By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Har Mar Superstar’s My North
Sean “Har Mar Superstar” Tillman’s stage name might have come from a semi-urban Twin Cities strip mall (Har Mar Mall), but when it comes time for this urbane pop-soulster to unwind in Minnesota, he goes waaaay north to a cabin on the northern terminus of the Gunflint Trail. Starting in Grand Marais and heading north to Tillman’s sanctuary, it’s 60 miles of pure, unadulterated Northwoods. From the Honeymoon Bluff to the Laurentian Divide, here are some of the great stops along the Gunflint Trail
Grand Marais is the end of many people’s northern Minnesota journey, but it’ll be the start of yours – so make sure to outfit yourself first. To do that, hit one of the great old-timey Minnesota “department stores,” Joynes Ben Franklin, whose original neon lights burn just as bright on the streets of downtown Grand Marais today as they did when it opened more than 75 years ago. Don’t let the building's unassuming exterior fool you: Joynes Ben Franklin has been the chief outfitter for the rugged citizens of Grand Marais since its opening, and its shelves are lined with heritage outdoor brands ranging from Pendleton to Filson to Minnetonka Moccasins.
25 miles up the Gunflint Trail (otherwise known as scenic County Road 12) you’ll discover the hike-worthy vistas of Honeymoon Bluff. Just a half mile round-trip hike from the trailhead at Flour Lake Campground and you’ll arrive at the cliff’s edge observation point, overlooking Hungry Jack Lake.
After hiking to the edge of a lake that shares its name with pancakes, you’re bound to be hungry. So once you’re done with Honeymood Bluff, head further up the Gunflint to Poplar Lake where you’ll find the logging-camp-turned-restaurant (and hotel), the Trail Center Lodge. Established in 1938, Trail Center has spent the better part of its nearly 80 years in business perfecting hearty breakfast foods like walleye and eggs, or roast beef hash. Be sure to savor your side of toast slathered in homemade blackberry jam, too.
Properly nourished, hop back on the Gunflint and take notice of the granite cliffs on the horizon. They’re the physical manifestation of the Laurentian Divide. Waters north of the Divide flow north to the Hudson Bay and Arctic Ocean, while waters south of it flow southeast to Lake Superior and the Atlantic Ocean. You can get an even better sense of this natural phenomenon by heading up to the Superior National Forest’s Laurentian Divide Scenic Outlook on Birch Lake, the next stop up the trail from Poplar.
In the early 1930s, the Nunstedt family built an arts and crafts-style lodge on 50-plus acres at the northern end of the Gunflint Trail and operated it as a fishing resort until 1980. Since then, the lodge has become one part Gunflint Trail history museum, and one part family-friendly nature center – with interpretive sites and a series of trails on the shores of Saganaga Lake.