Each summer businesses up and down the Gunflint Trail get together to host the Biggest Blueberry Contest that runs from mid-July to mid-August during the peak of Blueberry Season on the North Shore. Grab a bucket and take the whole family for a day trip up to the Gunflint Trail and find one of the area’s many blueberry patches and see if you can win one of three cash prizes awarded for the person who bring the biggest blueberry in to one of the weigh stations.
There are only a few rules to the contest. The blueberry must be picked locally in a public area, and during the time period the contest is running. Please do not pick blueberries found in State Parks, as this is not permitted, and avoid private properties. Blueberry picking IS permitted in the Superior National Forest, BWCAW, and Quetico Park. Sticking to public areas on the Gunflint Trail is not hard to do as there are miles of hiking paths you can explore, and the Chik-Wauk Museum has some lovely blueberry patches. Also, the blueberry cannot be store bought. Pretty simple, right? If you think you’ve found the Biggest Blueberry, head into one of the weigh station. Most of the lodges and outfitters in the area are official weigh stations for the Biggest Blueberry Contest, so they aren’t hard to find. Check out Visit Cook County for a complete list of weigh stations.
Even if you don’t want to enter the Biggest Blueberry Contest, going blueberry picking is a fun, family-friendly activity that can be enjoyed by most visitors to the North Shore as blueberry patches are pretty abundant in the area and can be easily accessed by car or a short hike. Here are some tips and tricks to finding the best blueberries!
-While you can find blueberries as early as late-June, early-July we don’t recommend you try to pick them until mid-July when they are at their sweetest. Prior to that you will find they are quite tart. Weather can affect the blueberries so the “peak” season is slightly different every year- similar to Leaf Change Season.
-Wild blueberries look just like store bought blueberries, just smaller (and tastier). They grow on shrubs that are usually 1-2 feet tall.
-Blueberry shrubs can be found almost anywhere, but the best ones can be foudn in dry, rocky soil in with ample mid-day sun. So look for blueberries in areas with less tree cover.
-The reason blueberries are so plentiful on the Gunflint Trail is thanks in part to the Ham Lake Fire that happened in 2006. Blueberries tend to thrive in recent burn areas, so if you want to focus your trip in the Ham Lake area, you’ll likely find some great patches.
-If you find the blueberries are small and firm on the branches, they’re not quite fully ripe yet, although blueberries can ripen off the vine if they are already mature (look for darker purple or blue blueberries). Leave blueberries at room temperature a few days to ripen. Blueberries kept in the refrigerator will not ripen. Since some people prefer more tart to sweet berries, picking early in the season is rarely a bad idea as you have more flexibility with taste, if you can wait to eat them, that is! Warning to this- blueberries that haven’t fully matured yet will not ripen- do not pick if they are white or green in color still.
-Remember to be safe and bring water with you while blueberry picking. You will likely find yourself in an open area with limited tree cover from the sun and possibly even going on a nice long hike to find the best blueberries!
We hope you have a great time going blueberry picking this season, and good luck if you decide to enter the contest!