Trails near Two Harbors, MN

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 the 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 back room, 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 for more information, hours and dates of operation, and a schedule of events including guest speakers.  You can also connect with Chik-Wauk Museum on Facebook.  The Chik-Wauk Museum operates in partnership with The Gunflint Trail Historical Society.

Located within the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, the Day Hill Trail is a short, but steep hike that ends with amazing views of the surrounding area. It is one of the many trails located within this state park, but is often referred to as the best as it’s easy enough for intermediate hikers, but not too easy for those who enjoy something challenging. Once you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with not only the amazing views but also with an interesting piece of history.

The trail itself spurs from the parking lot and takes you behind one of the cart-in campgrounds as you make your way along the trail. The hike is around 1.4 miles and involves a couple of steep patches of trail. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled along the way for scenic overlooks and views of surrounding valleys.

Once you’ve reached the top, take a moment to take in the beauty of what is before your eyes. Not only will you see outstanding views of Lake Superior, you will also notice a large chimney from an unfinished house. There is plenty of history behind it—but that is for you to find out on your own once you conquer the climb. Be sure to pack water and a snack and wear the proper footwear and gear!

Getting There

To get to the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, follow Highway 61 up the North Shore and look for signs reading “Split Rock Lighthouse”. View the park map here.

Nowadays, it’s hard to find a place where you can be surrounded by enormous towering pines and still be able to navigate your way through a trail. However, the George Washington Pines Memorial Trail outside of Grand Marais lets you experience just that on a 2.25-mile trail.

A short spur from the parking lot off the Gunflint Trail will lead you to a hiking loop that travels through a forest of towering pines intermingled with birch. As you continue, keep watch for surrounding wildlife that is sure to be out and about. This quiet trail will eventually lead you to the shores of the Elbow River, which is a perfect place to take out the lunch you packed or just take in the beauty of the rushing water flowing right at your feet.

The relatively flat walk is highlighted in the last mile of the hike by the large, fragrant cedar trees. Binoculars are a great thing to keep handy as wildlife tend to make their home high up in the trees. Also, be sure to pack the proper gear as the trail tends to be a little wet!

Getting There

From highway 61 in Grand Marais, go north on the Gunflint Trail about eight miles to the parking area on your left that is marked with a George Washington Pines sign.

When the Gitchi Gami State Trail is completed, it will have 89 miles of paved recreational trail for anyone to enjoy. It will range from Two Harbors all the way to Grand Marais and be open to a variety of recreational uses like biking, jogging, walking, and inline skating. It will be a beautiful way for people to explore the North Shore and still get an exercise while doing so!

As of now, 29 miles are complete, including some segments from Silver Bay to Beaver Bay and some found between Tofte and Lutsen. No construction has been done in the past three years due to the lack of funding, but the hopeful individuals volunteering to make this dream a reality are determined to finish the project soon. With this trail in development and the wide shoulders on highway 61, the North Shore is becoming a perfect place for bikers to get out and enjoy a safe, scenic ride.

One of the best parts of the trail is that it will connect five state parks, four scientific and natural areas, and several historic sites. Unlike some trails, the Gitchi-Gami Trail requires no fee (although some areas, like state parks, may require a parking permit).

For more information, check Gitchi Gami State Trail map

Do you want to hike a trail that has spectacular views of the area at any time of the year? Look no further! The Oberg Loop is a spur trail of the Superior Hiking Trail between Tofte and Lutsen. It offers hikers incredible views of Lake Superior, Oberg Lake, and the Sawtooth Mountains.

The loop is approximately 2.3 miles in length. Many visitors have said that they prefer to hike the trail counter-clockwise. By doing so, hikers will first see an overlook of LeVeaux Mountain to the west. Continuing further, the trail offers excellent overlooks of Lake Superior. On clear days, hikers will be able to view miles of the North Shore. As the trail wraps around, hikers will see indescribable views of the Sawtooth Mountains, and finally, Oberg Lake.

The loop is wonderful any time of the year but is favored in the fall when the blazing orange and red maple leaves to the north and the yellow aspen and birch leaves to the south make the hills even more beautiful. It is also an excellent time to spot migrating birds that funnel down the North Shore to reach their winter destination.

If you’re hiking in the spring, be sure to listen for black-throated blue warblers. Maple trees are unique here as they harbor a variety of plants that are not common in the rest of the forest.

Getting There

From Tofte, go northeast on MN Highway 61 for 4.7 miles until you see the Onion River Road sign. Proceed up the road approximately 2.1 miles until you reach the parking lot on the left.

Note: Though there is no reason to leave them behind, be cautious when bringing children as there are very few guardrails along the trail overlooks.

