflint Trail is moose country, but there are two very distinct locations on the Trail where you’re more likely to encounter a moose on the road. If you’re driving up the road, exercise particular caution once you cross the South Brule bridge until you reach the East Bearskin Road and again from the Mayhew Road until the Loon Lake Road. When driving in those areas, be on the lookout for fresh tracks and drive cautiously until those tracks appear to head off into the woods definitively.

Prepare for erratic behavior 

Look, no one accused Bullwinkle of being the smartest critter in the forest. (See above critique of moose parenting.) If you encounter a moose on a roadway, you might be surprised by its behavior. Sometimes moose will take off for the ditch only to double back into the road just as you’re about to pass them. They’ve been know to weave back and forth across the road for several minutes or run for a couple miles straight in front of you before finding a break in the ditch they deem acceptable for them to use to head off into the woods. Be as patient as you can and let the moose do its moosey thing without doing anything that could stress the critter out, like honking or following too closely. 

Wishing you all happy and healthy moose/vehicle encounters this winter driving season! 

 

Holiday Winter Gear Gift Guide 2018

While some Christmas carols would have you believe that the holiday season falls squarely in the middle of winter (hear’s looking at you “In the Bleak Midwinter”), in Minnesota, the holidays pretty much kickstart winter which makes them the perfect time to “present” your loved ones with all their winter gear needs. While we know some of you might not even want to hear the words “holiday gift guide” until the Thanksgiving turkey is a distant memory, we wanted to give you a heads up on the off-chance some of these items go on sale during the Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday hoopla. After all, there’s nothing worse than discovering the perfect gift idea for the Boundary Waters lover or outdoors enthusiast on your list until right after you’ve blown the last penny on your holiday gift budget, except maybe paying full price for a gift that was on sale . . . last week.

1. 100% Wool Long Underwear Sure, long underwear kind of ranks up there with socks when it comes to Christmas present “wow” factor, but if you have a winter camper on your list, they probably already know wool is king when it comes to Boundary Waters winter wear, and they will love a pair of 100% merino wool long underwear. Great for warmth and wicking moisture, we aren’t super brand loyal when it comes to wool long underwear. I like Minus 33 in midweight and expedition, while Andy finds Icebreaker fits him best.  

2. Fleece-lined Flannel Shirts These have inadvertently become the Tuscarora uniform in the last couple years. They check all the boxes for northern Minnesota wear: nice Northwoods aesthetics, cozy, and easy to layer under and over. Honestly, we wear these year-round – as a base layer in the winter, a shirt in the fall and spring, and a light jacket on those cool summer mornings. Bonus: These are on sale for 20% all weekend over at L.L. Bean

3. Nils Hand Ice Auger No Boundary Waters ice angler should be without a Nils Hand Ice Auger. The fastest, the most efficient way to drill holes by hand, the Nils takes the struggle out of drilling holes and allows you to spend more time fishing. 

4. MarCum fish finder If you have an avid ice fisherman on your list who’s looking to step up their ice fishing game, a MarCum fish finder is a good option. We like them because they come in a variety of price points and are pretty intuitive to use. MarCum’s also a Minnesota-based company and we’ve had great experiences with their customer service. 

5. Ion Ice Auger While you can’t use this auger in the Boundary Waters, this is a great option for fishing Boundary Waters border lakes such as Gunflint Lake, North Lake, and the Canadian side of Saganaga Lake or lakes in the greater Minnesota area. This auger makes quick work of ice fishing set-up each day. Lightweight and quiet, the battery holds its charge for an exceptionally long time and since it’s battery, not gas, powered, you don’t have to deal with any smoke or stinky fumes. 

6. Duluth Pack Lure Lockers So simple, but so effective, these are a great gift for your fishing buddy. Made of Duluth Pack’s signature heavy-duty canvas, you velcro these little patches around your lures to cover up hooks, saving you from the headaches of snags and tangles.

7. Lake trout ice fishing lures You can never have too many fishing lures in your tackle box. If you’re looking for an affordable stocking stuffer, consider a couple of our favorite lures to set up your angler for lake trout ice fishing season. We like Berkley PowerBait 3 in. Power Tubes in white for targeting large lake trout, while these Northland baits (which I affectionately call “My Little Pony” baits due to their sparkly, pastel palette) are a good bet for lakes with more moderately sized lake trout. 

