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 and the Gunflint Trail was just a path. Now, the Gunflint Trail is a paved road that is home to many permanent residents, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area 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 to help 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, where they could live in peace and harmony with nature and found the Gunflint Trail provided them just that.
Inside the museum, the front room is dedicated to local ecology with displays of animals and plants that are native to the area. In the backroom, there is a theater area where these stories are told by those who lived them. There are photos surrounding the theater area of the faces and names of the people who have helped to open the Gunflint Trail area up to visitors. Other sections feature artifacts showing what life was like for the earliest settlers in the area who decided to make the Gunflint Trail their year-round residence. There’s a rotating display featuring a different theme/topic each year, so there’s always something new to see. Some displays are interactive, like the area where kids and adults can get a feel for how much weight a voyageur carried on their back 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. 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 being taken over by the Forest Service, the cabins were dismantled and auctioned off, leaving 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. The Nature Center building was built in 2016 and 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.