Winter Activities

 Winter might seem like the ideal time to stay inside to read books and play board games, but we know that there is much more to do during the day than sitting inside. We’ve compiled a list of our top 10 winter activities to do on the North Shore. How many of them have you tried?

Winter Activities

Winter might seem like the ideal time to stay inside to read books and play board games, but we know that there is much more to do during the day than sitting inside. We’ve compiled a list of our top 10 winter activities to do on the North Shore. How many of them have you tried?

1. Ski/ Snowboard: Rising more than 1000 feet about the coast of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains are home to some of the most rugged terrain you can find in the Midwest. Perfectly located on the North Shore, these mountains let you enjoy a day full of skiing or snowboarding, while also enjoying some spectacular views. Just four hours from the Twin Cities, Lutsen Mountains has it all:

  • Four big mountains spanning 1000 acres
  • Over 1000 feet of vertical
  • New 6-person high-speed chairlift and Summit Express Gondola
  • 95 beautiful runs, from bunny hills to double black diamonds
  • Five terrain parks for those daredevils
  • 60 acres of tree skiing
  • Don’t forget those breathtaking views

2. Cross Country Skiing: Cook County is home to the largest cross-country trail system in North America spanning over 400 kilometers. Whether you’re an expert looking to test your skills, a family planning a day out in the outdoors, or someone who is new to the sport, these well-groomed trails will be sure to meet your needs, and more!

3. Festivals/Events/Music: All along the North Shore, there are places to listen to, learn about, and make music.
Year round, visitors can find live music most days of the week at local venues. Up-and-coming artists from the Twin Cities make spontaneous visits all the time and there are also many shows and events on the weekends that vary from comedy to family-oriented acts!

4. Snowmobiling: This is snowmobiling like nowhere else in the Midwest! The North Shore is home to over 450 miles of trails. Riders can travel and experience some of the most breathtaking views of Minnesota. From the Lutsen-Tofte area, all the way to Grand Marais, the most difficult decision you will make is where to start! The local club, the Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club, is active all winter long, sponsoring rides, contests, and other events throughout the season. If you like to plan your own adventures, visit our snowmobiling tab for trail maps, snow updates and rental information.

5. Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing is becoming a very popular hobby for people on the North Shore. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and take a stroll to a waterfall, overlook, or just enjoy the scenery around you. While there are plenty of trails for you to follow, many people enjoy snowshoeing through the freshly fallen snow.

The snowshoes come in different styles ranging from the traditional Ojibwe-style wooden frames to the more modern style made of metal and plastic. Either one will guarantee you a fun-filled day trekking through the magnificent white North! If you don’t have the proper gear and are looking to rent or buy, many Cook County businesses offer great deals on snowshoeing gear. Looking for rentals or trying to figure out where to go? Visit our snowshoeing tab for more information.

6. Ice fishing: Around 850 lakes are waiting for you to try your luck at northern, walleye, rainbow trout, and the famous lake trout! The North Shore offers a variety of lakes from big to small to cast a line and enjoy a beautiful day on. Be sure the ice is thick enough, bring proper clothing, and maybe even bring along some type of shelter to keep warm. Local businesses provide proper equipment and tackle for all your fishing needs.

7. Northern Lights: Viewing the Aurora Borealis, or “Northern Lights” as they are most commonly referred to as, is what makes northern Minnesota so unique. We are lucky enough to see these spectacular views every so often and so can you! Find a clear, cool night with little to no moonlight and look north to hopefully catch a glimpse of them. Be patient, as what makes them so unique is their unpredictability.

8. Dogsledding: Just because you don’t have your own pack of dogs to lead you on an adventure doesn’t mean you can’t experience the thrill of it. In Cook County, there are several dog mushing companies that will take you out on the adventure of a lifetime. Take a 2- hour, half-day, or full-day trip with a dog sledding professional and it will be unforgettable.

If you’re just looking to spectate, many dog sled races, like the Gunflint Mail Run and John Beagrease Sled Dog Marathon are also hosted throughout the year.

9. Take a class: Looking for a relaxing day filled with culture and information on the wonders of the North Shore? Look no further! Here in Cook County, at the North House Folk School or Grand Marais Art Colony, you can take a class, or watch skilled artists and crafters at work. These professionals are so good at what they do, you’ll be begging them to keep going.

10. Fat Biking: Fat (tire) biking is a great way to get outside and explore during the winter, just like riding a bike in the summer. With these specially designed bikes equipped with larger tires and more grip, your ride will be surprisingly smooth for even the novice bikers. The trails are well-kept and if you’re up for it, there are even experienced trails for the more experienced bikers.

Snowmobiling
One of the many things to do on the North Shore during the winter months is to snowmobile! Whether you want to play in the powder, take a drive over the frozen lakes, or tour the developed trails, the North Shore has what you’re looking for.

