Cook County Blog

Winter Trail Conditions

Posted by Visit Cook County MN on 12/23/20 3:44 PM

Winter in Cook County is like no other.  A plethora of outdoor adventures await those who are willing to bundle up and get outside.  Throughout the winter, we'll be updating this page weekly with the latest trail conditions. 


Trail Report for 3/12/2021

With 4"-8" of new snow this week (depending on where you are), winter pursuits in Cook County will continue awhile longer!   Remember, conditions are better inland, away from Lake Superior. 

Fat Tire Biking is a growing winter sport throughout the mid-west, and there are now opportunities to experience it on parts of the Norpine Trail System in Lutsen and Pincushion Trail System near Grand Marais.

Snowshoeing is a great way to enjoy winter’s magic, and Cook County has dozens of trails.  Check out “Our Favorite 12 Snowshoe Trails in Cook County.”

Cross country skiers are enjoying Cook County’s more than 400 km of groomed trails, including trail systems in the Lutsen/Tofte area, near Grand Marais, and on the Gunflint Trail.  

Cook County has more than 450 miles of trails. Check out the Snowmobile Trail Conditions updates on the Visit Cook County website. 

Snowmobile Trail Conditions: Cook County

Groomer’s Reports 

North Shore State Trail - March 11:  The trail was last groomed as of Saturday 3/6 from Alger to Gunflint. Duluth to Alger will not be groomed due to lack of snow. Two Harbors to Grand Marais is scheduled to be groomed Thursday night (3/11). Depending on conditions it may be groomed Friday and Saturday night too. Use caution when riding and watch for water flowing across the trail, downed trees and brush on the trail from the heavy wet snow from Wednesday night's storm. Trail base 0"-4".  Conditions fair to poor.  Expect spring riding conditions.

Photo courtesy Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club

Gunflint Trail system

March 11:  We received snowfall overnight. A few inches in the areas closer to town, with reports of 6-8” in the mid trail/upper trail area. Groomers will be rolling! Grooming Update: Late tonight/early AM the G trail, X trail, and mid trail will be groomed. The Meridian Road (part of G trail south of Devil's Track Lake) was plowed for a logging operation. Due to recent warm temps, it is down to dirt. We suggest riders do not take the G trail from town to the Devil's Track area. We have maps located at the Visit Cook County visitor center and gas stations with other trail options on them. (this ONLY affects the portion of the G trail that is on the Meridian Road). OR another option/recommendation for riders is to trailer up to Skyport Lodge on Devil's Track Lake and access the trails from there.

Saturday, March 13 is the Hungry Jack Lodge drag races @ Noon

Track preparation started yesterday & is continually being worked on today. We’ve got some colder temps thankfully to help set up that race track. 
10:30am-11:30am registration is outside at the race track for riders. See ladies at the picnic table out on ice near track! 
Strict cut off time of 11:30am to enter in for racing — so come early! 
$20 per class to enter & a one time ($5 bib fee, returns back to you when u turn in your bib back to us!)
Snow drags (unless she melts) - It is Double elimination racing.
Classes: 600, 700, 800, 850, improved, open, & outlaw.

Grand Portage Lodge & Casino - March 12: Trail base 5"-7". Fair to good riding conditions on over 100 miles of well-groomed trails.  Better conditions inland from Lake Superior. Onsite bar/restaurant. Free to ride our trails!  Please inquire at the front desk for maps, current trail conditions, and directions to parking lot (inland) on Mineral Center Road.                                                              


Winter Biking Trail Conditions: Cook County

Excellent riding conditions on the groomed fat tire bike trails of the  Norpine Trail System.

The Pincushion Trail System also offers groomed fat bike trails.

*Any time temperatures are above 30 degrees, consider groomed trails closed.*

Also, check out the unplowed sections of various county roads - many have been packed by snowmobiles and are rideable - for example, the Bally Creek Road going south from the Eagle Mountain Trailhead from the Grade, also the last few miles of the Ball Club Road to Ball Club Lake.  


Cross Country Skiing Trail Conditions - By Trail System

The Pincushion Mountain Trail System
The Pincushion Mountain Trail System is a 25 kilometer silent sport trail system perched high
above Lake Superior, 2 miles north of Grand Marais, Minnesota. Because of its varied terrain,
excellent trail design and spectacular vistas of Lake Superior and Devil Track River canyon, this
trail system is enjoyed by thousands annually for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking,
running and mountain biking. With annual average snowfall of 110", warming chalet, lighted
trails, and Pisten Bully grooming for classic and skate skiing, Pincushion Mountain is a great
Nordic skiing destination!

