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So many of our favorite places are experiencing active wildfires this summer. The forest has a miraculous ability to regenerate itself after fire, but my heart and prayers are with all of the firefighters, emergency workers, residents, recreationalists, resort owners and animals as the BWCA and Arrowhead of MN burns and is currently closed for the first time in 40 years.
MAIN FEATURES The Gunflint Trail is a 57-mile paved National Scenic Byway that is located near the Canadian border on the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe people. The scenic trail winds through the heart of the Superior National Forest at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Minnesota and Canada’s Quetico National Park. Some of the main activities in the area include canoeing, camping, fishing, visiting the Chik-Wauk museum and the numerous resorts that line the trail.
Locations featured in this two part post: Gunflint Pines Resort and Campground, Trails End Campground, Chik-Wauk Museum, Seagull River, Big Saganaga Lake, Romance Lake, and hiking the Blueberry Hill and Magnetic Rock Trails.
I have enjoyed the Boundary Water Canoe and Wilderness Area on foot, but not yet on a canoe trip. Hiking up Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s highest point, and backpacking the Sioux Hustler Trail offered me a taste of the beauty that has drawn people to the region for generations. I know that someday I will paddle its waters, until then… This post is about not one, but TWO relaxing getaways to the Gunflint Trail area this summer…including some day paddling on the Seagull River and Big Saganaga! It’s a long drive from my home to this part of MN, but was worth discovering the beauty and history of the historic trail that has lead so many generations into the wilderness.
Gunflint Pines Campground Resort
My first trip started on Sunday morning of 4th July weekend. I played my fiddle at our outdoor service at church and then headed North for the 5+ hour drive. I caught up on podcasts and just enjoyed silence. I like talking about backpacking gear and ways to lighten your pack on this page, but there’s something really great about being able to bring whatever you want on a car camping trip. I skipped the backpack, threw everything in a clear plastic tote and indulged in some luxury items for this trip!
- full sized pillow
- a small cooler
- swim noodle
- BIG reclining folding chair
- bug house
- 5 hats
- full sized art kit
- fresh avocado
- electric teapot
I arrived just before dinner to be greeted by Trail Mom at campsite #4! She knows all of the cool spots and I’m grateful she’s got one saved for me. The lakeside campsites at Gunflint Pines Resort are dreamy, wooded, hideaways and you can see Canada on the other side of the lake! The resort offers tent, RV, Aframe, cabin and lake home rentals and 4 seasons of activities to enjoy.
I was impressed with the terraced lakeside campsites with individual water and electrical hook ups, that still felt like a wooded tent site. I set up my tent as fast as I could and jumped in for a cold swim in gunflint lake before dinner.
We cooked dinner over the fire ring near the shoreline (before the fire bans), and watched the evening paddlers on the lake. The Canadian wildfires are making for blue hazy hills and fiery sunsets that light up the sky with a rainbow of colors each evening.
Painting and Exploring
I spent most of the morning painting and resting at camp. I brought the new brush roll I just sewed out of a favorite old skirt and some larger paper to play with…and painted with the wild water from the lake. Its funny how time just flies by when I am painting outdoors. I try not to compare myself to other artists or my previous artist self…but rather paint for my own joy, stay present in the moment and allow my mind to rest a bit. If you’d like to see more if my paintings from the trail, check out my recent Isle Royale, Idaho, Teton and South Dakota trip reports.
Trail mom ventured out to hike a local trail on her own, but it was closed or cautioned off due to bear activity. She was kind enough to bring me back a tall piece of blueberry pie from the Trails End Cafe. (Thanks Trail Mom!) We decided to go on a little adventure that didn’t require hiking since I was still recovering from my MCL knee sprain on Isle Royale. The Chik-Wauk museum came highly recommended and we were curious to see what the end of the Gunflint trail looked like! Adventure time!
The Chik-Wauk museum and nature center is a must-see on a trip up to the Gunflint Trail. It is located right off the Gunflint trail and consists of a Museum, Nature Center, Watercraft building and historic cabin on Big Saganaga lake. There are also many nature trails to explore on its 50 acre grounds. At the time of writing this post, they are open daily Labor day through mid October from 10am – 5pm and have a small admission fee that is worth it.
