Eat, Play, Stay: The Gunflint Trail

Headed north for the rainbow trout? Here’s where you’ll want to stay, eat, and cross-country ski.
Poplar Haus
Poplar Haus


For many years, my friend and fishing companion PK pestered me to join him on what he always insisted was his favorite trip: a winter ice fishing excursion to the remote trout lakes sprinkled along the Gunflint Trail. The Gunflint, a 57-mile dead-end road that bisects the eastern portion of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA), is widely regarded as one of Minnesota’s most splendid, auto-accessible spots. So why did I resist PK’s entreaties for so many years? (Read that story here.)

For those willing to brace for the north, here are a few places to visit while near the Gunflint Trail:

WHERE TO STAY: There is plenty of winter lodging available along the Gunflint Trail but, of course, you will want to make reservations in advance. I found Gunflint Pines ideal in most regards. For those not inclined to travel far in search of fish, Gunflint Lake is right out the front door. While I didn’t have any luck, there are rumors of big lakers finning about its waters. During surveys, fishery crews have netted some lakers measuring over 30 inches, as well as walleyes, northerns, and other more common species.

WHERE TO PLAY: If ice fishing is not your thing, there are other outdoorsy activities available. Chief among them: cross-country skiing the Gunflint Ski Trail System, which boasts over 40 miles of groomed trails. Some of the trails are illuminated at night, which creates a magical ambiance. With more than 5 feet of annual snowfall, the Gunflint offers some of the most reliable skiing in the state. You’ll need to buy a pass.

WHERE TO EAT: The cuisine on the Gunflint Trail is a far cry from the frozen pizzas and burgers of yesteryear. Poplar Haus, a bar/restaurant/resort (with attached liquor store), has developed a well-earned reputation as a foodie destination. Roasted beet salad and walleye po’ boy are on the menu.

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