Wandering Pine is reader-supported. When you make a purchase through links on this page, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you! More.
We’re picking back up from part 1 where we’ll head back up to the Gunflint Trail and venture out on a few hiking trails, paddle in the BWCA and do some more adventure painting!
So many of our favorite places are currently burning and are on my heart these days. Isle Royale, the Arrowhead of MN, Superior Hiking Trail, select Northern State Parks and Boundary Waters are all experiencing active fires, closures and fire bans as as result of unprecedented heat, drought and forests full of dry fuel. Not to mention all of the fires in Canada, the Western US and globally. As I write this, the SHT and select MN State Park campsites are closed and the BWCA has closed and been evacuated for the first time in 40 years, so be sure to check conditions before you go. The forest endures…and 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 these areas burn.
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: Part 1: Gunflint Pines Resort and Campground, Trails End Campground, Chik-Wauk Museum Part 2: 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. This post is about my second weekend getaway to the Gunflint Trail this summer…including some day paddling of the Seagull River and Big Saganaga! It’s a long drive from my home to this part of MN, but worth discovering the beauty and history of the historic drive that leads so many into the wilderness.
Exploring the Seagull River and Big Saganaga Lake
A month after my first trip to the Gunflint, I was back again, joining my friend Julie at a friend’s private cabin at the end of the trail. Julie and Ashley met us at the busy trails end BWCA entry point with a powered boat to haul my portage pack and paddle board down the river to where we would be staying. Ashley and her family live on the Gunflint year round and it felt like such an adventure to go a place where there are no roads and the only access is via watercraft! I had so many questions about her life here and was excited to have a little taste of it this weekend.
I brought my paddle board on this trip because it was easy to throw inside my car rather than messing with tying my kayak onto the roof and having to re-adjust it on the way up. In addition to my paddle board paddle, I like to bring a kayak paddle along so I can alternate sitting and standing on my board, especially if the water is rough. I like the variety of switching paddles (and especially the convenience of just throwing my short board in my car and going)
Day 1 was spent driving, resting, painting and catching up. Everything is slower here. You have to put more thought into the things that are easy to take for granted and rest comes easy without life’s distractions. Our little cabin had an outhouse, no electricity, wifi or running water, and was right on the entry point into the BWCA. We heard the loons calling and watched canoe after canoe enter the wilderness, waving at the paddlers as they went by. We welcomed the heavy rain that came in the evening, as the drought has left the water levels low and the forest extremely dry.
In my large portage pack, I brought all of art supplies that I carried on my last trip to the Gunflint, including my brand new expanded watercolor palette that I bought in Idaho…leaving generous space for artmaking on this adventure.
Day 2 started out with a long, slow morning talking over coffee and oatmeal. I’m happy with the backpacking meals I made for this trip, but it’s a fancy treat to have avocado and fresh tomatoes from the garden!
The weather is cool, calm and cloudy and we decided to head into the BWCA for lunch. We filed day permits and paddled less than 1/4 mile to the entry – YAY! My first trip into the Boundary Waters Wilderness on water!! We passed the entry point sign and saw loons, beavers, and about a dozen canoes. Julie asked if this is what I was expecting…I didn’t know how to answer her question, but as soon as I was in it, I felt like I belonged there.
We paddled into “Big Sag” and the wind and waves kicked up and I got soaked. So we stayed by the edge and pulled into a little cove, exploring around there for a while before lunch. I’m not sure how much paddling we did that day, but we had fun exploring the outskirts of this vast wilderness and Julie enjoyed giving me the tour of one of her very favorite spots.
We chilled out at the cabin for the afternoon and decided to paddle down to Voyager outfitters for ice for Julie’s cooler. It was fun to go on a little paddling errand and get a peek at some of the services this busy outfitter provides.