The trails on the North Shore wind through private and public land and are managed and developed through an MN DNR Grant-In-Aid program. In Cook County alone there are 450 miles of trail. As long as your snowmobile is registered in the state of Minnesota and you obey the speed limits, the trails are yours to enjoy!

The largest and most famous trail, the CJ Ramstad/North Shore State Trail, spans 146 miles starting in Duluth and ending in Grand Marais. This trail carves a path through the backwoods and cliffs rising out of Lake Superior with magnificent views and scenery. You can enter this trail at various entry points, including Duluth, Two Harbors, Gooseberry Falls State Park, Schroeder, Tofte, and much more!

There are also many more trails that span across the North Shore, including the Duluth Cross Town East and West, Pequaywan, Two Harbors Corridor, and the Moose Walk. Find trail maps and snowmobiling resources for your next snowmobile trip below.                   

Links to Trail Maps            
Minnesota DNR Maps and Resources
CJ Ramstad/North Shore Trail Map
Lower North Shore Trails
Upper North Shore Trails
Cook County Area Map
Interactive Snowmobile Trails Map
Snowmobile Trails GPS Data

Other Links of Interest
Snow depth map
Trail Conditions
Trail Conditions
Cook County Snowmobile club web page
Trail Marker brochure

Snowmobile Rentals
Beaver Bay Sports  |   4878 US Hwy 61, Beaver Bay   |  [email protected] |  (218) 226-4666
Steve’s Sports in Grand Marais  |  531 E Hwy 61, Grand Marais  |  (800) 487-1835
Hungry Jack Lodge  |  372 Hungry Jack Road, Grand Marais  |  (218) 338-2265
Windingo Lodge (early reservation required)  |  7890 Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais  |  (218) 388-2222
Gunflint Lodge  |  143 S Gunflint Lake, Grand Marais  |  [email protected]  |  (800) 328-3325

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing, or winter hiking as it is often referred to, is a very popular hobby that takes place on the North Shore. Strap on a pair of wooden or metal frames and explore the great outdoors during the winter season!

Although the origin of the snowshoe is quite controversial, the work of the snowshoe has come a long way. Beginning with hardwood frames and rawhide lacings, snowshoes have developed into a more modern metal and plastic framework to make the hike even more enjoyable. Even with these bigger and better snowshoes, some believe that the traditional wooden snowshoe makes for a better experience.

The sky (or should we say snow) is the limit for places to snowshoe. Unlike many sports, snowshoes allow people to venture off the beaten track. However, if you’re new to the sport, there are North Shore locations we recommend checking out. They include:

If you’re looking to rent snowshoes, many parks and local businesses (see below) rent them for reasonable prices and provide excellent service for visitors. Businesses include:

  • Sawtooth Outfitters  |  7213 Highway 61, Tofte  |  (218) 663-7643
  • Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply  |  22 East 1st Street, Grand Marais |  (218) 387-3136

Want more information on snowshoeing? Check out the Snowshoeing Guide on Exploring the North Shore!

Some of the most beautiful views exist during the winter months. Don’t let the snow stop you from getting outside and experiencing all that the North Shore has to offer.

Winter Hiking

Winter recreation such as skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling & more can be enjoyed on the North Shore all winter long. Another one of the activities that gets overlooked in the winter is hiking. The state parks literally clear out after MEA weekend and don’t spring back alive until after the thaw around Memorial Day.

This is one of the main reasons we recommend you try a winter hike, at least once, during your next visit to the North Shore. Hopefully, by the end of this article you will be excited, inspired, and prepared to get out and adventure on one of the many great trails here on the North Shore.

Dodging the Crowds

With park attendance reaching over 7,000 people per day at Gooseberry Falls the state parks on the North Shore can get very crowded in the summer season. Personally, fighting over parking spots and waiting in line at overlooks isn’t my idea of connecting with nature and enjoying the natural beauty of Minnesota. This is the main reason I enjoy hiking in the wintertime. To put this in perspective when I last visited Tettegouche State Park there was a total of one car and two White Tail Deer greeting me in the parking lot when I pulled in. A much different experience than say… 4th of July weekend.

Having the trails to yourself is nothing short of a magical experience. When you can hike for miles without seeing another human you truly feel one with nature and all of your senses are heightened. I challenge you to take a break on one of your next hikes and sit in silence for 10 or 15 minutes. Submerge yourself in the simplicity of that moment in nature. This is an experience one will never regret.

Another benefit of having the trail to yourself is enjoying one of the many overlooks. Nothing is worse than feeling guilty for being in the way, or limiting to your time at a certain spot just because there are other people waiting to snap a photo or take in the view. Hike in the winter and you can spend hours staring up at that waterfall if you choose to.

