It took a pandemic and a drought (no mosquitos!) to get us up to The Gunflint, but better late than never. We have always been ‘Out West’ people. But much to our surprise, what we found around The Gunflint was a place with a stunning and unique beauty, both very Minnesota, but also reminiscent of places we have been Out West.
A nail-biter until we arrived, this trip almost did not happen. An ongoing pandemic, The Greenwood Fire (and the DNR cancelling our campsite 3 days before our trip), and our tow vehicle being totaled and having to buy a new vehicle during a pandemic shortage (1 week before leaving on this trip) ~ all made for logistical challenges.
We came here to Campbike (camping & gravel biking), but mainly to unwind and recharge. Although the biking wasn’t quite what we hoped (we get now why canoeing is such a big thing here), we still enjoyed quality time on our bikes, and with each other, and some really great hiking.
Crowdsourcing a vacation in this case was extremely helpful ~ thanks to all of you who gave us the inside knowledge and told us about all the spots! You helped make this äventyr.
We call these Scouting Notes for a reason - not every destination turns out as we hoped; sometimes we find gems, sometimes we don’t. This trip provided both. We hope you will find our insight useful, and not wait 15 years to make it to the Gunflint like we did.
Stop 1: New Scenic Cafe
We left on a Saturday morning with the intent of stopping at New Scenic Cafe for lunch. This is a must stop on your way up, and way home.
A few notes:
- There is PLENTY of outdoor seating.
- There is an upper picnic area no one saw, so with the dogs we had the area to ourselves, and the best view of The Lake (in our opinion). [*this area did look like it may have not been fully finished due to the pandemic, but it worked for us].
- Lake Superior Views from every place outside.
- Great sandwiches for lunch.
- The parking lot is a loop, so if you drive in with a camper you won’t get stuck backing out. (We were able to park at the back of the lot).
Stop 2: A Friends Cabin near Tofte
Okay, you may not have a friend with a cabin on the North Shore, we didn’t either until this year. It took us 50 years for this to happen, so be patient.
Our friends had a little parking spot on their road that fit our camper nicely.
We also aren't big 'North Shore' people, but we just might be now. This less than 24 hour stop was an absolute highlight of our trip. The perfect way to begin.
Stop 3: The Gunflint
Sunday-Wednesday (3 nights)
We arrived on a Sunday with a pre-booked camping reservation. It was an easy 1 ½ hour drive from the Tofte area.
Gravel Camp: Flour Lake Campground
Having to rebook our campground was actually fortuitous. In checking out the campgrounds in the area, we agreed Flour Lake was the perfect campground for us.
We biked two short routes out of here, and based on our observations in the area these may have been the best gravel routes. The road out of the campground is gravel, and it connects with 66/Clearwater Road (which is also a gravel road). More on gravel biking below.
Our Site: 24
A few things to note about Flour Lake Campground:
- You can not see the lake from the campsites. There are maybe two sites where you could sort of see it, but generally you are in the trees. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; you can still walk down to the lake on a short trail.
- There are some sites that are not level, we have definitely not recommended those.
- There is a solar pump for the water here, water is easily accessible and tastes good.
- Vault toilets (seemed clean, but we used our camper while we were here).
The nearest dump station you will find is the Municipal Campground in Grand Marais.
- Easy to get in/out.
- $5 to dump.
- [Side note, this campground is not a place we would stay ~ not our scene].
For provisions on the way up, or down, we highly recommend Cook County Whole Foods Co-Op in Grand Marais. We thought the prices and selection were good.
Other Campgrounds Scouted:
Trails End Campground: Our original reservation was cancelled by the DNR 3 days before our trip for fire staging going on there, but we did scout it out. There are no gravel roads here, so not a great gravel camp spot, but there are two great campsites we will call out ~ one for tenter’s and one for a camper like ours.
East Bearskin Lake Campground: This was a solid 'no' for us. It didn't seem well maintained and just wasn't our vibe.
