The Superior National Forest’s easternmost reaches surround the Gunflint Trail  (County Highway 12), making most recreational facilities easily accessible to those who want to head out into the wilderness by day and relax with all the comforts of home at a resort by night.
Just about all of the district’s trails are on or near the Gunflint Trail highway. The first trailhead you pass, just a mile up from Grand Marais , is for the Pincushion Trail System (www.pincushiontrails.org ), a side loop of the Superior Hiking Trail. The 15-mile nest of loops is generally level in the front with some good climbs toward the back, and there are some great views, especially from the Pincushion Mountain Loop at the far end.
Pincushion is the most popular cross-country skiing in the area (out of seven trails offering 221 groomed miles) and offers the only mountain biking trails in the district, though other off-road opportunities exist on old logging roads.
The next two paths are the often-muddy George Washington Memorial Pines Trail, an easy three-mile loop through a tall stand of pines with a swamp at the back end, and the Northern Light Lake Overlook, a steep half-mile climb to a sweeping vista atop Blueberry Hill.
Even though your odds of seeing the lumbering giants from the observation deck at the end of the Moose Viewing Trail aren’t much better than just driving along the road, if you do find some you can observe them in a much more intimate setting—it’s about a half-mile round-trip.
There are more fantastic vistas at the ends of the ten-mile Lima Mountain Trail and Honeymoon Bluff Trail and Overlook, not to mention beautiful scenery along the way: From the summit of Lima Mountain, a 1.5-mile walk, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree forest and lake views; the Honeymoon Bluff Overlook is a half-mile loop leading to a sunset-ready overlook of Hungry Jack Lake. Both trails have steep climbs and good bird-watching.
The Central Gunflint Trail System, impeccably maintained by Bearskin Lodge and Golden Eagle Lodge, is some of the best cross-country skiing in the state. There is terrain for all abilities, and about half of the 46 groomed miles can accommodate skate-skiers. The Central Gunflint Trails connect to the remote 29-kilometer Banadad Trail to offer a full spectrum of skiing choices.
Right near the end of the Gunflint is the remarkable Magnetic Rock, a house-sized behemoth that deflects compass needles. The fairly easy 1.5-mile hike to the rock, naturally called the Magnetic Rock Trail, is a great berry-picking route. Plenty more Gunflint area hikes cross into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness , and these trails are detailed with that section.
Naturally the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the primary paddling destination in these parts; however, for a short trip that is sure to be crowd-free, dip an oar in the three- to five-mile Pine-Kemo-Talus-West Twin canoe route about a third of the way up the Gunflint. It has four short portages and a pair of campsites.
If you are driving up the Gunflint Trail and want to learn more about the blowdown, pick up the brochure A Changing Forest at the ranger station in Grand Marais.
All but three of the district’s campgrounds lie along the Gunflint Trail . First in from Grand Marais  is Kimball Lake (2 miles east on Forest Rd. 140 from Gunflint Trl.). The namesake lake is stocked with trout, so the camp’s 10 sites are popular with anglers, and there is a swimming beach nearby. Reservations are not accepted.
East Bearskin Lake (124 Bearskin Rd. E., 218/388-2292, www.reserveamerica.com , $18) and Flour Lake (468 Clearwater Rd., 877/444-6777, www.recreation.gov , $18) campgrounds have 33 and 37 sites respectively and are the best places to look for a last-minute spot. They also offer some great paddling, both inside and outside the BWCAW.
Though not far off the highway, Iron Lake (36 miles north of Grand Marais off County Rd. 12, 218/388-2212, www.reserveamerica.com , $16) has a real middle-of-nowhere feel, and despite having just seven sites it also tends to not fill up.
All the way at the end of the Gunflint Trail is Trails End (12582 Gunflint Trl., 218/388-2212, www.reserveamerica.com , $16) with 32 gorgeous and widely spaced sites, some of which have water hookups for RVs. This is a great base for short explorations of the BWCAW, and Way of the Wilderness Outfitters is right next door.
Devil Track Lake (off County Rte. 57, $15) is the forest campground closest to Grand Marais, and most of its 16 sites sit lakeside. Reservations are not accepted.
Also in a beautiful setting nearby are Two Island Lake (218/387-1750, $15), 15 miles northwest of Grand Marais on County Road 27, with 38 first-come, first-served sites, and the four-site Cascade River (3481 Hwy. 61 W., 218/387-3053, $18) rustic campground.
The Gunflint Ranger Station (2020 Hwy. 61 W., 218/387-1750, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily May–Sept., 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri. rest of year) is located in Grand Marais .