To GPS or not to GPS

I guess it was time.  Maps are getting harder and harder to find.  Although, after a couple of weeks with “Naggy” (as we’ve named it), I’m still not fully sold on our new Garmin GPS.  I think it’s really more that I resent needing it… but deep inside, I know that it’s become a necessity in today’s world.

Living this simple (and modest) lifestyle these days, we’re always on our guard against acquiring things.  After all, when you’re living in a van, you just don’t have room for extra “stuff.”  What we do have has to be deliberate, functional and practical.

Granted, by most people’s standards, a GPS falls in that category.

We decided on a lower-end version of the GPS, as we really don’t care about all the bells and whistles. (Remember, we’re aiming for a simplified lifestyle… not one filled with modern complications.)  We wanted something that would: 1) tell us where we are if we get lost, 2) help us find our way to our destination.  That’s all we needed.  Of course, it came with a few other features, but we haven’t really used them yet.

(This is the version of GPS we purchased – click the image to see pricing,)

Our first experience with “Naggy” was a bit frustrating, but offered some good “lessons.”  First off, it didn’t come with instructions.  It would seem that you have to download the instruction manual from the web.  Now, that might not seem like a big deal to most people.  But, we were on the road when we bought it.  We don’t have “fancy phones” so our internet access is limited.  To say that this was frustrating is a bit of an understatement.

First lesson:  If you’re buying an electronic item while traveling, plan to have/find internet access shortly thereafter (if you’d like to have the instruction manual available).

Our next destination was a free camping spot near Pensacola.  The campground’s a park on Florida Fish & Wildlife land, and we weren’t sure what it was going to be like.  Additionally, we weren’t yet comfortable with the GPS.  So we did some internet research ahead of time, and noted the GPS coordinates for the campground.

As a backup, we wrote down actual directions from the free camping website that introduced us to the campground.  We’re so very glad we did.  By the time we were near the campground, it was dark. The main road nearest to the campground was under construction and wasn’t well lit.  Access to the side roads was sketchy, to say the least.  Our GPS kept trying to rout us to roads that weren’t there, or that we couldn’t get to.


The packed sand road to the campground.

So, we followed the written directions instead.  Once off the main road, the secondary road was packed sand.  The GPS still tried to route us through side roads – but these roads were unmaintained and sandy.  (Keep in mind that this driving was all happening after dark in an area we’d not been before. )  Had we taken any of those routes, I’m convinced we would’ve ended up stuck in in the sand in a remote section of the jungle (in the middle of the night).  This is what earned it the name “Naggy.”

garmin misdirection

The Garmin directing us to take an unmaintained sandy road into the jungle.

Lesson Two:  It’s a good idea to have backup (written) directions, especially if you’re traveling to a remote area that’s unfamiliar.  

Lesson Three:  Don’t just follow the GPS’s instructions blindly.  Assess the situation.  They’re not always right.  If what it’s directing you to do looks questionable or risky, you might consider an alternate route.

All that said, we have used the GPS more, and have found it handy under most circumstances.  I don’t like Naggy, but I’m glad we have it.

BUT, we still (and will likely always) prefer printed maps.  Our favorite is by far the Delorme Gazetter maps (one map book per state). Click the image below for pricing and info.

They’re very detailed and have nearly every road you could imagine shown for the entire state. We’re working on acquiring a full set, based on the states we travel to.  (But that’s going to take a while.) Plus, with so many printed items going “out of print,” we want to have a set before they disappear.  They’re a good backup, and give you confidence and a sense of independence when you’re on the road.

Free Camping: Near Pensacola, FL


Free Campsite on the bay near Pensacola, FL

If you’re looking for a free campsite that’s not far from Pensacola and the beaches, this might fit the bill. The Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area has a lovely little rustic campground beneath the live oaks and right on the east shore of Blackwater Bay. 

Note: There are a few potential downsides that you’ll want to consider also (see the end of this post.)

As far as free camping goes, this is one we’d come back to.  The site is removed from the hustle and bustle, but near enough that an easy 15 minute drive puts you near whatever you might need.  The campground is several miles from the road, so there is absolutely zero road noise.  You’re surrounded by a beautiful Florida forest of live oaks, pines, and palmettos.  What’s more, the campground borders the bay with a small shoreline beach. (Or, if you end up on the “Bayou Side” campground, it’s smaller and is on the marsh.)

campground beach

Small beach at the free Scribing Point Campground

The campground is well maintained, and the sites are all clearly marked.  Each site is clearly defined also, with split rail fence between you and your neighbor. The campsites are all partly shaded from the strong sun by the live oaks.  This is dry camping, so there is no running water and no bathhouse.  There are a couple of porta-potties.  And there are bear-proof trashcans about also.  Each site has a picnic table and fire pit.

You can fish, swim or kayak the bay.  There are also a few hiking trails near the campground. The Blackwater River State Park’s within an easy driving distance. 

