Minnesota Gunflint Trail 1Day RV Itinerary

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Day 1

Start: Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Entrance

Turn left from Highway 61 just northeast of Grand Marais, onto the Gunflint Trail, Cook County Highway #12. Pull onto the shoulder and note the ridgeline to the north, which you will soon be climbing. The Gunflint Trail sign is located in this vicinity.

Stop 1: Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Water Tower

Directions from previous place:      Travel north away from Lake Superior, on the Gunflint Trail (Cook County Road #12) until you see the light-green color water tower on the left side of the road.
Distance from Previous Site:           1.25 miles / 2.0 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     2 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          2 minutes

A painted watertower heralds the beginning of Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway. Here you see the signature Gunflint Trail “moose” used on all scenic byway signs. It is a great place for a photograph. Make sure you pull off to the side of this dirt road.

Stop 2: Pincushion Overlook & Recreation Area

Directions from previous place:      Drive “up” the Gunflint Trail (elevation change is apparent). Notice the views of Lake Superior to the right. Superior Hiking Trail crosses the roadway in this stretch.
Distance from Previous Site:           1.25 miles / 2.0 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     3 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          5 minutes

The overlook is 1/4 mile from the Gunflint Trail on CR#53. The expansive vista is of the lakeside town of Grand Marais, Lake Superior, and Sawtooth Mountain Ridgeline. Note the pointed peaks of the hills, giving it the name “Sawtooth.” The hills and lake basin were created by volcanic action and glacial erosion. The crest of the hill is approximately 1,000 feet in elevation above the shore of Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world, by surface area. Note the maple trees in this area. Maple trees grow at this elevation all along the North Shore of Lake Superior. These maples turn a beautiful crimson red in autumn. The first white settlers arrived in the location of Grand Marais in approximately 1853. These settlers saw the importance of the natural harbor for shipping supplies by boat. Fishing & logging were the first major industries, followed by mining. The town is now a thriving vacation destination.

Stop 3: George Washington Forest Ski and Hiking Area

Directions from previous place:      From stop #1, turn right onto the Gunflint Trail. Drive 4.4 miles. Look for the George Washington Forest signs. Turn left into the parking area.
Distance from Previous Site:          4.4 miles / 7.0 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     5 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          5 minutes

George Washington Forest is a hiking, cross-country ski, and snowshoe trail area. It is also well-known for its birding habitat. The trail follows Elbow Creek at times. This is an optional hike/ski/snowshoe. Allow extra time to take the trail. Note the managed forest of pine surrounding the parking area. The trees in this area are regularly trimmed and released as part of an experimental forest program. Recent logging of this area was done selectively with horses to limit environmental impact. Note for the next approximately 22 miles no buildings are visible from the roadway. The view is forest, lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

Stop 4: Gunflint Trail Old Growth White Pine

Directions from previous place:      Continue north on the Gunflint Trail, watch for the very tall white pine trees. Two places to pull off the road are available, one on a small gravel road, the other on the Elbow Lake boat landing road.
Distance from Previous Site:           2.6 miles / 4.2 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     5 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          2 minutes

Prior to extensive logging in northeastern Minnesota in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area was forested with Eastern White Pine and Red Pine. Several old growth Eastern White Pine tower over the Gunflint Trail at this stop. These stately trees are approximately 350 years old and are the signature “gateway pines” to the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway.

Stop 5: Kettle Mountain/Northern Light Lake Hiking Trail

Directions from previous place:      Continue north on the Gunflint Trail. Watch for a marshy creek area, sometimes dammed by beaver, and two sharp curves. A parking area on the right is just beyond the second sharp curve.
Distance from Previous Site:           3.9 miles / 6.2 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     5 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          1 hour

The pointed top of the hill on the right side of the Gunflint Trail once resembled a tea kettle, thus giving it the name. The hill is now forested, although its shape is still visible with some imagination. Northern Lights Lake hiking trail offers vistas in all directions. The lake itself is a widening of the Brule River. It is a marshy area providing habitat and food sources for birds. Northern Waterthrush may be found on the lake shore in the spring and summer, and raptors often search for food over the water and marshes. The forest is mixed. View Misquah Hills to the west.

