Fall Foraging – Beginner’s Edible Mushrooms

At a time of year known for harvesting and for things that thrill and terrify us, it seems only appropriate to talk about edible mushrooms.  No doubt, if you’re like most of us, you’re harboring a healthy fear of wild mushrooms (and with good reason).  There are some very dangerous, and very lethal wild mushrooms.  Some of them kill you quickly but uncomfortably.  Some of them make your liver fail over the period of a couple of weeks.  And some of them just give you such severe stomach and intestinal issues that you might wish you’d eaten the lethal ones instead.  Mmm.  Makes you want to go right out and eat a plateful, doesn’t it?

You’re probably wondering why anyone would even want to attempt such a hobby.  For some, it’s the challenge that motivates them.  For us, it was a variety of reasons.

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Have you ever had a home grown vine-ripened tomato?  Would you agree that it’s not the same as a store bought tomato?  The same applies to most wild foods.  Wild strawberries and blueberries, for example, have intense flavor that makes the store-bought versions taste like water.  You could easily make the same comparison between button mushrooms and their wild brothers.  To validate that point further, many exclusive restaurants prize wild mushrooms for their gourmet entree’s.

Nutrition & Health

Many types of wild mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses with a surprising amount of health-giving properties.  Depending on the type of mushroom, they can be high in fiber, protein, Vitamin D, Iron, Niacin, Vitamin C, and compounds known for boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure, fighting cancer and even shrinking tumors.

Independence

While most of the food we eat is through traditional grocery supply chains, we like having at least some knowledge of how to find food outside of the system.   You’ll see a common thread throughout this blog of “eating wild” through fishing, catching crayfish, berry picking, mushroom hunting, and foraging for other wild edibles.  It probably seems strange to most, but there’s a certain satisfaction gained that comes from learning the age old practices of finding your sustenance at it’s natural source.

Fun 

Who doesn’t like tromping around in the woods?  Foraging gives you an excuse to do it.  Plus, there’s the sense of excitement and inevitable adrenaline rush that comes once you’ve discovered a treasure trove.  Even if you don’t find anything, or (more likely) you don’t find anything edible, you’ll still have had a wonderful day breathing the fresh air, exercising, and having a little reflection time in nature.  Pack along a picnic lunch to make it a banner outing.

The Key:  100% Certainty in the Mushroom Identification

There’s a saying among wild mushroom foragers:  “There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are NO old, bold mushroom hunters.”

The key is to make sure (100% sure!) that you’ve identified the mushroom you’ve found correctly.  If you’re not sure, don’t eat it.  Not even a little bit.  This takes a bit of work, and truthfully, 99% of the time, the mushrooms we find are inedible, poisonous, or else we just can’t be certain of it’s identification.  For those, back to nature they go.

We use a minimum of 3 different field identification guides, and often internet resources too.  Try to find mushroom guides that are specific to your geographical location. Learning how to take spore prints is an important identification tool also.  Many areas also have mushroom hunting clubs or tours.

Some of the more advanced mushroom foragers  use chemicals and microscopes. Admittedly, we’re not at that level.  I don’t know if we ever will be.  For now, we’re content to stick to the ones that are easy to identify and have low risk in terms of poisonous look-alikes.

3 Easily Identified Wild Edible Mushrooms

Early in the fall season, we were fortunate to find 3 amazingly delicious wild mushrooms while in Northern Ohio. (These are all fairly widespread across the continent, and even in other parts of the world.) Brace yourself.  None of these wild mushrooms will look even remotely like what you’re used to seeing at the marketplace.

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While available in higher end grocery stores, the taste is not the same as the fresh wild ones.  When harvested at their peak, they are tender and flavorful.  They remind me of seafood, and would make a lovely chowder. Or, simply use them as you would any mushroom in your favorite dishes.  They also make a delightful vegetarian version of calamari that’s much more tender than their tough and chewy squid counterpart.

