Category: Life at Tuscarora Lodge

We’ll take you behind the scenes at Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters for a glimpse of everyday life along the Gunflint Trail in northeastern MN. Here are our thoughts, reflections, and rambles about life on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Ice Out Trip to Saganagons – Guest Post

Scott Schilling is a Gunflint Trail cabin owner and before that, he was a longtime Tuscarora guest who went on countless Boundary Waters and Quetico fishing trips. He answered our call for guest posts with this humorous memory of his first-ever Quetico fishing adventure and some great vintage canoe country photos.

Please note, all opinions expressed in this post are those of Scott and Scott alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Tuscarora, Tuscarora staff, or Tuscarora guests . . . about engineers. And remember, always wear your lifejacket!

Scott writes:

Every May, for 15 years, we’d drive 700 miles from Illinois to spend a week in Quetico. We’d stay in a Tuscarora bunkhouse for our first night. After getting minimal sleep because of the anticipation, we’d get a tow on Saganaga to save us several hours of canoeing and to ensure we could get to our designated campsite by dark, as it was several hours of canoeing, and back then, going through customs on the water, portaging etc.  Our tow boat would then drop us off in the water, and say “See you in a week . . . . Hopefully.”

Scott’s group outside Bunkhouse 2 at Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters

We’ve seen Cache Bay with 3-4’ waves and calm as glass. We sometimes camped just prior to Silver Falls for the first night, but most years we made it to the same island up in Saganagons to get camp established the first night. Our first trip ever was just after ice out.

Imagine the excitement . . . . We’d spent a year planning, working out on a steep hill with a backpack full of weight to get our bodies ready, and figuring out what and what not to pack. I’d listened to my engineer friend for a year, with all his extreme cautions, lists etc. I’m the opposite . . . like whatever, I only need a few things.

Now, on our first morning of our first canoe trip ever, it was very cold and raining, but the weather was irrelevant. I knew on my first cast, I’d probably catch a world record fish.

With me in the front seat, we pulled off our island campsite, got stabilized for a minute, and I grabbed my brand-new Garcia Ambassador 5500C reel that I was so proud of. As we just rounded the corner of an island, I saw my opportunity for my first cast ever. I swung my rod back to let my Smithwick Rogue – my favorite lure which has worked all over the country – fly out parallel down the bank.

My hands were already wet from the rain. As I palmed that bait caster to make that long cast, my first cast ever up there, the reel slipped out of my hand. It shot 3-4’ up into the air and I watched it come down, probably 3’ from the canoe.

I instinctively went to reach out and grab it, as I wasn’t losing my new rod reel for the week. It was just far enough from the canoe and as I reached for it, I capsized the canoe. My engineer friend was already screaming and cussing at me, when my head popped out of the water. “Now what, you idiot?” he yelled. “We just lost everything for the week!”

I’d never been canoeing before this, never capsized a canoe, never been in ice out freezing water with several layers of clothes and boots on, never been on a trip with this anal engineer, never been stranded on an island. Once he stopped yelling, he said, “Don’t leave the canoe, it won’t sink.”

We managed to drag the canoe full of water and seemingly weighing about 300 pounds to the island. As we slid up the rocks in all our wet clothes, I was like, oh crap, what now? My buddy just kept saying, “That’s it. No fishing now for a week.”

All our rods and reels were at the bottom of the lake.

We managed to empty the water out of our canoe. We saw our paddles and life vests (of course they weren’t on) floating in the lake. We got back into the canoe and hand paddled out to get them.

Then I noticed something.

The Rogue I was using was a topwater lure, and I saw it floating on the water. Could I possibly pull my rod up? My buddy was still lipping off the whole time. As I grabbed the Rogue, I started to pull my line in very carefully as I had released the spool to cast. Would my knot hold at the bottom of the spool? It felt quite heavy for some reason, and after pulling about 50 yards of line, I started to see several rods coming up!

