The month of April is a thawing month for us. We change from winter to spring. Sometimes is takes a long time and other times is can go quickly. The first signs of spring come when the snow around the base of our trees starts to sink. Each tree will have a ring of slightly indented snow. The paved roads finally clear of ice and snow. The dirt roads clear of snow next. As the snow in the woods starts to melt, we get mini-rivers of water running across the side road. It melts during the day and then freezes during the night but progress is made every day. Just walking down the back road makes you realize that there is a freshness in the air. When the temperatures are in the high 30’s and 40’s, it feels like a heat wave. It’s funny how when those same temperatures occur in May, everyone is freezing cold.
As April gives way to May, all attention is centered on the lake ice. Creeks, rivers and small ponds have been opening. Now it is time for the major lakes to open up. By afternoon each day, the ice turns gray and then black. It will freeze at night and be white in the morning, but by afternoon it will be melting again. Six inches of spring ice is not as safe as six inches of new ice. In the spring there is no way to predict which ice is safe where. Locals just stay off.
In April the ice has broken free from the surrounding shore. The entire lake is one large floating block of ice. By late April the cracks between shore and ice grow wider. Then the flowing water from the Cross River starts to eat into the ice. Eventually there will be enough open water at the west end of the lake for the wind to start pushing the ice flow around. With a gentle wind things start to move quickly. If you go down to the shoreline, you can hear the ice tinkle as it moves back and forth. Eventually more and more of the lake is open until the day comes that the entire flow is driven down to the east end of the lake where it runs up on shore and melts immediately. On Gunflint Lake this last push only occurs with a northwest wind. Otherwise the rotten ice will just sit on the lake and wait for the wind.
So what is there to do for recreation during this period? The main activity is hiking. As the snow and ice go, there is a sense of the country re-awakening. Each day’s hike brings you a new sign of spring. Chipmunks appear. By early May the bears start to come out. As the water warms to 50 degrees, walleyes move into their spawning areas. Seagulls and loons and mallards appear. Golden eye and canvasback ducks pass through on their way further north. Even before the ice completely goes out, you might be the lucky one to spot the return of the first bald eagle. In early May the horses return to the stables. It’s like welcoming home old friends. Evenings are the time to loosen up sore muscles in the hot tub and enjoy a good book before the fireplace.
By the second week in May, everyone is getting the itch for the opening of the fishing season. Most of the locals have long since eaten through their supply of frozen fish and are eager for a FRESH fish dinner. The resorts are busy putting out docks, boats and new motors. The first order of live bait comes in. It’s like we are holding our breath waiting for that magic moment.
Guests during this period have a chance to enjoy a quiet paddle on the lake. Hearing the loons call again is a great treat for everyone. The hiking trails have dried out and are ready for exploration. A boat ride and short hike to Bridal Falls shows the water cascading with its normal spring rush. The newly arrived horses are ready for a ride. It’s fun to check each day to see what new gifts have arrived in the store. Also there are lots of new menu items to try in the dining room.
Then, almost before we know, it’s time to go fishing. Each morning anxious fisherman crowd the dining room. Guides wait at the dock for their parties. Things quiet down when the last boat leaves the dock. By late afternoon, boats come back to proudly show off their day’s catch. At dinner in the dining room and afterwards in the main lodge, fish stories of the day will be compared. Bruce loves to fish lake trout in the early spring and is happy to share his secret techniques and baits with you.
Late May brings leaves. It’s hard for those who live south of us to realize how late our leaves come. One day we will have a soft gentle rain. Afterwards you can look across the late and see the first green fuzzy of leaves. Looking down on the ground shows green popping up everywhere. But it is still not safe to plant flowers and vegetables. That has to wait until the first of June.
Just as it is safe to plant flowers the first of June, so it is the time when wild flowers burst upon us. Daisies and buttercups, Indian paintbrush and hawkweed open up along every road. Fern fiddleheads are pushing up. Marsh marigolds brighten every swamp with their bright yellow flowers. Tiny wild strawberry blossoms give a promise of wild berries to come. Wildflowers in the woods are complemented by flowers on the grounds of the lodge. You will see Bruce and Sue out with many staff filling in our gardens with annuals, perennials, and shrubs.
As spring continues, more and more activities center around our lakes. Of course, fishing is great. The main species are walleye, lake trout, northern, and smallmouth bass. Many guests choose to go out with guides, while others go out on their own. Box lunches are available from the kitchen if you are planning on staying out all day.
Day canoe trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are another option for exploring the nearby lakes. You can bring a fishing pole along or just plan on exploring. There are lots of animals living around the lakes. If you are quiet and pay attention, you can be rewarded by seeing beaver, otter, deer, moose, loon, etc. Just seeing the magnificent animals in their natural settings will make your whole trip. A very lucky few may see an eagle dive down from the sky to catch a fish. Others will hear the slap of a beaver’s tail upon the water. Otter are very inquisitive and will often swim and dive very close to your canoe. Motionless blue heron will stand in the shallow waters watching you go by.
