Near Grand Marais in the Superior National Forest, the 100 km Gunflint Trail System runs along the rolling hills through northern boreal forests of maple, aspen, birch, balsam fir and towering pines.
The Gunflint Trails abundant snowfall creates a winter haven for cross-country skiers. Snowfall averages over 111 inches annually. The 175 kilometers of groomed and tracked trails are maintained by the resorts of the Gunflint Trail Association. The terrain provides a wide variety of trail difficulty, from beginner to advanced. Ample distances are groomed for both skating and striding. Novice skiers can take advantage of group or private ski lessons taught by certified instructors. Venture onto the signed wilderness trails for a few minutes or the entire day, on your own, or with a naturalist guide. And, skiing does not end at nightfall. With the stars above, glide around lighted trail loops. You may hear the distant howl of a wolf.
From SR61 in Grand Marais, follow SR12 to Gunflint Lake. There are plenty of trail lodges and yurts in the area (800-322-8327), along with plenty of moose!
To ski the Gunflint, you begin your journey at the picturesque harbor village of Grand Marais, Minnesota, nestled on Lake Superiors rugged North Shore. From there, the Gunflint Trail travels 63 miles up and into the Sawtooth Mountain Range and the vast Boundary Waters, refuge to one of the most natural and complete cross-country ski destinations in North America.
You will discover some of the most scenic ski trails anywhere, combining the beauty of the northwoods wilderness with peaceful solitude. Some trails traverse winter moose yards, others follow scenic overlook ridges, cross into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and follow old trapper trails and railroad beds. The trails wind through a forest thick with pine, balsam, birch, and aspen. Snow cover is deep and dependable, from late November through early April. Skis whisper through the tracks set by Snow Cat groomers.
Trails range in difficulty from novice to expert, and many are groomed for both striding and skating. Lengths vary from 1K to 30K.
For a romantic treat, several trails are lit after darkness. The northern lights often dance overhead.
There are four distinct trail systems on the Gunflint Trail. The Pincushion Mountain Trail System is a 25km route. It is located just 3 miles outside of Grand Marais, on the Sawtooth Mountain Ridge and along the Devil Track River valley. The Central Gunflint Trail System is a 60km route near East Bearskin and Flour Lakes. The Banadad Ski Trail 35km linking trail between the central system and upper Gunflint Trail system. The Upper Gunflint Trail System has 97km of trails around Gunflint Lake.
Directions from Minneapolis / St. Paul International Airport (MSP):
- Take Highway 5 west towards the Mall of America to Interstate 494.
- Get on Interstate 494 headed east and continue to Interstate 35E.
- Take Interstate 35E north to Duluth (approximately 2 1/2 - 3 hours and becomes Interstate 35).
- Follow signs for the North Shore and Highway 61. The Interstate will end and become Highway 61. Follow Highway 61 to Grand Marais (110 miles).
- When you come down the large hill into Grand Marais, the harbor will be on your right. At the bottom of this hill is County Road 12 (better known as the Gunflint Trail).
- Turn left onto County Road 12 (Gunflint Trail) and follow this for 43 winding miles. There will be mileage markers along the way to tell you how much further to Gunflint.
- At County Road 50 (S. Gunflint Lake), take a right and go 3/4 of a mile. You will drive right into the resort.
Overall, Gunflint Trail System is the 8th most popular cross country ski area of all 39 Nordic ski destinations in Minnesota.