Exploring the Arrowhead

Location

MN
United States
47° 44' 49.8228" N, 90° 25' 57.3132" W

Cook County, the tip of northeastern Minnesota’s “arrowhead,” offers groomed trails in the wilderness. When it comes to cross-country skiing, two critical factors make for a memorable experience. Spectacular surroundings don’t make up for sloppy trails. Yet good grooming doesn’t compensate for dull scenery, either.

Fortunately, Cook County offers both beautiful scenery and well groomed trails.

Cook County has 400 km of groomed cross-country ski trails, the largest ski trail system in North America, snuggled between Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Trail. Skiers weave through moose tracks and the ancient Sawtooth Mountains. At night you might see the northern lights or hear the call of wolves.

Learners and lifelong skiers alike will find trails suited to their abilities. In addition to the six major ski trail systems detailed below, there are many smaller systems, among them Lutsen Mountains, Cascade River State Park, George Washington Pines and Bally Creek.

Each has its own character and attractions. In Cascade River State Park, for example, you can traverse ice-frosted Lake Superior shoreline and take in the singular sight of frozen wilderness waterfalls.

 

SUGARBUSH TRAIL SYSTEM, 81 km

Tofte

MN Ski Pass

sugarbushtrail.org

Maintained by Sugarbush Trail Association

Groomed for both classic and skate ski, this system winds through the Sawtooth Mountains and boasts views of Lake Superior and the Superior National Forest. The 25-km Picnic Loop is a local favorite, described by one skier as an “epic wilderness adventure loop for strong skiers.”

 

NORPINE TRAIL SYSTEM, 57 km

Lutsen

MN Ski Pass

www.norpinetrails.org

Maintained by Norpine Trail Association

These wide trails are groomed for classic and skate skiing, snaking through evergreens and  maple forest with sapphirine Lake Superior views. Trails connect with Cascade River State Park trails for a seamless ski experience.

 

PINCUSHION MOUNTAIN TRAIL SYSTEM, 25 km

Grand Marais

MN Ski Pass

pincushiontrails.org

Maintained by the North Superior Ski and Run Club

Twining along the flanks of Pincushion Mountain, this trail system is groomed for classic and skate skiing and includes perks like a warming chalet, 2 km of illuminated trails, a separate snowshoe trail, and jaw-dropping overlooks of Lake Superior.

 

CENTRAL GUNFLINT TRAIL SYSTEM, 98 km

Gunflint Trail

Complimentary to guests at certain Gunflint Trail lodges; other skiers may purchase passes.

gunflint-trail.com/things-to-do/winter/xc-skiing/

Privately maintained

Virgin pines, glacial eskers, sky-high white pines, gemlike lakes, moose habitat and rollicking terrain are among the attributes of the privately-maintained Central Gunflint Trail system. Get your ski on after dark with 1.5 km of illuminated trails. Connects with Banadad Trail System.

 

BANADAD TRAIL SYSTEM, 43 km

Gunflint Trail

MN Ski Pass and (free) BWCA day permit

banadad.org

Maintained by the Banadad Trail Association

These single-tracked public ski trails sidle along lakes, creeks and old-growth pines in the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Some snowshoe trails. Free public parking at both ends. Connects with Central Gunflint Trail System.

 

UPPER GUNFLINT TRAIL SYSTEM, 70 km

Gunflint Trail

Complimentary to guests at certain Gunflint Trail lodges; other skiers may purchase passes.

gunflint-trail.com/things-to-do/winter/xc-skiing/

Privately maintained

Explore the wilds of the far north in this privately-maintained system, which skirts Canada and the BWCAW. You’ll encounter dramatic valley views, ancient cedars, sprawling lakes, and areas known for animal tracks and sightings. Try 4 km of lit trails for nighttime ski adventures.

 

Other Things to Do

If you like pursuing a variety of activities while on vacation, or if you travel with non-skiers, you’re in luck: Cook County has just about every kind of winter recreation you could ask for, including dogsledding, ice climbing, Nordic skating, ice fishing, sleigh rides and Alpine skiing at Lutsen Mountains.

There is also a thriving music scene, with live music seven days a week during the peak winter months. Check visitcookcounty.com/calendar  to see who’s playing during your visit.  

Photos courtesy of the Cook County Visitors Bureau/ Explore Minnesota Tourism

 

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