Gunflint Lodge cross-country skiing is fantastic and one of the best ski trail systems in the Midwest. Gunflint Lodge is located about 45 miles down the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais, Minnesota on beautiful Gunflint Lake. It used to be even more beautiful, but a blow down and fires have severely culled the trees in the area.
Park at the Gunflint Lake Overlook and you can either cross the road and ski the Highlands Trail to Ham Lake or you can stay on the side of the road the parking lot is on and ski the West End or Overlook Trails. Whichever way you go, you cannot go wrong.
I prefer to cross the road and head up the hill towards the Ham Lake Trail. Ham Lake is about a six mile loop. You can also go down the Rabbit Run Trail and loop back up to the Highlands Trail by climbing Wipe Out Hill.
The Highlands Trail is the best trail in the system as it follows an escarpment that overlooks Gunflint and Magnetic Lakes. This trail is up and down, so it takes some skill and some stamina. It also takes a camera as with the lack of trees, the overlook is unobstructed and beautiful in the winter. It would be better with more trees, but it is still is sensational.
Ham Lake is easier with some gentle ups and downs. There are more trees on this trail, so if the bare Highlands Trail has got you down, then scoot into the woods on the Ham Lake Trail. Several times the trail goes through beautiful pine tunnels.
The West End Trail has some decent hills as well. This trail takes you towards the lodge and the lake. You can double back though from the Powerline Trail, which crosses the Gunflint Trail to the Aspen Alley Trail, which takes you to the start of the Highlands Trail.
First you have to climb Wipe Out Hill, which is a long winding hill with several curves. If you come down the other way you get to try your hand at conquering the hill and with hope you can avoid what gave the hill its namesake.
I took the other route and had to climb Wipe Out Hill. I could not pass up my hand at trying a run at Wipe Out. I easily made it down, but 6 inches of fresh powder slowed the trails and made the hill a little more manageable. Unfortunately, I then had to climb the hill a second time and continue the route back to the Highlands Trail.
My favorite part about parking at the overlook parking lot and heading to Ham Lake is you get to save one of the best hills for last. There is a really nice hill that comes off the escarpment to the road that almost rivals Wipe Out. After a good energetic ski, it is nice to coast down the hill to the car.
Gunflint Lodge has winter lodging as do many of the lodges along the trail. If you want peacefulness then try staying at Voyageur, which is all the way down the end of the Gunflint Trail. The Gunflint Lodge also has a lighted trail, so if you are staying there, you can ski long past twilight.
There is a fee to ski the trails. It is $12 a day and$60.00 for the season. Gunflint also has ski rentals at $24.00 a day. You can also rent skis farther up the trail at Devil’s Track Nordic.
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