All of the rods, we had in the canoe had miraculously entangled somehow, and in one motion I grabbed them all. Now I proudly told my anal engineer buddy to shut up. All we lost was one compass . . . .Who needs that anyway?!

Froze, numb, dumbfounded, and disarrayed, we went back to our camp, managed to get a blazing fire started. We thawed out, warmed up, recalibrated, laughed, and started over.

We went on to have a phenomenal week of fishing. Believe it or not, we were able to save two other canoers that week. They were the only other people we saw during the trip and they had capsized in the middle of Saganagons and were in rough shape when we found them.

That was the first week of what’s now been 43 years up there. Couldn’t get that sitting on a couch in Illinois.

Do you have a story you’d like to share with Tuscarora guests? Email us the text and some photos to us at We’d love to share it!

Join us Friday for Tuscarora Trivia Night!

Join us Friday, April 10 at 7:30 cst on Facebook for a live, virtual Boundary Waters trivia night. We'll be tossing out canoe country questions. Join us!

Not going anywhere this Friday night? Didn’t think so . . .

So why not join us over on Facebook Live at 7:30 p.m CST on Friday, April 10 for the first-ever . . . *drumroll please* . . . virtual Tuscarora trivia night. We can’t all gather around the campfire together right now, so we’re building a virtual campfire on Friday night and inviting you and all your Boundary Waters loving friends over. (Who’s bringing the marshmallows?!)

We’ll throw out Boundary Waters/Quetico/Gunflint Trail trivia questions in a virtual pub quiz style format. Round up your team on the couch or via Zoom and put all that canoe country knowledge of yours to good use. In between us asking you trivia questions, there’ll be time to bounce all your Boundary Waters/Gunflint Trail questions off of us.

We’re looking forward to a chance to hang out with you guys in a lighthearted, chatty atmosphere while testing your canoe country trivia chops. So mark your calendars, brush up on your BWCA facts, and head over to our Facebook on Friday night at 7:30. We can’t wait to see you there!

When The Sun Doesn’t Shine on My Ol’ Kentucky Home

So I went to the Kentucky Derby back in May. 

During my childhood I’d always go over to my grandma’s to watch the Derby on the first Saturday of May and in adulthood, I’ll use it as an excuse to mix up a mint julep, but to say Derby Day is integral to my springtime traditions is a stretch. Although, I suppose maybe that’ll change now that I’ve been part of the “Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”

The decision to attend this year’s Derby was based around my goal of visiting all 50 states (only 11 to go) and while deciding to attend the Derby in order to check off Kentucky was an easy decision, it turns out figuring out how to attend the Kentucky Derby is more complicated.

We started planning the trip in late September last year and while one would think nearly nine months out from the actual event would be plenty of time to figure out logistics, apparently by Kentucky Derby standards we were basically cutting it to the wire. In the end, we opted for a package deal through Derby Experiences. It seemed like the most straightforward way to accomplish our primary objectives of sitting in a chair at Churchill Downs (aka, not standing in the allegedly unruly infield crowd), securing a hotel room (prices are crazy inflated for Derby weekend), and oh yeah, actually getting tickets to the Derby.

The steep price to pay for attending the event that synonymous with a state doesn’t stop at hotel rooms. Flight costs to Louisville over Derby weekend are insanely inflated (aka: you could fly round trip to Australia for less) and while it’s a little cheaper to fly into the closest cities of Indianapolis or Cincinnati, in the end, the most economical option was to fly into Dayton, OH and road trip from there. The packed interstate on the drive back to Dayton on Sunday afternoon told us, we weren’t the only ones with this “budget travel” idea. 

Kentucky Oaks 2018

Other things I learned about the Derby as I prepared for the trip is that the Derby is a lot more than just the one televised race on Saturday evening. I sort of assumed that there were other races on the track leading up to the Derby race, but didn’t realize that it was a multi-day horse racing festival. While we missed Thurby festivities (races, a parade, and parties on Thursday somewhat tailored towards the local crowd), we were at Churchill Downs all day for both Oaks Day (Friday) and the actual Derby on Saturday.