In the summer months around the main lodge there are many activities to keep you busy. An afternoon massage will take the kinks out of your body. Children find endless entertainment playing at the small sand beach. I have never seen a child who tires of throwing rocks into the water. There is corn and sunflower seeds to feed the ducks and birds either at the dock or right outside your cabin window. As the aquatic plants grow, nearby ponds will have moose coming in to feed. The hiking trails in the back basin and along the Gunflint Trail offer a chance to stretch your legs. Another activity to consider is a horseback ride. There are one-hour rides, breakfast rides, half-day rides, and dinner rides. Starting the first of June the staff naturalists will organize activities for the entire family.
We opened Minnesota’s first canopy tour recently, with 8 zips taking you through the tree tops from platform to platform. Each small group is led to 2 sky guides and the trip takes about 2 1/2 hours. It is an awesome way to see the forest from a different perspective, and the whole trip is a thrill. The course opens in mid May and operates into late October.
Late June brings us rushing into summer. Families find this a particularly fun time to be in the woods. The lakes are warm enough for swimming. In addition to building sand castle, there are several small kayaks on the waterfront that are just perfect for children to try. Mom and Dad may want to load the whole family into a boat and take off for one of the other beaches located around the lake. If it is a really BIG group, the pontoon boat works well.
Wildflowers are out in full bloom now. Our lupines line the roads with their purple and pink spires. Along the shoreline are found wild blue flag iris. On the floor of the forest the bunch berries are showing their white flowers. It is a great time for those who enjoy wild flowers to talk a hike.
Fishing is great for smallmouth bass at the end of June. These fish really put up a fight. For young children there is nothing more exciting than tangling with their first bass. They can go out with the family or go out with one of our staff on the Fishing Fun half day trip. Either way, our lakes are the best for introducing young children to fishing.
We don’t want to forget canoeing on warm summer days. Going north by canoe out of Magnetic Lake offers some beautiful waterfalls and rapids. There are several places for fun swimming and picnicking. Ham Lake offers another great spot for a day canoe trip. Day trips are the first start to taking your family on an overnight canoe trip. Everyone gets a chance to experience paddling and portaging.
By the middle of June, the wild strawberries are ready for picking. These tiny, tiny berries make the best jam. Strawberries are quickly followed by blueberries and raspberries. The naturalists include opportunities to pick these beauties. Of course, the Kerfoot family has their “secret” spots they are willing to share with you. Many of them are easy to get to. Get some pails from the kitchen and take off. Children are especially good eaters when picking wild berries. Usually there are enough to bring back to put on cereal or ice cream the next day. Sue always says that when she sits down to her first big bowl of wild raspberries (after seeing 1 cup sold in the grocery store for $3.00), she knows that she is a rich person.
July and August are filled with warm, lazy summer days. Our guests are happy to have no schedule in their lives. It’s time for Mom to sit by the beach and watch the kids play. Everyone will have fun getting to know other guests at the beach. Dad may go fishing alone or with a guide. The joy of just being on the lake is as great as catching fish. On these warm days the water seems to beckon us all. Mallards are around in case you feel the urge to put out some corn. The staff has a night crawler or two for the kids to us in trying for some of those fish lurking under the dock. After dinner, the dock is a perfect place to watch the glowing sun sink into the west.
Unofficially, fall starts at Gunflint right after Labor Day. Kids are back in school so most of our guests are adults. They are all here for that last chance of the year to enjoy just being in the woods. Fall color starts early as the wildflowers along the road turn and the maples burst into red. As the fall moves one will see the yellows come out in poplar, birch, ash, and tamarack. Eventually our forest is a riot of yellows and reds against the constant background of green pines. Some days it almost takes your breath away. Because of her walks with Tucker, Eva will be able to tell you where the color is at its best. On one of these calm sunny days, you may want to paddle down into one of Gunflint’s bays to absorb the surrounding color. If you are really lucky, a loon will glide by your canoe and call hello to you.
By middle September the lake trout are starting to come up into cooling shallow waters. They are really hungry. For fishermen, it’s hard to not catch your limit. On a still, sunny day you can look over the edge of the boat and almost see the fish approaching your bait. Bruce will probably be in the first boat out on days like that. Be sure to ask him where the hot spots are. You can also fish some nearby lakes by going out with one of our guides.
Days are starting to get shorter and nights are cooler. The fireplace in your cabin really feels great each night. If it’s a rainy day, curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book is pure luxury. Life is too busy at home to even think of such a thing.
By the middle of September, the partridge season opens. Our forest has a lot of underbrush so it takes some skill to spot these chicken-size birds. Hunting dogs help. The reward is a great fall dinner of baked partridge. Bruce has a favorite meal of partridge with mushroom gravy, wild rice, and baked acorn squash. Just talking about it makes his mouth water.
In early October we have our moose calling packages. Our guides are ready to take you out to call in some of our big moose. Have your cameras ready because you never know what might happen. One day Bruce was out with some guests trying to call in a moose in the distance. They were out of the car and walking towards their moose when there was some noise behind them. Another moose had come up and was closer to the car than they were. In his best parental voice, Bruce told everyone to get to the car NOW. Then they sat inside and watched this bull amble off. These moose calling adventures are your chance to see the most majestic animal of our woods.