Groomer’s Report – March 6:  All trails were groomed on Friday night (March 5) for skating and classic style skiing. Conditions are excellent. (Timothy Lederle, North Superior Ski & Run Club)

*Note that the only ski trail where dogs are allowed is the East Overlook Trail. Dogs are also allowed on the Superior Hiking Trail section which can be snowshoed or hiked out to the Pincushion Overlook and back.

Firsthand Trail Reports: 6: I skied three of the major trail systems in NE Minnesota today and found Pincushion to be the only one that had fresh grooming. Although the sun was shining brightly and the temperature just above freezing, the snow was fast, soft and not too wet. Kudos go to groomer Bill for keeping the trails in great shape. (Chas Curry)

Firsthand Trail Reports: 3: Great day at Pincushion. Temps stayed below freezing. About an inch of snow on top of a firm deck made for great glide. Tracks were well formed throughout. Skied all trails and they were all fantastic, completely covered. Spring is still a few days away! (Tim Nelson)

Firsthand Trail Reports: March 3: Just finished a wonderful classic 10k ski. The trails are excellent today for classic style. It was fast, but not scary fast. I was able to stay in the tracks on all curves. Where the curve was too sharp to have a track my edges gave me perfect control. Get out today or tomorrow before the warm weather arrives. (Bill Hansen)


George Washington Pines Winter Recreation Trail

Groomer’s Report – Feb 23: The snow and temperatures were very favorable for grooming this morning. The groomer was able to roll the snow, and the tracks set up well. Please remember to practice good trail etiquette (picking up after your dog and being mindful of other users).  (Tammy Cefalu, Lead Trails Technician, Recreation & Wilderness, U.S. Forest Service, Superior National Forest, Gunflint District)

George Washington Pines Winter Recreation Trail is a relatively short 3.3 km trail located fairly close to Grand Marais, only 6 miles up the Gunflint Trail. It passes through a beautiful grove of pines, the George Washington Memorial Pine Plantation. The plantation was established when 13 boys from the Grand Marais Boy Scout Troop #67 planted 32 acres of land with 14,570 Norway Pine and 7,500 White Pine in 1932 after a 1927 fire. More recently, in the summer of 2010, some of the understory was cleared to reduce hazardous fuels and create a better wildfire situation. The trail is shared between cross country skiers, snowshoers, and people using dogs for skijoring. People also might be simply hiking or walking their dog on the trail. Please respect other users by not fouling groomed ski tracks and by alerting dog users of your presence so as not to spook dogs by rapidly passing them on skis. Encourage your dog to use off trail areas for potty stops, but if the trail is used, pick up any dog droppings, and try to repair tracks melted out by dog piles. This is an easy trail, suitable for beginning skiers or for people looking for an easy access quick ski close to town. Dog owners need to clean-up after their pets.

Mushing/Skijoring: While traditional dogsleds do not work well on the short George Washington Pines Trail, it is open for skijoring where a harnessed dog pulls a person on cross country skis. Help to make the mix of activities on this trail work together. If you are skijoring, please remove all dog droppings from the trail and repair holes melted in the trail from dog leavings. If you are skiing, alert skijorers to your presence to avoid spooking dogs. Regardless of what you are participating in, if you find dog leavings or other litter left by careless other people, do your part and clean it up.

Skiing/Snowshoeing: Both skiers and snowshoers are welcome on the George Washington Pines Trail. The trail is groomed for classic skiing on one side and snowshoeing or skate skiing on the other. Please respect other users by not snowshoeing on groomed ski tracks.

No Ski Pass required to use the trail system at George Washington Pines.


The Central Gunflint Ski Trail System
The Central Gunflint Ski Trail System is located approximately halfway up the Gunflint Trail. The
system is made up of 47 km of intertwined loops groomed for classic skiing with some areas for
skate skiing. Trails range from easy to difficult. These trails are in a beautiful location with
many scenic views of lakes and woodlands. Parts are also within the area of the 2007 Ham Lake
fire, so you will be able to visit a recovering forest thick with the low vegetation preferred by
moose, snowshoe hare, and other animals.