Derby 3

The Friday before the Derby – Oaks Day – is devoted racing three-year-old thoroughbred fillies . . . aka, lady horses. Although fillies can opt to run in the Derby and three have actually won the race, the vast majority of horses in the Derby are three-year-old colts and geldings. It’s traditional to wear pink on Friday as a nod to the fillies.

 (In this picture, it’s about 80 degrees with 110% humidity, but stay tuned . . . .) 


The weather forecast never looked great for Derby Day and the morning dawned rainy and cold. 


It’s hard to tell in this photo, but the condensation is frozen on that mint julep glass. 


What do you do when it’s pouring rain on Derby Day at Churchill Downs? You accept a  clear plastic poncho as part of your ensemble and carry on. 

We didn’t bet much on Oaks Day, mostly because we weren’t sure what we were doing, but we did both bet on the actual Oaks race and when my pick for “show” came in third and I was rewarded with actual cash money ($4.85 to be exact), we realized that betting was a pretty simple and cheap way to increase your interest in any given race. (The minimum bet you can place is $2 and we stuck to the $3-5 range for all our bets.)  With the steady rainfall, we spent the day packed under roofs near the betting booths and concession stands with all the other people from our open air seating section and adopted a highly personal algorithm of horse names we liked, odds, and expert picks to place our bets. It should be noted, that while we both came out ahead with our bets, attending the Kentucky Derby is in no way a money making venture. 

Derby 6
By the time our shuttle bus rolled out of Churchill Downs on Derby Day, we knew we’d been part of a historic event: it had rained 3 inches, making it the rainiest Kentucky Derby ever.

It wasn’t until June 9 (Belmont Stakes) that the significance of the race we’d watched really sunk in. That’s when Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner.  I’m happy to report that he was pick to win “across the board” on Derby Day and it was fun to watch him continue to dominate at the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. 

I doubt I’ll return to Churchill Downs for another Derby, not even to see if we might get better weather. Unless you’re a horse racing fanatic, the Derby falls pretty squarely in the “bucket list” category of travel experience. But I’ll always be glad I went for a fun, albeit soggy, experience. 

What You Need to Know About Blueberry Season on the Gunflint Trail

The Second Annual Biggest Blueberry Contest on the Gunflint Trail is just around the corner. Blueberry season, aka “the most wonderful time of the year,” is celebrated by Gunflint Trail residents and visitors alike. This plentiful wild edible is a staple of a Northwoods diet and picking berries is a favorite Gunflint Trail pastime.  

Around here, our measurement unit of choice for blueberries is gallons. You can have your cups, your pints, your handfuls of blueberries to toss on oatmeal. We’re in it to win it. And by win it, we mean, enough blueberries in the freezer to have a pie every month of the year. 

While we’re not about to tell you where our favorite berry patches are, here’s some berry season insight to help you play with the blueberry picking big dogs. 

I personally use July 20th as the Gunflint Trail blueberry season’s official start date because more often than not, there’s a pick-able amount of ripe blueberries then. However, I usually wait until the first week of August before heading out picking myself because I prefer not to have to pick around unripe berries. Most years, ripe berries remain on the plants through the end of August, although they will start to shrivel and become overripe, making picking a little trickier if you wait until the late season. 

Of course, in years with very early springs (i.e. 2010 and 2012) the berry season can be bumped up by as much as a full month. Although that’s certainly not a risk this year, keep in mind that if area lakes were mostly ice-free by mid-April,  you could very well be picking blueberries over Fourth of July weekend. 

Blueberries aren’t a particularly finicky plant (after all, they’re Northwoods natives:  they’re tough by nature) but a bumper crop is dependent on the plants get just the right amounts of sunshine, heat, and rain. The worst weather event that can befall blueberry plants is a late frost that kills the berry blossoms. A low rain summer yields small berries, but too much rain results in less flavorful berries.

