Top 10 Things To Do On the Gunflint Trail In Winter

Looking for outings, activities or adventures to do this winter?  We’ve curated a list of our top 10 favorite things to do on the Gunflint Trail this winter!

1. Dog sledding 

Cruising over the snow in a sled pulled by a team of canine athletes is a true bucket list item! Dog sledding was originally developed by the native people of North America as a means of transportation, and was adopted by the Voyageurs during the days of fur trade. Justine Kerfoot used a dog team to get into Grand Marais to resupply over the winter, and Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters keeps the tradition alive today, offering rides ranging from a half-hour to a full day. If you don’t want to ride (or even drive a team yourself!) you can watch the experts race at the Gunflint Mail Run or the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

2. Ice Fishing

With a lake depth of as much as 210 feet and unparalleled water quality, Gunflint Lake is one of the best places for ice fishing if you want to reel in a trophy Lake Trout. Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters can outfit you with all the gear you need, including a permanent hard-sided shelter or a portable tent unit and heater, and even a guide if you want. Or if you want to fish where you won’t see anybody else and will have all the fish to yourself, take a snowmobile and then ski into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), where you will have more than 1,000 lakes to fish uninterrupted. Fishing season usually starts mid-January for lake trout on state inland waters and a couple weeks earlier (usually before the new year) in the Boundary Waters. Check out the Minnesota state fishing regulations, and stop by Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters to pick up your fishing license, BWCAW Day Use Permit, and gear, as well as a complimentary cup of hot chocolate before heading out.

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3. Cross Country Skiing

Cross country, or Nordic, skiing, has long been a tradition on the Gunflint Trail. This area sees more snow than any other region in Minnesota, and usually gets it earlier and keeps it longer. Cross country skiing is an affordable and fun way to explore the wilderness and spot wildlife, including moose, Canadian lynx, snowshoe hare, fox, and maybe even wolves! With nearly 70 km of groomed trails, including a lighted trail new this year, Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters is a perfect place to try out this sport. Cross country ski rental is included complementary with your lodge stay, and relaxing afterward with a hot meal at Justine’s at Gunflint Lodge and a dip in your cabin’s spa tub, outdoor hot tub, or Swedish dry sauna is the perfect way to unwind. After burning 500 calories an hour out on the trails, you’ve earned it!

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4. Snowmobiling

With more than 125 miles of groomed snowmobile trails through the Superior National Forest, the Gunflint Trail Snowmobile Trail system offers the best snowmobiling in Minnesota and throughout the Upper Midwest. Receiving an average of more than 110 inches of snow annually, you’ll find some of the best conditions here for sledding from late December or early January all the way through March and even into April. 

Forested snowmobile trails travel north of downtown Grand Marais connect to other trail systems, including the North Shore State Snowmobile Trail, the Expressway Trail, Grand Portage Snowmobile Trail System, Upper Gunflint Snowmobile Trail System and the Ontario Snowmobile Trail System out of Gunflint Lake. Snowmobiling on the North Shore you may see moose, deer, wolves, pine martens, lynx and fox. Snowmobiling is not allowed in the BWCAW (which is patrolled by dog teams and from the air.) Gas, food, and liquid refreshments are all available at Justine’s at Gunflint Lodge, which makes a welcoming stop on the trail between Grand Marais and Lake Saganaga. Snowmobile rental is available or if you haven’t tried sledding before, you can go out with a guided tour.

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5. Hiking or Snowshoeing

Just because there’s snow on the trails doesn’t mean you can’t get out and enjoy a hike. With a warm pair of boots (pick one with grippy soles) or snowshoes, you should still be able to get to some of your favorite spots. Check out the Gunflint Trail Hiking Trails Map. Some of our favorites are the Magnetic Rock Trail and Honeymoon Bluff. But the winter landscape opens up some hikes you might otherwise not be able to do. Try hiking across Gunflint Lake and the Magnetic Narrows to Little Rock Falls and get a close up view of Gallagher Island. (This is private property, so don’t enter the island, but you can walk around it on the ice and picture what life was like out here when Ben Gallagher built his summer getaway in the early 20th century.) Complementary snowshoe rental is included in your stay at Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters

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6. Visit the Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a million-acre designated wilderness area that, with more than 1,000 individual lakes, is accessible in summer only by canoe. In winter, however, it transforms into a wintry wonderland of snow blankets woven together by frozen lakes and silvery ribbons of icy rivers. It is enough to make you break out into a chorus of “Let It Go” (or pick your favorite from the Frozen soundtrack). Stop at Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters to pick up your permit (no fee or limits for winter permits) and you can enter by foot, ski, or dogsled. Winter camp or just spend the day. It is guaranteed that you will see more animals (moose, lynx, fox, wolves, and snowshoe hare) than people. And if you want to ice fish (see #2 above), the conditions are phenomenal.

7. Ice Skating

Speaking of “Frozen”, we all learned that there’s magic in ice and ice skating can be a form of dancing. When conditions are right (a deep freeze on the lake before any snow falls on it or a mid-winter rain freezes and sets up into clear ice), it’s magical to glide across the lake on wild ice. Sometimes you can see through the ice to the plants and animals living below . Nordic skates allow you to skate on up to six inches of snow, which works well for skating early in the season or on lake trails packed down by snowmobiles. When conditions don’t line up for wild skating, Gunflint Lodge offers a lighted skating rink overlooking the lake with complimentary skates for guests at the resort and restaurant. 

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8. Look for Wildlife

With the foliage off the trees, winter landscapes make for some of the best wildlife viewing, often from the warmth of your own vehicle. Driving the Gunflint Trail, you may see moose on the road, kneeling down to lick salt off the road or munching vegetation poking out from the snow on the roadside. Lynx, fox, and rabbit may take the Trail for easier walking conditions in the deep snow. And occasionally you may even see a lone wolf walking across the lake–but rest assured, his pack mates are likely nearby in case he comes across a prospective meal. Hiking, cross country skiing, and even fat biking (see #9 below) are other good ways to spot animals in the wild this time of year.

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9. Fat biking

With tires up to 4 inches thick, sometimes studded or with chains, fat bikes are like mountain bikes on steroids. Lower the air pressure in those tires, strap on a helmet, and you can bike on biking trails, snowmobile trails, or cross country across the lakes. At Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters, rent an e-bike (a fat bike with an electric motor assist) and bike across Gunflint Lake into Canada.(Before you go, you’ll need to get a Remote Area Border Crossing permit from the Canadian government.) 

10. Watch the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, can appear anytime, but winter makes for the best viewing because there are more hours of darkness and the lack of humidity in the air makes for clear, dark skies. Due to its far northern location and dark skies, the Gunflint Trail offers the best chance you’ll have of seeing Northern Lights in the Lower 48. You can check out the Northern Lights forecast here, but even if you don’t see the skies light up in greens and pinks and yellows, you surely will see some of the darkest skies in North America and a Milky Way that is truly out of this world.

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BONUS-Hygge (Pronounced ‘hoo-guh’)

Hygge is the Danish word for a spirit of coziness, and is a concept we embrace year round at Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters. You’ll experience it playing games or doing puzzles in front of the fire, dipping into your spa tub, outdoor hot tub or Swedish dry sauna, and enjoying a cup of hot cocoa or glass of wine with a good meal and close friends or family. We join with the rest of our friends on the Gunflint Trail and Visit Cook County in celebrating Hygge Festival on [dates], but you’ll find the spirit of Hygge at Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters in our warm welcome any time you stop by.