Navarre Beach

Free public beach on the Florida Gulf is only 20 min away from the campground

The free public beach (Navarre beach) is only a 20 minute drive.  Besides just the sheer enjoyment of a day at the beach, swimming in the emerald colored Gulf, there are showers of sorts at most of the beaches.  They’re out in the open, so swim suits are required!  But, it provides a handy way to get a shower in when you’re dry camping.  The cool water from the shower feels heavenly after a swim in the Gulf.  Plus, with a little effort and creativity, you can use the showers to fill your camping water jugs.

View from Navarre Fishing Pier

View of the Gulf and beach from the Navarre Beach Pier

There’s also a man-made snorkeling reef near Navarre.  And Navarre Beach has a lovely pier that extends way out over the beautiful gulf.  It’s $1 daily entrance fee for spectators and $7 for fisherman, but that price buys you access to the pier all day.  Pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it!

The town of Navarre is only 15 minutes away from the campground, and has nearly all the conveniences you might need, including: fast food restaurants with Wi-Fi, Winn Dixie (grocery), Walmart, etc.  On the way to Navarre you’ll pass an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts  and a Laundry also.  There are plenty of gas stations around as well.

Some important things you’ll want to consider:

  • This campground is by reservation only.  It is patrolled several times a day, so if you try to squat on an unclaimed site, you will be asked to leave.  As a positive, you can know that, if you have a reservation, your site will be available for you.
    Note:  If you make a reservation, but end up not coming… please cancel your reservation.  Otherwise, you’re keeping others from enjoying the park. 
  • Besides being a “dry” campground in terms of potable water, it is also a “dry” campground in terms of alcohol.  No alcohol is permitted in sight (or technically, in possession).  Did I mention that the campground is patrolled regularly?  If caught, they can ask you to leave.
  • The reservation website promotes some of the campsites as waterfront.  They are more like “water-view” than waterfront, with a fenced walking area for all the campground guests between you and the bayshore.  Sites 1-8 are along the waterfront, but with a greenbelt that all campers share between you and the water.  Sites on the perimeter away from the bay (#9 & #10) have a little more privacy, but the greenery blocks the slight (but oh so needed) night breezes off the water.  The sites along the bay seem to get more of the breeze.  Here’s the (bayside) campground map: 

    Bayside Campground Map

  • There is a solar streetlight over the porta-pottie area.  If you happen to end up in site # (11), your camp will be VERY well lit at night.
  • The campground is surrounded (literally) by the nearby Air Force base.  While the landing strip is on the other side of the main road, it’s enough of a distance away that you don’t feel like the airplanes are landing on your head.  However, frequently (at night) you’ll hear them practicing their drills.  It sounds like fireworks.  Also, they have some sort of a rifle training range back in the woods.  You don’t see it, but you can sometimes hear them practicing drills at night.
  • There are restrictions about running generators on campers overnight.
  • It is Florida.  Be prepared for bugs, and lots of tiny little biting ants.

Lastly, DO NOT follow your GPS’s advice to find this campground.  It’ll try to take you off on unmaintained sand roads (on Air Force property) to parts unknown.  Stay on Wolf Choctaw Road until you get to Choctaw Field Road (you’ll have to turn, as the road is otherwise barricaded).  Stay on that road until you get to the campground. 

To make your reservation:

The People Along The Way: Kate Hibbs


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.


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!


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.


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. 


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.”


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!” 


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.


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.”


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.


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



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!


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).



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.


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!

How to Cook & Eat Crawfish


Crayfish are easy to catch and are a great source of protein!

It couldn’t be easier to cook up a tasty batch of crawfish.  You can pay a premium for them at a fish market, or just invest in a $25 crawfish trap and catch them yourself.

How to cook Crayfish:

Once you have a fresh batch, here’s the simplest way to prepare them:

  1. Place the crawfish in a large container and rinse them with fresh water until the water runs clear.


    Wash the crayfish in clean water until the water’s clear

  2. Fill the container with water, and remove any crayfish that are floating.  (Their meat goes bad quickly when uncooked, which is why crawfish and lobster are cooked live.)
    ***Do not cook and eat any crawfish that were dead before you cooked them***
    Note:  as long as you’re cooking a fresh harvest, this won’t be an issue for you.  It really only matters when you’ve purchased crawfish that may not be as fresh, or have let your harvest sit a bit. (We keep ours on frozen “icees” in a cooler, and (so far) they’ve been fine for up to 36 hours.)
  3. Select a cooking pot that’s large enough to hold your harvest, with some room to spare.
  4. Place 4 or so inches of water in the bottom of the pot, add a little salt, and bring the pot to a rapid boil.
  5. Dump the crawfish quickly into the pot, reduce heat to a low boil, and cover the pot.
  6. Depending on how large the crawfish are, let the pot simmer for 8-15 minutes.  (overcooking them can make them tough and chewy though)
  7. Drain the water, and serve with melted butter.  Enjoy!

