To the North Shore, Gunflint Trail, BWCA and Back: A Cook County Workcation

I had a gig up in the Boundary Waters with Voyageur Canoe Outfitters planned six months ago. It was only a couple weeks before that, eight other locations signed onto shoots in Cook County.

We started our Gunflint Trail trip in Duluth with dinner at OMC.

I kind of splurged. You know I had to get my mind and body ready for the work trip.


We stayed the night at Blake and Daniel's house, but Blake was off backpacking in Canada.

We ended up at the Rustic Inn Cafe just north of Two Harbors. Well, that's after I added another gig after receiving a phone call. This year's become my most succesful year yet as a photographer.

We were too late for breakfast, but the food was still good.

You had the option of fries or tator tots. I haven't had tator tots in a long time, it seemed like a good idea.

I didn't hear her and also ordered the tots. They were really good, but I suppose we could've ordered to different taters.

9 out of 10. Would definitely recommend.

Scott had some work to do at Sugar Loaf Cove. The kids and I played down by the water while we waited. I had never noticed this place before, even though we've driven by it many times.


It's got to be one of the best less traveled beaches in all of Minnesota and especially along the North Shore.

After this job I did another gig at an outfitters and then we made our way up the shore and up the Gunflint a bit.

We found a campsite at the Superior National Forest at the Kimball Lake Campground. I was not expecting the North Shore/Grand Marais to still be so busy this time of year. Every state park campsite and resort from Duluth to Canada was full. I was worried we weren't going to find a place to stay.

I figured that anything that was past Grand Marais would be open and turned out I was right. Negative Brookie over here just has to be more optimistic.

After we found our site, just a half hour later, the rest of the campground was full. 

I guess she had a point. In all honesty I was trying to find a place to stay through the tourism board that was helping me with this round of jobs. But nothing was available in Grand Marais proper.

We set out on exploring Kimball Lake once we got settled in.

Thanks to Meadow's wild berry field guide we discovered our new favorite berry, thimbleberries. Like a raspberry, but more delicate. Because of this they can't be grown commercially and are only grown wild in the northern part of the country. 

In Minnesota that's pretty much only along the North Shore and the Gunflint Trail.



The kids were ready for dinner.



But first we needed to get more berries.

The berries were every where.



We failed to fill our growler with beer, but it does work great to keep water cool.

Brooke had picked up some meals that you just have to boil in hot water from Costco.

We like to keep our camp meals easy. 

Meadow stuck to the grains and the berries we'd gathered.

Hey Theo.


Before bed we played some cards.

The next morning I woke up before sunrise to capture an Aerial 360 of the Best Western right on Lake Superior. I'm not a morning person, but for gigs I'll get up at inane hours.

We were all still asleep when he returned.

My next job was too soon to get a nap in. So, I went for a hike along the lake.

This lake is known for it's lake trout fishing. I didn't have a trout stamp, so I just had to look longingly at the boat and fishing gear.



I did manage to find some blueberries after mistaking another berry for that fruit.


The soft light is a thing of beauty, but the bugs were trying to bite through my sweater and pants. Other than this hike, the bugs were not much of a menace on our trip.

I tried my best to quietly cook my breakfast. I then went back to Grand Marais for two jobs and slowly made my way back up the trail. More than I was hoping, but it's a beautiful 20 minute drive.

Eventually he came back again for us and we all went to Grand Marais. It was super foggy by the lake.

Meadow was sure there were pirates on that ship.

Theo was loving throwing rocks in the water.






In order to kill some time we checked out another place I photographed: Lake Superior Trading Post. 

I knew we would be doing a lot of hiking on this trip so we picked up a wildflower field guide.

Grand Marais has sure grown on me over the years.



We decided to have lunch at Voyageur Brewing.

I thought it would be a nice way to thank Sue for helping me line up more jobs up here. She owns the brewery and the outfitters of the same name.

They also have great food to go with some of my favorite beers in Minnesota.

The kids loved their cheese and cracker plates.

Yesterday at Sawtooth Outfitters we picked up a Boundary Waters patch to add to Meadow's hiking backpack.

I wonder why they moved the Gunflint Trail entrance.

I was hoping to go back to LSTP to capture an outside shot.

It was still really foggy.



So we made our way to Artist's Point.


The whole scene was beautifully surreal.



Theo insists on walking by himself.

I mean, this is the perfect place to do that.

Identifying more berries. Plants that I always assumed were poisonous we were finding were actually edible.


The fog was finally starting to lift.



After exploring and picking up the shoot outside of the trading post we got some frozen custard. You know I can't say no to frozen custard.

It's in his blood.

We had spent too much time in town and it was starting to get dark so we opted to go out for dinner at Hungry Hippie Tacos.

For some reason this place reminded me of Alexanders Pizza in Eagle River.

As usual we ordered too much food.

Mine was a bit much. Next time I'll have to get one of the frybread tacos.

We woke up to rain and had to pack up camp.

Packing up a wet tent is the worst.




We had planned on eating breakfast at our camp site, but ended up going in the opposite direction of today's job and back to Grand Marais. Then we beelined it back up the Gunflint to Big Bear Lodge for my shoot. 

The kids and I wandered around the property while Scott worked. I'm digging this floating dock that they had.

Our next few days would be spent at our favorite resort, Loon Lake Lodge. The only cabin available was a one room cabin, but we didn't care.

Mac and cheese was of course on our menu.

The owners Andrea and Derek have two young boys and keep their toys out in front of the lodge. Meadow was happy to have a swing to play on.

Theo was happy to have a dock to precariously peer over.

We fished for a bit while Brooke did something.

I believe I was hanging out all our wet camping equipment.

We read last year that they were looking for a two people or a couple to work for the summer. That would be our dream job.

Our cabin was one room and we didn't have room in our car for the pack n play. I had to lay with Theo on the floor to get him to nap.

Meanwhile Meadow played with the boys.

And we found their friendly cat.

After Theo woke up we took a little walk while Meadow continued to play with the boys. We found wild raspberries on the side of the road.


Can you find Scott?

I'm sure you can't. It's uncanny.


Still on the swing.

She must have swung for hours over the two days we were here.

Apparently we can get rid of all her toys and just have a swing.

Then we made our next easy meal: broccoli and garlic pasta.

I had driven back a few miles to the only liquor store on the gunflint to pick up beers from two of the North Shore's best breweries.

And we were out of diapers.

Cheers!

I gotta say these days off were super relaxing.

The breakfast in the lodge is our favorite. We were looking forward to it since we arrived.


The shore lunch potatoes are the best breakfast food I've ever had.

Even Theo joined in to play.

There are kayaks and canoes that you can use during your stay. We figured we should probably take a test drive with Theo to see how he does. Sadly we lost his little Brewer's hat at some point.

We should've done some test runs long before this, but it was better than going out in the BWCA without any practice with Theo on board.

They can be so sweet together at times.

It was easy going on the way out, but on the way back things got pretty choppy.


Meadow entertained him, sometimes.


The kids were generally well behaved and enjoying the epic surroundings.

Theo did great at first and then he wanted to keep touching the water.



I guess the canoeing tuckered him out.

Scott and I took turns watching Theo in the cabin and swimming with Meadow down by the lake.

Meadow even took a rare photo of me.

As usual we swam while Meadow played on shore.


Derek made a new game with Meadow to throw the ball in the air and she kicks it while swinging.


She could not get enough of this swing.

Lunch time.

On our walk with Theo we kept seeing signs saying to watch for hikers. We thought we would keep going down the road to see where it would go.

Identifying plants along our way.


Wants to walk himself and also sit and take everything in.

Meadow had her magnifying glass out at a moments notice.

There are a lot fewer cabins on the lakes than in Three Lakes, but still quite a few along the gunflint trail. 

Next we need a mushroom field guide book.

Then we ran into part of the Border Route Trail.

Lots of berries out here. We also saw bear poop on the trail.

And little green bugs.


We could not stop eating thimbleberries.


Meadow and I played games while dinner was cooking.

Nachos are a go to meal on any trip where we have a kitchen.

While Brooke cleaned up, we went out to the dock for some fishing and sunset watching.


Loon Lake at its best.

Theo had to sleep with us while Meadow got an air mattress. Little dude sure takes up a lot of room.

It was pouring on our last morning at the lodge.

We left the lodge and headed to the end of the Gunflint to Voyageur Canoe Oufitters. After checking in we decided to go for a hike at Magnetic Rock.

Theo walked with me for a few minutes.

Sorry Theo, you're a little too slow.


This was turning out to be one of the most scenic hikes we'd ever went on.

We even had to cross a tiny waterfall/creek.


This was a really cool hike.


It only got better as we got higher up.



Meadow's camelback is big enough to keep the whole family hydrated.



 Theo insisted on walking again.




Christmas card photo.

Without snow? Yeah, right...

Theo walked for a bit before freaking out when we put him back in the Ergo.


And we made it to the Magnetic Rock.



Meadow found a slide.

I had to try it out myself.

The sun was lowering and we had to get back before dark.

Didn't see many wild animals, but we did run into a few grouse.

Large swaths of the forest along this part of the Gunflint had been burned down in 2007.  Eerie and beautiful.



On the way back to Voyageur Canoe Outfitters we passed by a lone fox.

Cauliflower tacos for dinner.

This year we stayed in the Paddler cabin at Voyageur. This one felt more appropriate for us. I felt like the Riverside Cabin we stayed in last year was too big for just us.