THINGS TO DO:
Chik-Wauk Museum and Blueberry Hill Hike
Caribou Rock Trail: You can make this a short or a long hike, we did a medium one. Multiple great spots with great views. Reminiscent to us of hikes we have done out west ~ we really enjoyed this hike!
Magnetic Rock Trail: This was another great hike. It starts out in a bit of a boggy zone, but you hike out of it. The day we were here there was an all-woman team doing trail maintenance who we chatted with. This is a trail that really benefits from trail clearing in certain sections, so it's great they were there. True to form, we almost turned around feet from the Magnetic Rock because we had no idea how far it was. Glad we kept going. A good destination hike. Again, reminded us of hiking out West.
We have to start out by saying that this is admittedly not the best place to gravel bike. Most gravel roads are short dead ends, so it is hard to make a loop or even a long out and back. If you look at a map, or get a good vantage point on a hike, you will understand why ~ there is A LOT of water here. Canoeing here definitely makes more sense than biking.
That said, we had a lovely time biking here and left with some great memories.
Route 1: Clearwater Ride (aka Meander Slammer)
"I thought we were going out for a leisurely ride and I ended up climbing three of the steepest hills I've climbed in my life!" ~ Kurt
When you hit 66 out of the campground, go right until the end.
Make a pitstop at Clearwater Historic Lodge, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. With its cozy wood interior, slanting this way and that walls and floors, and small historical display, you might find yourself wanting to hang out for a beverage on the deck, or pulling out a board game.
This is an out and back route from Flour Lake Campground. It starts as a Meander, and turns into a Slammer ~ meaning there are some serious climbs, you may have to walk (if you are me). I can do some grinding, but these climbs were pretty extreme for both of us. I even had to take breaks hiking, it was so steep in spots! But do not let that deter you. Hike-A-Bike is 100% OKAY when you are gravel biking!
We rode until the end of the road, which provides a moment to admire the lake.
On the way out and back, we saw a woman painting in this very spot, and a funny thing happens when you are biking, sometimes you stop and talk to people you see. More on that below...
Route 2: Gunflint Loop
The loop starts at Flour Lake Campground, crosses the Gunflint, rolls through a church camp (oops, I guess that was a 'private' road), heads down a great quiet (and creepy at sunset ~ bear? moose?) utility road, back the other way looping to the Gunflint for a quick spur, heading back the way we came.
Let's go left!
DIY Gravel Biking
This is the Lima Grade. As it was turning to dusk, we did not go too far down this road, but it seems like one of the longest roads in The Gunflint for a Gravel Cyclist. Definitely more riding on this next time, just not when bear and moose might be coming out for their evening feeding.
And yes, that is bear spray in Kurt's pocket. Something we ride with often.
This picture says it all! I blew this up and it is now in the äventyr design studio.
And about what I said above: "sometimes you stop and talk to people you see". This is what I am talking about. On both of our rides we saw this woman out painting en plein air. The second time we passed her (on this ride), Kurt said "you should go talk to her" (he knows I'm a sucker for good paintings). And so I did. Long story short, we bought a painting (well, okay ~ two) from her once we got home, and I picked it up at her studio!
That painting on the left? That is where we are riding below, and where we first saw Bridget Ertelt painting!
photo of courtesy Bridget Ertelt
"That painting from Bogenho is my favorite piece from the week. I loved painting it!" ~ Bridget Ertelt
If you know me, you know I love to meet people and hear their story. It was so great to be able to pop over to Bridget's studio in the Northrup King Building and hear about hers. I encourage you to look her up, and definitely pay her a visit at any open studios in NRK!
And isn't that one of the greatest things about biking? Being in places you may not normally go, seeing things you may not normally see, and talking to people you may not normally have met. If we had not biked by Bridget, we would have never known about her beautiful artwork which we now have in our home as a special reminder of this special trip, and never have met such a great person.
[side note: Bridget is a nurse. This may explain the great energy she puts into her work. What an inspiring woman! Thankful for people like Bridget.].
Until next time Gunflint...