Fresh Snow

There is nothing better than getting out for a hike right after a new snowfall. The beauty and aesthetics of the sun’s reflection illuminating off the snow has a magical way of lighting the forest. The fresh blanket of snow covering the foliage gives you a warm feeling that is truly comforting. These types of conditions make for great photos and an overall great experience for any hiker.

Another advantage of the fresh snowfall is finding and following animal tracks. Tracking and sighting wildlife can be quite challenging but having a set of tracks to follow will give you better odds of finding something, and also allows your mind to run wild with an imagination of what animal it might be. Seeing all of these tracks scattered across the blanket of snow seems to make the forest come alive as you can see every movement from the night before.

On some of my recent hikes, I have found rabbit, deer, fox & wolf tracks. Rabbit and deer tracks are easily identified, but distinguishing fox, coyote, wolf, or cougar tracks can be quite difficult. Here is a great article to help you identify them more easily.

Weather Conditions

Although the majority of people in the United States think that Minnesotans are borderline crazy dealing with the cold winter conditions, if you were raised in Minnesota you know that it really isn’t that bad! When the temperatures can literally fluctuate 50+ degrees practically overnight your body learns to adapt.

Recent winters have not been much different from winters past. You can have temps that dip to -50 all the way up to 45 above zero on those unseasonably warm days. For the most part, the area stays between 0 and 32 degrees. We don’t recommend going out when it gets too cold, but those days are usually few and far between.

Dressing the Part

There’s a popular saying up here that there is no bad weather- just bad clothing. If you dress correctly you can enjoy outdoor wintertime adventures safely.

When dressing for a winter hike there are a few things to consider.

“Cotton Kills”. This another popular, local phrase that is to remind you to avoid materials that absorb moisture. Being cold is one problem but being cold and wet is a quick way to put yourself in danger. Generally, you want to dress in 3 main layers. Your base layer should be moisture-wicking, some type of synthetic or “Under Armour” material. This way if you sweat it can easily dry itself.

WinterYour second layer needs to be your insulator; wool and fleece being your best options. If you are prone to getting cold, this where you layer up until you can hardly move your arms and you look like the younger brother in “A Christmas Story”. Your final outer layer needs to be waterproof, something that can protect you from the elements whether it’s snow, rain, or that Minnesota mix that is something in between. Don’t forget a hat and gloves!

Another thing to remember is the fact that you can always take layers off. Most people will overdress and soon get overheated as you enter the mid-stages of your hike. It is very important to not get overheated while on the trail. If you begin to sweat out your base layer this is going to make you wet and cold later on. Be sure to remove layers as you begin to warm up.

Packing the Right Equipment

Preparing a small backpack with the right supplies can greatly improve your experience and keep you safe from the elements. Here is a list of items I like to bring, especially on longer hikes when you are out of cell service.

  • Water
  • High protein snacks
  • A warm beverage (nothing more enjoyable in the cold woods)
  • Hand warmers
  • A dry pair of gloves and socks (these areas are most prone to frostbite)
  • Small first aid kit
  • A camera
  • A lighter or matches for emergency situations

Another bonus to carrying a backpack with you on your winter hike is having a place to store your outer layers, should you find yourself removing those. It never hurts to be over-prepared and ensuring a happy and healthy hike is worth the effort. So enough about the preparation, where is a good spot to hike?

Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse and State Park is just southeast of Beaver Bay on the lakeside of highway 61. Split Rock offers easy hiking and fantastic views of the lighthouse. It is a great place to view the waves of Lake Superior crashing against the rock walls that suspend the lighthouse over the lake. This sensation really gives you a perspective of why the lighthouse is there, and the cold & rough conditions the giant ships of the great lakes face every winter season.

Illgen Falls

Located just off Highway 61 a few miles up Highway 1 is Illgen Falls on the Baptism River. The hike is a short ¼ mile off of the road and you end up right on top of a 40-foot waterfall. This is a nice short hike with great views and is one of the destinations that frequently gets overlooked.

Cascade Falls

Cascade State Park is located between Lutsen and Grand Marais on Highway 61. The parking lot just off of the road will lead you to the trailhead. A short hike up and you will begin to see one of many great waterfalls. These trails are frequently used and make for an easy hike with literally multiple waterfalls in a row. This is also a great area to stop and view the lake right from the parking lot.

Pincushion Mountain Overlook

Once you get into the town of Grand Marais turn onto 5th Ave, as if you are heading to the hospital.  Drive past the hospital and turn left onto the Gunflint Trail. A short drive up the Trail you’ll see a sign for the Pincushion Mountain Overlook. From the parking lot you are greeted with incredible views of downtown Grand Marais, the Grand Marais Harbor, and Lake Superior. Head towards the back of the parking lot to find the Pincushion Mountain Trail System. This 9-mile out and back trail system is great for a quick hike or long adventure.