Groomer’s Report – March 11: Four inches of new snow overnight. Groomed 80% of the trail system this morning. Trails look great. Trails that had burned through do have some rocks present so use B-Ski's on those (Ridge Run for instance). Aspen Lake crossing and Skijoring Trail are not groomed due to slush. Flour Lake crossing is fine. Its a wet snow but trails groomed up awesome. (Zach Baumann, Golden Eagle Lodge)

Firsthand Trail Reports: 11: King Winter has returned to the Gunflint Trail! We got 5" of snow last night and the good folks at Golden Eagle and Bearskin Lodges were out early grooming all, or nearly all, of the trails. I skied from Golden Eagle across Flour Lake to Ridge Run and Beaver Dam. Conditions were very good, with fresh but firm corduroy and pristine new tracks set. I will say that if your best skis are precious then you should leave them behind as there are spots where dirt and debris have floated to the surface, and maybe the odd rock poking through. Flour Lake also has some slush. But c'mon, this snow is such a gift! Ninety- five percent, or more, of the trails I skied were in excellent condition. (Bob Amis)

Firsthand Trail Reports: 6: Fabulous spring skiing at Bearskin lodge. Early morning and later morning classic ski. Perfect klister conditions. 10 degrees this morning and warming to 32 at noon. This is such a perfect end of the season get away, the north woods. I’ll be on my skins this afternoon. (Diane Pattridge)

Firsthand Trail Reports: 5: Gorgeous late morning on the way to the Poplar Trail. 30 degrees and warming. Great track. Skating decent. Love the pine trees and poplars. (Diane Pattridge)

For Central Gunflint Trail Ski Trail grooming information, specific trail conditions, and
information about purchasing a ski pass for this trail system, contact Bearskin Lodge at 800-338-4170, or Golden Eagle Lodge at 800-346-2203.

The Upper Gunflint Trail Ski Trail System
The Upper Gunflint Ski Trails are a 47 km system of loops near the end of the Gunflint Trail.
Difficulty varies from easy to moderately difficult.

Groomer’s Report – March 7: Hello! This will be the last ski report of the year. Our trails are still skiable, but the groomer can no longer operate properly with the amount of snow left on the trails. That being said, there are plenty of trails that are still skiing great! Gunflint Outfitters will no longer be selling trail passes, but trails are still skiing pretty decent. Come and enjoy the beautiful weather that we've been lucky to have! 

This trail system is maintained by the Gunflint Lake Trails Group, and requires an Upper Gunflint Trail Ski Pass for usage. Funds raised from these passes pay for land lease fees and grooming expenses. Daily, weekend, week, and seasonal passes are available. Passes are available at Gunflint Lodge (800-328-3325), Gunflint Pines (800-533-5814), or Heston's Lodge (800-338-7230).

The Sugarbush Ski Trail System
The Sugarbush Ski Trail System  is an extensive cross country ski trail network and a developing single-track mountain bike trail system in Northeastern Minnesota along the shores of Lake Superior. The system provides a variety of recreation opportunities in the Sawtooth Mountains for the beginner to advanced skier and bicyclist.

OnionRiverRd_SugarbushTrailAssoc20210218Groomer’s Report – March 12: Darren worked through the night last night and is still out there grooming. Britton Peak, Homestead, and Hogback trails are done, in addition to Onion River Road. Grooming will continue this morning. The brushing by the US Forest Service near the Summit View trail has started, so we don’t know how accessible the trail is. Skijøring trails at Moose Fence are still open.

Firsthand Trail Reports: 11: Grooming was under way when I left at 10am. 4 inches of heavy fresh snow made for slow and soft skating. Overnight cold should help a lot. (Andy Willette)

Firsthand Trail Reports: 8: From Oberg trailhead skied the East Oberg loop and then back to parking lot to switch to skins. Skied Picnic loop and Homestead, then connector back to Oberg. Weather was very warm, but tracks supported my weight, but not my pole plants. Skins worked well in the varying conditions but overall snow was pretty slow. There were a few more bare spots than yesterday and one place where water covered the trail (West Oberg) and another where the snow was gone and I had to walk a few feet. Slow going and I would advise waiting for colder weather. (Tim Nelson)

A Great Minnesota Ski Pass is required to ski the Sugarbush Ski Trail System. Passes may be
purchased online or in-person at local gas stations. (Photo of Onion River Road, Sugarbush Trail System, 2/18/2021. Photo courtesy Sugarbush Trail Association)

The Norpine Ski Trail System
The Norpine Trail System is 57km of machine groomed X-C ski trails between Cascade River and
Ski Hill Road. Trails include Deer Yard Lake, Pioneer Trail, Hall and Massey Loops. The trails wind
through mature maple forests, mixed evergreens, and in the midst of North Country wildlife. A
number of the trails have spectacular view of Lake Superior and connect up to the Cascade
River State Park Trails. The trails are well marked and maps are available.