Stop 6: South Brule River - Snowmobile Trail Access

Directions from previous place:      Continue driving north and west on the Gunflint Trail. Watch for the South Brule River sign.
Distance from Previous Site:          2.1 miles / 3.4 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:    4 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:         2 minutes

The large parking area near the South Brule River is for winter snowmobilers, who enjoy designated trails through Superior National Forest. Pristine white snow, wildlife, and heavy forested trails create beautiful riding conditions. (Snowmobiling is not allowed within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, so make sure maps and trail signs are closely followed.) Watch for moose, deer, wolf, pine marten, fox, and other small mammals, as well as ruffed grouse.

Stop 7: North Brule River Civilian Conservation Corp Historic Site

Directions from previous place:      From South Brule River continue driving north and west on the Gunflint Trail. Watch for the street sign for Lima Grade Road, continuing on the Gunflint Trail .25 mile further. There is a short driveway on the right, or northeast side of the roadway.
Distance from Previous Site:           5.6 miles / 9.0 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     7 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:        10 minutes

North Brule River was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. CCC was a part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” legislation. In northeastern Minnesota the CCC built state parks trails and bridges, and wilderness portages. North Brule River begins in a series of small lakes to the north and west, winding its way toward Lake Superior.

Stop 8: Moose Viewing Trail Parking

Directions from previous place:      Continue north on the Gunflint Trail. Watch for the “Moose Viewing Area” sign. The area is on the left side of the road.
Distance from Previous Site:           1 miles / 1.6 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     2 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          1 hour

The forest surrounding the parking is typical of a boreal forest. Note white and red pine and spruce trees. The hiking trail to the right of the parking area leads to a moose viewing platform overlooking a pond. The hiking trail to the left is a snowmobile trail in the winter. In spring and summer it is covered with wildflowers. Boreal birds inhabit this area. Moose are the largest deer in the United States. Walk quietly through this and all areas, so that you do not disturb the animals.

Stop 9: Swamper Lake

Directions from previous place:      Drive north on the Gunflint Trail. Swamper Lake parking is on the left side of the road. Watch for the kiosk, which lists local businesses.
Distance from Previous Site:           1 miles / 1.6 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     2 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          5 minutes

Swamper Lake is a picturesque small lake with panfish and some walleye. Cast a line from the shore (Minnesota fishing license required) if you brought fishing gear. Moose are often seen in this area as are many species of ducks and Common Loon. Black-backed Woodpecker have nested in nearby dead trees. A picnic table and wilderness latrine is available at this site.

Stop 10: Laurentian Divide Overlook

Directions from previous place:      Continue north on the Gunflint Trail. Note the following along the roadway: 1. Areas of old growth Eastern White Pine 2. Logging areas 3. Site of Hungry Jack Fire in 1967 (brown sign on right side of road) 4. Lima Mountain Road - an excellent birding area 5. South Lake Hiking Trail - on the right side. No parking is available for this trail. 6. The eastern side of the “Old Gunflint Trail” which is a gravel road. 7. Evidence of the 1999 derecho windstorm. 8. Numerous homes and cabins - this is the most heavily populated area on the Gunflint Trail. No homes or cabins are located on the roadway from this point until Seagull Lake.
Distance from Previous Site:          10 miles / 16.0 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     20 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:         10 minutes

The Laurentian Divide is a north/south watershed divide. Water flows to the south to Lake Superior; to the north to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. Note the evidence of a severe derecho windstorm which occurred in 1999. Below the overlook is Birch Lake. Due to glaciers, the lakes in this area are long and narrow, lying east to west.

Stop 11: Mayhew Lake Historic Site

Directions from previous place:      Drive northwest to the pullover area. Watch for the interpretative sign, on the right side of the road.
Distance from Previous Site:           2.3 miles / 3.7 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     4 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:         5 minutes

Make sure you watch for moose in the wetlands prior to this stop. Henry Mayhew, and the Mayhew family were some of the original settlers in Cook County. In 1877, prospector Henry Mayhew cut a route (foot path) from Grand Marais to Rove Lake, a distance of about 30 miles, to access possible mining sites on the border lakes.

