Things to do on the Gunflint Trail

Things to do on the Gunflint Trail

This 57-mile paved National Scenic Byway through the Superior National Forest leads you to lots of things to do on the Gunflint Trail. Take this legendary highway from Grand Marais and head north, away from Lake Superior, into the wilderness of the North Shore. The Gunflint Trail is a very special, beautiful, remote place that begs to be explored! 

Come with me to discover the things to do on the Gunflint Trail including:

  • The best stops along the scenic byway
  • How to explore the hundreds of inland lakes
  • The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA)
  • Hiking and backpacking trails
  • Berry picking
  • Winter activities
  • Lodges & outfitters
  • Primitive camping

Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway

tall white pines on the Gunflint Trail

Tall pines at mile 9.4

The Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway is one of the most peaceful and scenic drives you can take. This remote highway takes you through the Superior National Forest, past gorgeous tall pines, and to scenic vistas over the wilderness. Seeing wildlife such as fox, bear, wolf, and the occasional moose or lynx is one of the most anticipated things to do on the Gunflint Trail. It’s also an awesome fall color drive! 

 

Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway with a view of Gunflint Lake

Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway near Gunflint Lake

It’s truly a gateway to the wilderness. The Gunflint Trail provides access to 44 entry points of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Take the side roads to access inland lakes and boat/canoe launches, hiking trails, scenic overlooks, campgrounds, and dozens of Northwoods lodges and outfitters. 

The aptly named Trail’s End Campground is where you end up at the very end of the Gunflint Trail. Access the Seagull River, see cliff-top views of the Seagull River, and visit the camp cafe! 

Campsite overlooking water at Trail's End Campground

Awesome campsites at Trails End Campground

My favorite sites and stops along the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway include: 

  • The hill-top view of Grand Marais from Pincushion Mountain Overlook. Just 2 miles up the Gunflint Trail.
  • Gunflint Hills Golf Course at mile 4, just a couple of minutes from Grand Marais. 
  • The tall pines at mile 9.4 (pictured at the top of this post).
  • Trail Center Lodge restaurant for great burgers and food. Pick up some Camp Chow to take on backpacking or overnight canoe trips. Located at mid-trail (the middle of the trail) at mile 29.1
  • The beach at Seagull Lake (near the public access), mile 51. Pack a picnic and head to the shallow bay which is great for swimming.
  • Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center at mile 52.4. Enjoy the historic lodge and museum, watercraft exhibit, nature trails, and more.
  • Trail’s End Campground – in the summer there is a little cafe and camp store. Grab some hot-cooked food and enjoy it on their small patio. Afterward, head to the Seagull River public access to enjoy the view, launch a canoe, or take a dip.
Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center – a must-stop!

Things to do on the Gunflint Trail – Inland Lakes

There are hundreds of pristine inland lakes to explore along the Gunflint Trail. If you look at the map, there’s nearly more water than land up the Gunflint Trail! Most of the lakes give way to entry into the Boundary Waters. Get immersed in the peaceful, quiet wilderness, clean air and water, beautiful nature, and the calm that can be found on these waters. 

Beautiful lake on the Gunfilnt Trail

One of the many beautiful lakes up the Gunflint Trail

Canoeing and boating on the Gunflint Trail

Canoeing is one of the most popular things to do on the Gunflint Trail. It’s what the Boundary Waters is known for! Dip your paddle for a day trip on the water, or an overnight adventure portaging from lake to lake through the Boundary Waters (BWCAW). You could also take to the water in a kayak or stand-up paddleboard.

If a motorboat or pontoon is more your thing, the inland lakes of the Gunflint Trail are the place to be! However, be aware that certain lakes have motor restrictions, and not all boat launches are created equal. Some lakes have boat launches, but they are carry-down only. There are minimal aids to navigation, so be aware of your depth and the presence of rocks. Check the Superior National Forest website for more information. 

Don’t have a watercraft of your own? No problem! There are outfitters in the area that offer everything you need to get you on the water! See a list below. 

Fishing

Fishing is another big attraction, of course. Walleye is the prized catch, and you can also get perch, northern pike, and several species of trout. Ice fishing in the winter is popular as well. More on that below.  

A Minnesota fishing license is required. Be aware of the regulations outlined by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Note that lakes that border Canada (and there are many along the Gunflint Trail/Cook County) have different regulations.

Fishing boat on a lake on the Gunflint Trail

The Gunflint Lodge fishing guide is taking the kids fishing!

Swimming

Swimming in the clean inland lakes of the North Shore is a true summertime delight! These glacial lakes stay fairly cold, but on a hot day in summer you can make your way into the water, jump from a rock cliff, or dive from your boat.  

Gunflint Trail Outfitters

Canoe outfitter on the Gunflint Trail

Outfitting services are available for equipment rental

There are outfitters that can get you out on the water! They can provide watercraft rental, fishing gear, and more. I recommend: 

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)

Taking a trip into the Boundary Waters is the experience of a lifetime! This wilderness preserve is more than one million acres of glacially carved landscape, crystal clear lakes, and Boreal forest accessible only by canoe or foot (or skiing or dogsledding in the winter). 

The most common thing to do is take a multiple-day canoe trip, paddling from lake to lake via rivers or portages (a hiking trail between lakes). There are also hiking trails for backpacking adventures. Or, take a day trip for canoeing, hiking, swimming, and fishing. 

Person in a canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness BWCA

Canoeing in the Boundary Waters

A permit is required for entry into the Boundary Waters. When going for multiple nights, it is best to make a reservation because there are capacity quotas. When going for the day, be sure to fill out a permit at the entry point. 

Hiking & Backpacking

"Honeymoon

There are some legendary hiking trails on the Gunflint Trail! Here’s a few options to get you started: 

  • Honeymoon Bluff – This is a quick hike (mostly uphill) to a breathtaking view of Hungry Jack Lake. At mile 27.4 on the Gunflint Trail, take Clearwater Rd to the trailhead. (pictured above)
  • Caribou Rock – Take this 8-mile out-and-back trail for numerous vistas overlooking the inland lakes of the Superior National Forest. Start with a great view of West Bearskin Lake. Connect with the Border Route Trail. Turn on Hungry Jack Road at mile 29 to reach the trailhead.
  • Border Route Trail – Hike or backpack on the 65-mile Border Route Trail, which was the first long-distance, wilderness backpacking and hiking trail in Minnesota built by volunteers. It traverses the Canadian border and cuts through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. If you’re interested in backpacking but are new to the activity, check out this article on Backpacking for Beginners – How to Get Started.
  • Magnetic Rock – The famed Magnetic Rock is a three-mile round trip over ancient volcanic rock and new-growth forest (due to the Ham Lake Fire in 2007). Bring a magnet to test the rock! The trailhead is on the Gunflint Trail at mile 47.4
  • Nature Trails at Chik-Wauk – Explore the interpretive hiking trails on 50 acres surrounding several Saganaga Lake bays at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. ADA trails are available as well. Also enjoy the museum and watercraft exhibit. Take the turn at mile 52.4
Magnetic Rock on the Gunflint Trail, North Shore MN

Magnetic Rock among the fall color

Berry Picking

People have been known to travel many miles to fill their pails with wild berries on the Gunflint Trail. It’s quite the fruitful thing to do on the Gunflint Trail! Raspberries, blueberries, and thimbleberries grow freely and abundantly. In fact, the blueberry season has become known as, “the most wonderful time of year” on the Gunflint Trail! 

Blueberry picking on the Gunflint Trail, North Shore MN

A great blueberry haul on the Gunflint Trail!

Blueberry season runs from approximately mid-July through mid-August. Look for the low shrubs on south-facing hills – sunlight makes the biggest berries! They are especially abundant in former burn areas, closer to the end of the Gunflint Trail. 

There are no permits or payments needed. Just make sure you’re on public land, and fill as many gallon ice cream pails as you can! 

Want to raise the stakes? Find a big berry and enter the Gunflint Trail’s Biggest Blueberry Contest

Things to do on the Gunflint Trail in Winter 

The Gunflint Trail has so many things to do in the winter! The region boasts over 100 inches of snowfall per season, making the Gunflint Trail a premiere winter recreation destination. 

