The 2020 Coop FIS Cross Country Ski World Cup Sprint Finals will be coming to Minnesota on March 17th, capping off the Fastenal Parallel 45 Winter Festival that runs March 14 -17. The whole festival is sure to be a good time with food and drink, live music, gear expos, and citizen races for athletes of all ages and abilities. As a sponsor of the event, Bearskin Lodge will be there and we hope you will be too.
The World Cup race is more than just a thrilling conclusion to a fun-filled few days—it’s a historic event. This race marks the first time in almost two decades that the world’s best cross-country skiers have competed on American snow. To appreciate how great it is that we get to witness a World Cup event in our state, let’s take a look at the history of the competition.
The FIS is Formed
The organization that governs the Cross Country Ski World Cup is the FIS, which stands for Fédération Internationale de Ski. The FIS has been around since 1910 when delegates from 10 countries met in Norway to form what was originally called the International Skiing Commission. The organization now has a membership of 132 national ski associations and is the international governing body of most ski sports, including the more obscure ones like grass skiing.
The Cross Country Ski World Cup was held unofficially a few times starting in 1973, but it wasn’t until 1982 that the FIS hosted an official World Cup competition. The Cross Country Ski World Cup is now held each winter and consists of a series of races across 21 venues around the world.
Bill Koch Dominates in 1982
Many of you are probably enthusiastic skate skiers, or at the very least familiar with the sight of skaters gliding along beside those using the classic technique. When American Bill Koch skate skied his way to third place in the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in 1982 (part of the World Cup series of races), it was revolutionary. Skate skiing had been taking hold in marathons and in ski orienteering throughout the 70s, but Koch brought it to international attention and unleashed years of controversy about whether skating should be allowed. Of course, we know that skate skiing is now an integral part of cross-country skiing competitions, including the World Cup.
Bill Koch went on to win the overall gold medal in 1982. Can you guess how many overall World Cup first place finishes the U.S. has won since then? Zero. That must mean we’re overdue!
The Sprint Cup
Since 1997, in addition to the overall World Cup winner, prizes have been awarded for the winners of the Sprint World Cup and the Distance World Cup. The trophy for the overall winner is a 9 kg Crystal Globe, and the Sprint and Distance winners get smaller Crystal Globes. While Americans haven’t picked up any overall first place finishes since 1982, American Kikkan Randall won the women’s Sprint World Cup three times between 2012 and 2014.
The race we’re hosting in Minneapolis is the finals of the Sprint World Cup. The women will race on a 1.4 km course and the men on a 1.7 km loop. The winners of the three-day North American Sprints Mini Tour (combining the results of two days of racing in Quebec City with our Minneapolis race) will be crowned here. Plus, since the race in Minneapolis is the final sprint race of the season, it’s here that the Crystal Globe will be presented to the Sprint World Cup champions.
The Americans who are currently ranked the highest in the Sprint Cup standings are Sophie Caldwell, Jessie Diggins, and Sadie Maubet Bjornsen. Come and cheer them and the rest of the elite skiers on!
The last time the U.S. hosted a Cross Country Ski World Cup Event, it was in Utah in 2001. It’s an honor that Minnesota was chosen to host a race after all this time, and we can thank Minnesotan Jessie Diggins for helping make it happen.
Jessie Diggins, who comes from Afton, MN, and teammate Kikkan Randall won the United States’ first ever cross-country skiing gold medal at the Winter Olympics in women’s team sprint at Pyeongchang in 2018. It was Diggins who first contacted the Loppet Foundation with the idea of hosting a World Cup race in Minneapolis, and she was instrumental in building support for the event.
“Hosting a round of the World Cup is our chance to show skiers from around the world how Minnesota embraces winter—through sport and through our hospitality,” said Diggins.
Visit Us at the Bearskin Mini-Lodge!
The World Cup race and Parallel 45 festival are almost here. Make sure you visit the Bearskin Mini-Lodge on the course!
Years ago, when we first became owners of beautiful Bearskin, fall was a very quiet season at the resort. A small group of savvy travelers, mostly couples, had discovered the secret that fall on the Gunflint Trail is the best season of the year, but being up north in autumn was not a “thing.”
As our summer staff gradually left, we mostly had the resort to ourselves. September and October were glorious times for our family to hike the trails, paddle our lakes, and watch for the re-emergence of moose and other wildlife. There weren’t many tourists in town, and we never had to wait for a seat at Trail Center or jockey for a parking place at a local shop. A handful of our cabins were booked by quiet couples who were enjoying the solitude of Bearskin just as much as we were, but we weren’t overly busy.
We often marvel at the idea that over Labor Day weekend in 2007, Quinn came up from college and helped Bob rebuild the dock for Cabin 3. There was so little going on at the resort that a noisy, pounding project was not an issue.
Those days are over. Fall has been discovered, in a big way, especially fall weekends. Cabins are booked non-stop; travelers flock to the Gunflint Trail and the North Shore. Restaurants are busy, often at a level matching peak summer season. Sunday “going home” traffic heading south can rival a Twin Cities rush-hour scene. Our secret best season has become ultra-popular.
None of that diminishes how perfect fall on the Gunflint Trail and the North Shore can be for getaway trips. When you’re here in a cabin during the fall, it’s stunningly beautiful and amazingly quiet. You’ll see wildlife that rarely appears in the summer and stars that reignite your sense of wonder about the universe. You’ll listen to the haunting calls of loons and wolves; follow moose, fox, and lynx tracks on the hiking trails; and, with a little luck, possibly see all of these remarkable creatures.
So when is the best time to come to Bearskin in the fall? Most people would answer that they want to be here “whenever the colors peak.” “Peak color” is an artificial concept, one that entirely drives the fall tourist season. It shouldn’t; that day doesn’t actually exist. We have a long extended color season in NE Minnesota, due to a range of elevations and climate zones. The best color date will vary by many weeks from location to location. The truth is that the forest changes on a daily basis in the fall, and anytime from mid-September to mid-October will be colorful somewhere along your route to the north country.
On the Minnesota map below, Bearskin is located near the top of Zone 2. No matter where you’re starting from, the drive all the way to Bearskin will offer a variety of vibrant foliage for most of the fall season.
The climate is warmer near Lake Superior, so the leaves along the North Shore change later. As you gain altitude driving up the Gunflint Trail to Bearskin, cooler temps create earlier fall color changes. Color usually peaks during the last week of September on East Bearskin Lake, but the color begins to change in spots along the Gunflint Trail almost as soon as September. (Certain Gunflint Trail maples are famous locally for being the first to turn – if you come up near Labor Day, watch for these trees!)
There is a commonly held belief that the weekend closest to October 1 will always be the peak color dates. As a result, that weekend can be obscenely busy all along the North Shore. It’s true that the color is usually nice, but the trade-off is a quantity of people everywhere that might take some of the fun out of your trip. For perfect fall weather, we prefer the weekend before or the weekend after the popular October 1st busy date.
You are always going to have a better fall trip if you can travel mid-week and indeed, in our experience the real “peak” has never occurred exactly on the weekend. You will also have a nicer fall trip if you can avoid traveling home on Sunday afternoon on any fall weekend. Come Thursday, leave Monday, and you’ll never even notice there were busy days in between. If you have a flexible schedule, stay mid-week instead of the weekend. Mid-week in the fall is much like the autumns of our olden days – quiet, no restaurant waits, low traffic on the drive up and back. Of course, it never feels busy at Bearskin, but the quality of your trip up north is nicer if there is less traffic and fewer people.
Colorful leaves usually remain on the trees well into October up here, until the day we get a major windstorm. After the leafy trees lose their color, our tamaracks still display vivid shades of orange and yellow for much of the fall. All of fall is beautiful in its own way.
Once the leaves are gone from the trees, some of the finest days of fall begin. This is when the wildlife viewing is at its best, because you can see into the woods so much more. Moose are very active and often are much more visible. Grouse are everywhere. It’s easier to hear a wolf howl. And as the leaves fall from the trees, the improved visibility of the night sky to the north means that if the Aurora Borealis is active, there are more opportunities to snap a northern lights photo.
Fall usually becomes winter sometime in November, but we never really know for sure when that will happen. We have experienced November with 20 inches of snow and November when the temperatures felt more like early October. Anything is possible. We consider November to be a great undiscovered secret on the Gunflint Trail, along with May in the spring. This is when you get the great moose and wildlife pictures; this is when you truly feel the seclusion and serenity of our beautiful area.
Dreaming of a fall trip? Choose your date based on what’s most important for your ideal trip. If taking photos with peak color is your primary motivation to be here, the end of September may be the right time. It is also, by far, the busiest time on the entire North Shore, especially during whichever weekend is closest to October 1. If your goal is to experience more summer-like temps, but with cool nights and no bugs, then choose the end of August or the first half of September. We always think the nicest summer days occur when everyone imagines summer is “over.” If you are coming for pleasantly cool fall temperatures, vibrant landscapes, excellent hiking, and a chance of seeing a moose or other wildlife, all of October is great.
To help you plan, we regularly post availability updates here. Updates are posted somewhat erratically, but it is an easy way to get a fast, bigger picture of possible availability options. You can also use the “Check Availability” box in the upper right hand corner of the web page. This is usually accurate within a few days, but doesn’t have the flexibility that arranging dates with an actual human being often has. For the most current info and the best help, call us at (800) 338-4170 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org We’ll help you plan a fall trip to remember.
We all carry with us a mental image of what a gorgeous fall photograph should feature: vivid orange and red trees, clear blue skies, hiking paths blanketed in colorful leaves. Fall is the photographer’s dream-come-true season, because of the brilliant changing of the colors. But there’s much more to autumn photography on the North Shore and the Gunflint Trail than just leaves.
Often the most remarkable pictures of fall are taken in the weeks after the leaf color has peaked, when the leaves start to fall, making every plant, animal, and natural feature within the woods much more visible. Mushrooms in a variety of wild shapes and colors pop up everywhere in the woods. The tamaracks, a tree relatively few people seem to even recognize, begin turning vivid colors in October. And of course, wildlife starts to wander in the later days of fall.
Moose become more visible. October can be almost as good for moose viewing as the spring days are, although because the moose are in rut, a bit more caution is required. Moose pictures from the fall are usually more dramatic, because their coats have turned dark and glossy, their antlers have matured, and the moose are generally in peak condition. Wolves and foxes are also often spotted in the woods during fall, usually with thick glossy coats from a summer of successful hunting.
We asked some of the North Shore’s favorite photographers to share their ideas for what to photograph in the fall. Of course, they all photograph the changing leaves, but anyone with a phone camera and few days off can go home from a trip up north with a few nice leaf pictures. Follow these photographers’ suggestions to return from your Bearskin trip with fall pictures that really “pop.”
Travis is a lifelong resident of the North Shore who is best known for his night sky photography. He was one of the presenters at the BWCA Expo in June, 2018, and you may have seen him featured on KARE 11 in August, 2018.
Travis told us, “Fall is one of my favorite times of the year for photography. The changing leaf colors are obviously a main highlight, and for that my favorite thing to do is get to an elevated viewpoint such as a hilltop overlook or a fire tower. Getting above the trees lets you take in a lot more of the broad expanse of color. Also, on cool mornings there is often fog in the valleys. As the fog burns off you can get photos of the trees and leaf colors combined with the fog. This makes for some pretty surreal images.”
Our guests are always hoping for a clear day with blue skies for their fall photography journeys, but in a fall when we’ve had an unusually high number of overcast days, Travis doesn’t mind. “If you’re going to be on the ground beneath the forest canopy, I much prefer cloudy days for photographing fall color. The light is flatter and the colors appear much more vibrant, especially if you switch your camera’s white balance setting to cloudy or shade. On sunny days there is generally too much contrast between bright light and dark shadows to make good photographs when you are beneath the forest canopy. If you’re out in the open, however, and photographing a single tree or group of trees with good color, nothing complements that color like a nice touch of blue sky. “
“Fall is also a great time for macro-photography,” he says, “especially after about half of the leaves have fallen to the ground. I love walking along a trail or forest road and looking at the ground for interesting leaf arrangements. If it’s a rainy day or if it rained overnight, the collections of water droplets on the leaves can make for a mesmerizing macro-photo.”
“Lastly, for those that are already familiar with my work, you know that I am really into night sky photography. Late fall is a great time for this. As the leaves drop from the trees the wonderful shapes and silhouettes of the trees are once again revealed to us. They make a great foreground for a night sky photo, looking up at the trees with the stars, moonlight or northern lights shining above. I am always on the lookout for trees with really unique shapes. When I find one I make a note to go back and photograph it with the night sky when the leaves have fallen.”
Mark is living the dream. Not too long ago, he was a regular Bearskin guest. When he and his wife moved to Grand Marais, Mark began to take his photography skills much more seriously. If you’ve ever imagined you could move to the northwoods and become a photographer, Mark is proof that it can be done.
Mark points out, “I’m lucky to live in a place that has spectacular scenery anytime, but fall has some especially great opportunities. Everyone likes to find those high sweeping vistas, but they can be tricky to pull off. Using a wide angle lens can make things seem awfully small, and doesn’t match the image you envision. Sometimes a single tree, or even a couple brilliantly colored leaves can really create a fall feel. Using a telephoto to zoom into a particular composition can tell a great fall story.”
