The sun won’t rise for another few hours, but there is plenty to do before heading up the North Shore. The truck and trailer need to be loaded with snowmobiles, snacks need to be packed, and last but not least, gloves, boots, snow bibs, balaclavas, helmets and jackets that can withstand the cold and wind. It is the end of January and the forecast for the day calls for sunshine and 28 degrees F., which will be perfect for riding on the North Shore State Trail.
In Minnesota, the DNR states that there are more than 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Although not everyone in northern Minnesota owns a snowmobile, most people in the area understand that our winters are cold, snow-filled, and likely very long. To get through the long season, and with enough snow, local trails are groomed and perfected by local snowmobile groups in conjunction with the DNR. Trails like the one starting in Finland connect to the C.J. Ramstad trail, also known as the North Shore State Trail. The North Shore State Trail runs 146 miles through the rugged north woods from Duluth to Grand Marais and connects many communities in the area, including local eateries.
After the machines are unloaded in Finland the perfectly groomed trail awaits. The woods are quiet, still, and the rumbling of the engines cut through the cold silence as the ride begins. Winding through rugged hills and snow-dusted pines, these are sights unseen without this type of machine. The miles of leaning through the curves go by quickly, and hunger hits right as the trail meets the Trestle Inn. After all, snowmobiling is more about the journey than the destination.
For those who do not own a snowmobile, local shops such as Beaver Bay Sports offer snowmobile rentals and snowmobile clothing rentals. They also offer guided tours to groups who want to be shown the trails. Other places to rent snowmobiles and gear along the North Shore include: Steve’s Sports in Grand Marais, Hungry Jack Lodge, Gunflint Lodge, and Gunflint Pines Resort. Most of the rental places require reservations at least 48 hours in advance, though, since machines are in high demand.
Before taking to the trails, all riders should have completed a snowmobile safety course. The state of Minnesota requires snowmobile certification by law for anyone born after December 31, 1976. The adult course can be completed online for less than $30 and the snowmobile certification can even be printed from home. Some of what the course teaches new riders is that trails typically have a 50 MPH speed limit, to always check trail conditions prior to riding, never drink and ride, and to never ride alone. Even the most accustomed riders know that snowmobiling safely is important, not only for yourself, but for fellow riders. It makes the trails all the more enjoyable in the long run.
With rosy cheeks, we share a few laughs and a hot meal. There’s no real rush, but getting back out on the sleds feels overdue. A quick bathroom break and then it’s time to check the trail maps and choose where to ride next.
Thirty more miles down the timber-lined trail we go, stopping a few times to rest and a few more times because one of the machines is acting up. It is time to turn back. Days are short and we need to make sure that we can get all four machines back to our friend’s cabin in Finland. When we finally arrive, a fire is crackling and beer is waiting out on the porch to cool in the snowbank. It sure was a glorious day snowmobiling on the trail.
By Ali Juten