The etymology of “Chik-Wauk”: Chik-Wauk is an interpretation of an Ojibwe word meaning pine tree or white pine tree. Similar Ojibwe words of the same meaning are shingwauk, chingwauk and zhingwaak.Gunflint Trail Historical Society
We started by visiting the museum, learning the ancestral history of the land, looking through artifacts from the people that came before us and enjoying the views of Saganaga Lake. The museum is right on the lake, and has something for all ages to enjoy. A person could get lost in their library of old books, maps and cozy chairs. We were also captivated by the video about outdoors woman, author and BWCA legend Justine Kerfoot. We learned about her early days of living in the Boundary Waters year round, establishing the Gunflint Lodge and her relationship with the land and its original inhabitants.
We visited the historic cabin and enjoyed peeking in the windows, imagining living in a different time with Hudson Bay wool blankets and fish for dinner each night. The cabin and nature center area are connected by a wooded trail that offers an overlook of the lake and a sampling of the the terrain in the area. We explored this area again on water and hiked the Blueberry Hill trail a month later- in part 2.
I’m always up for a good Nature Center visit, and the Chik-Wauk has a nice one that is great for all ages to enjoy. We enjoyed learning more about the wildlife and plants that are native to the area, and being able to touch and feel the displays. This would be a great stop for families, especially on a rainy day!
Our curiosity got to us and we had to see what the end of the Gunflint trail looked like. So, back in the car we went, and headed down the trail until we saw signs for the end. We passed a bustling Boundary Waters entry point and found a campground loop at the very end.
The Trails End Campground is located 57 miles North of Grand Marais, in the Superior National Forest and on the edge of the BWCA, Seagull River and Saganaga Lake. We were surprised to see a remote campground of its size (32 campsites) that accommodates tents to 45-foot RVs! We explored and hiked a little around this campground in part 2, and can’t wait to come back with our new A Frame pop up camper for some glamping!
It totally felt like cheating, but trail Mom reserved sites that had electric and water hook-ups, so I didn’t need the stove or water filter that I brought for making coffee and rehydrating meals. The electric kettle was great to have along and made things super easy.
The day before the trip, I whipped up some beans and rice in the dehydrator for a backpacking taco in a bag variation. It’s not an exact recipe, and it’s different every time but it always hits the spot.
Wandering Pine’s Vegetarian Taco in a Bag Recipe
Here are the basic ingredients from this weekend’s version if you’d like to make some for yourself:
- 1 can refried black beans
- 1 box cooked cilantro rice (I usually just use minute rice and skip cooking it before dehydrating)
- Dehydrate these two ingredients until crispy dry.
- Add dehydrated peppers, tomatoes, onions (from last year’s garden)
- Taco seasoning to taste
- Mix all in a large bowl and divide into 4 freezer or reusable bags. I like the dutchware bowl bags.
- Add one cup of boiling water
- Seal bag and let it sit for 10 minutes in an insulated enclosure (like a freezer bag cozy bubble wrap mailing envelope)
- Add organic blue corn chips, fresh garden salsa and avocado to finish (Fritos are awesome too)
To finish off the day, Trail Mom took me to the Gunflint Lodge to watch and paint the sunset. The wildfires continue to create vibrant skies and smoky blue hills that fade into each other.
One of the advantages of car camping is that you can keep things organized in a tote or tub in your car, pack up the night before and get out quick in the morning if you want. My new Nemo Hornet 2 person tent that I used on our Isle Royale Trek came down quick and I was able to hit the road before 7 and be back to work by lunch time. If you want to read more about the gear I use, you can read my recent post on my Isle Royale Gear List and check back for updates on my Wandering Pine Gear Page .
A stop by the Java Moose and a peek at the Big Lake in Grand Marais fueled me up for the long drive home. I came back after this trip feeling recharged and thankful to be able to see a new part of the state and experience this beautiful area.
Check back or hit subscribe to read part 2, where we enter the BWCA’s waters a month later and also do some hiking! Have you been to the Gunflint Trail? Did you stay in a resort or camp? Take a paddling trip? I’d love to hear your stories and favorite spots. I’ll definitely be back!