Eventually, the leaves are gone and the forest is bare. On hikes you can see through the woods for much longer distances. The crisp air gives you energy to wander all over. During your walk, you may come across a team of staff working on brushing the cross country ski trails for the upcoming season. Or you may see Lee mowing the trails. One day you may be hiking when some familiar white flakes start coming down. Hiking in the woods during the first snowfall is wonderful. You almost want to stick your tongue out to catch a few flakes. Our first snowfall usually comes in mid-October but it quickly melts. We will not get snow that stays until just before Thanksgiving.
Another Gunflint tradition in the fall is our work weekends. Many of our guests live in condos or apartments. They no long have to rake leaves or put up firewood. So we offer them the chance to do some of these chores again. In addition to the constant fall chores, we usually have a project that leaves a lasting improvement to the grounds. A few years ago guests worked with Bruce to add rock walls around Cabins #5 and #6. For years to come, they will return to Gunflint to see the wall they helped build.
The first of December is when winter really starts to come at Gunflint. We usually have several inches of snow on the ground. Sometimes it’s enough to start cross country skiing and sometimes we wait a bit longer. The fresh white snow looks beautiful on our trees and bushes.
Around the 10 th to the 15 th of December Gunflint Lake will freeze over. For weeks we have been watching it steam off excess warmth on cold mornings. The bays will freeze over earlier. Little stretches of ice will creep out from shore. Then one morning we wake up to a lake covered with ice. Or perhaps we can watch the lake cover with ice throughout a cold calm day. It is quite a transformation to see. The ice is not safe to walk on until there are several inches of solid blue ice. Sometimes this happens over a week of very cold nights. On rare occasions we have no snow during this period. The ice is smooth as a skating rink. In fact, you can strap on your skates and go all over the lake but this only happens rarely.
Another sign of winter is the extra exhuberance of the sled dogs. Both dogs and mushers have to get themselves in shape for a winter of running. After some early training, staff and guests sign up for those first rides. Guests can’t believe how excited the dogs are to get out and run. Mushers keep adjusting the teams to get the dogs correctly paired up. It’s a fun time. The teams will be giving rides to guests well into March. Occasionally we even offer rides on lake. The most exciting lake ride we had occurred on a foggy morning. As the team pulled through the fog on the north side of the lake, a pair of wolves glided silently in front of the sled. It was over almost before anyone realized what had happened.
The first weekends in December are also our holiday decorating weekends. We like to dress the lodge up for the upcoming season. There are lights to hang, wreaths to make, and trees to decorate. Many guests have helped decorate for years and it has become part of their holiday tradition.
About now we will have enough snow to open the cross country ski trails. The piston-bully groomer has rolled a base and set a track. You could be the first party on the trail for this year’s ski season. For those who love to ski, there is nothing better than the first ski of the year and Gunflint it the perfect setting to do it in. We will have great skiing through the end of March. There are lots of trails and we never have big crowds on them. It is so quiet that you can hear your skiis swishing across the packed trail. This is perfect country for cross country skiing.
Winter also brings the chance for a little ice fishing. On Gunflint that means fresh lake trout for dinner. Some days the lake is warm and sunny for your fishing trip. You better remember to put on your suntan lotion or you will come back with a burned face. There is nothing better than watching your bobber go down as a trout hits it. As you reel in, you will start thinking about how good the fish will taste for dinner.
The frozen lake offers opportunities we don’t have in the summer. On many days you can just look across and see wolves on it. Last January some wolves chased deer across the lake and right up to the lodge. The wolves didn’t stop until they reached the dock. On a clear still night, you want to take a walk out onto the frozen lake. Looking up you will see a display of stars unlike anything you have every seen before.
The Kerfoot family has found ways for you to observe animals throughout the winter. There is a tub of corn for deer feed in the lodge entryway, and is available for you to put outside your cabin window. Throughout the day you will encounter deer walking around the cabins. Some deer are so tame that guests have been able to feed them out of their hands. The scattered corn also brings in squirrels.
We don’t forget the birds during the winter. Our feeders are loaded with sunflower seeds. There are seeds for you to put out too. On cold winter days there is a steady stream of fluffy birds coming in for food.
Winter walks down the back road are great for a little exercise. All along you will see deer feeding. Another form of walking in the woods is offered by a pair of snowshoes. Snowshoes are the traditional form of transportation for winter walkers. They can take you far into the woods through the deepest snow. It’s just like walking so you have plenty of time to look around and see what’s happening in the woods. Unlike skiing, you can easily stop anytime to watch a deer scamper off.
Although Gunflint does not have a lot of snowmobilers, we have found that many of our guests would like to try snowmobiling. So we have a couple machines available and some trails to follow. It can be great fun to go down to the east end of the lake or to go down to Trail Center for some hot chocolate. Actually the advent of snowmobiling in the sixties is what reminded people of Minnesota that there is lots to do in the woods during the winter no matter how you choose to explore.
As you can see, no matter what season you visit Gunflint, there is lots to do. Many things are unique to one season while others are available throughout the year. One thing we can promise you is comfortable cabins, great meals, and friendly service. As they have for generations, the Kerfoot family is here to welcome you to your home in the woods.