Snowshoeing and Winter Hiking on the Gunflint Trail

Do I need snowshoes to hike in the wintertime? If you hike on popular trails or the trails around resorts, you most likely won’t need snowshoes. Most of the time the trails are packed down, so winter hiking boots with ice grippers, and the optional hiking poles, are all you need. The exception is if it recently snowed a significant amount.

winter hiking trail on the North Shore MN

Packed hiking trail around Kimball Lake

If you want to snowshoe, I recommend going off-trail and blazing a path through the woods, or across a lake! This is a great opportunity to walk through woods that you can’t in the summertime. In the winter, the forest floor is open and piled with deep snow, making it possible to trek through areas that might be too thick in the summertime.

Cross Country Skiing

Cross country skiing at George Washington Pines

Cross country ski trails at George Washington Pines

There are three nicely groomed cross-country ski trail systems on the Gunflint Trail that meander through the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters. The Central Gunflint Ski Trail System, the Banadad Trails, and the Upper Gunflint Ski Trails all connect to complete nearly 150km of cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail. Each of these systems are privately groomed and maintained, and ski passes are required. 

Snowmobiling

With all that snow on the ground, it’s no wonder that snowmobiling is one of the top things to do on the Gunflint Trail in winter. The Gunflint Trail is actually one of the best snowmobiling areas in the midwest! 

Snowmobiling on the Gunflint Trail, on the North Shore MN

Snowmobile lodge-to-lodge on the Gunflint Trail

The Gunflint Snowmobile Trail system takes you all the way to the end of the Gunflint Trail. Ride from lodge-to-lodge on a multiple-day trip, zoom across glacial lakes, and through the remote forested trails. Connect with the North Shore State Trail (C.J. Ramstad) and the  Grand Portage snowmobile trail system, and ride hundreds of miles around the Minnesota Arrowhead. 

Hungry Jack Lodge Resort is right on the Gunflint Snowmobile Trail and caters to people who are on snowmobiling and ice fishing vacations. 

Ice Fishing

The fishing is just as good in the winter as it is in the summer! Keep warm in a portable shelter on the ice, or on nice days soak up on the sun on the ice for a few hours of great fishing. Walleye is the prized catch, and you can also get perch, northern, and trout. 

There are outfitters that can set you up with all the equipment you need! 

 Lodging & Camping

outdoor dining at the Gunflint Lodge

Outdoor, lakefront dining at the Gunflint Lodge

Gunflint Trail Lodges

To fully explore all the things to do on the Gunflint Trail, you should plan to stay a few nights. Find anything from a lakeside cabin to a place to pitch your tent.

Lodges and resorts offer a variety of options for guest rooms, cozy cabins, or tent & RV camping. The hospitality at these mom-and-pop resorts is outstanding! They offer amenities such as outfitting services, equipment rental, dining, gift shops, watercraft rental and more. 

I recommend these: 

Gunflint Trail Campgrounds

Camping in the Superior National Forest

Primitive camping in the Superior National Forest

In addition to camping at private lodges, the Gunflint Trail has several Superior National Forest primitive campgrounds. These sites offer camping for both tents and RVs (with no electric or septic hookup). Since these are primitive campgrounds, there are no running-water restroom facilities. However, you will find clean latrines (vaulted toilet facilities).

The campgrounds fill up fast in the summer! A portion of the sites at Superior National Forest campgrounds are reservable, the rest are walk-in. The minute you commit to doing a camping trip, I recommend making a reservation! If you come without a reservation, you might get a walk-in site, or you might not. It has actually been that busy!

Primitive campgrounds on the Gunflint Trail include: 

There are also dispersed campsites, or backcountry campsites, that are not located within a campground. They are dispersed around the forest, many of them on lakes, and are walk- or boat-in. See a listing of backcountry campsites in the Superior National Forest.

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2 thoughts on “Things to do on the Gunflint Trail

  1. […] the Gunflint Trail inland from Lake Superior to find hundreds of inland lakes within the Superior National Forest and […]

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