The Gunflint Trail and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are rich with history. Dating back several centuries ago when the area was a Native American hunting area. Back when the Gunflint Trail was just a path. Now, the Gunflint Trail is a paved road that is home to many permanent residents. Its also home to the BWCA, a popular tourist destination for visitors from all over the world. The Chik-Wauk Museum strives to gather this rich history into a living museum and nature center. Helping visitors understand what life was and is like on the Gunflint Trail.
The Museum’s focus is primarily on the past 100 years when year-round residents started making their homesteads on the many lakes that dot the area. Many families have been in the area for generations and have shared their stories and photographs with the museum. However, the museum does touch on the early years on Gunflint Trail.
There are the stories of the original voyageurs who came into the area to trap beaver, as well as stories from entrepreneurs who saw the Gunflint Trail as an opportunity for tourism and opened the first resorts in the area. There are tales of adventurers and fishermen who decided to share their love of this pristine area by opening outfitters and tour companies. Then there are the stories and photos of other residents who were just looking for a place to settle down. Searching for somewhere to live in peace and harmony with nature and found the Gunflint Trail provided them just that.
Other sections feature artifacts showing what life was like for the earliest settlers of the Gunflint Trail. There’s a rotating display featuring a different theme/topic each year, so there’s always something new to see. Some displays are even interactive making it the perfect place to bring the kids. Children and adults can get a feel for how much weight a voyageur carried during treks into this vast wilderness area. Kids will love the museum scavenger hunt (ask the person at the desk for the sheet!).
The building itself is an iconic piece of Gunflint Trail history. It was once home to the Chik-Wauk Lodge on Saganaga Lake. The Chik-Wauk Museum was originally built in 1932 by Ed Nunstedt as a fishing resort. It was a popular retreat and in operation until 1978 when the building and the land were sold to the U.S. Forest Service. During its heyday, the resort had 11 cabins on its property.
After the Forest Service acquired the cabins they dismantled them and auctioned them off. This left only the main lodge building on the site. The main building sat empty for several years between the closure of the Chik-Wauk Lodge and the opening of the Chik-Wauk Museum in 2010. In 2007 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and any modifications made to the building to accommodate the museum were done in a way that preserved the building in as much of its original state as possible.
Chik-Wauk’s 50-acre grounds include a series of nature trails that families can explore and learn about the local ecology together. In 2016 they built The Nature Center building. This building is a treasure trove of natural resources, activities, and ideas for your hike around the museum grounds.
The Nature Center also hosts guest speakers and activities covering a variety of topics throughout the summer months. There are also several fun games and activities on the grounds that help children experience a little bit about life on the Gunflint Trail throughout the centuries as part of Chik-Wauk’s family-based Naturalist Program.
This is a family-friendly museum and nature center that will keep adults and children entertained for hours. We do recommend you plan to spend at least 3 hours here in order to be able to really enjoy learning the history of the area and exploring the network of trails. Check out the Chik-Wauk Museum Website Here for more information, hours and dates of operation, and a schedule of events including guest speakers. You can also connect with the Chik-Wauk Museum on Facebook. The Chik-Wauk Museum operates in partnership with The Gunflint Trail Historical Society.
Listen to Joe and Jaye’s visit to Chik-Wauk on the Exploring the North Shore Podcast: