Here in northeast Minnesota, you’ll find outdoor adventure no matter what time of year you visit. In winter, one of the many popular sports is snowmobiling.
Want exhilaration? Try roaring down a winter trail with crisp air expanding your lungs, anticipating a bull moose or gray wolf just around the next corner. Haul through a sweeping wilderness turn as you master the 140-horsepower snowmobile engine underneath you. And don't fret about the cold: With advancements in sled heating systems and clothing, this sport can be enjoyed in surprising warmth and comfort.
From the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior to the quiet solitude of the borderlands around Voyageurs National Park and International Falls, you can find a trail that suits your recreational mood.
Incredible Snowmobile Trails
Minnesota boasts 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails, almost entirely interconnected by the state’s unique grant-in-aid system, which relies on clubs and other enthusiasts to maintain and groom trails. Top areas include Ely, International Falls, the Iron Range and Cook County in the state’s northeast corner.
Many trails crisscross Cook County, but two deserve special mention: the Gunflint Trail system and North Shore trails. The former begins in the spectacular Lake Superior coastal community of Grand Marais and gains elevation inland while connecting to other area trails.
While snowmobiling on the North Shore, you may see moose, deer, wolves, pine martens, lynx and foxes. You’re near the eastern portion of the gorgeous and vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), where snowmobiling and other motorized activity is prohibited, but adjacent state and national lands, like the Superior National Forest, are accessible and just as impressive.
Spend a day cruising the area and you’ll understand how Minnesota earned its moniker as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” In fact, bring an ice rod and auger and try your hand at ice fishing for aggressive northern pike, gorgeous lake trout or the state fish—the handsome and tasty walleye.
The 146-mile natural surface North Shore Trail runs from Duluth to Grand Marais, and thanks to its spectacular views on the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior, it should be on every sledder’s must-ride list. Rugged and beautiful, the trail is remarkably remote in places, so pack food and monitor that gas gauge. Spur trails offer opportunities to exit and refuel.
Voyageurs National Park
Heading west, International Falls forms a unique border community with Fort Frances, Canada, across the Rainy River. The nearby Voyageurs National Park provides the snowmobiling gem of this region. Voyageurs has snowmobiling written into its charter, and the National Park Service stakes and grooms trails all winter.
You’ll find lots of lake-top riding here, plus the incredible Chain of Lakes Trail, which seasoned sledders consider a retro ride. Not a high-speed route, the narrow trail runs just wide enough around some trees to get your skis through. It’s incredible theater and feels just like snowmobiling during the sport’s infancy 50-plus years ago.
Elsewhere in the region, you'll find some of the best snow conditions and most exciting terrain in the Mesabi Iron Range, where the Arrowhead and Taconite state trails form the backbone of the region's trail system. Ride 165 miles from Grand Rapids to Ely on the multi-use Taconite Trail, and another 135 on the Arrowhead Trail, from International Falls to Tower.
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