In the northern woods of Minnesota the Gunflint Trail offers an adventure incentive that will appeal to the kind of qualifiers for whom another beach or round of golf is just 'ho-hum.'
The Gunflint Trail gives access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, forests dotted with hundreds of lakes bordering Canada that have been preserved as a national wilderness area. In summer the lakes are often quiet and serene, allowing canoeists and kayakers to laze in the sunshine as they dip their paddles in and out. The next day they may be fighting wind and waves to reach shore by nightfall and set up camp in the dark. And there are the portages, making lake canoeing a test ofas paddlers cooperate to hoist canoes and backpacks over white-water rapids or a rocky strip of woods separating one lake from another.
In winter these lakes and woods offer even more challenges to snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Mushing on frozen lakes behind a team of sled dogs is sometimes the only way to get to many of the isolated places where you have to auger through three feet of ice to get to the northern pike, walleye, and lake trout below.
The Gunflint Trail, officially Cook County Route 12, begins at state highway 61 in Grand Marais, Minn., on the shores of Lake Superior. The only requirement for getting a group there is tickets to Duluth--but the number of people should probably be limited to a hundred or fewer. Gunflint Lodge (800/328-3325) picks up its guests at Duluth International Airport, as do other resorts like Golden Eagle (800/346-2203), where guests sleep in pine cabins decorated with homemade furniture and drawings crayoned by the family children; and Bearskin Lodge (800/338-4170), where the restaurant offers great soups when you drop in for lunch.
Gunflint Lodge has a full conference center that can hold up to 150 persons theater-style in the largest room, and there are plenty of breakout rooms. Its restaurant is gourmet-quality, and sleeping rooms are in 27 cabins for four to eight persons each, with fireplaces, hot tubs, and indoor and outdoor saunas.
Any of the lodges can outfit a group with canoes, kayaks, backpacks filled with gear and food, and guides. Skis and snowshoes are available in winter, along with ice-fishing gear--and Gunflint Lodge specializes in providing dog teams and in training aspiring mushers.
Or groups can still experience the wilderness the old way: Boundary Country Trekking (800/322-8327) provides cross-country trips with overnight stops in Mongolian yurts--permanent, domelike tents where meals are elaborate, sleeping is warm and comfortable, and you awake to the aroma of hot coffee.
The Gunflint Trail is the legacy of the Chippe-wa game trails, explorers seeking a northwest passage to the Pacific, and French fur traders. The spirit of Gunflint Trail today is Justine Kerfoot, who moved to the area with her mother in 1927 to run Gunflint Lodge and has spent her life hunting, fishing, mushing, skiing, and learning to survive in the wilderness. It wasn't until the 1970s that plowed roads, electricity, and indoor plumbing made the area accessible to any but the hardiest of hunters and skiers. Fortunate are the groups who lure Justine to offer an evening of northwoods tales.