Cook County Blog

Paddle and Play on the Gunflint Trail

Posted by Lily Nelson-Pedersen on 5/20/19 5:16 PM

Wet Your Paddle Blog

Canoeing is a sport that can be intimidating. There are rules about boats, PFD’s, and a lot of flak from experts on how to hold your paddle correctly. But once you know what you’re doing, padding through the BWCAW can be one of the most memorable and influential experiences of your life. To get you started, or “Wet Your Paddle”, Gunflint Trail Outfitters have banded together to offer newbies a chance to try an hour of paddling for free. AND they’ll even give you one of those experts I talked about earlier to teach you how to do it! This program, called Wet Your Paddle, is an incredible deal and a great way to spend a few hours on your annual family vacation learning something new, together! To prepare you for your first Wet Your Paddle adventure, here is some more information on canoeing, the BWCAW, and how to strut your stuff in the backcountry.


The Gunflint Trail is a 57-mile paved highway and National Scenic Byway that starts in Grand Marais, MN. The road ends on the Shore of Saganaga Lake, on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or BWCAW for short. The BWCAW is made up of over 1,000,000-acres of some of the most breathtaking backcountry you can imagine. It is a pristine example of the boreal forest, a sanctuary for wilderness creatures and those humans among us who aren’t afraid to let a mosquito or two get in the way of our play time. This wilderness area is unique and wonderful in so many ways, but the truly outstanding part about the BWCAW is that there is over 1200 miles of canoe routes. It’s a paddler’s playground.

If you’re interested in learning more about the BWCA, book a stay on the Gunflint June 8th & 9th for the BWCA Expo--two days of speakers, demonstrations and all things canoe country.


A paddler from in our offices is Executive Director of Visit Cook County, Linda Jurek. She has a few words for us on how to feel like an expert and get ready for your first adventure in a canoe. Here’s her advice:

I once paddled the boundary waters with a “newbie” who did not understand the quiet movement of the paddle through the water. Instead the silence was broken with each stroke as she clunked her paddle on the side of the canoe. The correct way to hold a paddle is with your top hand holding a grip on the paddle; placing your fingers on the top of the grip with your thumb wrapped around the shaft. The back of your hand faces you. The other hand should be as close the water with each stroke as possible without getting wet… and by all means, not clunking the side of the canoe!


The Answer: yes, wear one. Personal Floatation Devices (PFD’s) are important! No canoer, kayaker, paddle boarder, or fisher-person should be without one. Think of it like you do with the seatbelt in your car--you might be fine without one, buy why take the risk? And in fact, just like wearing your seatbelt, it’s against Minnesota state law to be in a boat without one. Here’s some great info from the DNR on all kinds of PFD’s. Remember that kids under 10 must be wearing their PFD, while adults get a little more slack--PFD’s only must be within reach to meet the requirements of the law…. However, we still recommend that everyone wear one to make sure that their Gunflint Trail adventure is safe and fun. Help us help you ensure your vacation memories don’t involve any of our emergency services.

Speaking of emergency services and canoeing, come to the Gunflint Trail Canoe Races! The canoe races are an annual fundraiser for the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS. July 17th, starting at 5 pm at Gunflint Lodge, there’s food, beer, auctions, and of course: the races. Over 15 different races for all ages and abilities, register on site or just come to help raise money for a worthy cause and cheer on your favorite resort team. Winners receive bragging rights. Never to be forgotten, Linda Jurek, Executive Director of Visit Cook County, took a dunk in the lake last year when she was participating in the races. Watch for that glorious moment, and her graceful recovery and competitive spirit afterward, on this awesome clip about the Canoe Races from PBS live at the event:




The best way to experience the wild beauty of the BWCA is by canoe, and the first step to learning how to canoe is to Wet Your Paddle. Opportunities to participate in this program are occurring almost daily at different resorts and outfitters on the Gunflint Trail. You sign up with the resort or outfitter of your choice and they give you a canoe for free for an hour! If the thought of a free hour of canoe rental isn’t enough to get you up the trail for this program, resorts and outfitters have even sweetened this deal with offering to provide free instruction to those who want a lesson from an expert. The Wet Your Paddle program starts June 17th and lasts through July 20th, 2019. And I mean, it’s free (yes, again, seriously….FREE) so what’s to lose?? Remember reservations are required, so find full details and contact information to all of the participating outfitters linked below. Don’t be shy--it’s time to give this canoeing thing a try!


10 - 11 am:                  Bearskin Lodge & Outfitters | 124 E Bearskin Rd, Grand Marais, MN 55604 | (218) 388-2292

11 am - 12 pm:          Nor’Wester Lodge & Canoe Outfitters | 7778 Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais, MN 55604 | (218) 388-2252

1 - 2 pm:                      Voyageur Canoe Outfitters | 189 Saganaga lake Trail, Grand Marais, MN 55604 | (218) 388-2224


10 - 11 am:                   Trout Lake Resort | 789 Trout Lake Rd, Grand Marais, MN 55604 | (218) 387-1330


11 am - 12 pm:           Rockwood Lodge | 50 Rockwood Rd., Grand Marais, MN 55604 | (218) 388-2242


1 - 2 pm:                       Hungry Jack Outfitters | 318 South Hungry Jack Road, Grand Marais, MN 55604 | (218) 388-2275

Fridays & Saturdays:

11 am - 12 pm:           Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters | 143 South Gunflint Lake, Grand Marais, MN 55604 | (218) 388-2296




Topics: Gunflint Trail, Summer, Kids & Family, Outdoors, BWCAW