Like Travis, Mark is a fan of overcast days. “While everyone loves a bright blue sky to contrast those reds and yellows, sunny days can be troublesome when taking photos. The bright sun casts lots of shadows that can obscure some of the scenery we are trying to capture. Our eyes can make the adjustment, but the camera doesn’t have the dynamic range to see into the shadows and also keep the bright areas from blowing out. Cloudy days soften the light and allow you to capture the scene more accurately. And don’t shy away from photographing in rain. The wet landscape can really saturate the colors and make them more vivid.” Good advice for this fall.
Mark has taken some especially spectacular water photographs recently. “I’m always looking for compositions to incorporate a pond, lake, or waterfall into my fall shots. You can get reflections off the water to create some great looking photos! I use a polarizing filter when I want to dial in that perfect level of reflection off the water.”
Like many of our favorite photographers, Mark gets out early with his camera and takes some especially beautiful sunrise pictures. “One other bonus of fall photography is that the sunrise is coming up over Lake Superior again, and that is one of my favorite subjects to photograph.”
We often share Tom Spence’s photographs to the Bearskin web page. He was also one of the contributors to our spring moose-viewing blog, offering great advice on how to find and photograph animals in the spring.
Tom believes the best photographs of moose are taken in autumn. “In late summer, the bull moose lose their velvet on their racks and the antlers become a bright, shiny color. The moose can be pretty active in fall, giving me more opportunities.”
He recommends heading into the woods with a camera after peak color season is over. “With the leaves falling and gone, October and November can reveal parts of the woods that are harder to see through and into than the spring and summer months, increasing the area I can search.”
Like Mark, Tom gets some fabulous water pictures and recommends our North Shore state parks as a great resource in the fall. “The rivers are my favorite. I like to use a circular polarizing filter and a neutral density filter for fall waterfall photography allowing for the long exposure, dreamy effect on the water.”
Tom is a camper, and his lit-up tent often appears as a centerpiece in pictures. “I tend to do more camping in the fall, so BWCA photography is also a favorite. I love the solitude and quiet of October in the Boundary Waters. The nights tend to get longer, so the aurora borealis may be seen a bit more often as well. A few of my favorite aurora displays have been in the fall months.”
Nace is well known for his Gunflint Trail moose photos, but because he is often out early in the morning, and because he travels around Cook County so much for his work, he has success photographing many other animals, also. Nace was also a contributor to our spring moose-viewing blog.
Nace looks at photography in the fall just about the same as in any other season. “For the wildlife that I am primarily looking for,” he says, “I try to get to places with no one else around.” He tries to hit the likely spots at a time when other people are less likely to be there. “Or it can mean hiking in a little farther, or paddling to a lake that isn’t visited often. ” This is one reason fall photography in our area can be more successful — there are far fewer people here in the fall. Nace adds, “I also try to be quiet to not spook animals if I do happen to see something.”
If you love the look of mist over the water, fall is the time to be here. Nace says, “One of my favorite things about fall is fog. As the air starts to cool faster than the lakes, you can often find fog over water on a crisp morning. If I could, I would spend most fall mornings in a canoe photographing anything in fog. There is something magical about fog.”
Nace also has success capturing the northern lights. If you’ve seen the card with the northern lights behind the Bearskin Lodge sign, that is Nace’s work. “In the fall there are more hours of darkness so northern lights can be easier to see if they happen to be out that night.” It’s generally pleasant on fall nights, unlike trying to photograph the lights in January.
Where to get a great fall photo at Bearskin Lodge.
Our front desk staff members are all avid outdoors people who know the area well. They are happy to help you find your perfect photo spot.
Talk to Katie, our moose photographer, about the latest moose sightings. We keep a map at the front desk where we can mark the places where moose have been recently observed. If your primary goal is to photograph moose, we encourage you to come up in a vehicle that does well on rough roads. One of the best roads for fall moose sightings is in dire condition this year (and yes, every year). You might spot a moose right off the Gunflint Trail, but a robust vehicle will get you deeper into moose country up here.
The Gunflint Trail has primarily moose maples instead of sugar maple trees, so your fall photos from this area will feature more yellow and orange leaves, rather than red hues. One of the most popular overlooks for photos any season is, of course, Honeymoon Bluff, just a few miles away from Bearskin. Caribou Rock has several great overlooks that photograph nicely in the fall. We can direct you to a high spot on Bear Cub where you can get the long view northward over the trees. The area of around the esker trail in the campground gets you long, color views of East Bearskin Lake in the autumn. If colorful tamarack bogs are you photographic goal, once the tamarcs have turned we can direct you to several nice locations that always offer stunning color contrast for photos.
