I spent the last two days up the Gunflint Trail, that slice of civilization reaching deep into the Bounday Waters. Accustomed to the North Shore, I get excited about the wildness and ruggedness of the Gunflint. Just off Highway 61 on the North Shore you find wide pleasant trails and lots of housing developments; just off the Gunflint Trail, you find wolf scat and a few campgrounds.
The Gunflint does not have a huge reputation for hiking; it's more of a canoeing and resort destination in the summer. The hiking trails off the Gunflint are either super long (the Kekekabic Trail or the Border Route Trail) or super short (Northern Lights Lake, Honeymoon Bluff). Where are the sweet 5-8 mile day hikes?
On the way up, I checked out a couple of the well-known shorter walks. Honeymoon Bluff is gorgeous but so short (0.4 miles) it's not a hike at all. I camped at site #18 at Trails End campground, one that's featured and pictured in our book Camping the North Shore.
Following hunches, I did two day hikes in one day. First I hiked the Kekekabic Trail from its eastern trailhead 3.5 miles into Bingschick Lake. This was fascinating, especially with the combination of the 1999 blowdown and last spring's Ham Lake fire. The trail was rough, just a wilderness trail with far less maintenance than a state park trail. Over half the route was in open areas of burned down trees.
Bingshick Lake, apparently known for its brook trout, had been burned all the way around and seemed pretty desolate. But the campsite had a few standing trees and made for a nice break.
I finished the first hike early in the day and headed for a delicious lunch of a walleye quesadilla at Gunflint Lodge in their new Red Paddle Bistro. After lunch I was totally stuffed but was able to roll over to the Loon Lake boat landing. Some maps had shown a trail running along Loon Lake and up to the Gunflint ski trail system. This was the Bryce-Breon trail.
As devastated as the forest along the Kek was, this forest was old, vibrant and luxurious. Ancient cedar trees along the shore of the lake, scampering over roots, an osprey swooping in to its nest high in a standing dead tree made it feel like the Land of the Lost, the land that time forgot.
So, two nice mid-length day hikes on the Gunflint Trail. Plus an ungodly number of ticks and black flies.
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