Romance Lake, Chik-Wauk and Blueberry Hill
Today was a hiking AND paddling day. We stared the morning slow again, waking to cloudy skies and 49 degrees. I stayed I my PJs and painted until 11, when things cleared up a little. We hiked the 2-3 mile private trail to Romance Lake just before lunch and I think this was my first hike since Isle Royale . My knee felt great and I was ready for more!
Our next adventure was to paddle to the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center via Seagull River and Big Saganaga. I tested my paddle boarding skills and stood up for the whole 4-5 miles we did that day. (At least that’s how far we think we went…don’t take my word for it) The people running the outfitter’s motorized boat shuttles were extra kind about slowing their wakes when they saw me on a paddleboard. We chatted and waved with them each time they went by. Not too many paddle boards up this way – and no falling in! woo hoo! Stay tuned or hit subscribe at the top of this page and on my youtube channel if you want to see our video when it’s ready. I’ve been having too much fun outside and working on other projects, but am looking forward to re-visiting the trip via video editing!
We pulled up to the shore at the Chik-Wauk landing and hiked the Blueberry Hill trail. The Blueberry Hill Trail is part of the 50 acre Chik-Wauk museum property and is a rocky, rooty trail with steep climbs, consistent with this area and reminiscent of the Superior Hiking Trail. If you have the time, it’s totally worth the trip to the top for a 360 view. Once we got the the top, we saw that the wind had brought the wildfire smoke back, creating blue layers of topography that has been all too familiar this summer. I painted a little portrait of these hills before we climbed back down to our watercraft, hoping those winds weren’t going to make for a challenging paddle back home.
The paddle to and from was clear and smooth, which I was thankful for and we made it home just in time for dinner.
I shared my chicken and couscous with the friendly camp dog and gave Ashley a painting from our first day as a small token of gratitude, for hosting us.
Morning came, and we did a quick cleaning of the cabin and packed up for our boat ride back down the Seagull river to the boat launch where our cars were parked. The entry point is just a short drive from the Trail’s End Campground so we decided to do some exploring before heading back homeward.
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. Some of the campgrounds are located adjacent to hiking trails that lead to rocky overlooks of the Seagull river and water access. It’s surprising to see a remote campground of its size (32 campsites) that accommodates tents to 45-foot RVs and can’t wait to come back with our small A Frame pop up camper for some glamping!
Magnetic Rock Trail is located right on the Gunflint trail and is easily accessed with a nice parking lot and trailhead sign. The trailhead kiosk shares an entry point to the Western end of the Border Route Trail, a trail that’s been on my bucket list for a few years now. The trail is a 3 mile hike that is fairly easy with rough, rocky terrain and is lined with the most beautifully colored rocks (like the ones pictured above). I wanted to pick all of them up and put them in my pocket but left them for others to enjoy. Once hikers arrive at the magnetic rock, some will take out there compass to watch it react to the magnetic properties in the rock. Check conditions before you go, this area is currently in a closure area due to wildfires as of 8/29/21.
BWCA Trails (KEK + BRT)
The Kekakabic and Border Route trails are a combined 111 miles of rugged trail that follow along the MN/Canada border and are part of the 4,600 mile North Country Trail. These two trails connect to the Northern Terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail and are also currently closed due to wildfire conditions as of 8/28/21 – check conditions before you go. I have had to cancel 2020 and 2021 thru hikes of these trails and have my eye on 2022, fingers crossed!
Have you been to the Gunflint Trail? Did you stay in a resort or camp? I’d love to hear your stories and favorite spots. I’ll definitely be back!
As always, I appreciate you stopping by and reading my posts. I hope they inspire you to get outside and try new adventures! It was fun to catch up on some writing this week and we’re looking forward to a couple more trips in our new A Frame camper to hike some Minnesota Hiking Club trails before the snow flies. I’m also hosting a Fall Art Hike through the Kula Academy and have some exciting new art updates that I hope to share soon! Be sure to hit subscribe or check back for updates and head over to the Wandering Pine Facebook and Instagram pages to continue the fun.