Because of its varied terrain, the Pincushion Trail system offers many acres and miles of trails for hikers, bikers, skiers, fat bikers, birders and more! Plus, it’s high vantage point provides a spectacular overlook of the town of Grand Marais. For hikers, the 15 miles of Pincushion Mountain’s trails offer loops to Lake Superior’s North Shore, the Devil’s Track River, and more! Keep an eye out along the way for countless birch, aspen, and pine trees. Hikers can use either the cross-country ski or biking trails but must keep alert at all times.

There are about six miles of single-track trails that mountain bikers can enjoy starting from the trailhead. The trails vary from easy to moderate and some even intersect the cross-country ski trails that can be used if the weather permits. Most of the trails have been developed over time to accompany a smooth ride, but riders should still be cautious as conditions often change. If you’re up for the challenge, many people fat bike the Pincushion trails.

On a sunny day, the top of the mountain provides a stunning view of Lake Superior. Keep an eye out for pine martens, wolves, and the occasional moose as you stroll along the trails.

Getting There

Follow the Gunflint Trail/County Road 12 north (away from Lake Superior) from Grand Marais for 2.5 miles and turn right onto Pincushion Drive. You will find a parking lot and the trailhead about .25 miles down Pincushion Drive.

This little trail will allow you to stretch your legs and enjoy a stroll through the prettiest point in Two Harbors. Sonju Trail winds along the rocky coast of Lake Superior through tall trees and raspberry patches. It’s one of the local’s favorite spots to walk, and many don’t come to Two Harbors without taking a stroll through it.

Take a break throughout the journey on one of the many benches and watch the waves crash against the rocky coast. You may also leave the path and find the ancient lava flows that left their mark many years ago. It’s quite a sight to see! Either way, you will be rewarded with the sense of being out in the wilderness, when in reality you are only a stone’s throw away from the town.

Keep an eye out for the many deer you may cross paths with, as many of them are not frightened by humans. This is a result of the countless times they have been fed by the guests staying at the bed and breakfast that is found next to the lighthouse. Other wildlife has been spotted along the trail, as well. If you’re lucky you might see a fox, rabbit, squirrel, and the rare black bear or moose passing through.

The threat of development continues to put pressure on the area and no one knows how long the trail will exist because of its close proximity to the town. Be sure to check out the Sonju Trail before it’s too late!

Getting There

In Two Harbors, turn right off Hwy 61 onto Waterfront Drive/6th Street. Follow the brown signs directing you to the breakwall at Agate Bay. Look to your left and find the arched passageway that marks the start of the trail.

Have you ever wondered what the source of the Temperance River is and how it became so powerful? Or, how the beautiful cauldrons were created along the walls of the river canyon?

The river’s source is Brule Lake. It originates in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and has been paving the river’s way for quite some time. Since the river swirls mightily along the way, water and debris have carved impressive potholes into the ancient rock along the canyon walls. They make for an exceptionally beautiful hike along the river.

No matter which trail you take in Temperance River State Park (if you are beginning your hike from Highway 61), you will follow the miniature canyon carved out of solid rock. The gorge was cut away over thousands and thousands of years by the relentless water.  The canyon, which is surrounded by towering cedars and pines, is spectacular both at its base and from above, so taking short climbs to the top of the canyon has its benefits.

Getting There

The Temperance River gorge and trails are located just over a mile northeast of Schroeder on Highway 61. Park in the designated parking spaces near the Temperance River bridge on either side of the highway. Follow trails inland (away from Lake Superior) to follow the river gorge and see many waterfalls, including the Hidden Falls. Hike toward Lake Superior to view the Temperance River lagoon, the mouth of the river and Lake Superior.

The Superior Hiking Trail offers visitors the opportunity to travel by foot to many unique places along the North Shore that would likely be inaccessible otherwise. The trail takes hikers past gorgeous lakes and waterfalls, up to incredible Lake Superior overlooks and through the beautiful Boreal Forest. Though the trail as a whole is something we recommend to all hikers who are able to explore, there is a list of trail sections that we prefer over the others.

One of these sections leads hikers to Wolf Rock. Wolf Rock is a Superior Hiking trail overlook near Two Harbors that allows visitors to see panoramic views of Lake Superior, the surrounding shoreline, and the forest from over 900 feet. The trail to the overlook rises rapidly from the parking lot and gains over 200 feet in elevation over the course of a half-mile. Once hikers make it to the top they will be rewarded with incredible overlooks and breathtaking views.

Getting There

From Two Harbors, drive on Highway 61 for approximately 10 miles. Turn left onto Lake County 106. Drive 2.3 miles and park in the Superior Hiking Trail parking lot on the right side of the road. Take the hiking trail that is furthest to the south (if your back is to the road, it will be the trail furthest to the right).