You can find blueberry plants throughout Cook County and northern Minnesota, but the bushes are particularly plentiful along the upper Gunflint Trail where the bushes prefer the jack pine forest and sandy soil ecosystem on this part of the Trail. Basically, if you take a left off the Round Lake Road and head towards the end of the Trail, you’ll be in prime blueberry territory. 

When you’re scoping out a berry picking spot, watch for south facing slopes with a little shade so the berries can retain moisture and plump up. For the most plentiful berries, take a few steps off the hiking trail or preferably get in a canoe and paddle down a Boundary Waters lake. Favorite berry picking spots include the Magnetic Rock hiking trail, Seagull Lake, and the Granite River. 


Gunflint Trail blueberry season first-timers might be a little confused about what blueberry season is all about. Blueberry season is an informal event around here. You don’t need any permits or to pay any picking fees. You’re also completely on your own for finding berry patches: this is no “u-pick berry farm” situation. Once you know that all the cars parked along the side of the Gunflint Trail belong to berry pickers who are deep in the forest, you’ll realize just how many places there are to pick blueberries. 

Really, the only rule for picking blueberries on the Gunflint Trail is to make sure you’re on public land. The Superior National Forest map that can be purchased for about $10 at the Gunflint Ranger District office is a great resource for helping you know when you’re on National Forest land.

IMG_2367You’ll need to provide your own berry picking containers. Gallon sized ice cream buckets with lids (to prevent spillage when you walk over the rocky terrain back to your car) are the berry picking vessel of choice around here. 

One very legitimate worry among first-time berry pickers is whether or not they’ll be able to identify the berries. The question I tell people to ask before they eat a berry that is a blue color is: Is it wearing a crown? All edible blueberries have a puckered blossom mark on their bottoms (non-stem side). Whether you find actual blueberries or if you happen upon some huckleberries or juneberries, if the berry’s wearing a crown, it’s edible . . . and delicious. 

But if you find a large, completely smooth, navy blue berry on a long stalk, don’t pick it. That’s a blue bead lily (or clintonia) and while it won’t kill you, you might end the day with an upset tummy if you eat it. Luckily, clintonia are a completely different color and have completely different foliage from blueberry plants so once you know how to identify them, you will never confuse the two plants. 


Tuscarora Lodge is an “official weigh station” for the Biggest Blueberry Contest, so swing by after your day in the berry patch to enter the contest. We promise we won’t ask you where you picked the berry and we’ll even let you eat it after it’s weighed. Happy picking!

Watch the video below to come along on one of our berry picking adventures!

On Returning To A Favorite Place

This April, I finally made it back to one of my favorite places in the world: Louisburgh, Ireland.  A town of 600 on the southern shore of Clew Bay, Louisburgh was my home for fourteen weeks during my sophomore year of college. 


Betsy and I at Turlin Strand on a very windy day

A little back story: Betsy and I were freshman roommates at the College of St. Scholastica and both participated in Scholastica’s “Spring in Ireland” study abroad program, but did so two years apart. We’d been talking about going back together basically since the minute Betsy got home in 2007. About five years ago, we had fairly concrete travel plans, but life happened and it wasn’t until this winter that we finally decided there was no better time for our Irish adventure then now.

If you’re familiar with Ireland, but have never heard of Louisburgh, you’re not alone! Louisburgh lies 12 miles west of Westport in County Mayo and originated as a “planned town” dating back only to the late 18th century. Coincidentally, my great-grandfather was born about 20 miles away in Castlebar and Betsy’s family farm (yep, still in the family) is located just on the other side of Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain that dominates the landscape. It’s a corner of Ireland still not particularly developed for tourists, although Croagh Patrick attracts plenty of religious (and nonreligious) pilgrims, there’s world class salmon fishing inland, and surfers flock to the Atlantic beaches whenever “surf’s up.” 