Early morning is still the best time to photograph the trees, lakes, and wildlife along the North Shore and the Gunflint. But here’s a tip if you head out in the late afternoon or evening: always bring headlamps and flashlights with you. It gets dark earlier and faster in the fall, and your time between that last “sun setting on the fall colors” moment and total darkness is very short. Because our family and many Bearskin staff members are on Search & Rescue we hear rescue calls constantly in Sepetmeber – November for parties who didn’t get off Eagle Mountain, Oberg Mountain, the Cascade River walk, and Caribou Rock before dark. The Caribou Rock Trail has some great vistas that photograph well in fall, but you truly want to get off that trail before any hint of darkness arrives. Wherever you hike along the North Shore or the Gunflint this fall, plan for an earlier sunset than you are accustomed to having farther south. Immersed in the beauty of this area, it easy to forget that we are in one of America’s last “dark skies” area, so when the sun sets it gets seriously pitch black out in the woods.
Everyone at Bearskin will be happy to help you come back from your fall getaway to our area with some outstanding photographs to keep as memories. Give us a call at (800) 338-4170 or visit www.bearskin.com and let’s make a plan together.
“The Blowdown.” July 4, 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of this famous BWCA weather event; at Bearskin, we still get asked about it constantly. While the signs of the blowdown are no longer as obvious as they once were, our landscape in the Mid-Gunflint Trail area was indelibly marked by this storm. For anyone who was in the area at the time, or for anyone who came up later to help with the massive clean-up, the blowdown will never be forgotten.
The blowdown was actually a derecho, a type of straight-line wind storm. It knocked down about 20 million trees in the BWCA, cutting a swath about 10 miles wide and 30 miles long. Most of Bearskin’s immense white pines survived the storm. They are 200 – 300 years old and perhaps withstood even worse weather events through the centuries. But aspens, birches, jack pines, cedars, and balsams broke off as if a giant had come through swinging a scythe 15 feet above the ground.
Every Bearskin guest from that era has their own unique story, depending on where they were and what they were doing at the moment. The common thread seems to be the muggy, unpleasantly hot day and a very dark, green sky. Almost everyone recalls their sense of wariness resulting from the unusual sky color, and how frightening it was when the weather changed suddenly and how rapidly the trees began snapping off all around them. Some guests were stranded on the Gunflint Trail, their vehicles surrounded by trees that fell on the trail like matchsticks in a line. Other guests were in cabins, listening to trees crashing around them and wondering how they would ever get out again. Cars did not fare well, but a few bicycles survived. Luckily, Bearskin suffered primarily injuries to things, not to people.
It was over quickly, and then the truly hard moments began. Guests stranded on the Gunflint Trail left their cars and began painstakingly making their way over an endless line of downed trees. Guests in cabins struggled to get out. Their vacations were ruined, their cars were flattened, they no longer had water or electricity, and because of the chaos on the trail, leaving was not an option. Most guests stayed to help with the clean-up, because after all, what else could they do? Everyone who was here loves to recount their own story. Once people realized that they had somehow survived it, their natural instinct was to pitch in and help. When the roads were cleared, other guests drove up to assist with the tough job of putting Bearskin back together.
Realistically, clean-up from this storm went on for years and twenty years later, our woods is still full of fallen trees from the blowdown. For a long time we had a higher risk of fire danger from all the downed wood in the forest, “fuel” for future fires. At this point most blowdown debris has rotted enough that fire danger is not as significant as it once was. The forest has regenerated, although with a different mix of trees than it had before the storm. Foresters say there are fewer conifers now and more aspen and birch. Jack Pines, in particular, did not regenerate because they require fire, not wind, to reseed themselves.
We’re sharing some of the many pictures from the days after the blowdown at Bearskin. In a few photos, it’s tough to even see that under all those branches there is a cabin hiding. Dave and Barb Tuttle, who owned Bearskin from when they were in their young 20’s in the 1970s until 2001, faced an almost insurmountable clean-up job after the storm. They’ve often said that the blowdown was the toughest challenge they faced in all those years.
It’s “ice-out” time already, so once again we’ll be taking guesses on the date that you think the ice will be gone from East Bearskin Lake. The 12th annual East Bearskin Lake ice-out guessing game begins now.
We always like to help you make an educated guess because that’s much more fun than just randomly picking a date; so here’s all the data you need to win a Bearskin T-shirt or a complimentary canoe rental from Bearskin Wilderness Outfitters.
If you’ve done your research and you’re ready to guess, add a comment on this blog or go to the Bearskin Facebook page and add your answer there. (It’s easier to scope out what others have guessed on Facebook!) You’ll need the date, and as a tie-breaker, your estimated time.