How to Eat Crawfish

How to eat crawfish, is a different matter.  It does require a bit of effort, and is messy… but worth it.  And, as long as you consider it entertainment and part of the fun, you’ll have a good experience!

  1. Have plenty of napkins available, and a bucket or bowl to place the scraps in.
  2. Select a cooked crayfish.
  3. Remove the tail by grasping the tail near where it joins the body.  Then just gently pull.  It’ll separate pretty easily.
  4. To get the meat out of the tail, just peel the shell off.  Dip the meat in butter and enjoy!  (if the “mustard” bothers you, you can always wipe that off)
  5. If large enough, you can also crack the shell and remove the meat from the claws.
  6. Toss the rest and the shell scraps into the bucket.
  7. Pick up another, and repeat!

If you have extra, you can refrigerate or freeze the cleaned meat.  Use the crayfish meat instead of shrimp or lobster in your favorite recipes.  Or, try some other crawfish recipe ideas that you might enjoy:

Crayfish Nutritional Value

There’s some good and some bad about eating crayfish.  The worst is that a single serving makes up 40% of the average daily recommended cholesterol allowance.

But on the positive side, they are surprisingly low on fat (1% of the average daily allowance).  They’re also a good source of protein (a 3 oz serving has 15g of protein).  The meat also contains potassium, calcium, vitamin B6, iron, magnesium, and a high amount of vitamin B12.

How to Catch Crayfish


Freshly caught and cooked!  Crayfish are a tasty treat

Who would guess that crayfish would be not only fun to catch, but also make a tasty protein-rich meal!  This summer, we’ve definitely come to appreciate crayfish as a much neglected delicacy, and we’ll tell you exactly how we did it!

Truth be told, we didn’t even think about catching them until we browsed the Minnesota fishing regulations pamphlet.  As it turns out, with a fishing license, you can catch and keep up to 25 lbs of crayfish per person. (Picture 5 x 5lb bags of sugar.  That’s the weight of the max catch you’re allowed.  That’s a lot of crayfish!)  What’s more, the water quality in the lakes here on the boundary waters is some of the cleanest that you’ll find anywhere.  So it only made sense to try our hand at catching crayfish.

Here in the land of 10,000 lakes, we’re always around water, but you never really see crayfish, as they’re primarily nocturnal.  So, we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find them up here.  But, after listening to some swimmers concerned about something nipping at their toes in the water, we decided that our resort was as good a place as any to try.  And what do you know!  This area is loaded with crayfish!


Hunting? Trapping?  Fishing?  Whatever you want to call it, catching wild crayfish couldn’t be easier. We tried first with an old minnow trap that was here at the resort (see picture below).


A basic minnow trap works ok.

I’m sure you’ve seen the type.  Basically two long tubes of wire netting, held together by a hinge and a clip.  At each end is a small hole that allows the crayfish (minnows) to enter.  We did harvest a good catch after just one night, but we weren’t impressed with the trap.  It seemed too easy for the little critters to get out.



If you don’t want to get pinched – pick up the crayfish by the mid section (from behind)!


So, after some investigation, we settled on this trap (see below).  We ordered it on Amazon and had it in no-time.   We followed the same routine – same bait, same placement of the trap, same length of time the trap was out.  We’re pleased to see that this one yielded a better catch (and was easier to use).


South Bend Wire Crawfish Trap

How to Catch Crayfish:

  1. Select a slow moving (and reasonably clean) body of water that you can easily access.  You want the crayfish trap to be able to rest on the bottom.
  2. Add the bait your trap. We used fresh fish carcasses (after we’d filleted them for the meat).  I’ve read that you can also use other things (like the trimmings from raw chicken) to catch crayfish, but haven’t tried them.
  3. Close and fasten the trap shut.
  4. Make sure you have a rope or line securely attached to your trap, and that the line is long enough so that the crayfish trap can rest on the bottom of the stream, lake, etc.
  5. Holding on to the loose end of the rope, toss the trap into the water.  Make sure the trap is resting on the bottom.  (We learned this the hard way:  if your trap is resting on a rock instead of on the bottom, the crayfish won’t find it.)
  6. Tie the loose end of the rope to a something sturdy that’ll mark the place and keep the trap in place (or you can fasten it to a buoy that’ll float and mark the place of your trap).
  7. Let the trap sit overnight.
  8. Check it first thing the next morning by pulling the trap in.  Be sure to have a cooler or large bucket with a cover handy to put the crayfish in.  (You’ll also want a couple of frozen “icees” in the container, to slow the metabolism of the crayfish and keep them fresh until you cook them later in the day.)

Note:  It’s important to check the trap the next day, for a couple of reasons.  1) you want to harvest the crayfish before the bait runs out and they start looking for a way out of the trap. 2) unattended traps can sometimes “walk off.”  3) leaving a trap unattended is a bit thoughtless, as it can lead to injuring other animals.

Stay tuned for another post soon on how to cook and eat crayfish!

Gunflint Trail – Boundary Waters of MN


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


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


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


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.