It’s always slightly tricky business returning to a place that was very important to you and is filled with so many memories. As the years have passed, Louisburgh has taken on a kind of dreamlike quality and sometimes it can be hard to separate fact from fiction in my memories. Often when we return to a place after a long time away, I think we can be somewhat underwhelmed with our return experience not because the place has drastically changed but because our tricky, twisty memories have morphed it into something it never was.

But Betsy and I both found that reality matched up with our memories pretty closely. The people were as kind (and reserved) as I remembered, the walk from the cottages to town was the distance I expected, the beaches and river looked the same. I swear the Airlink bus route from the Dublin Airport to Heuston train station has changed though . . . .


Betsy and I learned a lot about returning to a favorite place on this trip and one of our biggest takeaways was that even the shortest trip is better than no trip. In fact, a quick trip might even be preferable, at least for the first return trip.

Of course, we sing the praises of the short but sweet trip now, but the truth of it is that Betsy and I were both at the mercy of the weather gods and the airlines when it came to the length of our trip. We were scheduled to fly out on Saturday April 14 – a day now known as the day Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport was closed for the longest time in its history due to a snow storm that stretched from the upper Midwest to the Atlantic. While I was able to make it to my departure airport (Thunder Bay), by the time I got there, no planes were flying into Toronto and my flight was delayed . . .  by 50 hours. Long story short: Betsy managed to fly out of MSP on Sunday afternoon, while I didn’t make it out of Thunder Bay until Monday night and then almost missed my connecting flight in Toronto.  The fact that we both made it to Louisburgh was cause of much celebration in and of itself. 

Suffice it to say, we had zero time for faffing about. This very short trip (six days, five nights) forced us to really think about what we absolutely wanted to do and see.


Perhaps the thing that worked best for us was having simple, easily attainable goals that could be achieved rain or shine. 

Goals like:

  • Walk back from the pub in the dark
  • Eat a chicken sandwich from Durkan’s deli
  • Find sea glass on the beach
  • Go to the beach every day
  • Go for a very long walk 

By focusing on things that didn’t depend on weather or others, we actually accidentally unlocked “The Perfect Irish Day” one day. Our activities that day included a hike out to a 900 year old abbey and graveyard on the edge of town, afternoon tea at a new coffee shop, sitting outside our cottage in the sun near the blooming gorse bush, watching the sunset over Clew Bay, giving directions to fellow Americans, and going back to the cottage for a chat in front of the peat fire.  


I think it’s also important to expect and accept change when you return to a favorite place. 

I turned 20 during my semester in Ireland so I’ve maybe changed a teensy bit since I lived in Ireland. It’s only fair to expect Louisburgh to change a little bit in that amount of time as well. Quite honestly, I’d be worried if we’d both stayed exactly the same.

In fact, many of the things that had changed were among our favorite things from this trip. There were more dining options (praise be!) and more small businesses, including a bookshop and a gift shop focusing on local sourced crafts. A decade ago, you had to get yourself to Westport to do any shopping of note, so it was wonderful to be able to keep our Euros right in Louisburgh. We noticed an increased focus on adventure travel and saw far more tourists than a decade ago. The town had also made some infrastructure changes to make the town more pedestrian friendly. Despite calling the new bridge across the Bunowen River an “abomination,” it really was nice to be able to cross the river on a sidewalk rather than sprinting across a one-lane bridge and hoping for the best.  

But the really important things are just as they always were . . .  the beaches, the views of Croagh Patrick, the sheep dotting the field, and walking into town for a pint at Joe Mac’s and a chat with (the ageless) Joe Mac himself in the evening.


Perhaps the happiest takeaway from the trip was the reminder of just how much we each enjoy this corner of the world. It refreshed our memories on how relatively simple it is to travel in Ireland and it certainly got our minds churning with ideas for future trips. 


Of course, it might be another ten years until I return again, but Louisburgh, I’ll be back.