Stop 12: Old Gunflint Trail #92 - Winter Tracks

Directions from previous place:      Continue north and west on the Gunflint Trail. Watch for charred trees, part of the 2007 Ham Lake Fire, and for newly planted trees. The intersection is on the left, or west side of the roadway.
Distance from Previous Site:          2 miles / 3.2 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:    3 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:         1 minute

This is the location of the western side of the “Old Gunflint Trail” which is a gravel road. The Ham Lake Fire swept through this area in 2007; note the charred, and new planted trees (planted in 2008). The Gunflint Trail hosts “Winter Tracks” an event celebrating winter and snow in late February each year. Snow sculptures are constructed at various Gunflint Trail locations, including this intersection. Snowfall on the Gunflint Trail averages 110 inches per year.

Stop 13: Little Iron Lake Access & Picnic Area

Directions from previous place:      Travel north and west to Little Iron Lake, on the left or west side of the roadway.
Distance from Previous Site:           0.6 miles / 1.0 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     1 minute
Suggested Time at This Site:        20 minutes

Little Iron Lake is an example of a small lake with excellent wildlife habitat. Moose are often seen feeding in this shallow bay. The lake is a good first canoe trip. Note the burned trees. This is the southern border of 2007’s Ham Lake Fire, which destroyed 75,000 acres in Minnesota and Ontario. The fire reached this area on May 10, 2007, driven by excessive wind and fueled by drought conditions. Wildfire is a part of the natural ecology of the Gunflint Trail. Jack Pine and Black Spruce cones need fire to reproduce (heat bursting the cones, exposing seeds). Fire cleans out the understory, allowing seedlings sunlight. Red Pine and White Pine are naturally fire-resistant trees, but are destroyed by rolling crown fires or fires of intense, sustained heat.

Stop 14: Gunflint Lake & Magnetic Lake Overlook

Directions from previous place:      Drive northwest on the Gunflint Trail. The overlook is signed. It is located on the right side of the road. Take a few minutes to read the interpretative sign about the Paulson Mine.
Distance from Previous Site:          4 miles / 6.4 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     7 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:        10 minutes

The magnificent vista is of Gunflint Lake and Magnetic Lake. The northern shoreline is located in Ontario, Canada. You are viewing a portion of the historic Voyageur Route. Flint, or chert, is found in the rocks on this lake. Flint was used to spark firearm gunpowder, thus “Gun Flint” now “Gunflint.” Note the narrowed area between the two lakes, the site of a train trestle in the late 1800s. The PAD&W railroad ran from Thunder Bay, Canada, to the Paulson Mine, just a few miles from the trestle. The northern side of Gunflint Lake burned extensively in the Ham Lake Fire in 2007, but is visibly recovering. Imagine two small villages nestled on the shoreline in the late 1800’s called LeBlaine and Gunflint. The roadway, which is now the Gunflint Trail, was completed from Grand Marais to Gunflint Lake between 1891 and 1893. Mining prospecting in the area included copper, silver, and iron ore. The ores found were negligible, and was abandoned by 1900. The area soon was logged for white and red pine. Tourism became the economic base, as travelers found excellent fishing in a scenic, remote area.

Stop 15: Cross River Pull-over

Directions from previous place:      Drive north through areas of cleared and replanted forest, impacted by the 1999 derecho windstorm. Note the recovery of the forest. Watch for a pullover area on the right side of the roadway. Cross River flows under the roadway here. It is a beautiful stop in all seasons.
Distance from Previous Site:           2 miles / 3.2 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     4 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:        10 minutes

Cross River runs between Cross Lake and Gunflint Lake. Evidence of the Sudbury Meteorite has been found to the west, in iron ore deposits. The Sudbury Meteorite struck earth 1.64 billion years ago. It was in excess of 10 miles wide, and destroyed any and all life in the surrounding area. The main impact area is in Ontario.

Stop 16: Kekekabic Trail Parking Area

Directions from previous place:      Drive north. Note the cliff on the left side of the road, which is above the Cross River. At the Round Lake Road intersection you will begin to see evidence of the Ham Lake Fire of 2007, which originated just southwest of this location. The fire burned 75,000 acres in Cook County and Ontario, Canada. The roadway was closed to non-emergency vehicles for 18 days. Watch for the Kekekabic Trail parking area on the left side of the road. A trailhead kiosk provides additional information.
Distance from Previous Site:          1 miles / 1.6 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     2 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          2 hours

The 36-mile Kekekabic Trail transects the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness between the Gunflint Trail and Fernberg Road, in Lake County. The eastern forest burned in 2007 during the Ham Lake Fire. The Kekekabic Trail is difficult hiking, requiring overnight stays, backpacking & navigating blowdown areas. However, the first 2 miles of the western side offers good conditions for hiking along this historic trail. Paulson Mine is accessed from this trail, as is an old wildfire tower (disassembled) site. Appropriate maps are needed for this hiking trail, which can be extremely difficult. Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness permits are required to hike into the wilderness area of this trail.