First important piece of information: forget those balmy temps you probably have been experiencing at home. It is 100% still winter on the Gunflint Trail, and it has been since the first week of November. Are we tired of snow and ice yet? Yes, indeed, very much so. Here’s the Lodge today. This is not just the new snow of the recent snowstorm, it’s snow that has been on the ground since November 7th:
Your next clue, the webcam today. There’s not even a hint of clear ice yet:
Clue #3 is the ice depth at this point in the season. Landen went out to drill some holes and reported that there is about 8 inches of crumbling ice on top of at least 8 more inches of rock solid ice. All of it is covered by a great deal of snow. There is a theory on the Gunflint Trail that because snow fell early on the newly forming ice that perhaps the ice was insulated and as a result, not as much ice formed. Maybe, but that might be more true on the bigger lakes that freeze later. You can toss the idea into your calculations.
Your last clue to consider is the upcoming forecast. Don’t expect many balmy days to speed this process along. Rain and wind, though, can sometimes have an impact.
So when does the ice usually go out? Once it went out in March. That ship has sailed for 2019. April ice-out has happened, but only an extreme optimist would have high hopes for that this year. May 6th – 8th are common dates, but we have also had several years recently when the ice was not out for the fishing opener. The latest ice-out date in our experience was May 16, although we’ve heard stories about Memorial Weekend dates. We invariably have a few people who guess July or August ice-out dates, and we’re happy to report that they’ve never been right. So far.
Here is a video of the ice going out last year on May 7th:
If you’re serious about your research, check out past ice-out blog posts. Here is the post from last year, including a good summary and picture from past blogs:
HOW TO ENTER: If you’ve done your research and you’re ready to guess, add a comment on this blog or go to the Bearskin Facebook page and add your answer there. (It’s easier to scope out what others have guessed on Facebook!) You’ll need the date, and as a tie-breaker, your estimated time. Winner receives a Bearskin T-shirt or a complimentary canoe rental for a day (this canoe be used as one of several days if you’re renting canoes for a BWCA trip.) Good luck! Watch the ice go out on the webcam here.
Today is April 19. The front of the lodge looks like this:
Here is the view from the webcam this afternoon. You can see the faintest hint of the dock reappearing. Boats definitely will not be parked at this dock in the near future. We still have 24 inches of ice on our bay, plus ample snow cover. We’ve heard reports of 40 inches on Gunflint Lake, and 25 – 35 inches on Ely lakes.
Bearskin has been buried in deep snow since a snowstorm on October 26, 2017. We are exceedingly ready to launch spring. So in hopes of kick-starting a fresh, new season, it’s time to start the 11th Annual East Bearskin Lake Ice-out Guessing Game for 2018.
The winner gets a T-shirt, mug, or (new this year!) if you’re outfitting or staying with us you can win one free day of a canoe rental. Post your answer in the blog comments below, on the Facebook page, or e-mail your answer to email@example.com. Give us a both a predicted date and a time. The time helps us choose a winner if there are multiple answers for the same date.
Of course, your answer will be very well-researched. Here’s all the info you need to make a fact-based, educated guess. What’s a normal ice-out date? May 6th – 8th would be a typical date. Late March, late April and yes, late May have all occurred. East Bearskin tends to be one of the earlier lakes to go out on this side of the BWCAW; the long, somewhat narrow configuration of this lake speeds up the melting process.
Our upcoming weather forecast finally looks like spring:
Rain helps. Wind helps. A day of snow does not help. So far, there’s no new snow in this forecast, but there have been years when 2 feet of new snow appeared in late April. Behold late April, 2013.
This year the Minnesota fishing opener will be May 12. Some years ice fishing seems far more appropriate on our fishing opener, such as on the first day of fishing in 2014. The technique pictured is not a “best practice.”
If you want to do more thorough research, follow these links to learn about the history of the ice-out on East Bearskin Lake over the past 11 years.
Here is a conversation we have in our lodge many times a week, winter and summer.
The discouraged visitor says, “I’ve been coming to the Gunflint Trail for 10/20/30 years, and I’ve never seen a moose.” Or bear. Or wolf. Or whatever animal it is that they most wish to see. Often they have a beautiful camera strung around their neck and the dream is to capture that perfect memorable Gunflint Trail wildlife picture.
We say, “So, when are you usually here looking for wildlife?” The answer is generally some version of July or August. We encourage them to keep looking and offer suggestions for likely viewing spots. But what we’re really thinking is that they’ll probably continue to get skunked. The truth is, you might have great luck searching for your perfect moose photograph in late summer, but there are much better times to be here if your goal is to see animals. Come to Bearskin in May and very early June and you’ll get your picture.
Spring is moose-viewing season. It is not uncommon for Bearskin to have moose right on the Main Lodge grounds during May and early June, often cows and newborn babies. Our hypothesis is that since we are a dog-free lodge with very few canine smells, and because wolves don’t often venture into the resort, perhaps this area feels like a safe zone for pregnant cows and mothers with calves. Our nearby Summer Home Road and other quiet gravel roads are also excellent places to find moose in the spring – just look for their big footprints in the mud.
Bears are also easy to find and photograph in spring. The secret? Dandelions. Those pesky yellow flowers may be an invasive species that nobody wants growing on our waysides, but don’t tell that to the bears. They love munching on dandelion heads found along wide mowed shoulders of some parts of the Gunflint in the spring.
We asked a group of our favorite photographers to share their suggestions for finding animals to photograph in May and June. We encourage you to look at their photography websites, or follow their Facebook pages to see the photos of all the animals they are sure to find this spring.
Katie Mumm is our Bearskin staff photographer. Katie drives along the Gunflint between Swamper Lake and Loon Lake nightly in the spring after work, camera ready in her car. “Every evening I jump in my car, armed with my camera and take off in search of moose!” she says. “My travels take me in different directions on the Trail but I always visit my ‘usual’ places where I commonly see moose. Sometimes I drive to the end of the Trail and other times I take a gravel road here and there in search of new spots and sightings. You never know who/what might appear. When I’m lucky enough to find moose, I always keep a safe distance from the animal, for my safety as well as theirs. I don’t want to frighten them, so I prefer to shoot from a distance.”
She adds, “Persistence is the key in photographing wildlife. There are many nights when I come down the Bearskin Road with nothing to show for my time. But other nights, it’s a gold mine! You just have to keep trying, keep travelling, and keep shooting.” You’ll frequently find Katie working at the front desk at Bearskin, so if you’re staying here in search of wildlife, ask her for advice on her current “hot spots.”
Katie’s pictures can be purchased at Bearskin. See her latest pictures on her Facebook photography site here.
Thomas J. Spence
Tom Spence’s superb lynx pictures made the news all around Minnesota during the winter of 2018, but regular followers of the Bearskin Facebook page have been seeing shared wildlife, northern lights, and Lake Superior photos from Tom for several years. According to Tom, it helps to be an early riser if you want to get great wildlife pictures. “I like to get out early to find the critters,” he says. “The earlier the better. I’ll often head into the woods before sunrise to put myself in a location at first light. I’m usually focusing on water areas such as swamps, rivers and inland lakes in and around the BWCA.”
“Spring,” he continues, “is a very active time in the woods so you are bound to see some kind of activity just about every trip out. Of course, any time is good to be out, but the morning light and activity are the best in spring, in my opinion.” You can check out more of Tom’s pictures on his Facebook page or browse and buy photos you like on Tom’s SmugMug website.
David R. Johnson
Grand Marais photographer David Johnson is a fan favorite on the Bearskin Facebook page, where we often feature his wildlife, northern lights, and Grand Marais pictures. “I put on many thousands of miles and hundreds of hours looking for wildlife,” David says. “My cameras are dialed in for conditions for the day I am out, so I can shoot at a moment’s notice. You have to be fast to get some shots most of the time.”
“As far as finding wildlife, you go to where the food is. Lynx’s main diet is the snowshoe hare, so I look where there are large populations of them. I look for tracks.” David also watches for road-kill, especially along Highway 61, and occasionally spots wolves, foxes, and eagles nearby. Finding moose, he says, can be “hit or miss.” In spring and early summer moose are looking for fresh greens, aquatic plants, and new tree leaves. “Willow are hot,” he says. “All waterways are good to check: beaver ponds, swamps, and lakes.”
We frequently share wildlife and northern lights photos from Nace Hagemann, and for several years carried his cards in our gift shop. Nace has a reputation for getting great moose pictures, although he feels he has seen fewer moose on the Gunflint Trail during the last few years, perhaps resulting from the tribal hunting season that has been held during the last two autumns. Nace has learned that “Moose are looking for the fresh growth of aquatic plants in the spring and are often in and around water. I often see other animals by driving.” Nace owns a construction company and works all over Cook County, so he also spots animals near the road while driving to his jobs very early in the morning. Nace’s pictures can be seen on his Facebook site and can also be purchased here.
Crystal and Chris Clemons
For several years the number-one ranked moose photo on Google was this photo of a gangly, long-legged young moose, taken by Crystal Clemons on nearby Clearwater Road. Crystal is not a professional photographer, but she is a very successful amateur photographer whose tenaciousness in searching for animals each spring results in many cool wildlife sightings. Crystal and her husband Chris regularly drive hundreds of miles down quiet Cook County side roads, searching for wildlife. Persistence is their strong point, plus a willingness to return even when they didn’t have good luck the last time.