8. Haat Rods Good ice fishing rods are hard to find and these are great ice fishing rods at a good price from a small Wisconsin-based business. These are well-made, high quality rods with good action that are a step above what you can find in your average outdoor goods box store.  

9. Hydroflask 32 oz Wide Mouth Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle  We’ve had our Hydroflask bottle for years and it goes on basically every one of our outdoor winter adventures. It really does live up to its hype of keeping drinks hot for 12 hours. We’ve used it to bring soup for lunch while we’re out ice fishing, but mostly we use ours to keep our coffee hot . . . see item 10 on the gift guide list . . . 

10. Alakef French Roast coffee beans Sorry, we can’t come to your home on Christmas morning to whip up some of Tuscarora’s famous French toast, but you can have a taste of Tuscarora in your coffee cup this winter. We brew Alakef’s French roast in our dining hall, so if you’re wondering what the secret is to our coffee, here we go. Roasted in Duluth, buying Alakef coffee is a delicious way to keep your gift dollars local this season. 

11. Camelbak H.A.W.G. Mil Spec Backpack We got this backpack for me to take hiking through the Peruvian Andes because I needed a backpack with a chest and waist strap and the idea of not fumbling with a water bottle at 15,000+ elevation was appealing. Turns out, this is the perfect sized day pack and sits comfortably on both Andy and my backs. We don’t often use the Camelbak insert, but it does come in handy on longer hikes. It also works very well as a carry-on bag, fitting easily under the seat in front of you so you don’t have to get into hand-to-hand combat over the overhead bin space.    

12. Light My Fire Original Swedish Firesteel Whether you ice fish, winter camp, snowshoe, or cross country ski, having the ability to start a fire is one of the best things you can do for winter safety. This small, compact magnesium fire starter is a great option for the Christmas stocking. Unlike matches, the Swedish Firesteel will work even if wet and the striker handle doubles as an emergency whistle. 

P.S. None of the links below are affiliate – we just really like these products and think they could make your winter Boundary Waters adventures even better.

 

The Best of Camp Reads: Edition Two – Epic Journeys in a Boat

We’re back, with another batch of book recommendations for your camping, travel, or winter fireside reading pleasure! Last year, we revealed some of our favorite outdoor adventure reads. (Check out our post – The Best of Camp Reads: Edition One.) This year, we got even more specific and settled on “epic journey featuring a boat” for our book recommendation theme.

Read on to see if you agree with our recommendations and definitely let us know if we missed an obviously epic (boat) adventure or two. 


Pre/Early Readers

Paddle to the sea
Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling 

Holling Clancy Holling wrote numerous children’s books in the mid-2oth century with an educational slant, often focused on American geography. His most famous work, Paddle-to-the-Sea is a beloved piece of North Shore elementary school curriculum and is responsible for thousands of canoe figurines bobbing around Lake Superior. A young boy in the Nipigon region of Ontario carves a figurine of a man in a canoe and sets the figurine, named Paddle-to-the-Sea, adrift in Lake Nipigon hoping the figurine will eventually make his way to the Atlantic Ocean via the Great Lakes waterway. As Paddle moves through the Great Lakes, he provides a firsthand look at the geography and industries that shape the region. Perhaps the most literary feat Holling pulls off is making you truly care about the fate of an inanimate object.  


Young Readers
la-belle-sauvage
La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman

I hesitated to put La Belle Sauvage (Book One in The Book Of Dust trilogy which builds off the story started in Pullman’s extraordinary His Dark Materials trilogy) in the “young readers” recommendation slot, but since it’s the only book included in this post that’s officially classified as “young adult literature,” here it lies.  Just know that if you’d prefer to not have your child exposed to the F-bomb or themes of sexual abuse, don’t give your kid this book. In fact, a couple of the books recommended below for adult readers would actually be better choices for middle-school age readers. 

At any rate . . . 

If you’re already familiar with Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass), La Belle Sauvage continues Pullman’s exploration of metaphysical themes and the story of Lyra Belacqua, but picks up the narrative thread at the time of Lyra’s birth. La Belle Sauvage is the name of main character Malcolm Polstead’s beloved canoe and the canoe plays an important role as Malcolm paddles epic floods to carry baby Lyra to safety as the world around him turns towards war. 


Adult Readers

The Odyssey The Odyssey, by Homer

If you haven’t read The Odyssey since you were assigned it in middle-school English class, it might be time to give it another go. One of the oldest adventure stories in Western Civilization, Homer’s The Odyssey  tells of Odysseus’s ten years lost at sea with his crew after the Trojan War.  During their decade of epic adventures (and misadventures),  Odysseus and his men survive storms, cannibals, mythical creatures, and enchantresses. The English translations of The Odyssey are very readable so don’t let the story’s classification as a “classic” scare you off. 
The Endurance
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing

This is another “adult” book that could double as a “young reader” book for anyone in middle school and up. What started as just another early 20th century Antarctic expedition, quickly became one of the most epic true stories of survival and human resilience. When Sir Ernest Shackleton’s aptly named boat The Endurance becomes encased in ice in the Weddell Sea in early December 1914, Shackleton marched his crew of 27 men across the shifting ice shelf to sail to Elephant Island in lifeboats. From there, Shackleton must sail one of those open boats 650 nautical miles with minimal navigation tools to reached South Georgia Island where he can get help for the men remaining on Elephant Island. Incredible really is the only word to sum up this tale. 

Life of Pi

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Who doesn’t like a good shipwreck story? Life of Pi focuses on the childhood of Pi Patel, but primarily focuses on what happens to Pi after the boat he’s traveling to Canada on with his family and a bunch of zoo animals sinks, leaving Pi alone on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. In a journey somewhat reminiscent of the Kon-Tiki, Pi and Richard Parker drift across the Pacific Ocean. The story of Pi and Richard Parker’s survival on the lifeboat is interesting in and of itself, but the novel’s larger exploration of “the truth about truth” makes the book particularly compelling and also provides some interesting plot twists.  

Although I do enjoy the work of Ang Lee, I liked the book so well, I probably won’t ever watch the movie. If you watched the movie, but didn’t read the book, this is an easy and thought-provoking read. 

Undaunted Courage
Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose 

The Lewis and Clark expedition is the ultimate American adventure story, as evidenced by the ubiquitous signage about their voyage any time you drive out West and come within 20 miles of the expedition’s path. Although I always think of Lewis and Clark trekking over the Rocky Mountains, a large portion of their multi-year expedition took place in boats on the Missouri River. Undaunted Courage provides an interesting and in-depth look into a truly impressive journey.  

The Best Fall Color Hikes on the Gunflint Trail

RoundLakeFallColors

We think every season is hiking season on the Gunflint Trail. However, it’s seems like for many people, autumn holds the title of “favorite hiking season.”  Although the Gunflint Trail doesn’t boost a large population of maple trees like the Lutsen/Tofte area of Cook County closer to the shore, the fall color season is still pretty stunning, with crimson moose maples, golden aspens and birch, and blazing tamaracks.  

As we approach peak fall colors on the Gunflint Trail, here are some of our favorite “leaf peeping” hikes. 

FallColorsCentennial

Since it’s basically our backyard, we recommend the Centennial Hiking Trail year-round, but the trail really is in its elements in the autumn. A 3.3 mile loop, you’ll want to budget about 2 hours of hiking time for this moderately difficult hike. Not only will you view abandoned mining test pits and walk on a 19th century railroad grade, the second half of the hike offers great vistas, especially looking across the Round Lake Rd beaver ponds towards Gunflint Lake. 

CentennialVista

Access the trail from either a small pull-off  on the Round Lake Rd (located just past the beaver pond – do not park by the snowmobile trail crossing) or the Kekekabic Hiking Trail parking lot about .5 miles up the Gunflint Trail from the Round Lake Rd.  

IMG_6816

You can certainly get some nice fall color views from the Magnetic Rock trail, especially from the open rock faces overlooking spruce and tamarack bogs, but for the best fall color vistas around Magnetic Rock, we recommend Magnetic Rock as approached from Warren’s Road. We did this 3.3 mile hike (one way – assuming you park a car at each end of the trail, or 5 miles if you want to hike back to Tuscarora) back in late fall 2015 and loved the panoramic view offered of Gunflint Lake and beyond. As you hike northwest towards Magnetic Rock, you’ll both view and hiking through a valley. You can read our full write-up here

If you don’t want to go all the way to the end of the Gunflint Trail, consider swinging into the Northern Light Overlook parking lot about 13 miles up the Trail from Grand Marais. From there, you’ll access a short, but very steep hiking trail and within 20 minutes time, you’ll be drinking in view of Northern Light Lake, the Brule River, and the Gunflint Trail. This trail is sometimes referred to as “Blueberry Hill” (not to be confused by a hike of the same name on the grounds of Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center), but all the signage refers to Northern Light.    

Fall Washington Pines