Stop 17: Magnetic Rock Trail

Directions from previous place:      Drive to the immediate next right-side parking area. A trailhead kiosk provides additional information.
Distance from Previous Site:           0.1 miles / 0.2 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     1 minute
Suggested Time at This Site:          3 hours

Test your compass on this trail. Magnetic pull in the rocks throw off compass readings in this area. The forest was burned in 2007 during the Ham Lake Fire. Note how the forest is regenerating. Follow the trail a short distance to a wetland and rocky area. Moose are often seen in the wetland area, as are song birds. There is a picnic table and wilderness latrine at this stop. Magnetic Rock Trail is an excellent blueberry area in July and August. It burned extensively in 2007, creating perfect blueberry habitat. The full hike to the large rock outcropping called “Magnetic Rock” is 3 miles round trip, and moderate difficulty.

Stop 18: Larch Creek Wetland, Gunflint Guard Station (USDA Forest Service)

Directions from previous place:      Travel north on the Gunflint Trail along low-lying areas. This is the route of the Ham Lake Fire, a human-caused, drought and wind-driven event.
Distance from Previous Site:           2.2 miles / 3.5 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     4 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:        10 minutes

Larch Creek is a significant area wetland and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness entry point. The buildings are owned by the USDA Forest Service, used as wildfire fighting headquarters when necessary. The jack pine forest burned in 2007 during the Ham Lake Fire. Look for Black-backed Woodpecker and Three-toed Woodpecker, only found in northern forest. These woodpeckers feed on beetles which enter jack pine trees post-wildland fire. Note the wildflowers, aspen and jack pine which are growing - a part of post-fire natural recovery. Wildfire plays an important function in northern forests. It thins out understory, allowing sunlight to hit young pine trees, fertilizes the soils, and consumes invasive species. Man is now a part of the landscape. We must learn to co-exist with fire in these area, to assure healthy forests for future generations.

Stop 19: Seagull Lake Boat & Canoe Landing

Directions from previous place:      Drive north on the Gunflint Trail. Note the changing forest from mixed conifer to jack pine to boreal forest. Seagull Creek is crossed numerous times. Look for a left turn to Seagull Lake Landing.
Distance from Previous Site:          3.5 miles / 5.6 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:    5 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:         1 hour

Seagull Lake is an entry point to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Only a small portion of this lake is private land, the major portion bein in the wilderness. The area burned in 2007 during the Ham Lake Fire, and many residents lost their cabins. Note the new construction along the shoreline. Business owners, residents, and visitors came together as a united community to support one another in this loss of precious forest and cabins.

Stop 20: Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center

Directions from previous place:      Drive north, cross Seagull Creek. Note the Blankenburg Road, site of an old “toll” road. Toll was charged to upkeep the last 5 miles of the Gunflint Trail. Watch for Cook County Road #81, the “Moose Pond Road” and turn right onto that road. Drive approximately 1/4 mile to Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center’s entrance.
Distance from Previous Site:           3.5 miles / 5.6 km
Travel Time from Previous Site:     5 minutes
Suggested Time at This Site:          1 hour

At the entrance to Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center driveway stop a few minutes and look for moose in the pond. Drive to the Chik-Wauk parking area, on beautiful Saganaga Lake. This historic lodge was built in 1935. It was the main building for a resort which thrived until 1978 when the wilderness laws reduced the motor use on Saganaga Lake. The eastern section of Chik-Wauk’s property burned in the Ham Lake Fire, while the western section escaped. This area represents well the rocky terrain of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

End: Trail's End Campground - End of the Gunflint Trail

Totals for Day 1

Total Distance Traveled:     54.3 miles / 86.9 km
Total Travel Time:               1 hour 31 minutes
Total Stopping Time:         10 hours 37 minutes

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