Minnesota Trails Winter 2021/22

Page 14


Gateway to

Adventure the Wilderness

of Minnesota

THE GUNFLINT TRAIL IN MINNESOTA’S ARROWHEAD REGION IS A 57-MILE, PAVED SCENIC BYWAY THAT’S BEEN A STARTING POINT FOR OUTDOOR ENTHUSIASTS FOR DECADES. It starts on the outskirts of Grand Marais and ends at Trail’s End Campground, just shy of the USCanada border. It’s the gateway to the undeveloped Northern Minnesota Wilderness with numerous trailheads, lodges, outfitters and public water accesses along the way. Beginning in the 1700s, the Ojibwe inhabited the land surrounding the trail. They lived on what they could harvest from the streams, rivers and lakes and eventually traded furs with the French from Montreal. Along this route, the discovery of a jet black stone known as chert, or flint, gave the lake we know today as Gunflint Lake its name. Later, in the 1900s, the road was paved and by the 1920s, the first resorts lined the trail. Over the years the improved Gunflint Trail has brought a new kind of explorer to the once very remote areas of the Minnesota Arrowhead. My husband and I fall into this category, which is why we dedicated a day of our honeymoon solely to the famous County Road 12, with a twist: We visited in the winter. Just north of the town of Grand Marais a small water tower displaying the byway logo welcomes visitors to the start of the scenic route as it snakes up the first mountain. The Pincushion Mountain recreation area was our 14 Winter 2021-2022

first stop after just a few miles. The 15-mile trail system at Pincushion Mountain brings many visitors to this part of the Superior National Forest. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough snow to have to unpack the snowshoes, but we went for a walk instead. The trails at Pincushion Mountain can be narrow and rugged or wide and open, ranging from easy to difficult, and some access the Superior Hiking Trail. In the warmer months, these trails are great for a hike or mountain bike ride. In the winter, they convert to snowshoe, fatbike and cross-country skiing trails. We enjoyed this area because of how quickly we were immersed in nature. The breeze through the trees, the singing winter birds, and the snow crunching beneath our feet is all we heard. From the scenic overlook at the parking lot you get a wonderful view of Grand Marais and you can see Highway 61 disappear into the distance as it travels north up the shore. The extended panorama view of Lake Superior, with the mix of blue, white, and dark green, paints a picture worth coming back for. We were curious and excited about our next stop, the Moose Viewing Trail, just 22 miles up the Gunflint. This mile-long loop connects to a small side trail leading to a swampy area where moose tend to cool off during the hot summer months. It was winter, of course, but that didn’t mean we were any less excited about seeing a real, live moose. We hiked slowly and quietly and the lack of sound was deafening at times, when neither of us moved. A viewing platform marked the end of the trail, roughly 50 yards from a frozen swamp. We waited here for a while, patiently, hoping to hear or see something other than birds. The anticipation of seeing a moose had our minds racing: How would we react? What if we witness one shed its antlers? On our way back we found some moose tracks, but that’s as close as we came to seeing the giant creatures. Despite our lack of success, the mixed

by Alyson Levig

coniferous forest provided gorgeous views along the loop. Continuing onward up the byway, we stopped at Honeymoon Bluff—for obvious reasons. It’s a short and steep climb, but the views are quite worth it. Because compacted snow and ice completely submerged the existing stairs, we really had to watch our step. Luckily there was enough brush along the sides of the trail to steady ourselves during the ascent. Once at the top, a path circled the entire bluff, allowing us multiple views of Hungry Jack Lake. Despite the gloomy, overcast day, we still enjoyed the panoramic view of deep-green trees against the peaceful, snow-covered landscape. We recommend this hike for a sunrise or sunset stop or for leaf peeping. We took a few pictures of ourselves at the Trails End Campground sign, watched a few ice fishers begin their journey across a nearby frozen lake, then headed back down the trail to our final stop. George Washington Memorial Pines is just 6 miles north of Grand Marais. The 3-mile level terrain loop is an old road through a seemingly endless stand of white and Norway pines, planted by Boy Scouts after a wildfire in the 1930s in honor of the 1st president of the United States. Here, the pines blocked out the sound of the scenic byway traffic as well as darkened the overcast sunlight into the forest, creating a quiet atmosphere. The hike was a good one to end on. We took in the pine scent with every breath and the magnificent views of enormous pines awed us into silence. Though the famous Gunflint Trail may only seem to be a warm month getaway, the views and natural beauty are still present in the winter. There’s less traffic and fewer people, and you can still learn about the wildlife and explore the ecosystem within this Minnesota Wilderness. Between pine-tree hideaways, birch forests, rugged bluffs and mountains, long and short trails, and access to many lakes, the Gunflint is open yearround to anyone who wants to explore. Minnesota Trails

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