Grand Marais, Minnesota, Part 2: Gunflint Trail, Boundary Waters, Grand Portage
Posted September 16, 2017 by Bailey Mareu
Make sure you check out Part One here.
Grand Marais, Minnesota is a small town in far northeast Minnesota on Lake Superior. It’s one of the northern most towns in the North Shore geographic region that reaches south to Duluth, MN. In 2015, it was voted America’s Coolest Small Town. Phil’s aunt and uncle live in Grand Marais and we first visited in 2012 (that is, our first trip there together - Phil spent a Christmas or two with his family on the north shore growing up!) Get Outdoors Minnesota as a whole is a haven for anyone who likes to spend time outdoors. Grand Marais and the North Shore are full of outdoors opportunity: water sports on Lake Superior or countless smaller lakes, fishing, and hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (or many other trails) and waterfalls. We try to take in a lot while we’re there.
We are obviously pretty big into disc golf. The biggest draw back to the Grand Marais area is the lack of disc golf courses. In 2016, we did go to the Lutsen Lodge (about 30 minutes south of Grand Marais) for a round on a small, 9 hole ball/disc golf course. It was a beautifully maintained course overlooking Lake Superior so we really enjoyed it. Plus, the 65 degree weather in September was awesome.
The Gunflint Trail heads northwest from Grand Marais for about 40 miles into the heart of the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters are a whole lot of connected lakes in the United States and Canada. You can go on week-long (or longer) canoe trips in this area. A canoe trip like this is definitely on my and Phil’s bucket list. You can also bring up a canoe and tool around any of the lakes along the Gun Flint Trail and Boundary Waters. Our favorite lake to hit is Two Island Lake; which contrary to the name has SEVERAL islands and at least a couple where you can park your canoe and explore. We’ve even bring our small camping stove to heat up a meal. (But remember! Pack it in, pack it out!) Our canoe rental for the day (from ???) was $50 and we could return it the next day (convenient so we didn’t have to worry about about getting back to the store by the time we closed).
At the end of the Gunflint Trail you’ll find the aptly named Trail’s End Campground. Possibly one of our favorite campgrounds. Ever. In 2015, on what we considered our exploration expedition, we drove up the Trail for the daily to figure out what it was all about. Essentially: trees, lodges, campgrounds and lots of lakes. We made it to Trail’s End campground and vowed to return. Campgrounds at Trail’s End are nestled in the woods on cliffs above a couple lakes of the Boundary Waters. Some campsites are elevated even above your parking spot meaning you have to haul all your stuff up there on foot. In 2016, we returned for a one night mini trip. I wasn’t feeling particularly well but we wanted to make sure we could say we slept under the stars at Trail’s End. It was late in the season (in September) so pretty cool but it was a beautiful night to sit by the fire, listen to sound of the river rushing into the lake, and watch the stars.
Trail’s End Campground has some reservable campsites and some are first come first serve. Sites are around $15 per night.
North of Grand Marais, just before the border to Canada (seriously, so close we missed our turn and had to turn around right before the border crossing station) is Grand Portage State Park and National Monument.
The National Monument is dedicated to the Native Americans and voyageurs who made this part of the land a major stop in the transportation of goods (including pelts) between the East (via the Great Lakes) and wild land to the west. Because of the falls a few miles up the pigeon river (the border between U.S. Minnesota and Canada Ontario) those moving goods had to portage (i.e. carry) whatever the needed to a spot above the falls where they could continue by canoe.
Beyond the National Monument visitor’s center, with amazing displays, was several buildings like what was in this area hundreds of years ago. The grand house had two fireplaces and a large room for celebrations. A smaller workshop hosted several canoes (and one in progress) built by hand. The National Monument was a truly awesome place for those who enjoy history or imagining what it would be like to live entirely different from the modern day.
The State Park lined the Pigeon River. We had brought a lunch and picked a picnic spot for enjoying lunch and the river view. We were apparently feeling particularly hungry that day because we had planned on steak tacos. Phil brought his small Weber grill and charcoal and he grilled steaks which we garnished with already prepared cilantro and onions. Phil made his now-famous homemade salsa which we ate with chips. This all would have been too perfect so of course it rained a bit while Phil was grilling. We had an umbrella so everything wasn’t ruined! After packing up our picnic, we hiked to High Falls - the waterfalls causing anyone traveling the river to portage around to above the falls. The falls were awesome and we enjoyed saying high to Canada, just across the river (we easily could have crossed the river but decided to avoid any potential run-ins with the border police.
The rest of the North Shore of Lake Superior is ripe with camping, other lodging, and gorgeous sites. Gooseberry Falls is an awesome stop. Devil’s Kettle and Split Rock Lighthouse are two other good spots.
We also really enjoy Duluth (but it warrants it’s own blog post!)
Thinking about a visit to the North Shore or Grand Marais? We’d love to talk to you into it!