Honeymoon Bluff 

If you have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive or are visiting the North Shore days/weeks after the move recent snowfall and want to have a more off-the-beaten-path adventure, head further up the Gunflint Trail and take a right onto Clearwater Road (county road 66, look for the sign for Clearwater Lodge). About two miles down Clearwater Road you will see signs for Honeymoon Bluff on the left side of the road. This trail is only a 0.4-mile loop but offers incredible views of Hungry Jack Lake. The Gunflint Trail area also tends to have more snow earlier in the winter, so if it’s still “gray season” down by the lake, head inland.

Now that you have some ideas of where to hike, what to bring, and some motive to why hiking in the winter is great, I hope you take the opportunity to get out there and adventure. There is nobody that can create a great experience better than yourself. I challenge you to make it happen and I hope this article will help you along the way.

Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

A Community of Dog Sledders Along the North Shore

By Aliya Marxen

From Silver Bay to Grand Marais along the North Shore of Lake Superior, dog sledding binds communities together for winter fun and worthy causes. 

If you are a dog, and in particular any dog that has thick fur and likes to pull a sled, the frosty forests of the North Shore must seem like heaven. Endless trails to bolt down, things to smell, wildlife to chase, is there anything that can bring a smile to your face quicker than a dog with tail wagging as he bounds about free?

Resident Sled Dogs Have The Most Fun

Perhaps the dogs that get the most enjoyment out of the long winter are our resident sled dogs. An entire community exists here on the North Shore of Lake Superior, of dogs and their mushers who race and share experiences. From Endurance Kennels in Duluth, to Points Unknown in Grand Marais, you have plenty of opportunities to experience the rush and wonder of dog sledding for yourself.  And plenty of very comfortable accommodations too.

Sled Dogs Are Trained From Birth

Regal and strong, sled dogs are trained from birth to do their job, and they love it! Many sled drivers have known their dogs from pups, forming a strong bond until they are almost as much a part of the pack as the dogs are. There can be up to 22 dogs on a team, though a number that high is fairly rare, with each dog holding an important role. They function much like a wolf pack, with a leader heading the way, and subsequent positions following.

Though many people with kennels up north do race professionally, quite a few also offer opportunities for anyone to go on a ride! Rides can vary anywhere from 1 hour to a full day trip, depending on the company. Some include a camped out lunch in the middle of the snowy forest, while others will let you try your hand at mushing yourself! Grand Marias Sled Dog Adventures even offers a full moon ride.

Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

Of course, racing is a huge part of sled dog culture. Here on the North Shore, we have two races that take most of the focus, the John Beargrease Marathon and the Gunflint Mail Run.

Founded in 1980, the Beargrease Marathon is the largest race run in the continental US. The race is named after John Beargrease, who was born in Beaver Bay as the son of an Anishinabe Chief in 1858. John and his brothers were known for delivering mail throughout the cold north for twenty years. Though they used many different modes of transportation to do so, John was most well known for his sled dogs.

Today the race stretches almost 400 miles, through checkpoints that are open to the public. People come on to cheer on the racers, share hot chocolate, and spend quality time around a fire. The race also features the cutest puppy contest, award banquets for both mid-distance and marathon races, and a “Cub run”, a two-mile race for young mushers to race their own dogs.

The Gunflint Mail Run happens each January on the Gunflint Trail.

Accommodations – Rental Homes and Condos

While most vacationers to our North Shore communities occur in the warmer months, people visit our area to enjoy winter activities too, and for them, they have a wide selection of vacation homes and vacation condos along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Let our family business help you select an affordable vacation rental near all the action of dog sledding.

Dog Sledding Offerings on the North Shore

There are many businesses that offer dog sledding rides and experiences on the North Shore and surrounding areas. Check out this article by Claire Noack on “Top 5 Places to Dog Sled in Minnesota” for ideas of where you can go to experience dog sledding on your next vacation. These are some of the local places that offer dog sledding experiences…

Gunflint Lodge (Grand Marais, Gunflint Trail): https://www.gunflint.com/activities/dog-sledding-at-gunflint-lodge/

Bearskin Lodge / Camp Menogyn (Grand Marais, Gunflint Trail): http://www.bearskin.com/activities/winter/mushing/

Points Unknown (Hovland): http://www.points-unknown.com/

Endurance Kennels (Duluth): https://www.endurancekennels.com/

Positive Energy Outdoors (Duluth): https://www.outdooredventures.org/

Listen to the Episode 22 of the Exploring the North Shore Podcast – Dog Sledding with Jasmine Poppovich Plus an Interview with the Girl of 10,000 Lakes:

Watch Our Vidoe “Dog Sledding with Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters”: