Even as I extol the virtues of taking The Scenic Route both here and on the pages of the magazine (see the feature story on the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway in the September issue of Trailer Life, for example), I’ll be the first to admit it’s not always about the actual scenery.
That said, few of the National Scenic Byways program’s 150 designated routes can compare to the dramatic views you’ll find waiting for you over the next few weeks on northeastern Minnesota’s Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway. Located on the north shore of Lake Superior, this 57-mile stretch of two-lane offers mild days, brisk nights, brilliant fall colors and more just five hours from Minneapolis-St. Paul.
To begin your explorations, start by topping off your tanks and stocking up on supplies in the town of Grand Marais. From here you’ll follow County Highway 12 as it arcs northwest towards the Canadian border through the Superior National Forest’s dense stands of white and red pine, birch, alder and aspen. Along the way you’ll also find dozens of pristine lakes, many of which are part of the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
During the day the changing leaves and abundant wildlife (moose are especially active—and a little aggressive—this time of year) make for new views around every turn. As the days grow shorter, the Northern Lights also begin to reappear after dark. Needless to say, this is a place where you’ll want to keep your camera handy.
The byway is also home to dozens of local outfitters who’ll be happy to set you up with all the gear you’ll need to get even farther off the beaten track. From hiking or paddling a canoe through an unspoiled wilderness to wetting a line in search of anything from lake trout to northern pike this place is an outdoor enthusiasts dream.
At the end of the road you’ll find the Seagull River and the aptly named Trail’s End Campground. While the campground can accommodate trailers up to 40 feet, the number of RV-friendly sites is limited so be sure to call to reserve your spot ahead of time.
For more info, including a fall color guide, visit the Gunflint Trail’s website.
Photos courtesy of Cook County Visitors Bureau/ Explore Minnesota Tourism