I had shot during the day and then we played the rest of the time.

The next morning we had a quick oatmeal breakfast.

I had read about a waterfall that was only accessible by trail.

Bridal Falls.

The directions to the trail weren't very clear. We accidentally drove into someones driveway. The owner was nice enough to take us to the trail entrance. He wasn't exactly sure how far it was, but we were up to the challenge.

This was another section of the Border Route Trail that is clearly not used as much. The trail was pretty overgrown and hard to follow in some places. We saw signs of bear and I thought for sure we would meet one.

She always think that.


The trail is maintained by volunteers. They clean it up in the spring and fall. It had gotten very overgrown over the summer.

Theo was being a naughty little guy.

We were surrounded by thick underbrush and the path was just visible enough.

I spy Canada.

There were so much berries.

Good thing, because we really didn't bring any snacks.

We took a small break. Scott forgot his phone in the car that had the map. I didn't get service so we had no idea how far we were.

Theo was not happy about not being able to walk.

We kept walking and walking; only seeing two hikers the whole time.

I kept thinking we had to be getting close.

Most of the plants along the trail were higher than Meadow. She kept getting full of these prickers.

These plants looked straight out of Dr. Suess.


With bears on my mind I kept thinking a burnt tree was a bear.

Ha.

At times the trail felt claustrophobic. I can only imagine how Meadow felt.


We were dumb and didn't pack any food. We had already been hiking over 2 hours and still no signs of the waterfall so we turned around.

Next time we'll have to come from the other entrance to the trail on Loon Lake.

Apparently it's a much better route. Oops.

Meadow did great. The total hike was almost 7 miles and she barely complained of being tired.

We were tired and starving. 

So we went back to the End of the Trail Cafe.

Oh, man, were these fries good.

The pizza made up for the waterfall we never quite saw.

The next morning we got our all you can eat pancake send off before paddling out.

Blake and Daniel were supposed to be here for this, but weren't able to come until later in the day.

After pancakes, I finished up shooting on the other side of the river.

Meadow contributed to the visitors journal in our cabin with a drawing of us hiking to Magnetic Rock.

Then Blake and Daniel showed up to join us on our trip.

This was before we had loaded up our packs onto the boats.


This was Blake and Daniels first time in the BWCA.

Brooke insists on taking this picture.

Hard to tell, but the sign for the entrance of the Boundary Waters is very old.

Typical face I like to make.


Brooke would luck out and be in the front of the boat the whole trip. These kids make me nervous on the deeper lakes. And Sag Lake is very deep.

Zissou was our navigator.




We were making good time and decided to explore an island.

But for some reason they wanted to get out on the rocky side of the island.

Up above was a palisade. Before I could get out Blake and Daniel were already to the top.

As you can see, I din't quite make it to the shore. My poor D810 and trusty 28 mm lens weren't going to be very useful the rest of the trip. Kids, don't get of canoe with expensive equipment on your shoulder.

I quickly came up with a plan to get my backup 360 rig. Blake and I would boat back, get the camera and then go on our merry way.

I was helping Theo when I heard a loud splash. I thought the canoe had turned over. When I saw Scott in the water, I was thinking, I really hope he doesn't have his camera on him. 

We boated to a vacant campsite and unloaded the smaller boat. Luckily we weren't too far into the Boundary Waters so it was easy for them to go back. 

While waiting for them to come back we made our lunch of mac and cheese with trail mix and beef jerky. There was even vegan jerky for Blake.

The guys ended up getting a tow from one of the Voyageur guys.

Now that Scott was nervous about having another accident, we would have no more photos while out on the water.

We arrived at our campsite on Gold Island just before the sunset.

Of course I insisted we were going the wrong way. It wasn't a great day for me. But this sunset meant things were looking up.

We had some gourmet meals on this trip.

Part of my pay included all of the outfitting including food. Yes, this whole trip wouldn't have happened without my gig for Explore Minnesota. 

For our dinner we had lasagna, corn on the cob and creme brule.

The next morning we kind of took our time getting out paddling.

Blake and Daniel had already started breakfast when us Tuska's rolled out of bed. We would be having french toast and sausages.

Do you have to be so close the rocky dropoff?

For diapers on this trip I did a lot of research on what to do. Bring regular diapers and carry the dirty ones around or find a compostable alternative. I picked up some g diapers on Facebook Marketplace. They have compostable inserts that after being torn up can go in the pit toilets.


Daniel and Blake were our go to chefs.


Zisszou was loving canoe life.


We would get used to cooking on the fire.

That's because we accidentally didn't pack quite enough camp fuel.


More, please!


There was also orange drink.

So much orange drink.


This island was great but we had to make our way to our next camp.

