Gunflint Trail Canoe Races

July 11, 2019

The Gunflint Trail is home to a number of annual events. There’s the Trout Derby in the winter, berry picking contests in the summer and the opening day of the fishing and hunting seasons in the spring and fall, respectively. Also situated on this annual “must-do list” are the Gunflint Canoe Races. The races are held each July right here at Gunflint Lodge. And when people talk about canoe races on the Gunflint Trail, they often mention a spirited activity known simply as gunnel-pumping.

For those who have never heard of this fantastic endeavor, gunnel pumping involves standing on a canoe and trying to move it forward–imagine a series of quick squats done while balanced on the edge of a moving canoe. (quick fact: also known as gunwales, the gunnels are the top edges of a canoe’s walls/hull.) There are no paddles involved, with balance being the key to success. In that sense, it’s not brute strength or an expensive canoe that will bring home the gold in this race. In gunnel-pumping, it’s all about balance and gravity.

This year’s canoe races will take place on Wednesday, July 17 at Gunflint Lodge. The event, which runs from 4:30 to approximately 7:30 p.m., features a silent auction, food, raffle, and the legendary canoe races. Proceeds from the event go to the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department.

Looking back in our Gunflint archives, this legendary event started in the mid-1970s. Each summer the event starts with long-distance races, followed by sprints, and then conclude with the gunnel-pumping races. In addition to the many spectators who travel from all over the country for the races, it’s a chance for summer staff at many of the Trail’s resorts and outfitters to get together, have some fun and participate in friendly competition.

If you want to participate in the races, just head to Gunflint Lodge around 4:30 July 17. No need to sign up in advance, or even to bring your own canoe or paddles. You can sign up, form teams, and participate right on the spot! Canoes and gear are provided, so grab a friend, grab a canoe, and hit the water!

This year, following the water-based events, Trail-based band The Sprigs will be playing live music for a Trail Dance (Gunflint’s version of a summertime street dance). So stop by, eat some great food, watch or participate in the races, and stick around to dance to the great live music!

The canoe races are a fundraiser for a great cause, as our local volunteer fire department is a vital asset for the Trail. Combine that with the festive spirit of competition and the canoe races are a can’t miss this summer on the Gunflint Trail!