Groomer’s Report – March 2:  Deeryard Trails groomed 3/1.  Best conditions found further inland, away from Lake Superior. Marginal snow cover on trails closest to lake. Cautions: East portion of Pioneer Main Loop CLOSED for logging (J to W on Norpine map). Cascade Connector Trail (to Massie/Hall) will offer decent fat biking conditions but marginal/poor xc skiing.

Firsthand Trail Reports: March 4: Great newly groomed trails, temps 28-30 degrees, minimal ice in shady areas. Plenty of snow and a wonderful ski on a beautiful day. (Pamela Faye)

A Great Minnesota Ski Pass is required to ski the Norpine Trail System. Passes may be purchased online or in-person at local gas stations.


The Banadad Trail System: Gunflint Trail / BWCAW

The Banadad Trail System is a public ski trail managed by the Banadad Ski Trail Association, in agreement with the Gunflint Ranger District — USFS and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The System consists of the 27 kilometer Banadad trail, a single tracked intimate trail through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), and another 14 kilometers of trails taking off from the Banadad's eastern end. All the trails are single tracked. The Minnesota Ski Pass is required to ski the trail. Free public parking is provided at the Eastern and Western Trail Heads. In addition to the Banadad, the trail system consists of the Lace Lake, Tall Pines and Tim Knapp Trails. The Banadad is the BWCAW's longest tracked ski trail and likely the longest wilderness tracked ski trail in the USA.

Groomer’s Report – March 11: Groomed/Tracked East End Trails (Tall Pines, Lace Lake, Tim Knopp) and Banadad Trail to the Mid Trail Junction this afternoon (3-11-2021). Will Groom/Track to West End tomorrow. 4-6" of new snow on the trail; heard reports of higher totals near West End. Erik McDonald groomer. (Andy Jenks, Banadad Trail Association)

Firsthand Trail Reports: 5: We skied the Banadad from the west trailhead going east an hour, then back to the west trailhead. The trail conditions are good except for wind-blown tree debris in random patches and a moose convention ~10-15 minutes east of the trailhead. We need snow! (John Craddock)

A Great Minnesota Ski Pass is required to ski the Banadad Trail System. Passes may be purchased online or in-person at local gas stations.


Bally Creek Trail System: Grand Marais area

Bally Creek Trail System is a multiple short loop cross country ski trail system with several access points. The main access is a parking area off of FR 158 just short of Bear Track Camp. Depending on snow conditions and grooming, access is also off Cook County 45 and as a branch off of the Cascade River Ski Trails. Heavy snows will limit grooming some trails; travel on ungroomed trails is not recommended. This system is 25.0 km trackset. 11.0 km skate-ski. All skill level trails. Part of a 196 km ski-through network along the North Shore. Variety of cedar swamp, balsam and pine forest. Meanders along wildlife pond. Ski 17.6km from Bally Creek to Cascade State Park. Maps along trail.

Firsthand Trail Reports: 9: Skied Bally today late morning/early afternoon as well as yesterday. Trails are holding up but after lunch was sinking a bit on the open road trails. In the woods in the shade it was delightful. The timely recent grooming is making this a must visit trail once conditions cool off again. Great job! (Scott Persons)

Firsthand Trail Reports: 6: Lots of snow still up in the high ridges inland from the North Shore. Most of these trails are well-shaded, so the snow is still solid and the tracks are in good shape. Skied the full Sundling Creek Loop and then the Bally Creek loop up off the Forest Road 158. The Wolf Alley connector trail down to Cascade River SP has also been recently tracked, though I didn't take that. (Andrew Slade)

A Great Minnesota Ski Pass is required to ski the Bally Creek Trail System.  Passes may be purchased online or in-person at local gas stations.

Buy a MN Ski Pass
If you are 16 or older, you must have a Great Minnesota Ski Pass to ski on groomed trails in
Minnesota state parks or state forests, or on state or grant-in-aid trails. Sign your Ski Pass and
be sure to carry it with you every time you go skiing. Your Ski Pass fee helps support Minnesota's
cross-country ski trail system! Call 1-888-MN-LICENSE (1-888-665-4236).

To find detailed trail conditions and more 

Winter Trail Conditions