Crystal says, “In the early morning when the sun is coming up or in the evening when the sun is going down, we drive down the Lima Grade, South Bruhl Road, Lima Mountain Road, and Greenwood Road. And of course the famous area, Swamper.” They watch the road for fresh tracks as they drive, the possible sign of an animal being nearby.
Chris and Crystal especially recommend looking for fox dens at the end of April and early May, when fox kits are born. Bearskin can give you some directions for finding these dens when you’re staying here.
Crystal and Chris also have a great deal of luck getting pileated woodpecker pictures, often on Clearwater Road. They have a favorite spot where they’ve taken many pictures of pileated woodpeckers poking their big red heads out of nest holes. Ask at the front desk for more specific directions for finding these remarkable big birds.
Crystal also suggests, “Here is a good spring idea for anyone, moose antler hunting in late April and early May (depending on the snow depth). We have good luck every year. The trick to that is go to one or two year-old logging cuts, walk around in them, look for little trees that have been rubbed on (trying to shed antlers), then just walk around and look. Finding antlers is like a treasure hunt and it’s an awesome feeling when you find them. We have yet to find a set. It gets the family outdoors.”
So when is the perfect time to find and photograph our Gunflint Trail wildlife?
May and early June have undeservedly become very quiet seasons on the Gunflint Trail, for three reasons: our erratic, sometimes long-lasting winter season; spring’s frequent rainy May days; and springtime bugs. For those of us who live up here, spring is high on the list of favorite seasons, but making the most of spring as a visitor requires planning and realistic expectations. There will be amazingly perfect spring days and yes, there may be some rainy days.
First, it helps to pay attention to when the snow and the ice melts. Even if it’s warm in the Twin Cities, like it has been in recent years, weather on the Gunflint won’t be on the same schedule. Snow and ice can occasionally disappear here in April, but it’s more likely to be gone in early May. Watch our web cam to keep track of how the weather is changing on the Gunflint. Our usual ice-out day is around May 6th, but it’s happened 5 weeks earlier or 2 weeks later. If anything, ice-out has been edging towards earlier dates in the past few years.
Secondly, come prepared for some rainy or misty days. Bring rain gear and mud shoes. We love May for taking long, springy 50-degree walks on the trails and gravel roads, but if you don’t happen to get that weather, be ready to head out in spring showers. The animals don’t mind a little rain, so your hunt for the perfect moose moment can still succeed even if we’re experiencing May precipitation.
Lastly, what about those bugs? The trade-off for being here when the wildlife abounds is that there are more bugs than in late July and August. Come prepared to deal with them and with luck, they may not even be an issue. The days between snow-melt and the last week of May tend to be close to bug-free. Eventually the notorious black flies, those little annoying ear-biting gnats, appear around Memorial Day. That’s when a head net and the screen porch on your Bearskin cabin are appreciated. Mosquitoes also start to appear about that time, depending on how much standing water there is in the woods. Some years are better than others. May is also the month for ticks. Our area has very few occurrences of Lyme disease (we just don’t have many deer on the Gunflint), but regular old ticks are out in force right away during the spring. Dress appropriately and take the standard tick precautions, and you should be fine. We sell a tick spray you can use as extra protection.
What if May/early June doesn’t work for me? Will I ever see a moose?
Honestly, you’ll only see a moose if you’re super lucky or incredibly persistent in July or August. It happens, especially on canoe trips into the BWCAW, but late summer moose sightings aren’t a daily occurrence like they are in the spring.
Your next best bet for wildlife pictures is to visit in the fall. As the temperatures cool off and the Gunflint Trail gets less busy, we start to see more moose action in September and especially October and November. Moose mate in the fall, so they move around in search of true love during that time. David Johnson noted that, “In fall moose are getting into rut. The bulls are on the move and can be found where you see the cows; they won’t be far away.” There is, of course, a downside to chasing moose while they are in rut. (Remember the infamous Andy story?) But let good sense prevail, and you can successfully see wildlife, including moose, in autumn.
Wildlife sightings are much better in the fall than in late summer, but no season compares to spring for finding and photographing a wide variety of animals and birds around Bearskin Lodge and the Gunflint Trail. Visit us!
Moose-viewing season spring rates at Bearskin
We’ve lowered the prices for most of May. “Value season,” the least expensive time of year to stay at Bearskin Lodge, now extends until just before Memorial Day. Pack your camera and a “just in case” rain coat and head up to the Gunflint Trail to capture that perfect picture or memory at a great price.