What does Midwest getaway mean to me? I know I can remember vacations in a cozy little cabin, snuggled into the woods on a tiny lake with a perfect sunset with only my friends and family to keep me company. The great outdoors has been my idea of a vacation ever since I was a little boy running around with a fishing pole in my hand.
Imagine walking up only yards away from the crystal blue water with nothing but the whisper of nature in your ear, if this sounds like your idea of a vacation,
Grand Marais is calling your name.
About 5 hours north of the Twin Cities, Grand Marias is a wonderful small town with very friendly people. With only a couple gas stations, some great local restaurants and breweries, Grand Marais will always have something going on for all ages.
The long rolling hills and bluff-like views, are mind blowing for those who have never ventured up into the Grand Marais area. While driving to Grand Marais, the view of Lake Superior is out of this world. You can see for miles and when the wind is blowing, you might even spot some surfer dudes out there.
Drive hardly 10 minutes out of Grand Marais up the Gunflint Trail and you are in a totally different environment! The Gunflint Trail is a 57-mile-long paved road with a dead end. That’s right, only one single road with multiple resorts and canoe outfitters in the middle of nowhere, the longest dead-end road in the state.
If you are someone who needs to be connected to the world, this is not the place for you. Phones will begin to lose service only miles up the trail, forcing you to appreciate the flora and fauna that will surround you for miles.
One of the greatest things about the Gunflint Trail would be the option to either go into the Boundary Water Canoe Area or to stay on a lake that allows motors or limited Horse Power. There are more lakes on the Trail than I can even begin to count.
One could spend days just looking for a specific campsite on a lake tucked into the BWCA, your options are almost endless. With miles and miles of shoreline, you could explore the pristine wilderness views for years. Canoeing and camping is by far the most popular recreational activity for this area, groups as small as two, venture out or groups as large as 6 can fight the elements as a team.
Pair that with fishing, bird watching, geo cashing, berry picking or hiking and your days will fly by while creating remarkable memories. There might be almost endless camping possibilities, but one can’t just go into the BWCA without permission.
You must first obtain a day permit or a camping permit from a designated distributor. Typically, this is the done at the closest DNR headquarters. You almost always must make reservations or call ahead to find availability. At the end and beginning of the summer, there are times you don’t have to make a reservation because not many people will go and camp in extreme conditions, but it’s a good idea to make reservations.
When you are out in the BWCA, make sure to respect other campers and always practice LNT (leave no trace), a little bit from everyone goes a long way, look up any additional information on the MN DNR page. However, you might not even venture into the BWCA, many find themselves hooked on the Gunflint trail.
If you decide to stay on the Gunflint Trail, there are dozens of options, ranging from resorts to camping tents/RV, bunk houses, and the traditional cabins, these are all great options.
From Poplar Lake you can access Caribou Lake, Meeds Lake, Swamp Lake, Liz, Horseshoe, and Skipper. All these amazing destinations are in the BWCA with dozens of campsites to choose from. The distance to each lake is measured in rods; each individual trail is called a portage.
A portage can be half a mile or a mile depending on your location. (One rod is 16.5 ft), for example, from poplar to skipper its 320 rods, a short walk but with a canoe, could be a challenge for some, or you can double portage to Caribou (that is known for its amazing walleye) a 46-rod hike to Liz Lake, paddle south down the lake and portage another 60 rods into Caribou.
From these lakes, you can even explore father into the BWCA if you are up for the challenge. Any of the resorts on the Gunflint, are going to give you a surreal experience.
Driving to the end of the trail, you will find yourself only miles away from Superior National Forest. One big benefit of going all the way to the end of the trail would be the views for one, but also the Chik-Wauk Museum that’s only a few miles away from trail’s end.
This museum is not only great for kids, but also very informational about the history of the trail for adults. Once here, you have multiple options for hiking, the most popular one would be Blueberry Hill Trail. This gives you some great blueberry picking opportunities plus views of Canada and Seagull Lake. Keep your eye open for any trails on the side of the road, you never know where the next corner will take you.
On your way back from the end of the trail, there are a couple must see spots. One of the best destinations/view on the Gunflint Trail, would have to be Honey Moon Bluff, this view is not in the BWCA and is to this day, one of my favorite locations in the world, overlooking Bearskin Lake, you can see for miles.
The fishermen in their boats look like little pop cans. The hike up to the bluff is only a quarter mile, if that, so for those who want a short and sweet walk, this is for you. Caribou Rock, located near Hungry Jack Lodge, is a popular hike for families that are looking for an easy user-friendly hike.
Being a low-grade hike, almost anyone can take a stroll up to this great spot. A very interesting and unique hike would be Magnetic Rock. This is in the area that burned a few years back, thus letting you see for miles while on semi flat ground.
If you are a Geoscience nerd, this is your place to be, a huge 60 ft. rock that requires a three-mile hike to get to will leave you with unanswered questions. Lastly, the Northern Lights Bluff Trail is in the middle of the long winding Gunflint Trail. This trail will give you unparalleled views of the great BWCA, with less than 2 miles of hiking trails and extremely easy for any age to hike, this is a must see for families or couples.
While some might be interested in the wildlife above water, some come for the great size fish that lurk these waters. Great trout fishing, walleye, pike and even smallmouth are in these waters and will leave you wondering what’s tugging on your line.
Start talking to folks in town or the old man sitting at the gas station and you are bound to hear the story about the one that got away. World Class Brown Trout and Lake Trout can be found up the trail or you can try your luck on Superior. Often people will go into the BWCA and find small lakes loaded with walleyes and not tell a soul, some little lakes will even hold monster 10-inch bluegills!
Once the snow starts to fall and you can ride your sleds out, finding these isolated lakes becomes a lot easier. However, be extremely careful and follow all state laws, the DNR is no joke when it comes to the BWCA.
A killer Lake Trout lake, that is well known would be Gunflint Lake, this lake is MASSIVE, one if not the biggest on the Gunflint Trail. You can take any size boat you want out, with beyond crystal-clear water. There are also some smaller lesser known lakes such as Elbow Lake that is located near the beginning of the trail where you will need a small boat or canoe to get into.
Moss Lake and Birch Lake both have Brown Trout in them. On Birch Lake, you can fish from shore and bring home a limit of trout in an afternoon. Don’t go and forget an about obtaining a trout stamp that is needed annually for trout fishing anywhere in the state. You can catch these fish with a good ol’ hook and worm.
Usually, a very slow troll while keeping the worm off the bottom and some light sinkers will do the trick. Experiment with how far you are off the bottom and try to finesse as much as possible. These trout can be extremely picky at times.
For anyone looking to take a solo trip into the great wilderness, this area is the place for you. With untamed wildlife and breath-taking views, the trail will not disappoint. If you are looking to bring the family up to the area, there are endless accommodations and fun outdoor activities for the kids.
You can tent in the middle of the woods or stay in a nice cabin with a little fire and cup of coffee in the morning. Fish on Lake Superior or inland lakes for multiple species, no matter what you do or where you stay on the Gunflint Trail, your experience will last a lifetime. The amazing sunsets will be remembered for years and the wildlife will continue to welcome you with Mother Nature’s warm call. The Gunflint Trail is a true Midwest destination and should be on everyone bucket list.