Oyster mushrooms are reputed to contain the following:  Dietary Fiber, Protein, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, Manganese, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Copper and Potassium.

Look for Oyster mushrooms on deciduous trees that are dying, or on logs.  Do not eat oysters growing on conifers/evergreens, as they can be toxic.  Learn to identify the difference between Oyster Mushrooms and the potentially dangerous Angel Wings.

Maitake Mushrooms*

Maitake mushrooms have held a position of respect in the alternative medicine realm for some time, but are also a gourmet mushroom with strong nutritional contributions.  Also known as “Hen of the Woods” (not to be confused with “Chicken of the Woods”, see below), Dancing Mushroom, or by it’s scientific name Grifola frondosa.hen of the woods - maitake

Hen of the Woods mushrooms have a more substantial and almost gamey flavor, when compared to the more delicate flavor of oyster mushrooms.  They also will batter fry well, especially in a tempura style batter, and will add both nutrition and flavor to any dish you use them in.  I love them in stews, soups, and pasta dishes.  I’ve even tried them roasted in butter and honey, which was an odd pairing, but a delicious treat nonetheless.

Hen of the Woods/Maitake will usually be found in large clusters at the base of oak trees and maples.  They’ll be growing from the tree roots in the ground, near the base of the tree.  Often, there will be multiple bunches circling the tree.  This mushroom should have no gills.  If it does, it’s not a Maitake.  Use your field guides to be 100% certain of the identification.

It’s not uncommon for a single harvest to be 10 lbs. or more.  They seem to last longest in the fridge in brown paper bags, but you’ll want to plan to process them soon after harvesting.  Hen of the Woods wild mushrooms dehydrate well (clean them before dehydrating).  You can also sautee’ and freeze them.  These mushrooms are also a bit unique, in that you can freeze them raw (clean them and cut to size first).  Just be sure to take them straight from the freezer to the pan without thawing for best cooking results.  Maitake mushrooms also make nice pickles.

Maitake mushrooms boast 190% of your daily Vitamin D requirement per serving.  It also has a reputation for fighting cancer, diabetes, and boosting your immune system.

Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms*

While the names are similar, Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is nothing like Hen of the Woods.  The only thing they really have in common is that they’re both gourmet finds that would make the finest chefs envious.  Named for it’s supposed chicken flavor, I found it to be decidedly different and delicately flavored; not mushroomy, but not like chicken either.  In addition to it’s delightful taste, it’s also visually appealing and retains it’s coral color after cooking.chickenofthewoods

**Tip: Don’t cook it much longer than the 20 minutes required, or it gets tough.

Chicken of the Woods contains potassium, Vitamin C, protein, Vitamin A, antioxidants, and compounds suspected of fighting bacteria and cancer.   I haven’t tried dehydrating, but is supposed to work with this mushroom.  I stuck with the traditional method of sautéing and freezing for later use.

For more information on Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms see: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/introducing-the-chicken-of-the-woods-mushroom-laetiporus-cincinnatus-et-al/

NOTE:  For all 3 of these types of mushrooms, it is best to stay away from any that are growing on evergreen trees (they can be toxic).

A Few Last Tips to Remember

  1. Once you’ve 100% identified the mushroom as edible, do not eat it raw.  Eating raw wild mushrooms can make you very sick.  Instead, cook the mushrooms at least 20 minutes. This breaks down the proteins that are otherwise very hard on your digestive system.
  2. Eat only a small amount the first time.  Some people have allergic reactions, so it’s best to take it easy at first.  Test a little, and see if your system is ok with it before eating a large quantity.  Although, it’s not advisable to eat a whole plateful of mushrooms regardless.  That can overload your digestive system also.  All things in moderation!
  3. Only take as much as you are prepared to process and use.  No need to be greedy.  Wild mushrooms don’t have a long shelf life, so you’ll want to be realistic about how much time you have to dedicate to cleaning, preparing, and cooking or dehydrating your find.  Again, take only as much as you can really use.  Be a pro, and leave some for nature, or for others to find.
  4. Take note of where you found the mushrooms and when.  As long as you’re careful when you harvest them (cut them above the surface of the tree and don’t dig into the tree), the mushroom organism should be fine to continue it’s job of breaking down the tree, and produce fruit (mushrooms) for several years.
  5. Share your recipes! 🙂

A Quality Adventure is Closer than You Think!

I’ll admit it. I’m torn.

Part of me really wants to tell you about a wonderful new adventure that’s right under your nose (no matter where you are)!  The other part of me really, really wants to keep it under-wraps – to preserve it as the best kept secret – to keep it all to myself always and forever.

But, I’m going to tell you anyway.  First, because I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t.  Secondly, most folks won’t do it anyway, so I guess I figure it’s safe to talk about.  Third, if you do take my advice, you’ll not only have the most amazing road trip that you’ve had in a while, but you’ll also be helping keep small town America alive.

The funny thing is that it’s not a big secret, just a forgotten one.

The last time you planned a road trip, I’ll bet the farm that 99% of you planned your trip to take the fastest route.  Gotta hurry up and get there, right?  That means freeways and big cities.  It does have it’s benefits: you get there faster and you have easy access to gas, food, truck stops, rest stops, and hotels (if you want them).  Granted, these are all important things.  But it also means that you’re driving in city traffic (or at the very least, with city drivers who still think they’re in the city).  You’re probably also traveling at a pace that rivals that of the Millennium Falcon.  But, let’s face it… gas mileage isn’t great at warp speed, nor is your view.

To be perfectly honest, the further I get from our old life of rush-rush living, the less I can tolerate that kind of driving.  Maybe it’s because I’ve worked so hard at undoing it’s affects in my life.  Being in that traffic brings back the familiar flood of stress hormones that make my blood pressure rise right on queue.  But these days, I’m not used to the “stress rush.” It is surprisingly alarming and nearly triggers a “flight response” for me.  Not pleasant.

 

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State highways can be so much more peaceful than the freeway!

 

So, why not, instead, add a few years to your life by allowing yourself a bit longer to drive from here to there.  Take the country highways.  There are thousands and thousands of miles of them in this country. What’s more, you’ll be very surprised with how little traffic there is on them.  At least, I was.  Traffic was so light, in fact, that it was reminiscent of what the roads were like 30 years ago.  It was a bit like stepping back in time.

Additionally, you’ll have a much more enjoyable drive and you’ll get to see so much of the countryside that’s never seen from the interstate.  Take your time and study the terrain, the farms, the factories, the towns, and the people you pass along the way.  Stop at the little homesteads that are selling chicken and duck eggs!  There are so many delightful people to meet and experiences to be had along the way.

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Since there’s not the constant barrage of exits with gas and fast food, you will need to plan ahead a bit.  Don’t wait until your gas tank is on empty to try to fill up.  It can be a long way between gas stations on these country roads.  Plan your meals to coincide with when you’re passing through a town. If you need something, stop and shop, and help keep these little towns alive in the process.  

Now with all of that said – if you’re still addicted to the Han Solo mode of driving, please don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Save yourself (and us) some frustration.  Keep on traveling at warp speed with your own kind on the interstate!  Meanwhile, we’ll stay out of your way and will enjoy the journey along the way.

After all, isn’t the journey supposed to be as important as the destination?

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Why Do We Love Bridges So?

I love, love, love traveling over big bridges.  (Do other people get as childishly excited about bridges as I do?)  I love the excitement of seeing a big bridge ahead on the horizon.  I can’t help it.  Like clockwork, as the peak of the bridge approaches, my pulse quickens.  Testing the boundaries of my seatbelt, I’m consumed with anticipation.  What  fleeting glimpse of grandeur waits at the top?  Every sense available is heightened, trying to take it all in as fast as I can.  Then it’s over. The brief encounter has passed.  The sights, sounds, and smells are but a memory. Ever so briefly, I’m tempted to turn around and drive it again.  What lingers longest is a smile of satisfaction, like a child having just disembarked from a carnival ride.

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Mackinac Bridge is impressive and well worth the drive, spanning the straight between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron

It’s not so much the bridge itself that brings such joy. Although, they can be beautiful architectural accomplishments in their own right.  The fascination (at least for me) comes from the sense that I’m getting a God’s-eye view.  I’m being blessed, ever how briefly, with a glimpse of a treasure that I’d not normally get to see.  It compares to the exhilaration that comes from sitting atop a mountain, sans the exercise.  Or perhaps even like what you might feel from looking out from an airplane’s window-seat.

Bridges are also gateways to new (or returning) places, sights, and faces.  They awaken  feelings of adventure, possibilities and even hope.

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By Ray Devlin from New Orleans (for now), USA 

I was blessed recently with one of the best bridge-drives of my life.  If you have a chance, I highly recommend the stretch of I-10, from about 10 miles east of Pensacola (Florida) to a little west of New Orleans (Louisiana) along Lake Pontchartrain (reputed to be among the world’s longest bridge!).

 

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The bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, LA

 

The whole drive is filled with long spanses of bridge over bays, marshes, bayous, rivers, and lakes.  You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

The People Along The Way: Kate Hibbs

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Off-Grid Summer Living in Northern Minnesota

For many of us, it’s a wonderful dream: spending a summer in a quaint little off-grid cabin on a remote lake with absolutely no one else around.  The view of the lake, the stars at night, and the sounds of nature feed your soul.

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The 1/4 mile path to Kate’s Cabin

There’s not a neighbor within earshot or eyesight, and the cabin isn’t accessible by road.  You park about a quarter mile away and walk-in on the trail.  There is an atv, but it’s a bit temperamental.  More often than not, you’re carrying in your supplies, drinking water, gasoline for the generator, and dog food on your back. 

Oh, the dog food?  Did I forget to mention the dogs?  Imagine that you’re also caring for 24 sled dogs… and 7 speedy and enthusiastic sled dog puppies!

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Even at this age – sled dog pups love to run!

Kate Hibbs spent her summer in northern Minnesota doing just this!  Kate says “I loved living up north this summer; I knew I needed this time to be in the woods.  I needed to recalibrate, so living in solitude for a time was perfect for me.

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Blue-eyed sled dogs, per the old legends, see into your soul.

Sled dogs are incredible animals, and I love mushing for so many reasons.  It’s extremely active, yet peaceful and beautiful.  It’s really fantastic to use this old traditional form of travel and see the pure joy, athleticism, problem solving and group dynamics of a sled dog team.”

When asked about the challenges the summer presented, you might expect to hear her talk about the physical demands of caring for so many dogs, or the inconveniences of living off grid and so remotely. 

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Rustic Accommodations!

Instead, Kate mentioned only two things. “I haven’t been around to enjoy Minnesota’s boreal winters and the dog mushing that comes with it.  It was pretty difficult to only care for them during the summer months when it’s too hot to take them on runs.  I’d also say a big challenge was being so removed from my loved ones.”

Lately, Kate’s been spending her falls, winters and springs in Antarctica.  While in Antarctica (time that she calls “on-ice”), resources are limited, so there isn’t much of an opportunity to stay in touch with friends and family back home.  “It is important to be able to spend my time off-ice engaged in relationships that are important to me and engaged in my community.  While tempting to seek out solitude, I’ve learned that I need to figure out a balance of self-care without using my privilege to escape too much!”

Only 27, she’s already been a “mover and a shaker” in making a difference in her communities.  While in school at Ithaca College for Anthropology, she helped establish her school’s Asian American Studies Program, and was part of starting an East-Coast-wide movement for intersectional education in colleges and universities.

She and a few friends also founded the “Aurora Collective” in hope of opening the “out of doors” experience to a broader audience.  Through her experience guiding youth with wilderness adventures in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, she witnessed countless amazing transformations. “Doing hard work in wild places teaches people non-academic skills: character, growth, mindset, grit, emotional and social skills, among many others.  Going on an expedition, especially as a youngster, can help a person realize that they are capable of anything.  It translates to a self-awareness and confidence that helps in the pursuit of goals later in life.  Historically, access to the wilderness (including the gear, transportation, etc.) is expensive and limits the type of person who can go on trips.

We started The Aurora Collective as a way to promote and sponsor people doing more extreme wilderness endeavors, believing that more representation provides more inspiration!”  She cited as a case in point, Ann Bancroft: a Minnesotan explorer that was the first woman to traverse Antarctica. 

We kicked it off last summer by competing in the Yukon River Quest, a 444-mile canoe race.” Their 6-person all-female voyageur team was a rarity and met a lot of skepticism. But, after 53 hours of paddling, they earned 19th place out of almost 100 teams overall.  “The Aurora Collective is a work in progress, but I’m hoping that we can keep it going despite us living so spread out.”

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Having learned about Antarctica from co-workers at Menogyn, a Y-Camp on the edge of the Boundary Waters, she had to see what life was like at the bottom of the planet!  This fall will be Kate’s third season working there.

“There’s a saying that people go down to Antarctica the first year for adventure, the second for friends and because the money’s pretty good, and the third year because they don’t fit in anywhere else anymore!” 

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Your view upon arrival in Antarctica, after a very long flight in non-temperature controlled seating on military aircraft.

Living there isn’t easy. The physical environment is challenging. “It is called the harshest continent for a reason!” The station is extremely remote station with very limited internet access, so staying in touch with friends and family isn’t easy.  The working hours are long and difficult, with 60 hours or more, 6 days a week, the norm.  There’s very little in the way of food choices available, being dependent on seasonal food shipments.  Fresh foods like vegetables and fruits are often a rarity.  Even something as simple as placing an Amazon order is challenging, as it can be months before your package is delivered.

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But, all that said, there are benefits to working seasonally in Antarctica also.  “The lifestyle of working really hard nonstop and then having a few months to travel or pursue a new skill or field is very appealing to me.  Air travel there and back is provided, normally with a stopover in New Zealand.  Kate often will make the most of that stop and do some impromptu touring of New Zealand on her way back from “the ice.”

While at the station in Antarctica, there’s a strong ethos among the community to make the most out of every day.” Kate says that the station is just big enough that you can find others with shared interests, but small enough to be welcoming. “It’s like camp for adults!” with the endless live music, sports, game nights, art-making, costume parties, language classes, etc. She’s found them to be a good group of hardworking and creative people that are invested in making their time there as nourishing and stimulating as possible. 

You may have seen that Antarctica recently made the news with the possibility of new life forms discovered in some of its ice caves. Kate’s been able to see some of the ice caves firsthand herself!  “I got to take a trip to an ice cave my first season. It was amazing.  I think the thing that jarred me the most was experiencing complete silence for the first time in months.  Ordinarily, we’re surrounded by the constant buzz of generators, planes, helicopters and heavy machinery.  It’s like living on a big construction site 24/7.”

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Just another hard day at work!

Kate’s work there this upcoming season will be as the Solid Waste and Recycling Coordinator. She was a Janitorial Lead last year. Before that, her first season as a dishwasher. She laughed, saying that the Antarctic station is known for having the best educated dishwashers in the work force.  People are willing to take (and are grateful for) whatever job is needed for the experience of living there.

If you’re interested in checking this opportunity out, she suggested you do some research.  First, there are a couple of good documentaries about what life on a station in Antarctica is really like.

Then, if you’re still interested, contact one of the agencies that hires station support contractors.  It is common to not be accepted on your first try.  She suggested that if you’re serious about it and determined, keep trying. Network.  Knowing others there can help. Find a way to try to get some experience in the field you’re trying to get a job in (even if just dishwashing!).  Most importantly, keep applying until you succeed.

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As for what’s next for Kate Hibbs?  “Eventually, I would love to return to my work in education.  But for now, it would be awesome to work my way up to running a field camp in Antarctica!  I also want to get all 7 continents in my passport (I only have South America and Africa left).  Beyond that?  Who knows?  I do feel like I’m still searching for something, but aren’t we all?”

 

Visiting Grand Marais, MN

 

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View over the Grand Marais harbor, waiting for the fireworks to start!

 

If you’re looking for a scenic summer getaway for a few days, Grand Marais MN might be just the ticket.  Nestled up against Lake Superior, this little town will win your heart and the drive up the coastline will overwhelm your senses!

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Besides being the gateway to the Boundary Waters and on route to Ontario, Grand Marais is a tiny town of bed and breakfasts, family owned inns, and quaint touristy trinket and fudge shops.  It boasts having a microbrewery, and a pastry shop called “the World’s Best Donuts.”   Oh, and don’t forget the miniature golf course-petting zoo (yes, a combined experience).

Of course, there are also a few upscale boutiques, art galleries, golf courses and such. The entire town only consists of about 1,350 people in the summer (It drops down well below that in the winter when most of the town shuts closes down).

 

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View from Grand Marais of the harbor and Lake Superior

 

For being such a small town, it surprised me to find that Grand Marais had 3 grocery stores.  Granted, they’re small, but they provide a nice variety of options.  The IGA’s your typical grocery.  Johnson’s is interesting in that they have the basics, but also some eccentricities also like a selection of smoked fishes and homemade sausages.  And then there’s the co-op that offers a nice bulk section and organic items.  You don’t have to be a member to shop there, and they also have a little internet café area.  If you’re planning to grocery shop, check the hours ahead of time though.  They close at 7pm in the summer, and are closed at 5pm and on Sundays in the winter.

One of our regular activities when in town was to stop and pick up picnic items from the grocery stores and a bottle of wine from the one liquor store in town.  Then to find a place on lake superior to enjoy it.  We couldn’t get enough of the fresh lake air or dipping our toes along the shoreline… so calming and good for the soul!

While you’re in town, you might also consider taking a sailing tour of the harbor?  Or taking a class learning a lost art like blacksmithing, or any number of other things.

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Cook county is also known for it’s lovely waterfalls, many of which are just a short hike from the road.

Other things that might interest you in the area:

Enjoy!  (If you find other treasures in the area, please be sure to share them in the comments!)

PS – There are still some businesses around that don’t take credit cards, like a diner that we found in Grand Marais called “South of the Border” (as in the Canadian border)!  While fresh herring for breakfast might not be your cup o’ tea, keeping cash on hand while traveling will make sure you can make the most of these local treasures!

Gunflint Trail – Boundary Waters of MN

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Little Gunflint Lake at Sunset

Summering in Minnesota was truly a new adventure for us.  We knew no-one in MN, had never been there, and knew very little of where we were going. But the idea of Minnesota’s boundary waters had always intrigued us, and so here we are doing seasonal work on the Gunflint Trail.

It is truly a beautiful area and well worth the drive.  In fact, in all of our cross-country travels, I can’t recall a place that’s as pristine and untouched by civilization.  I say “worth the drive” because there’s really no way to fly here, unless you have the means to charter a private sea plane.  Otherwise, it’s a 3+ hour drive from Duluth.  Two of those hours are spent driving along Lake Superior, which is itself breathtakingly beautiful.  You won’t be able to take your eyes from the Caribbean-ish blue water as you drive.  When you get to the town of Grand Marais, hang a left on the Gunflint Trail and drive another hour north-west.

Grand Marais is your last stop… well, for anything.  So stock up.  Get your groceries, pharmacy items, etc.  Fill up your tank with gas.  (Some of the resorts up the trail do offer gas for your vehicle or boat, but it’s expensive. ) If you have time, stop and enjoy this adorable little town on Lake Superior.  (More later on Grand Marais in another post!)

The locals like to say “if you see 3 cars on the Gunflint Trail, it’s a traffic jam.”  They’re not far from the truth.  You can drive a long ways through the thick forests without seeing another car. After driving through the cities, it’s a striking change.  It hardly seems real and feels like you’ve driven back in time.  Don’t be surprised if, when you do actually encounter another car, they toss you a neighborly wave.

As you’re driving the trail, you’ll soon realize why they call this the land of 10,000 lakes.  Northern Lights Lake, Swamper Lake, Flour Lake. Bearskin Lake, Hungry Jack Lake, Poplar Lake.  Iron Lake.  Little Iron Lake.  Loon Lake.  Gunflint Lake… the list goes on and on.  It’s hard to keep them all straight.  If you’re planning to fish them, make sure you know which lake you’re headed to, and what regulations apply.  In this area, there are lakes that are governed by Minnesota regs, and some are governed by the BCAW (Boundary Waters) regs, and still some yet by international regulations.

It’s been an unusually rainy, cool and buggy summer (even by local standards), so we’ve not had as much opportunity to get out and play as we’d hoped.  But, there’s plenty to do here.

Fishing the Boundary Waters

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Imagine Catching this Northern Pike… from a Kayak!

The fishing’s been wonderful, but you do have to approach it differently than most of the tourists do.  First, research the lake.  Even though the lakes are connected up here, they carry different fish populations.  Know what you want to fish for, and plan for it.  What’s possible?  Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Lake Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, Splake, and an array of panfish.  Secondly, research the lake (did I say that already?).  These lakes are all so very different in terms of depth, even though they’re in a close proximity of each other.  Some are only 15 feet deep, others 250 feet deep.  For example, if you’re fishing for Walleye in Gunflint Lake (that’s 250′ deep), you’re going to have a hard time finding them unless you have a trolling motor and depth/fish finder.

Note:  There are also several professional fishing guides that serve the area also.

With your fishing license, you also are allowed to trap for crayfish… a largely neglected but tasty delicacy up here.  Crayfish are considered an invasive species here, so the daily limit of what you’re allowed to take is ridiculously large.  A single trap left overnight will frequently yield enough for a meal for two or three adults.

Paddling the lakes of the Gunflint Trail and the Boundary Waters

Canoeing and camping the boundary waters is a popular activity up here.  You do need permits though in the boundary waters.  Also, keep in mind that you’ll be in very remote locations.  Come adequately prepared for your camping adventure.  You might also consider using an outfitter that’ll rent you canoes, assemble all the gear and meals for you, and drop/pick you up at your entry/exit lakes.  Many will even help you plot your canoeing trail.  Be sure to ask them for details about the portages involved though.

Pascal Bredin - grand portageNot all portages are alike.  Some are longer, steeper, rocky, blocked by debris, excessively swampy, through a stream with current, etc.  But that’s part of the challenge.  I’d just encourage you to mention your physical condition,  age, and any other physical concerns you have to your outfitter when making plans.

Hiking the Gunflint Trail and Superior National Forest

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Bridal Falls on the Gunflint

There is also plenty of opportunity for hikers to enjoy the forests, cliffs, numerous waterfalls, and lakeshores.  If you keep your eyes open, you’ll likely find (in season) blueberries, raspberries, thimbleberries, strawberries, and Saskatoon berries along the trail, along with wild mushrooms and other wild edibles.  Many of the hikes follow the cross country and snow mobile trails, but there are also designated hikes in the Superior National Forest.

Relax in the Peace and Quiet

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One of my favorite things to do here is just to relax in the stillness of nature, whether in the woods or on a lakeshore.  If you’re outside though, don’t forget the bug spray, or you’ll be sorry.

Note:  Don’t expect to have cell coverage anywhere along the Gunflint Trail (once you leave Grand Marais).

Other Things to Do on The Gunflint Trail

There’s not much in the way of commercialized entertainment up here, but there are a few things that you might find enjoyable:

  • Gunflint Lodge has a naturalist that offers educational and historical programs, a 2-hour canopy (zip line) tour, and guided (horse) trail rides
  • Most of the lake-front lodges offer boat rentals (fishing boats, canoes, paddleboards, kayaks, pontoon boats) to guests and non-guests alike
  • Swimming and enjoying a refreshing day at the beach.  Seagull Lake has a lovely and private sandy beach that the locals enjoy.  Go up the Gunflint Trail to the Seagull Lake boat landing.  Park and follow the unmarked path on the right just before (north of) the boat landing.

Dining on the Gunflint Trail

You’ll find few options for restaurant meals up here.  They are namely:

  • Hungry Jack Lodge
  • Trail Center (has delicious malts and will even add liquors to them!)
  • Gunflint Lodge
  • Trail’s End
  • Poplar Haus (opening soon, as of this post.  It’ll be fine dining)

Winter Things To Do

In the winter, we hear that this area is frequented mostly by ice fisherman, cross country skiiers, ice climbers, and snow mobilers.

Where There’s a Need, There’s a Way

Ready for a change (as we often are), we stopped in at a local establishment up on the Gunflint Trail of northernmost Minnesota for dinner.  The small family owned resort’s restaurant was beyond busy.  In fact, the owner had just dropped a basket of chicken wings on the floor in his haste to try to keep up with the crowd.  We helped him pick up the wings, and asked if they might need some help. (Timing is everything!)

When we’re working, we always look for employers that provide housing.   (When we’re in between jobs we prefer to either disburse camp with our tent and van, or house/pet sit.) This resort had outgrown it’s employee housing, so it needed more help than it could provide housing for.

 

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Our new employee housing!

 

Their housing was full, so they couldn’t offer normal employee apartment style accommodations.  But, they did have a “wall” tent that wasn’t being used.  We’re not picky, so we soon found ourselves comfortably set up in our own private camping site, with a large wall tent set up on a wooden platform.  They ran electricity to the tent for us, put a fridge outside next to the picnic table and fire ring.  And even ran a hose over so that we’d have water.

I keep a hanging shower shelf, as it comes in handy for so many things!  This time, it gets to be my outdoor shelf for showering and dishwashing.  With a few boards set out to stand on, we now have a great place for an outdoor shower!

 

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Creative outdoor showering while camping!  Refreshing too!

 

I’ll admit that I don’t shower out there in the mornings, as it’s not heated water.  But it is incredibly refreshing on these hot summer afternoons of late. (Yes, I wear my swimsuit!  Our campsite’s not quite private enough to wear my birthday suit!)  Thankfully the resort also has a staff shower/bath room with a wonderful supply of hot water.

My point though is that if you’re looking for work while traveling, and if you can be flexible (ie. help solve a problem for the potential employer), you’ll open doors.  For example, what different types of work are you willing to do? As mentioned before, many resort areas  are very short on housing for employees.  Do you have a camper or a tent that you can use for housing, if they’ll give you a place to set up?  Find ways to help them, so that they can help you.

The best part is that with this lifestyle, nobody expects you to stick around forever as a career.  If there’s an employer you like especially, you can likely come back again later.  Enjoy the experiences, people and the places as you go.  Make the most of every day.  For us… for now:  We’re enjoying our glamor camping, our 2 minute walking commute to work, living by a beautiful walleye lake up in the remote northwoods of Minnesota, and listening to the loons sing as we fall asleep.

 

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Sunset on the lake