I guess this is the point that I should tell you our route. We started on the Gull River at VCO, headed up the river to Lake Saganaga, onto Red Rock Lake via the Red Rock Bay, paddle on through to Alpine Lake and across Seagull and Gull Lakes. Basically a big loop that took us all the way back to the Gull River and VCO.

We kept hearing stories about how the bugs are horrible up here. I guess we came at the end of bug season because there weren't very many at all.

Time to go.

Our first portage was pretty easy.

That was the last we'd see of big Sag Lake.

We stopped at another vacant campsite to break for lunch.

Red Rock Lake was more my cup of tea. I'm not a fan of the biggest lakes that can get disorienting.

We had ramen with cheese and crackers and fruit and granola bars.

The ramen was so good.

Did we mention the cheese and cracker were gigantic.

We had a bit longer of a portage next.

This one took us to Alpine Lake. The forest along the shores had been decimated by the 2007 fire.

Hey it's me.

Blake kept us on track. That was good since I had to keep Meadow and Theo from fisticuffs every so often.

Alpine Lake, where we planned on camping, was busy with weekenders. Our first three campsite choices were taken. We ended up racing with someone else to score our spot. I was getting nervous we weren't going to find a spot before dark.

It ended up being a near perfect campsite: a secluded bay with a sandy beach.


Each campsite had their own charms.


We had Minnesota Minestrone soup for dinner. Blake had a vegetarian version. As well as pita and hummus.

This meal took way too long to cook.

We had a hard time getting the water to boil.


We decided to save our dessert for breakfast on our last day.

Another issue we ran into was our gravity water filter. It was trickling instead of flowing freely. This night and into morning we were feeling a bit dehydrated.

With being out on the water most of the day and needing the water for cooking we didn't have much extra for drinking. When we come back I would definitely invest in a pump filter.

At least we didn't have to eat in the dark this night.

Everyone went to bed super early. I guess we did take way too long to get back on our boats at the island.

Scott stayed up to refill the water filter so we'd have enough in the morning.


The next morning we had pancakes and dried fruit.

We cleaned up camp and headed out again.

We decided on a route that went through two small portages instead of one long one. Sadly we left our full water jug at one of the portages.

On our last portage I must have stepped near a leech nest. My toes were covered with one giant leach and millions of baby leaches.

Brooke didn't notice until we were boating across Sea Gull Lake. Of course this had to happen on another large open lake.

I was getting blood everywhere.

We arrived at our next campsite much earlier this time in the afternoon.

We figured we were far enough for the day and could just chill the rest of the night.

Meadow and I climbed along the shore, up a cliff and then ran into Blake. This turned out to be a perfect place to stay rather than risk being out on choppy day.

We had a tiny island all to ourselves.

It was nice to have time to relax. The other days felt too rushed.

For lunch we had a wild rice salad and cookies.

Blake and I swam on the calm side of the island. The water was cold, but it was worth it.

For dinner we had Vegetarian Burrito Bowls, Tortillas, and Cheese Cake. Afterwards we watched the sunset on the other side of our camp.


Brooke even tried fishing. I did manage to catch a small pike off the shore. This was in addition to a measly smallmouth back on Red Rock. Need to go with a better fisherman I guess.

After our dessert breakfasts we packed up and headed back to Voyageur.

But first we had to stop at the palisade.

We were told there was a cool hike on one of the islands. Look at that view.

Wait until you see this sucker in 360.


Everyone was getting antsy and wanted to get back to VCO at this point. My models weren't exactly patient whenever I needed to shoot 360s. 

The island strewn northeastern corner of Sea Gull Lake was some of my favorite paddling.



I can't believe it took us this long to get out here. I definitely want to go back again.

Last year was a good first visit. We just paddled day trips. Now we've conquered a 4 day paddle. Next year...

I'd like to stay longer and stay at each campsite more than one night. The rushing to keep going felt a little stressful at times.


We unpacked our packs and loaded up our car. We drove back together to Grand Marais and shared a meal at Sven and Ole's.

This was our first time. It hit the spot.

We decided to continue celebrating our first BWCA journey with a stop at the Gunflint Tavern.


We sipping our drinks I happened to look at Daniel's shirt. Little sneak picked up this cool shirt while we were packing our car.


Blake and Daniel sure made our fist true BWCA experience perfect. And Zissou too.

The guys headed back to Duluth while we had plans to stay another night near Grand Marais.

We camped at Devil's Track Lake on our final night in Cook County.

We did some unsuccessful fishing along the shore.


And ate our last camp meal.


We explored the campsite and found some really sweet spots further down the lake.

After eating breakfast in Grand Marais, I photographed one last gig down in Lutsen and then we drove down to Duluth.

And took a little break at Brighton Beach.


Indeed, Meadow. We did love this trip.

But before we could call it a night we ate at Black Bear Casino. That buffet is damn good.

Blake was jealous we didn't wait for him.


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